Review | Immersed in West Africa: My Solo Journey Across Senegal, Mauritania, The Gambia, Guinea and Guinea Bissau by: Terry Lister

West African Travel Book Reveals Best Kept Secrets of World Tourism

I recently finished an African travel log that is my favorite since reading Jason Carter’s Power Lines The book takes the reader on an intimate journey throughout the lesser-traveled countries of West Africa. Our guide, a cordial, well-mannered Bermudian professional, Mr. Terry Lister, is an adept traveler in the “developing world”. The book is called, Immersed in West Africa: My Solo Journey Across Senegal, Mauritania, The Gambia, Guinea and Guinea Bissau.

Author’s Worldview Enlightens the Western Traveler’s Preconceptions

Introductions to books are sometimes skipped by eager readers. I have been known to do this myself at times. However, I am glad I didn’t with this intro. A couple of pearls of wisdom awaited me as I dug in to Mr. Lister’s account.

He describes a bit of his philosophy on traveling to the rarer corners of the earth in the first 10 pages, and I was hooked by this mindset. He says, “Many people…think they live in the most beautiful place in the world… But there are many other wonders that we could not see by sitting at home.” The expansive worldview that comes from such far-flung travel has Lister say further, “It is almost impossible to visit some other place and return without having learned something.” Here’s the real wisdom, “As we sit in our homes watching television, we form opinions that are directed by someone else. But when we get on the plane and go, we can form opinions based on criteria that matter to us.” I think this is an admirable way of seeing the world, and one that has allowed his reader a glimpse into some intriguing places that have a reputation for danger and peril to westerners.

Sure enough, the marvels of West Africa are chronicled right from the get-go. The author starts in Dakar, the capital of Senegal and the largest city in all of West Africa. My only real familiarity with this region – and this city – is through NPR’s African senior correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, who often reports from the western-most point on the continent. The traveler takes us to the islands off the coast where the history of the 17th-19th century slave-trade are indelibly marked. Further, we get heavy doses of travel guide experiences through the, mostly French, European colonialism etched into the faces of the cities. The dominating African Resistance Monument is a truly awe-inspiring thing to behold.

From Senegal to Mauritania, a Dangerous Border Crossing Handled Adroitly

Much of the rest of this story follows a very clear path moving south with the quick exception of the first jaunt up through Mauritania, then back down through The Gambia, Guinea and Guinea Bissau. Lister’s savviness traveling in the developing world – evidence by his passport that sports the stamps of all but one South American & Central American Countries – is displayed in his border crossing to Mauritania. Calling this one dicey is an understatement. Had I been in his shoes I would not have been so lucky.

Mauritania is interesting for sure, and the account of this expedition had me feeling like I was on set of a Star Wars movie filming a desert planet. The hotels that are “under construction” speak of a place rarely visited by any tourists, let alone westerners. We see this time and again in Lister’s accounts of the 2 Guinea nations. This is exhilarating adventure travel.

The Gambia – An Incredible History of the Slave Trade

As he continues on his way through The Gambia we continue to get a great history lesson about European colonialism. This sliced out piece of Senegal was created as a way for Portugal to have their own port in an otherwise French dominated coastline.

Guinea Conakry’s Hidden Ecotourism Treasures Await

The learning continues through Guinea Bissau and Guinea Conakry. These two countries are probably much bigger, geographically, than most readers would expect. They also hold some ecological treasures that Lister documents which I wasn’t expecting. Other westerners are starting to take note of Guinea Bissau though. Much of the story is about ramshackle transportation between cities, but we learn of world class waterfalls and wildlife preserves here too.

If you have any interest in world travel, and 19th century European colonialism in Africa – check this out!

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