Thursday, October 20, 2011

Beware of the Genies!

Whenever I take a car along the road to Kedougou, I always see the Spires off in the distance near the Guinean border.  The pointy rock formations screamed ADVENTURE, and after talking about it for months, a few friends and I finally made plans to attack the mountain!

Ian and I biked 30k along narrow, overgrown bush paths, dodging vicious tsetse flies along the way, to meet up with Ben and CJ in a small village near the base of the mountains.  We left our bikes in that village and hiked up a rocky hill to get to an even more remote village to camp out for the night.  Prepared with tents, tea for the villagers, and food, we asked the village chief if we could spend the night.  He had an area cleared out for us to set up our tents, and he took the rice we brought and asked some women to prepare it for our dinner.  All was going according to plan, and CJ and I decided to find the forage (village water pump) to fill our bottles with water before it got dark.  As we looked around for the pump, we started feeling little drops of water on our heads but thought nothing of it.  A little boy agreed to lead us to the forage (which we assumed was in the village), so we followed him along a trail.  All of a sudden, rain started dumping from the sky and we saw lightening flashing above our heads.  The little boy started running along the trail leading out of the village, and we followed after him, hoping we could grab some water quickly and make it back to our tents.  He kept running further and further outside of the village as the wind roared around us, blowing tall grasses over us as we tried to stay on the path.  Drenched from the rains, CJ and I looked at each other, debating whether or not to continue, but we had already gone this far and were already soaked, so why not?  After what seemed like an eternity, we finally made it to the forage, quickly filled our bottles (with sulfur smelling water), and booked it out of there.  As we were sprinting back towards the village, all of a sudden, it sounded like 3 shots were fired as light blew 3 holes in the tree right next to us.  I ducked and froze out of shock, thinking that we were being shot at.  CJ screamed that it was lightening and told me to keep running.  By the time we made it back to the tents, I felt like my ear drums were blasted out from the boom.  That was the closest I’ve ever been to lightening, and I never want to get that close again!

The benefit of all that rain was that we all got a shower, which we were not going to get otherwise, and we didn’t smell very good after our long, sweaty bike ride!  Around dinnertime, we were called into one of the huts for our meal.  We were served a bowl of fonio (grain similar to coos coos) with a delicious leaf sauce.  It wasn’t enough to make us full, but we were satisfied with the meal.  A few minutes after we had finished, another woman walked in with a bowl of dinner for us.  We thought we were completely lucking out with 2 dinners!  Then another bowl arrived, then another, and another!  5 dinners in total!  It seems as though every family in the village cooked a meal for us, and we couldn’t even finish the last one!

That night, with stomachs full of rice, we talked to the villagers about the Spires.  We were told that genies inhabited the top of the mountain and that it was dangerous to go.  We told the villagers that if the genies did not accept us, we would leave the mountain immediately.  Truthfully, genies weren’t really our top concern.  Our main concern was having enough food and water for the journey.  Between the 4 of us, we had 7 liters of water that was to last us at least 24 hours.  Foodwise, we packed some cooked rice in a ziplock bag, 2 energy bars, some cookies, 2 cans of sardines, 4 halves of soggy village bread (moist from the rain storm), and 3 unripe mangoes the villagers had gifted us. 

Bright and early the next morning, we chugged all the water we had and refilled at the forage (which didn’t seem as far away this time) to prepare for the trek.  Since there is no trail up the mountain, we were bush whacking the entire way with a machete, trying to aim for an opening between 2 of the Spires where we believed it would be easier to climb. 

After a few hours of intense hiking uphill through thick jungle, we finally reached the base of the rocks, but the rock faces were too vertical for us to free climb.  We knew we had to move further east in the bush to reach the point where we had heard we could climb.  So we backtracked and kept hiking, growing more and more hungry and thirsty as we trekked in the sun.  Once again, we reached the rock, but it was not the right climbing point!  Frustrated, we had to decide if we were just going to camp there or keep searching for the right opening.  All of us agreed that we wanted to keep going.  After a soggy sardine sandwich and some cookies in the shade of some trees, we picked up our backpacks and kept moving.  Hiking for another hour led us to finally reach the point we had heard about!

After some sketchy free climbing to the top of the mountain, we made it!  Standing on the top, we could see for miles and miles.  Mali, Senegal, Guinea.  It was a spectacular view and definitely worth the effort.  We found some shade and ate our sour mangoes, which tasted glorious.  Running very low on water, we tried as hard as we could not to think about our thirst.  We set up our tents in some tall grasses in between two Spires.  Before we went to sleep, we passed our water bottle around and each took a couple sips, looking forward to the sulfur forage the following morning.  So far, no trouble from the genies.

Before coming on the trip, we had heard that another group of volunteers had done the climb a couple years ago.  That group camped at the top just as we were, and they got attacked by swarms of bees in the morning and had to be rushed to the hospital.  With that in mind, we were a little worried when we saw a few bees the night we got to the mountain. 

Around 6am the next morning, it seemed as though all 4 of us awoke at the same time as we heard a constant buzzing outside the tent.  The bees!!!  After talking for a while, we decided we had to leave the tents eventually, so we ventured out.  As we packed up our stuff, a few bees landed on us, but no stings.  Thanks genies!

On our way down the mountain, we somehow stumbled across a stream and were overjoyed to be able to fill our water bottles.  We made it down the mountain quickly and without any problems.  Full circle, we ended our journey at the water pump and washed ourselves and rehydrated.  To celebrate, we treated ourselves to a victory half an energy bar.  All in all, it was a wonderful adventure packed with genies, bees, dehydration, spectacular views, and lots of laughs.  Just a typical Wednesday in Senegal…

Made it to the top!


  1. OMG! You guys are so amazing. this would make a great campfire story here in the states. I hope you took some good pictures.

  2. Great post Marielle. What an adventure! A ripping yarn, as the Brits say. xox/Kevin

  3. You had me at the title. What a great story--so well told and makes me wanna hear more. Wow!
    xo Mom P.S. Thrilled those energy bars we sent are being put to good use!