As a young girl, I always wished I could soar on the back of a dragon into the misty mountains. In my fantasy world, I would fight alongside the elves of the forest and fairies of the river to defeat whatever evil lurked within that mysterious land. Kedougou, the southeast region of Senegal, is a landscape that made me catch my breath and wonder if I'd stepped into a storybook. Although I was not riding a dragon, I could have been as I bounced along the dusty red road and drank in the landscape like it was a magical potion that would make me live forever.
I was lucky that day. All the seats in the jeep were full and I spoke enough Pulaar to convince the driver I would be fine with the spare tire on the roof. From my perch, I could see the mountains rise through the swirling mists on the horizon of Guinea. Stretched as far as my eye could see in every direction, an ocean of green seemed to swell and shift colors like the chameleons in the forest. The sky was steely blue and set off the hallucinogenic green of the forest like a perfectly matched border to a painting. The contrast of colors was so drastic I had to blink my eyes several times to check that I wasn't dreaming.
"You see those mountains?" said Sallou Diallo, nibbling his bean sandwich and pointing directly down the road we were driving. "That is Dindifello." The best part of the trip was that I had accidentally acquired a local tour guide. While I was going to Dindifello to see one of Senegal's most beautiful waterfalls, Sallou was catching a free ride down to see his family.
"So if fello means mountain, what does dindi mean?" I asked Sallou in Pulaar. Sallou thought for a moment and scooted very close to me. "Dindi," he said.
"Oh!" I cried, clapping my hands together. "Dindi-fello! The close together mountains!"
On the 40 km trip, I quizzed Sallou on everything from the names of the villages we passed to the kinds of wildlife that lived in the forests of Kedougou. He had an answer for every question, plus an enthusiastic story to go along with it.
"Mari, Ndaru!" "Mari, Look!" he said excitedly, tapping my shoulder and pointing to the side of the road. I gasped. Not 15 km from our jeep, a troupe of baboons stopped and stared at us as we drove by. The males were huge and stood up on their hind legs. Their shaggy brown coats could not disguise the intelligence in their eyes as they gauged our presence for any signs of a threat. I saw a female baboon clutch her baby to her chest just like a human mother. As we passed through their domain, I watched in admiration as their large red bottoms disappeared into the forest.
"Gorkeerou," said Sallou. "They live in these mountains."
A whole life and no time at all had passed by time the jeep pulled into Dindifello. Although I could have sat on the roof for another couple of hours, I was eager to see the waterfall. I peeled my shirt away from my body and tucked it into the waistband of my basketball shorts. Then I began the short rocky climb to the Dindifello waterfall.
Once there, I found a comfortable slab of rock to sit on and leaned back. Shiny slats of granite covered in curling vines shot straight up into the canopy of trees above me. At the highest point, cascades of crystal clear water poured from what seemed like the sky. A pool beneath the waterfall shimmered in the late afternoon sun and a grotto filled with mossy stones and flowers was tucked like a secret entrance behind the torrents of the waterfall.
I closed my eyes in contentment and waited for the elves of the forest and fairies of the river to appear.
Whitney Jenkins, raised a country girl on her family's cattle ranch in Nebraska, has always had a taste for adventure. After graduating from Creighton University with a degree in creative writing, she joined the Peace Corps. Now she lives in Senegal and works with local farmers propagating fruit tree orchards as a way to make her local community more sustainable. Whitney's talents include singing with her mouth closed, disturbingly accurate impersonations of Jay Leno, and finding the magic in every place she goes.