Kedougou is a pretty town, but mainly it's the starting point for visits to the hills of Bassari country. The best way to explore Kedougou's stunning surroundings is a combination of driving (a 4WD) and hiking - best done in the company of a good guide (see opposite).
The washed-out westbound road from Kedougou towards Salemata is lined with small roadside villages, typically inhabited by Fula and Bassari people and other tribal groups up in the mountains, and accessible by tiny mountain paths. These are the hamlets of the Bedik, seminomadic people who adhere strongly to traditional lifestyles and are keen to preserve their relative isolation.
One of the nearest villages is Bandafassi, the capital of Kedougou district. The inhabitants are mainly Fula and Bassari, and the village is renowned for its basket makers. In Indar, a part of Bandafassi, is the wonderfully welcoming campement Chez Leontine (@ 554 9915; d CFA6000), with solar-powered lights and delicious meals prepared by the charming owner. It's a great base for hikes up the hill to the Bedik village of Ethiowar, from where you get wonderful views over the surrounding savannah.
Ibel, a Fula village, lies another 7km up the road from Bandafassi. Here you'll find the slightly neglected Campement Baobab (d CFA6000). Visits are usually combined with a steep hike up to Iwol, a stunningly beautiful community stretched out between a giant fromager (kapok tree) and a sacred baobab. Plenty of legends are associated with this place, and the local teacher will share them with you for a donation (CFA1000). The local women make beautiful pottery - tiny Bassari statuettes and small incense burners (CFA300 per piece).
Continuing west from Ibel, you reach Salemata, 83km west of Kedougou. This is a regional hub, with a health centre, small boutiques and the friendly campement Chez Gilbert (@ 985 5009; d/tr CBV8000/9000). In April and May, the entire region surrounding Salemata is plunged into weeklong festivities during the annual initiation ceremonies of the Bassari. Observers are accepted, but
© Lonely Planet Publications EASTERN SENEGAL •• Bassari Country 227
The company of a clued-up guide is invaluable for exploring the myriad mountain paths of Bassari country. Two of the best guides in the region are Noumou Diallo and Amadou Ba, who are based at Le Bedik (§ 985 1000) hotel; phone reception and ask for them. They come from the area, know the best routes through the hills, and have a good relationship with the villagers, which will make you, the visiting stranger, much more welcome. It remains up to you though to show the proper respect and perhaps present kola nuts, money and small gifts to the chefs de village (village chiefs).
They can arrange anything from leisurely day trips to strenuous hikes of several days through the forests, mountains and tiny Bedik and Bassari villages, with the possibility of sleeping either in the homes of locals or in campements (hostels). They usually charge CFA10,000 per day; rates for longer excursions need to be negotiated.
keep a respectful distance, so as not to turn a local celebration into a tourist event. Gilbert can invite Bassari dancers to perform some of their spectacular masked and costumed dances outside this season.
The best day to visit is Tuesday, when the lumo (weekly market) brings the village to life, and with it a better chance of public transport (minibus from Kedougou CFA2250, four hours), for those who really can't afford a hired 4WD - a good investment, considering the dreadful state of the road.
Don't leave Salemata without taking the 15km trip to Ethiolo, either on foot or by car.
The road leads mainly through forest and bushland, and there's a good chance of spotting chimpanzees in the trees (some of the few wild chimps left in Senegal). Ethiolo's brilliant Campement Chez Balingo (§ 985 1 401) has accommodation in traditional Bassari stone huts, and is run by the enthusiastic and knowledgeable Balingo, who can take you on exciting tours of Ethiolo's surroundings.
DINDEFELO & DANDE
One of the most popular destinations from Kedougou is Dindefelo, famous for its impressive 100m waterfall with a deep, green pool suitable for swimming. It's a 2km hike through lush forest from Dindefelo village to the cascade. The starting point is the campement villageois (§ 658 8707; r per person CFA3000), a great place with accommodation in basic, well-kept huts and tasty Senegalese food. You pay CFA500 waterfall admission at the campement; the money goes to the village -just check the solar-powered streetlights. Much less visited is the village of Dande, on the hill above Dindefelo, but if you love steep climbs, don't miss out on this spectacular hike. From here, you can visit the source of the waterfall and stand scarily close to the top edge (don't go here without a guide, as the deep drop is hidden by some innocent-looking shrubs). Nearby there's also an impressive natural cave - gigantic, and so smoothly hollowed out as if manmade or shaped by water - a striking sight. Watch out for the beehives in the bushes.
If you rely on public transport, go to Dindefelo on Sunday, the day of the lumo. The minibus costs CFA700 and takes two hours, but a hired 4WD really is the better option: the road is no fun, and a punctured minibus wheel much less so. It can eat an entire day.
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