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Senegal to Spain
Published on Friday, June 29, 2012
Monday, April 23, 2012 - Dakar, Senegal: Upon our arrival we were transferred to the lovely sea-front location of the Radisson Blu Hotel. An afternoon tour of the city began at the massive bronze monument dedicated to Africa and Africans, and in particular to the tens of millions taken as slaves and shipped to the New World; there we admired the largest freestanding statue in the world. We took in the Presidential Palace, passing numerous colorful open-air street markets, mosques, and churches and a stop at a school where traditional sand paintings are made; here we learned that each batch of naturally colored sand comes from a different region of Senegal.
Welcome cocktails were followed by dinner at the Salon Océan, and some of our fellow travelers continued to arrive throughout the evening.
Tuesday, April 24 - Dakar / Embark Clipper Odyssey: Intent on finding whatever wildlife was on offer, the birders left first in darkness to visit a number of great birding sites around the city. The rest of us took a short ferry ride and visited Gorée Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Barely 984 yards long and sheltered by the Cape Verde Peninsula, Gorée Island was once a significant slave-trading center. Now an enclave of artists, private residences, and restaurants, our visit exposed the stark contrast between the dungeon-like slave quarters and the elegant colonial mansions of the slave-traders. We walked to the Slave House and had our first encounters with the enthusiastic locals selling colorful material, bracelets, and necklaces, and continued through the colonial houses where the traders lived.
Following a lunch of local delicacies with an entertaining musical group, we boarded the ferry for the return to Dakar. While some opted to embark the Clipper Odyssey immediately in order to settle in, others were eager to explore more of Dakar, and set off for an afternoon city tour. This busy city, with its roadside stalls and combination of indigenous Senegalese art and architecture, made for a lively entry into the African way of life. Once the birders returned with tales of pink-backed pelicans, African spoonbills, and colorful little bee-eaters, we were at last gathered as a complete group on board the Clipper Odyssey. Soon we were sailing, and met our Expedition Leader John Yersin, Cruise Director Julie Fielding, and their team of lecturers.
Wednesday, April 25 - At Sea: Our first day at sea allowed us to relax into the voyage, scanning the seas for wildlife or contributing to our education. Our lecture series began with Gordon Wood from Brown University giving his lecture entitled European Discovery of the Sea, followed by Ron Wixman with his talk on Slavery and North West Africa. In the afternoon, Mark Brazil taught us about The Crossing of Continents: Bird Migration Between Europe and Africa, and Rich Pagen lectured on West Africa’s Reef Oases: Where Interspecies Relationships have built an Empire. As relaxation after an educational day, Captain Peter Fielding kindly invited us for cocktails, followed by our welcome dinner.
Thursday, April 26 - São Tiago Island, Cape Verde: This morning we chose between a full day touring the largest island in the Cape Verde archipelago, with visits to various sites including the botanical garden; a full day of birding; or two shorter half-day tours taking in the historical sites near the southern part of the island. Our naturalists came back aglow with tales of endemic birds they had seen while exploring, and we all came back impressed by the aridity of this tiny remote land in the Atlantic; its young population; and the beauty of the ubiquitous grey-headed kingfishers, with their brilliantly blue wings.
Our full-day route first took us through São Domingos, known for its ceramic and weaving traditions, then to the National Botanical Gardens and on past Antonia Peak, the island’s highest at 4,573 feet. At Assomada, the island’s second largest city, we were able to visit the daily market and watch children experience their first communion. We traveled down toward the north coast, glimpsing troops of introduced green monkeys in the spectacular mountains of the Serra Malagueta. At the small seaside town of Tarrafal we enjoyed a lunch of locally-caught fresh fish and traditional deserts, served on an outdoor terrace.
As we sailed away we were suddenly called to the bridge to enjoy sightings of our first cetaceans of the voyage. A pod of a dozen or more short-finned pilot whales moved sluggishly back and forth ahead of us as our captain turned enabling us to obtain fantastic views. Soon it was time to move on, and to enjoy our first recap of the voyage with our staff.
Friday, April 27 - São Vicente Island: Upon arrival in Mindelo, we drove directly to the quiet village of Calhau. There, a huddle of pastel-colored weekend homes stood out against the dramatic dark volcanic landscape. From here we began the switchback drive up Monte Verde towering over the island at 2,540 feet. While some opted to drive the cloud enshrouded peak, others walked down from the top, enjoying the steadily opening views of the arid island. Once in Baía, we were reunited with our intrepid birders who had headed off first, turning immediately to the island’s local avian hotspot to watch a wide variety of migratory shorebirds.
