By STEPHEN MARCHE
As the low-slung pirogue hummed along the Casamance River in the remote southern portion of Senegal, dolphins accompanied us. I had first spotted them on the overnight ferry from Dakar to Ziguinchor. But here they were within reach, companions who swam alongside the boat, nudging their noses toward us as we headed upriver.
My 8-year-old son, my friend Catherine and her 5- and 7-year-olds, and I were all whooping with delight. And we weren’t even close to our final destination, a ramshackle settlement in the Petit Kassa region of Casamance, where violet touracos, bright blue plantain-eating birds, could be easily spotted, according to a birder I knew.
Casamance is literally and metaphorically a country away from busy, worldly Dakar. The north is dry; the south is lush. The north is a major African hub; the south is rural African backwater. In between them lies Gambia. We fell asleep in a big, modern city fighting off the encroachments of the desert and woke up in a mangrove-lined river so rich with life that fish flopped out of the boat’s wake as if in some biblical parable. The dolphins had followed them.
Ziguinchor is an overnight ferry ride from Dakar. From Ziguinchor, pirogues can take you to Pointe St. George, and from there to Petit Kassa.
Creature Discomforts: 3
Rooms in Ziguinchor and in the larger towns along the Casamance river are basic but comfortable. In the smaller villages, there’s little more than mosquito nets.
Physical Difficulty: 2
The pirogues, which are the primary mode of transport along the river, are rough and often dangerous. The experience of riding in them is roughly the same as sitting in a canoe for a couple of hours.
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A version of this article appears in print on February 15, 2015, on page TR12 of the New York edition. Order Reprints| Today’s Paper|Subscribe