When packing, we had decided to take two bags (although it turns out we could have checked more if we wanted) - one large suitcase with all the clothes in (light but bulky) and the wash bags (because if they leaked, then the clothes could be washed) and one small one with books (in case we couldn't charge our devices easily), games, changes of shoes, chargers and other heavy things. This one arrived in Dakar with us. The large suitcase with all our clothes and our wash bags did not. After waiting for an hour, it was clear that it had not made it and we had to venture into the back of the luggage area to report the loss, summoning up what French we could manage at 3am after a very long 24 hours. We also discovered that although I had a letter of confirmation from the reserve, it didn't have the phone number of the reserve on it, which complicated matters in terms of how they could get in touch with us but we gave them our mobile numbers and got a number we could call them on and a reference. I have never been so glad that we remembered to retain the luggage receipt tags from when we checked our bags - one of them nearly ended up in the suitcase because we got the tags and then I put my coat in the case, so it's amazingly lucky that Alex realised the tag was in the pocket before I zipped it up!
Our next step was to try and find our driver, which I was a little anxious about because it was now at least an hour and half after we'd landed so I was wondering if he'd have given us up. We had a look around the taxi rank but couldn't find anyone who seemed to have actually been arranged to meet us as opposed to just wanting to give us a taxi ride so we went back inside where, thankfully, our phones had caught up with the country change and connected us to the mobile network and, even better, it turned out that there was a free wifi network available. I looked up the phone number for the reserve and emailed my contact there and we settled down to wait, not very surprised that there was no answer on the phone at 3:30am! Fortunately, after about fourty minutes, we had an email in reply and we were quickly in email communication. There had been a timing miscommunication, but our driver was on the way. He turned up in another half an hour and we were finally on our way to the reserve!
The drive from Dakar to Fathala is about 4 and a half hours. Alex slept most of the way there - I slept for the first part but then woke up and couldn't get back to sleep so watched the sunrise over the countryside and then enjoyed the views out of the window. There was a variety of other traffic on the road, from tankers, trucks and other cars through scooters and bikes to horse and donkey drawn traps, mostly transporting agricultural goods. We passed lots of goats, donkeys and pigs grazing freely and a couple of herds of cattle, mostly long horned, being driven. There were small villages and settlements and one or two pretty large seeming cities. It was just a totally different landscape to any place I'd ever been and, in the early morning light and still feeling pretty tired, it felt other worldly.
Arriving at the reserve was a huge relief. We were given breakfast and shown around our ridiculously luxurious tent. It has plumbing! And electricity! It's basically a hotel room, and a pretty swanky one, only with canvas walls. The reserve staff offered to take over dealing with the airport for us and, after a lovely breakfast, I was finally able to take a shower and have a nap! We emerged in the afternoon and came to relax on the beautiful decking terrace with a book. At the end of the terrace there's a watering hole about 500m away, maybe less, and over the course of the afternoon, we saw some antelope (Western Derby Eland - the rare species of antelope that the reserve was set up to aid conservation of), warthogs and lots of monkeys, just bounding about, checking things out. It really was amazing and still felt slightly unreal - all these animals, just coming up to drink so close by, taking very little notice of us at all except to cast slightly suspicious glances our way. I have just interupted writing this because I looked up and saw lots of them by the watering hole again and one of a different type up a tree, watching Alex!
We finished up the evening with a really very lovely dinner of fillet of beef and a bottle of wine and turned in to finally get a good nights rest. The reserve really is everything I could have hoped and more - the staff are lovely, the food is delicious, the accommodation is incredibly comfortable and there are monkeys everywhere! I keep taking photos but they haven't all uploaded yet (the internet isn't very fast) so I'll save that until I get back :) We haven't even been on the game drive yet!
There was hope that by today, our suitcase might have turned up but thus far, there's no sign. We were taken into the nearest town, on the Gambian border, today, where we stopped off, bought some fabric and then left it with a tailor who's going to make a change of clothes for us! There'll definitely be photos of those tonight, when they are supposed to be arriving. We managed to pick up some deoderant and tooth brushes and fortunately, the reserve already provided things like shampoo and body wash, as well as having some insect repellant on hand, so we're pretty much set for the moment and tomorrow we'll be ready to get out and start taking part in some of the activities on offer here.