The ancient baobab tree
Known as the 'upside down' tree because its bare branches look like roots jetting out into the sky, the baobab tree dominates the landscape in this reagion. A local tale tells that devil himself uprooted the tree and placed it upside down. The baobab is also believed to have magical powers because of its ability to store water in the huge trunk. Other names for the tree includes 'monkey bread tree' from the pulpy nature of the large yellow fruits.
Superstition abounds around the baobab tree, and most villages have at least one specimen. There are few trees around with so many uses: The fruit is made into a drink, musical instrumets are fashioned from the bark, the fragrant white flowers are used as decoration during festivals. Leaves are eaten either frsh or dried. Dried leaves are powedered and used for medicinal purposes, said to cure rheumatism and inflammations. The bark is used to help cure malaria, the pulp is a remedy for circulatory ailments, the seeds are manufactured into soap and fertiliser. The gourd-like shells are fashioned into containers, bark can be woven into rope and cloth as well as being used as packing paper. The hollow trunks have been used as shelter over the centuries, whilst any dead trees are utilised as firewood or made into boats. Baobab trees have long been popular places for burials.
This tree is said to be 800 years old, and unlike most trees, it does not increase in height as it gets older, it actually gets shorter whilst the girth increases, just like humans.
The finished product
The finished product - mussels cleaned, boiled and ready to eat, are now dried on mats on the ground before being sold in the local markets. It is a very labour intensive process for very little return, but at least it provides an income for the villagers.
We also visited a very different village on one of the many islands, where we were free to walk amongst the huts and the women working. This village had a very different and much friendlier feel to it than the fishing village. The people were very welcoming and charming, eager to show us their way of life.
This being a river delta, fish is plentiful here and most of the population make a living from fishing. We visited a small fishing village on ther banks of the river, to see how they catch, dry and prepare the fish.
Preparing the mussles
The next step in the process is to boil the mussels to get the shells to open up. In the background you can see the huge mountain of mussel shells which is left over after the edible part has been extracted.
Most of the fish which is caught around these waters are air dried on large tables along the coast, before being sold in the local markets.
Making a living
The inhabitants of this village make their living by collecting mussels from the surrounding mangroves. The mussels have to be manually cleaned as a first step in the process.
Also common to this region, is the growing of various grain. On our way to the coast we came across the interesting grain storage by the side of the track.