Immersed in West Africa: My Solo Journey Across Senegal, Mauritania, The Gambia, Guinea and Guinea Bissau
By Terry Lister
Truth? When the author initially requested a review, I wasn’t interested. That’s cuz the last few travelogue/memoir type books I’ve read were redundant and as dull as dirt. Think moon rocks. Without the moon.
But the author was gently persistent. So I reluctantly agreed to read and review. (Which just shows you what I know.)
Turns out Immersed in West Africa is a delightful read. Here’s why:
The author, a retired accountant and realtor from Bermuda, is no stranger to travel. He has trips to Central and South America and many other places under his belt. Upon retirement, he takes up a “new vocation”: traveller. After determining that an eight week trip is “just right” for “maximum enjoyment and experience,” the author decides to go “off trail” in West Africa. His itinerary includes Senegal, Mauritania, The Gambia, and the two Guineas.
The Basics by Country
The author covers a lot of ground in eight brief, engaging chapters, including:
- Historic lighthouses, monuments, sand paintings and the “tallest statue in Africa.”
- “Arab Africa” (north) and “Black Africa” (south.)
- Harrowing border crossings involving the police and black market money changers.
- Mint tea.
- “Abdul Tom Cruise,” tour guide extraordinaire.
- Solar-powered street lights.
- Architecture, markets, and fishing villages.
- Dolphins, flamingoes and crocodiles.
- Rough roads.
- Traditional meals and communal eating.
- Stonehenge-ish stone circles, and a Freedom Tree.
- Rice and “mystery meat.”
And oh yeah:
“Always travel early as you never know what you might run into!”
For example, did you know that The Gambia is the smallest country in Africa? It is. I didn’t know there are two “Guineas” before reading this book: Guinea-Bissau, a former Portuguese colony and the 10th least visited country in the world, and Guinea-Conakry, a former French colony.
Apparently Guinea Bissau doesn’t quite get tourism yet. But it does get “personal donation” requests from customs officials and police. Ditto “moto taxis” and the “back corner seat from hell” in “sept place” Peugeots.
Guinea-Conakry is the world’s second largest producer of bauxite. Bet you didn’t know that. I didn’t.
Warm & Authentic
This is a quick and easy read.
Chapters and sentences are brief, with no needless embellishment or clunky detours. The text provides enough details about each country and site to whet one’s appetite while neatly sidestepping the temptation to add mountains of irrelevant minutia which derail so many other travel tomes. A warm, authentic flavor makes the stories and sites come alive. It’s as if you’re standing right next to the author as his adventure unfolds.
Color photos and maps are included to help you get your bearings as you experience the sounds, tastes, textures and scents of West Africa through the narration.
The main reason this book is different from most in the same genre is that it departs from the typical, “I did this. We went here. Oh, look at me/us” formulaic approach to travel writing. It provides reasons for traveling that go beyond the self-centric. Well beyond. Refreshing.
Laced with gentle humor and wry wit, Immersed in West Africa is a delicious blend of information, entertainment, and inspiration. There’s also something joyous and radiant in the writing that’s contagious. After all, “This is Africa.”
A delightful read!