Paradise Found

In life, there are certain milestones that demand attention. One must take time out from the relentless rollercoaster and bask in a moment of celebration. Your husband’s 40th is one such occasion.

To mark this glorious coming of age, we decided to book a couple of nights at Collines de Niassam, a boutique eco-hotel, south of Dakar on the Sine Saloum delta.

As with all of life’s looming deadlines, I tend to manage my time to the wire. I planned to use the twins’ nap time the day before to throw the bags into order. So you can imagine my horror, when tucking a babe into her blankets, that I should hear a loud snap from my middle finger. The offending finger tip quickly flopped south, and despite my best efforts would not straighten. Panic calls were quickly made. I FaceTimed my clever surgeon brother, who was attempting to board a rush hour train with his two little helium-balloon-clutching children. Despite insisting on a digital diagnosis at what was clearly an appalling time, the hero that he is kept me calm and told me my tendon was in tatters. I was directed to fashion a splint out of a ice lolly stick. Next I called my hubs and begged he came home from work early to share in the drama. And finally I got on the blower SOS Médecin, who sent their lovely doctor out in under half an hour to refer me for X-rays and further examination.

It was with a fair amount of frustration that on the morning of our scheduled departure, I found myself sitting in a dusty Senegalese hand specialist’s office, being told what I already knew… I had a ‘Mallet Finger’. Even the name makes me want to gag. In the absence of an NHS plastic ‘mallet splint’, my own ice lolly stick was replaced with a special doctor ice lolly stick and some tape, which I have to wear day and night for 8 WEEKS.  Absurd.

By the time we hit the road it was midday. Thankfully we had badgered our nanny into coming with us in order to have some twin-free time together. The angel that she is, kept the girls amused, fed and in clean pants throughout the journey.

I love driving through Senegal. Photos can’t seem to capture the passing blur of energy and colour and the landscape changes from acres of ochre sand, to giant green palms at any given moment.

After four hours of listening to the dulcet tones of ‘Ms Google Maps’, we turned off the road, bumped along a sandy lane and parked up in paradise. Three stiff grownups fell out of the car and retrieved two sweaty cherubs from the backseat.

Checking in at the welcome lodge, soft lanterns, beautiful wood and windowless walls evoked immediate calm. That calm was momentarily dashed to pieces when the very jolly receptionist told me I must have made a mistake, he didn’t have any details of our reservation at all and the lodge was full. He allowed the horror to sink in before rolling around laughing at his joke. I restrained myself from leaping over the desk and beating him with my lolly pop splinted hand. But that welcome sums up the team of this lovely place. Full of mischief, fun and oozing warmth.

Colline de Niassam, Sine Saloum

Colline de Niassam, Sine Saloum

Colline de Niassam, Sine Saloum

Colline de Niassam, Sine Saloum

Colline de Niassam, Sine Saloum

We were led through the grounds under the shade of ancient baobab trees, and below the floor was littered with shells and flame of the forest flowers.

The nanny and the babes took up residence in a spacious room in the garden, giving us a much needed night off.  As we wandered towards our room, we paused to take in the view. An unfaltering horizon line stretched ahead, peppered with a handful of stilted lodges above the lagoon.

Colline de Niassam, Sine Saloum

Our lodge lay on a tiny island at the end of a long bridge. It has to be one of the most peaceful places on earth; only chatting birds and lapping water could be heard. The room was charming and fuss-free with beautiful hardwood floors, simple furnishings and a deck that dreams are made of. Showering is for the brave as the hotel boasts bracingly cold water (it is an eco lodge after all). But if this doesn’t float your boat, you can order a pail of hot stuff for a morning military wash.

Colline de Niassam, Sine Saloum

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Our nearest neighbours

We unpacked the mountains of baby luggage and retreated to the pool for a late afternoon dip. Unfortunately my fabulous Zimmerman swimsuit was somewhat spoiled by an irremissible white plastic glove; essential for keeping my silly finger splint dry. I have spared you the photos…

As the sun disappeared, we sipped homemade rhum cocktails and kissed the babies goodnight. And with the cherubs tucked up, enjoyed a leisurely dinner overlooking the lagoon. An inventive set menu changes every day. Everything is delicious and much of the ingredients are produced on site.

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Colline de Niassam, Sine Saloum

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Colline de Niassam, Sine Saloum

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Lanterns were lit along the bridge to guide us back to our island, and as we merrily stumbled to bed, the stars were out in force. Baby free and alone with the birthday boy.

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However, nothing kills passion quite like a well-timed dose of African Delhi-belly… in an eco-cabin… with no walls… or background noise. Needless to say the only position I tested that night was a foetal ball.

The next morning we awoke exhausted and sleep deprived; not quite the good night’s rest I had envisaged. But thankfully a delightful breakfast arrived to set us up for a morning exploring the mangroves. All homemade and heaven-sent, we tucked into oven-warm bread, papaye and mango jam, omelettes and baobab juice (made from the fruit from the baobab tree, and a total revelation).

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Now, at that very moment, did I really feel like four hours in a Pirogue floating around in the blazing sun? No. But when it’s your husband’s birthday, wifely duty calls.

We were met by our tour guide and driven a few miles off road, pulling up next to a shallow stretch of the river. Our pirogue awaited us and we kicked off our shoes and paddled out. The Sine Saloum delta is one of the most beautiful sights in Senegal and harbours some of the largest mangrove areas in Africa. The delta derives its name from the confluence of two rivers; the Sine and the Saloum… obviously.

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I was of course told how ridiculous I was for bringing a Lanvin bag with me. But it really is the perfect size for a camera, phone, shades and lipbalm.

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We set sail and spent a few heavenly hours bobbing around the mangroves, spotting three chubby dolphins on our way. And while I wouldn’t call myself much of a ‘twitcher’, it was easy to appreciate the wealth of birdlife thriving in this part of the world. Kingfishers; ibis; pelicans; cormorants, and oystercatchers. We even saw a very majestic Goliath heron; with a two meter wing span and standing at one and half meters tall, he makes Big Bird feel very inadequate.

Colline de Niassam, Sine Saloum

I swear this is a genuinely spontaneous pointing shot!

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Goliath Heron

As we made our way back, our lovely guide asked us if we ate oysters and drew our attention to the roots of the mangroves. They were incrusted in oyster colonies. Insisting on going above and beyond for the birthday boy, he proceeded to cut down a few roots for us to enjoy when we reached the shore.

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Scepticism is an understatement. Having spent the night with a tummy dickier than a gluttonous puppy, I was slightly hesitant about downing oysters with reckless abandon. But having seen our guide go to so much trouble I could hardly say no.

Back on terra firma our man set about building a fire. Mystified, we sat and watched as the oysters were tossed on the flames. We were half hoping he was going to whip some red wine and shallot vinaigrette out of his back pocket. Not to mention a cheeky bottle of Chardonnay.

Instead, the oysters were roasted for ten minutes – ‘when the shells open, they are ready’, he told us.

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The verdict? Absolutely delicious. Without a doubt the tastiest oysters I have ever eaten, which left me wondering why we don’t roast oysters on the fire back home? We lost count of how many we ate and left with full tummies.

We headed back to the lodge and settled in for an afternoon of pool paddling, twin cuddling and snoozing.

And two icy cold showers later, we were changed and out the door again.

Next on the Sine Saloum agenda? A hyena safari.

To be continued…

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