It’s time to lighten up and leave the ghosts of the past behind. We’re very fortunate to be able to experience Sénégal travelling in the protective bubble of our guide Yass and his crew. Yass Diallo is phenomenal. He not only came from Sénégal to make a success of himself as a personal trainer and fitness model. Not only that he’s so muscly he looks like a bunch of balloons twisted into a toy animal – he also runs a charity that supports a school and fitness centre in his home town of Kolda, in the deep South of the country.
We are thirteen altogether (nine blokes, three gals) but despite the supposedly unlucky number, no calamities have befallen us. Our tribe elder is a Brit of 56, whereas our youngest member is King, a four-year-old toddler who’s taking it all in with a big beautiful smile, never complaining at the rigours of the journey. He travels under the care of his mum and his uncle, who wanted to show little man what life is like for those less privileged. One of us in an engineer, another a personal trainer and photographer, another still a TV journalist; we have a lovely blonde volunteer, come all the way from Norway, we have a parliamentary researcher – I could go on. Each member of our group is uniquely talented, open to new experiences and eager to take it all in. Then there is Yass, our dear leader, and his younger brother Bapa, who drives our Transit van, day in day out, as well as his elder brother Sellou and a variety of mates and chums who join and peel away as if we were an ever-changing, living organism.
If there’s anyone who needs to be accompanied on their way home or to a pharmacy, there’s always a member of the group to act as an escort. Likewise if there’s some haggling to be done at the Medina or a ferry ticket to be bought. We are very well looked after, yet experience the real Sénégal up close.
Since Yass is a personal trainer, most of us are fitness fanatics or at least, willing to be chivvied along into some physical activity. This makes the whole thing very sane and healthy – our hedonism stops at a couple of mojitos at the most, one or two ciggies a day.
Of course, there is a schedule and, it has to be said, not much down time. I’ve always thought I’d hate to be on this kind of group tour running to a schedule like a Saga holiday, but at least for this trip, I could think of no better way to get to know this very foreign country.