Somehow I ended up in Dakar, Senegal. I mean, I know how I got here, I just can't believe I'm really here. Every day on the island, I look out across the water where colorful pirogues bob in the swells, fishermen dodge black rocks to deliver their bounty, and birds float on the breeze just before darting into the waves for their preferred catch. For the time I'm here, I'm residing with the OAR Northwest rowers on Ile de Ngor where surfers vacation, local pets are flea-bitten and feral, and our house is powered by the sun and often limited in electricity. I'm here to work, to take photographs, to intimately document the build-up and commencement of the Mid-Atlantic row. Yes, four men are about to embark upon an adventure unlike no other, where the will to set a World Record in being the first to row mainland Senegal to mainland USA via Miami, Florida, will be challenged by patience and determination. Only one of these men, Jordan Hanssen, was part of the team in 2006 that set a World Record rowing from mainland USA via New York to mainland UK via Falmouth, England. Patrick Flemming rowed with Jordan for the University of Puget Sound. Adam Kreek, a rower from Canada, earned a Gold Medal in the Beijing Olympics as a member of an 8-man crew. Markus Pukonen is a lifelong adventurer who's mission is to travel around the world by any means "human powered". Sitting down to enjoy meals prepared by the rotating cast of chefs in the house gives me the incredible opportunity to savor the presence of these men, their dreams, hilarious stories, and jokes. Dinners are often served in the dark as the sun disappears around 7:30pm. Candles are lit, Cotes du Rhone is poured, cards are played, and deeper experiential connections are made.
Our days together consist first of a delicious breakfast hash of varying vegetable and flavor directions with baguette (topped with Presidente butter and babou jam!!!) and eggs, soft boiled or scrambled, a meeting regarding the plan for the day, and a team clean-up. Some will head off to surf, run a few times around the island (it's very small) through narrow alley ways and encouraging locals ("tres bien!" et "sportif!") followed by quick, cold showers to rinse off sand and sweat... others will write blogs on charged computers, make contact with home, and contemplate any unforeseen issues on board the presumed 60-80 day row. Maps are combed over, the phonetic alphabet is practiced and memorized, and software is familiarized. Christopher Yapp is the videographer on hand to document interviews, training, preparation, and story lines. He and I have difficulty with the lack of electricity as we're regularly needing to process images and satisfy the needs and demands of our contracted employer, the Canadian Wildlife Federation. We often head off to the mainland via motorized pirogue, shoeless as we've had to wade through waves to climb over the edge and through the standing water that sloshes on the bottom of the boat. These pirogues have carried everything from rebar and concrete to les bieres (beer) and surfboard-outfitted travelers. The short distance and lack of need for accelaration often cause the motors to stall or break down. Our only obstacle thus far has been grumpy drivers and the occasional stall. It's a minor inconvenience to leave the island in search for electricity at a price (purchased food or beverage), but it's nice to temporarily be surrounded by the bustle of the city in all of its imperfections and grace. There's something tangible about the busy streets, the death-defying pedestrians crossing in front of multi-colored, damaged cabs, familiar branding from any number of mobile carriers and gas stations. Donkey-drawn carriages add to the surreality of place, but the American-based music often on the speakers of the nearest internet hotspot begin to ground the realities... I am here, in a foreign place where I poorly speak the language, am fascinated by the culture, where I want to learn, evolve, and contribute. The photos are processed and uploaded and the electronics are charged. Christopher and I return to the island for approximately $1 each. We pass locals playing soccer or a seemingly invented game of sticks in the sand, generous young girls eating snails from a flavorful broth, large, colorfully-dressed women cooking poulet (chicken) and poisson (fish)- from whom we've ordered lunch to be delivered to the house for $4/plate, mangy dogs, and trash blown from the fire intended to burn it. We return to wetsuits drying in the sun, inviting beach chairs for napping, and the opportunity to participate in the kitchen. The sun quickly disappears, the candles are once again lit, and the conversations that bring us closer together are rekindled.