Our lunch of local cuisine included a traditional cachupa stew of beans, corn, and onions with pork, chicken, cassava, and rice. There were choices of local fish, collard greens, potatoes, and French fries, as well as local wines and beers. One dessert choice was the traditional, almost marmalade-like papaya preserve topped with salty goat cheese, known in some quarters as Romeo and Juliet. After lunch there was an opportunity for a quick dip in the sea, although most of us opted to remain on the restaurant patio listening to a local band playing typical Caboverdean tunes.
As the birders headed to the now clearing summit of Monte Verde to watch the island’s unique neglected kestrel, the rest of us returned to Mindelo. There we wandered the heart of the city, beginning at the former Governor’s residence (now the law courts), passing many Portuguese colonial buildings, and the main Catholic church. At the waterfront we viewed the newly restored replica of the Torre de Belém in Lisbon. On a much smaller scale than the original, the tower was built in 1922 as the Harbormaster’s office, but now serves for temporary art and photography exhibits. Immediately next door we visited the fish market, then passed the Praça Estrella with its dry goods market in small kiosks decorated with scenes in blue and white tiles, and the indoor market with fruits, vegetables, spices, oils, and syrups. From here we divided to pursue our own interests, with some of us heading to craft and music shops, others to find cloth or spices, and others content to perch in a café and watch the passing scene.
Shortly after returning to the ship, we set sail for the Canary Islands escorted out to sea by Cape Verde shearwaters and the occasional Fea’s petrel.
Saturday & Sunday, April 28 & 29 - At Sea: Our lecture series continued as we sailed with several lectures on offer each day, beginning with Susan Langley discussing Pirates, Corsairs and Salé Rovers. John Buchanan talked about What’s That Hot Spot Doing in the Atlantic Ocean?, while Ron discussed Arabization of Berbers in North West Africa. Gordon followed with European Discovery of Man. The first night ended with a hilarious hour of Liar’s Club with our panel of word experts, Rich, Mark, John, and Susan, bluffing and fabricating their way through definitions, while we attempted to guess who was hiding the true meaning.
Our second day at sea began with Mark’s presentation entitled Islands of Isolation: Understanding Island Biodiversity. Rich followed up with West Africa’s Ecological Fringe: A Transect from the Coast to the Blue Water, and later, John gave his overiew on volcanism with User’s Guide to Volcanoes. Instead of recap this evening, Joe Murphy talked us through his guided tour to wine tasting, which was followed after dinner by a viewing in the main lounge of the wine-focused movie Sideways.
Monday, April 30 - La Palma, Canary Islands, Spain: As dawn broke we could make out La Palma ahead, with scores of Cory’s shearwaters wheeling across the steadily calming ocean between them.
Our education this morning began with Gordon’s lecture on Differences Between the Old World and the New World, followed by a discussion of The Honeybee, From North Africa to the Islands, about their origins and domestication in the regions we are visiting, by Susan.
Once ashore in Santa Cruz, the capital of La Palma, we set off for a cultural and geological tour. At Volcano San Antonio we were able to see firsthand the pace of ecological succession—while there were already pines growing inside its caldera, which last erupted in 1677, the nearby caldera of Teneguia, which erupted in 1971, was still raw and bare. At Carbello Bodega we tasted island-style wines and saw the old-fashioned wooden press previously used to crush the grapes. Our final stop was at El Molino to see a style of dark earthenware pottery being made and decorated in the fashion of the Benehoare, the very first inhabitants of these islands.
Tuesday, May 1 - Tenerife Island: As we landed on Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands, some of us took the opportunity to spend the entire day birding with Mark and Rich. We went through the damp laurel forest at Cruz del Carmen and Pico del Ingles, and went on to dry, sunny Canary Island pine forests at Las Raices. The rewards were spectacular, with sightings of several of the island’s endemic species, such as blue chaffinches, Canary Island goldcrests, Island Canaries, and both Bolle’s and Laurel pigeons. On our way back we explored the spectacular opera house designed by Santiago Calatrava Valls, and found fascinating marine life in the shallow moat around the fort.
Others drove up through the mist and above the clouds to Parque Nacional del Teide, Spain’s largest national park, where we were treated to stunning views of Pico del Teide. At 12,200 feet it is Spain’s highest mountain and the third highest volcano in the world, as measured from the ocean floor. Within the park we visited the Caldera de Cañadas and the Roques de Garcia.
After the high altitude workout we dropped into the northern coastal town of Puerto de la Cruz for a lunch break, and set off to the spectacular botanical gardens where hundreds of colorful and exotic plant varieties were on display. We also explored the quaint colonial town of La Oratava, a designated Spanish Heritage Site.
