Nestled deep in the southeastern corner of Senegal, a few hundred kilometers from the border of northern Guinea (on the way to the historic Fouta Djallon region), is a small village called Dindefelo that is home to the country’s famed waterfall or cascade. It’s located in the Kedougou region of Senegal. Kedougou is a long 12-hour drive from the bustling coastal capital, Dakar. And, to get to Dindefelo from Kedougou you have to travel by car or motorbike for another 2 hours across some of the most rugged, bumpy and unpaved terrain in the area. So, as you can tell, it’s off the beaten path. And that’s what makes it one of Senegal’s hidden gems.
For people who are still unexposed or not convinced of Africa’s sheer vastness, diversity, beauty and nuance, a trip from Dakar to Dindefelo, either by private car, public bus or taxi (sept placé) will open their eyes to a refreshing African experience, different from the city life or much publicized safari.
Dinde –A Timeless and Cosmopolitan Village
Once you arrive in Dindefelo, you feel that you’ve been transported – not back in time, but to a realm of timelessness. One of the things that most visitors notice immediately is the hospitality and gentleness of the people who live there. Before you even learn any of the local language, Pulaar, you find yourself being greeted with, “Tanala” and being coached to answer, “Jam tune” in the singsong rhythm that is common among Pulaar speakers. Teranga, the Senegalese cultural custom of hospitality, has its own unique manifestation in Dinde (local nickname for Dindefelo).
Goats, sheep, cows and chickens roam freely in Dinde, which has a population just over 1,500. The nearest village, Segou, is about 5 km away. On Sundays, merchants and buyers from nearby villages and from across the border in Guinea gather in Dinde at midday for the Luma (market) to buy oranges, avocados, second-hand electronics, traditional jewelry and other local goods. It’s a nice, laid back counterpart to the hurried open-air African markets in urban areas.
The Center, which is the central village square,also has a distinct character. I like to call it Dinde’s modern village flair. The Center is a place of intersecting groups and activities, where everyone has a place and a role to play. There is a small building at the entrance where sheep and goats sit, stand and pass the day. Not far away, the “old men” gather to talk, chew on kola nuts and watch over the comings and goings. The chef de village (village chief) is usually among them. Then there are the women. They conduct a good share of commerce in the Center, with old and young alike selling omelet sandwiches, boiled eggs, pomme de terre (potatoes), finger snacks and fish out in the open. Conversely, young and middle-aged men own the shops where people come to buy daily cooking ingredients, soft drinks and household items.
As is typical in many parts of Africa, most of the people in Dinde speak at least two or three languages. So, a visitor from Dakar could easily find someone in the village, especially among the young people, who speaks Senegal’s official national language Wolof. Nanga def? A Malinke speaker from a nearby village, as well as a French speaker from any neighboring African country or Europe could easily get by. Heerasita? Comment çava? Also, because of the number of tourists who visit from Spain, many of the local youth – especially the artists and merchants – speak conversational Spanish. Cómote llamas? And of course, English can often be heard in the mix as well. What’s up? How are you today? With Dinde’s predominantly Muslim population, you are also likely to find a marabout in the Center writing verses in Arabic from the Quran or to hear the adhan, the Islamic call to prayer that occurs five times daily. Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar…Hayya‘ala-s-Salah, Hayya ‘ala-s-Salah.
The Cascade – Nature’s Blessing
My first trip to Dinde was in 2008 with a group of medical students, doctors and other health workers. We had been working in another town, Saraya, about 2 hours away and decided to take a day trip to meet with the head nurse of Dinde’s health clinic.It was also an opportunity for us for see one of the most beautiful and breathtaking natural waterfalls in the country and in the region. We knew we were going to have a nice communal lunch and spend time talking to Baba, the head nurse. However, when you first get to Dinde it’s expected, and almost obligatory, that you go directly to the ‘cascade’. And that’s what we did!
There are small local thatched hut “hotels” where you can stop for a traditional dish, a soda or a drink. But there’s no tourist office or fancy reservation process to get you to the cascade. You can usually find a teenager or child who will gladly guide you on the 1.5 km walk through the semi-mountainous outback and semi–tame bush that lead to the cascade.
The trek is not as intense as mountain climbing, but it is definitely for the fit that don’t mind slipping and possibly falling on a wet rock or two. The walk also makes you work up a sweat so that you’re ready to walk under the cascade and dive in the still water once you arrive. Once there, you’re likely to find a few other visitors, or a group of local students grilling meat and enjoying mangoes who will likely invite you to join in.
It was summer vacation when our group of 7 arrived, so Baba had one of the kids in the village walk with us. We jumped over several small streams, rocks and branches and within 30 minutes we emerged from the cool, shadowy path and met with sunlight peeking around the enormous mountain and water gushing down – displaying a combination of focused force and calm. There is something indescribable and powerful about the cleansing, soothing effects of water. Connecting with its literal and metaphorical life-sustaining properties can alter your mood, your outlook and even your life. Waterfalls are a special kind of natural blessing. Water gushes and overflows from way up high, exhibiting a perfect marriage between two of nature’s most spectacular creations – mountain and water.
Thank you Dindefelo for welcoming me with your natural blessings – your people and your cascade. You have brought me back again and again and again. Till next time, I’m eagerly waiting to meet you.
Dr. Nicole Maisha Monteiro is a psychologist and researcher by training and global traveler and culture observer by passion. She has been crossing borders and oceans since childhood and writes about her international adventures and personal insights at her Global Insights blog (http://maishaworld.blogspot.com/).