May 10, 2010

Field Trip to Saint-Louis

At the end of our first week we took a 3-day field trip north to Saint-Louis, the capital of Sénégal during the French colonial period. It is located at the mouth of the Sénégal River that separates Sénégal from Mauritania.  This significant source of water has a dramatic affect on both the ecology and agriculture near it.

After a 3-hour bus ride, that included a lunch stop under a large tree, we arrived at our hotel on the northern end of the island that forms historic Saint-Louis. After pushing our bus out of the sand in our street and checking in, we took a tour of the old city by horse-drawn carriage. We viewed old colonial architecture but were also taken to a densely populated part of town where huge quantities of fish are being harvested and processed daily.  The stark contrast between the conditions of the fish market and our privileged positions in the carriages was difficult but stimulated some good reflection and discussion later.

After a good night of sleep we headed out the next morning to view rice fields and hear about the management of water resources to enable large agribusinesses in the region. In addition to rice, large quantities of tomatoes and onions are grown there.  In the afternoon we had lunch and relaxed both in and beside the pool at another hotel.

On our third day we visited Djoudj National Bird Park located among the tributaries of the Sénégal River.  During the migration season huge flocks of birds land there because it is the first water as they fly south after the Sahara Desert. Even though this is near the end of the migration season, we still saw a wide variety of birds as well as warthogs and several crocodiles in the water. On the way to the park we stopped at a hotel to pay park fees and use their facilities. Some used the opportunity for spontaneous soccer.

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