Last, but not least, those of us on the half-day tour enjoyed a cultural adventure with Ron. The first town visited was La Laguna, the old capital of Tenerife. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is noted for being the first unfortified Spanish city. We started our walking tour in the plaza and admired the variety of trees and official buildings, each in a different style—Spanish, Portuguese, Arabesque, and English Gothic. From La Laguna we continued up to Anaga and the northern mist-watered laurel forests of Mercedes. The drive through the forest took us through to the north part of the island with its extremely rugged countryside.
The town of Taganana is at the bottom of a caldera right on the ocean. Once a thriving cropping community, it is now largely abandoned. We walked around the town with its Spanish and Portuguese architecture. At the end of the tour we drove to a bodega on a black sand beach surrounded by rugged volcanic mountains that dropped right into the ocean. There we tasted local wines with cheese and green olives.
Wednesday, May 2 - Lanzarote: What an enchanting island! Whether by natural or human intervention, Lanzarote is unmistakably dramatic. On reaching the old capital of Teguise, we parked near the Convento de Miraflores and walked into the largely pedestrian central square where we were able to visit the Inglesia de la Virgen de Guadalupe. Winding up and down precipitous cliffs, we stopped for photo opportunities over dramatic volcanic cliff faces and at the northern extreme of the island, reached the Mirador del Rio. At Jameos del Agua, we walked along a lava tube, open to the sky in several places, containing tiers within grottoes with several bars and a subterranean lake, home to rare and tiny albino white crabs. Climbing up through gardens to the ground level, we came across a seismic museum with a shipwreck mounted on the wall. Tearing ourselves away we turned southward to visit the Jardín de Cactus. A large metal sculpture of a cactus dominates the exterior of the garden and the entrance is fitted with volcanic stones, with additional metallic sculptures in the gates and windows.
Meanwhile, Mark and the birders visited Munique, Lanzarote’s most arid region complete with sand dunes. They marveled at the views of a raw and rugged, yet somehow lovely volcanic landscape that was oddly reminiscent of parts of Iceland. They had fabulous views of local specialties including trumpeter finches, lesser short-toed larks, stone curlews, and Houbara bustards, and, after much searching, three gorgeous cream-colored coursers.
After an extremely varied and eventful morning, lunch was a noisy affair as we traded stories of our experiences with our companions aboard. Meanwhile, we turned once more towards Africa, as we left for Morocco.
Thursday, May 3 - Agadir, Morocco / Taroudant / Marrakech: Our party diverged again today, with some traveling first to Taroudant with Ron, John, and Rich, before returning to the Clipper Odyssey to sail to Casablanca. Others headed off along the Atlantic coast birding with Mark, and yet more of us traveled with Susan, Little John, and Lynda on a two-day excursion to Marrakech.
The drive from Agadir to Taroudant along the Souss Valley revealed the famous argane trees, unique to Morocco that produce a special fruit. Later in Taroudant we watched as two local women demonstrated how the fruit is processed by hand into two types of paste: one for cooking, and the other for skin creams. Taroudant itself was fascinating; like Marrakech it is a medina, or walled city. At our first stop, we enjoyed traditional Moroccan mint tea and a driving tour through the labyrinthine colorful inner medina. We passed traditional shops of all kinds, with meat hanging openly, beautiful vegetables and fruits, and all matter of wares.
At the souk, our guide led us on foot through passages to see the variety of locally sold goods, including spices, clothing, foods, shoes, and metal goods. Taroudant today is what Marrakech was like 20 years ago, and the experience is no less impressive. Those who returned to the ship enjoyed an intimate dinner in the library.
Meanwhile, in Marrakech, those of us on the longer excursion entered the medina through one of the many formal gates. After visiting the Saadien tombs, we toured the Bahia Palace; although empty of furnishings, the verdant courtyard and jewel-like tile work more than compensated. We explored the souk then met at the famed Djemaa el-Fna Square to watch as the evening’s entertainment of dancing cobras and monkeys began.
The first day ashore in Morocco saw the little band of birders watching greater flamingos and a range of shorebirds at the mouth of the Oued Souss, followed by bee-eaters and warblers even further south at the Oued Massa. After a final stop at the mouth of the Oued Tamri, they continued north up the coast, eventually turning inland through rolling stony hills covered with argane orchards, where they saw flocks of goats browsing up in the trees. They arrived at Es Saadi Hotel just in time to join the group for a late dinner, having completed almost 310 miles in the day.
