A birthday break

How do you celebrate a major birthday in my position? Ten years ago, and ten years before that, it was through travel to special new parts of the world. Somehow that didn’t seem so appropriate this year – not that there aren’t still many countries I would really love to go to, but travel is now a normal part of my life so it wouldn’t have marked this birthday out as special.

I thought about gathering my local friends together for a big dinner in Dakar, but ruled that out quickly as it would have meant telling them why, thus making me the centre of attention for the evening, which I would hate. I thought too about a few days’ luxury in a top hotel somewhere like Venice, but really that would be more enjoyable as part of a couple.

Then I remembered what I had read about an eco-lodge called the Collines de Niassam in Senegal, some 150km down the coast from Dakar near the villages of Palmarin. I’d been to Palmarin before, and loved the area. Just getting there involves an hour or more of driving across bare, open salt flats, with little to see except bare earth, water, sky and birds. It’s a bleak yet majestic landscape. The lodge offers a little bit of luxury amongst this bleakness, but in a development that blends in with the landscape rather than shutting it out.

So I booked myself for a couple of nights into one of their four wooden huts built on stilts above a lagoon. There are activities on offer, and I went on an evening drive in a horse and cart to watch hyenas gather before their evening hunt, but otherwise I just relaxed. A colleague had brought me an English Sunday newspaper the week before, which I had saved, but I spent a lot of time just sitting in a deck chair gazing at the lagoon – at the herons, gulls, avocets and pelicans that were a constant presence outside my room. I also went walking in the bush – yes, more birds, but also the physical pleasure of just walking, knowing I was in a reserve and so would not encounter demands for presents from snivelling children, nor their parents trying to sell me necklaces or poor quality carvings. In fact I didn’t see anyone during either of my two long (2-3 hour) walks, just hornbills, bee-eaters, kingfishers, parrots and francolins. On the drive to the hyenas I also saw flamingos and jackals.

The food was great too. Set meals with no choice whatsoever, but I was perfectly happy with dishes such as pumpkin and prawn soup and grouper fillet flambĂ©ed in tamarind sauce. I didn’t drink much but their Cape Verdean rum cocktails were also pretty good!


Philip said...

It sounds idyllic in many ways, yet somehow rather self-denying, not wanting your friends in Dakar to know that you were celebrating a birthday. But the important thing is that you clearly felt fulfilled by your birthday break, solitary luxury though it may have been. After all the long-haul travelling you have been doing, such a time to unwind and just relax must have been very welcome.

Phil (in Wootton) said...

Happy (slightly belated) Birthday Louise.

from one xx Year Old to another

I understand entirely about not wanting to be the centre of attention, but having been the victim of a surprise party for my own 'special' birthday last night, I have to admit it wasn't too bad...

Glad to hear you managed to do something in your own inimitable style.

Here's to the next xx Years eh...

p.s. love teh picture of your gun-toting in Phnom Penh,.. Very Lara Croft