Sunday, April 17, 2011

Accro-Baobab Adventure

Accro-Baobab Adventure is the name of a real business in Senegal.  It is billed as being "fun for all ages: from 4 to 77!"

The business is obviously owned by a foreigner because there is a functioning website with prices clearly displayed, a working telephone number answered by a bilingual staff member, read-able directions accompanied by a map as well as numerous photos of people who look like they are enjoying themselves.  Don't believe any of the photos: these people have already soiled their pants as part of a "team building exercise" and are trapped on the course.  Those grins are the same ones you might see in an insane asylum from people who are laughing hysterically at their situation.  As I will explain...

First, let me explain the baobab.  The baobab is a giant tree: usually about 60 to 80 feet high with a trunk diameter of 24 inches.  Giant.  There are "baobab forests" that dot the country-side, but it is definitely possible to see giant baobabs still standing in the city limits of Dakar.  The tree is known as the tree of life in Senegal because it provides fruit ("monkey bread"), the leaves may be eaten and the tree can store water.  The tree is pulpous, meaning you can't chop it down for wood to build anything (which is probably why there are still so many remaining).  Also, in some cultures, people are buried in a hollowed out section of the boabab.  Sometimes the trunks can "break open" while the tree is still standing and it is possible to see a random skull or other bones lodged into a portion of the trunk.  I might have inserted that last part for "dramatic effect."

My friend and I were chauffeured to this fine location by our driver who never met a bump in the road he didn't like.  In fact, our driver takes the phrase "speed bump" quite literally as "go very fast over this bump."  We arrived in record time.

I knew roughly where the location was and wisely packed three 1.5 liter bottles of water as well as some cashews and chocolate covered bisquits (think Keebler Fudge grahams, or - if you are a high-classed citizen - think LU chocolate covered busquits, which is pretty much exactly what these are) because there isn't a grocery store around for miles.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by some local men dressed in official "Accro-baobab Adventure" shirts who were happy to strap a harness, clamps, a pulley and some other gear onto us.  No safety helmet required.  Heck, it wasn't even an option.  I love this country. 

I had been ziplining in Costa Rica before and had presumed this was going to be a similar adventure.  At the ziplining course, the workers did everything for us.  They strapped on our gear.  They secured our pulleys.  They were located at both the beginning and ending platforms of each location to assist with getting on and off the zipline.  It honestly couldn't have been easier. 

Our first clue that this wasn't Costa Rica is when we were taken to a "practice course" by our guide.  He spoke very little English and my friend and I speak very little French.  There are many of you who have seen horror movies and there's always a point in the horror movie where you fairly scream at the television, "No! Turn around! Run!"  My friend was screaming those exact words while asking for an English speaking guide.  I decided I had to be brave for the both of us, so I dutifully went through the practice course without difficulty.  My friend was able to find a worker who spoke enough broken English to build the absolute minimum level of confidence required to complete the practice course.  Then, it was off to the real thing.

First, we climbed a giant baobab tree using a strategically placed ladder.  Our safety equipment was tethered to the ladder and this was fairly easy - although a bit strenuous.  After reaching the top of the platform, we were then instructed on how to zip-line across a 60 foot ravine to another baobab.  In the back of my mind, I asked myself "How is a 4-year old was supposed to figure out how to stop at the other side with no one there to assist?" but I quickly put that out of my mind as I went hurtling through the air.  This was the easy part of the course.

We continued through a maze of activities that could only be described as a vicious prank developed by all the contestants who have ever played (and lost) the television game show "Survivor."  There were rope walks, catwalk bridges, more ziplines, more trees to climb on ladders and planks that were much more rickety than the "practice course" ever would have suggested.  And it was getting hot outside. About 85 degrees to be exact.  Our driver was taking photos of this hilarious excursion while drinking his bottle of water.  That's when it really hit me.  There was no way to actually get off the course without completing the course!  And there wasn't an ounce of water anywhere to be found in these tree-tops without actually hacking one of them open with a machete.

My friend - who is self-admittedly allergic to exercise - was getting a bit tired at one point.  Our guide let her rest at one platform and pointed for me to continue along to another section of the course.  After we had begun this course, he informed me with a smile that this particular section was the "military course."  I discovered why moments later when I was asked to traverse a particular section consisting of two swinging logs followed by two stirrups followed by two rope-swings followed by another swinging log. 

I would have paid a monkey $30 to bring a bottle of water up to me.  The monkey would have laughed because it wouldn't have been stupid enough to attempt the military course.  My friend, who by this time was very well rested, laughed heartily when I finally returned to her platform after performing 5 other tasks.

We finally zip-lined down to the finish area where we were once again photographed.  After landing, we were led to a "break" area where we were served approximately two ounces of hot tea.  I asked my driver to bring a bottle of our water, but forgot that the water had been sitting inside of a locked vehicle for two hours and was now hotter than the tea!

It was about this time that my friend and I noticed some small children.  It was also at this time we discovered there was a children's course.  The children were strapped into their safety gear and happily zipping across "their" course.  The children's course consisted of 10 foot trees and wide platforms occupied by helpful staff to assist their entry and exit onto the course.  They also had a big trampoline to play on.  They were laughing and smiling.   I was unable to lift my arms over my head for 4 days.

I have to end this with a quick post script.  As we were about to leave, a group of Chinese tourists were embarking on the course.  One of the tourists was, ahem, a bit timid to zip-line across the first section and was trying to wrap her arms around the trunk of the baobab for protection.  After a dozen or so false starts, she finally made it across. 

My friend and I couldn't help but take pictures, laugh and smile as we left for the day.  We drank our hot water and the chocolate had completely melted on our bisquit-cookies.  We both agreed they were the best cookies we had ever tasted.


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