Friday, May 4 - Marrakech / Atlas Mountains / Casablanca: Continuing our divergent days, one group was ashore in the hinterland, while one was on board Clipper Odyssey. For those on board, we were able to spot the enormous Hassan II Mosque while still 20 miles out to sea. A modern construction finished in 1993, the mosque is overwhelming in size alone; the third largest in the world, it could hold Rome’s St. Peter’s or Paris’s Notre Dame within its great hall. After watching Casablanca last night, a stop at Rick’s Café was the perfect way to start our exploration of this city. We then explored a centrally-located market, where seafood was presented on tiled countertops and fresh meat was hanging outside tiny butcher shops.
Those of us in Marrakech awoke to another glorious day of blue skies. Our first visit was to Jardin Marjorelle, where the gardens, colorful paths, and planters set off the striking blue studio that now houses an excellent Berber Museum. We stopped at an antique shop before we visited a traditional pharmacy where we were provided with information on the uses of many minerals, spices, and herbs.
We made our way to the old Jewish Quarter for lunch; before our meal began, a gentleman with a kettle of warm rosewater ceremonially washed our hands. The meal began with an array of mezes, followed by a plate of mounded couscous overlain with roasted vegetables and a large family-style tajine of chicken with lemons and olives, followed by hot mint tea. Entertained by musicians and dancers, we also had the opportunity to join them before we began the drive to Casablanca.
Meanwhile, the early birders set off together in darkness. They headed away from the coast, then wound their way up the Ourika Valley into the Atlas Mountains, stopping as dawn broke to listen to the chorus of nightingales singing from wooded hillsides, and to watch birds such as firecrests, red-billed choughs, and black wheatears along the way. They drove up through the low lying cloud into Oukaimaden, hiked up for spectacular views of the high Atlas Mountain scenery, and enjoyed an early lunch at a small terrace café. All too soon they had to tear themselves away for the long drive north, first to Marrakech, stopping only for white storks atop their nests, and then on at high speed to Casablanca, making it to the ship just in time for sailing.
As our various groups returned to the ship and met with Captain Peter Fielding for farewell cocktails and dinner, we traded tales of our exciting and educational adventures in Taroudant, Marrakech, the Atlas Mountains, and Casablanca.
Saturday, May 5 - Gibraltar, United Kingdom: As we sailed through the Straits of Gibraltar this morning, Rich alerted us to pods of dolphins and short-finned pilot whales passing nearby. Mark then concluded our lecture series with his light-hearted look at birds and those who watch them, Birding Lite: The Antidote to Birding. Brunch followed as we came alongside in Gibraltar.
We explored this British overseas territory, a site blessed with scenic beauty as well as a fascinating history both before and since being ceded to Britain in 1713. We visited the site of the famous 100-ton gun, as well as the Great Siege Tunnel, dug deep into the nearly 1,400 feet high Rock of Gibraltar to provide sites for hidden cannons. These extensive tunnels would be impressive under any circumstances, but were more awesome knowing that they had been hand-hewn in fewer than five years in the 18th century. We also wandered the passageways of St. Michael’s Cave, a series of stunning limestone caverns that now include an auditorium, but which once housed Neolithic people. The spectacular natural cavern was adorned with dangling stalactites and soaring stalagmites. But the stars of the show were the Barbary apes, the charismatic monkeys that are most certainly Gibraltar’s signature animal.
Despite glowering clouds, strong winds, and intermittent rain showers, the birders endured the conditions at Europa Point lighthouse, the southernmost extremity of Europe, to watch as several birds of prey, including honey buzzards and black kites. They then crossed into Spain to add yet more species at the wetland reserve beside the river Guadiaro at Sotogrande.
Free time at the end of the day to wander through the largely pedestrian town center led the water-resistant of us to bravely explore some quintessentially British pubs before returning to the ship. Soon it was time for our staff team to present their final recap of the voyage. During that hour Ron, Rich, Susan, John, Mark, Gordon, Julie, and Little John, summed up our island-hopping travels from Senegal to Spain, reminded us of past days, and shared their most memorable highlights. After dinner, John treated us to a stunning photographic show of our voyage in Parting Shots: Photos from our Voyage. From the deck, we enjoyed the spectacular light-dotted skyline of Gibraltar and adjacent Spain as we sailed away for Malaga.
Sunday, May 6 - Malaga, Spain: Our final morning dawned fair with a spectacular full moon atop the horizon during breakfast. Following fond farewells from our team we set off to the airport for our flights; with Little John on an excursion through Andalucía; or on our personal travels. Thank you for traveling with us, and we look forward to seeing you again one day soon.