Sitting atop a crumbling old WWII-era French pillbox on Popenguine’s Cap de Naze, an elevated mass of volcanic rock, crashing wild atlantic waves scour the endless white-sand beaches below and the urban expanse of Dakar shimmers, barely perceptible, in the far distance. A lone osprey gracefully soars overhead and a pair of colourful Abyssinan rollers dart in and out of a stately baobab tree while all around the acacia and tamarisk trees buzz and twitter with insect and bird life.
Go back thirty years, however, and it was a very different picture: the wood in the forest had been plundered for both building materials and firewood, and the land was so degraded that it no longer acted as a viable defence from the wild ocean. That is until a coalition of local women’s groups from the surrounding villages got together with the Department of Forestry and, along with funding from a French NGO, took on the conservation of the land, naming it Parque Naturelle de Popenguine.
Visiting the park requires a permit and a guide which are easily sought from the Campement next door. Guides are university-educated conservationists and speak a variety of languages including English and French. You can also stay the night in the simple thatched huts of the the Campement and chat with some of the local women involved in the project as they prepare your breakfast. The best time to hike in the park is dawn when the air is moist and cool, and the sun hasn’t yet begun to appear from behind the hills. You might even spot a porcupine or hyena heading home from their nocturnal wanderings.