I know it’s been a minute

School, work, travel, and a new puppy will do it! All is well. Will update soon.

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Orange Blossom 10K Race Recap

It’s hard to drive anywhere in Polk County, Florida without seeing orange groves. It was only right that the major running event in Haines City be named after the state flower that adorns a growth stage of orange trees.

The Advent Health Orange Blossom races consisted of half marathon, 10K and 5K distances. The 10K was my sweet spot to stay on track with Derby Mini Marathon training. 10Ks and 5Ks will be my preference as the need to run longer distances has become less enjoyable mentally and wearing on me physically.

Before I get into to this race recap, I need to give a shout out to the photographers with Sommer Sports. One thing I will never grow tired of is being in front of a camera! The photos were so easy to download and they even included finisher videos.

Orange Blossom 10k start
Photo Credit: Sommer Sports Events


It was cool for Floridians with temps in the low 70s by the time the sun rose and cleared the fog. Low humidity and a light breeze was a bonus in what I consider to be warm for running. There was very little shade except for the Haines City Trail portion of the race on the last two miles.

Race Start

The 10K runners started 20 minutes after the half marathon. The DJ/announcer kept everyone hyped and gave a countdown. Everyone was timid about lining up to the timing mats. I did a brief review of the course map, but not enough to lead the pack. Nevertheless, the teacher in me took on that leadership role.

10K overall winner in the middle. 50th birthday for the woman in purple leggings.


Lake Eva Community park was the race headquarters. I passed on the porta potties and utilized the park restrooms which were sparkly clean. The park is named for the lake that surrounds it. There are tennis courts, an outdoor pool, a playground and basketball courts.

We ran east from the park where the rolling hills began. I read some reviews of the Orange Blossom Half that mentioned hills, but I didn’t think it was like that! Running over an overpass is considered a hill in Florida. Actually, that is a stereotype because the more I navigate there are definitely areas like Clermont with plenty of hills.

Most of my training has been on a track. The sun was in our faces and I figured the course was designed to get the hardest part out the way first.

Drone image by Sommer Sports

We went through a residential neighborhood with one or two early birds cheering for us. Boone Middle School was on the left. I couldn’t help but notice how new the school was and how nice the gymnasium looked. It sits across the street from a cemetery. I wondered how the middle school kids might feel about that. Next, was the Haines City High School on the right. Again, another newer construction. Must be nice!

Thanks to Sommer Sports for the awesome photos!

I was feeling strong, but that sun was getting to me when we ran a down and back section of soon to be developed land. I was passed on the hills by a lady and was wondering how far the next woman was behind me. I saw the lead woman facing me at the turn around. I wondered if I could gain some ground on her. She was rolling.

When I made the loop there were two women who would be my competition. My goal was to place in my age group of 45-49. To be overall 2nd was a dream. If these two women passed me, I would be knocked down to 4th. I didn’t like that scenario.

The course went past the schools again. I heard a “Moooooooo.” Yup, there was a whole cow just hanging out. For the last three miles I imagined the typical 3-4 miles I run on my break at work. I was parched. The water stops were at miles 2 and 4. Mile 4 was sort of a double stop because we passed it twice on the Haines City Trail. I took Gatorade at all stops to stay hydrated.

At the turn around on the trail, this gentleman yelled how he was trying to catch me. I laughed it off. It was the last half mile and I heard feet and breathing. I said to myself, “okay let’s get it then!” The same man who called me out was passing me! It was such a thrill and positive way to finish the race.

I was smiling for the last half mile because I had a challenger race me to the finish.

Post Race

First place female thanked me for motivating her. It’s just a certain energy to have during these races. I can never take it too seriously especially considering all this was shut down, socially distanced or even virtual a year ago. It’s important to really be in the moment and be kind to each other.

I love the camaraderie among runners! This is Corey. He dusted me at the finish.


Time: 51:51.7 / 8:15 pace

Overall Place: 13th of 72

Female Overall: 2nd place

Kelsie Smoot 10K 2nd place woman overall


All of the race medals were the same. The only difference was the color of the ribbon. I was given a large mason jar and a beautiful tile plaque for my performance. There were plenty of post race snacks including Orange Blossom Honey Pilsner. The race bag had a crisp white tee with the race logo and a few samples of tea and a shaving oil.

Signing off for now. Hopefully, it won’t be another year before I post again. 🙃


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My Jewels: Phillip and Alice Smoot

I told my mom that we should have some photos taken.  Our last photography session was in summer 2016 before my parents moved to Florida.  We needed to break the monotony of the pandemic restrictions and have a reason to feel “normal” again.   

Alice, Kelsie, Phillip Smoot

Phillip and Alice love to dress up.  Mom purchased a larger dresser in my bedroom because every closet is near capacity.  “A.J. Fine” was the nickname given in her WVSU days from always having an eye for classic and trendy styles.  She knows how to come through with those Michelle Obama 2021 Inauguration Day type of fashion layouts and sporty flare for exercising.   

Kelsie Smoot, Alice Smoot

Phil doesn’t have any off days either.  His favorite color to wear is white because it reminds him of his Uncle Cecil.  Mom has to remind him to add some rotation of all the colorful polos he has. Mom and Dad’s main opportunity to dress up is on Sundays for church.  I think they’ve gone to one or two parking lot services in the last year due to the pandemic.  

Kelsie Smoot, Phillip L. Smoot Sr.

Shopping in our closets was a no brainer after limited public interaction for a year.  A while back, a dress on a mannequin caught Mom’s attention.  She knew I would like it. We are quick to call each other or text for fashion opinions.  It was a matter of days before the dress went from a mannequin to my doorstep.  

Phillip, Kelsie, Alice Smoot

When I first mentioned this idea to my Mom, she told me that my Dad recently requested getting some photos of him and my Mom.  I guess you can say I photobombed them.

My Jewels, Mr. and Mrs. Phillip and Alice Smoot
The Smoots, -4 Brothers

We are happy when we can get Big Phil on board to do things.  He’s a Vietnam Veteran, Ford Motor Company retiree at age 56, and retired co-owner of P&A Cleaning.  He will tell you in a minute, “Nope, I’m gonna stay in and catch some of these ball games.”  We can’t argue with that.

My dad was diagnosed with dementia shortly after leaving the poor air quality of the Ohio Valley that kept him on nebulizers.  We knew he had symptoms prior to the official doctor’s report.  I am very close to my parents and protect them the best ways I know how.  I am grateful for the chance to live in these moments although my Dad may forget about them shortly after.  

Kelsie Smoot, Phillip Smoot

The overall message is to be mindful of the simple acts that can remind a dementia patient that they have purpose.  It is equally, if not more important for the caregiver (my Mom) to have her crown polished from time to time also.

My grandma often told me, “Your parents are your jewels.”  She could not have described them any better.  

My Jewels, Phillip and Alice Smoot

Love and Honor Always, 

Kelsie Smoot

Kelsie Lou

Styled by: Alice Smoot 

Instagram:  @kelsielou.c0m

Twitter:  @4mysmootentspe

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A Tribute to Lucy L. Smoot

Kelsie and Grandma on the porch in Madison, WV

I want to share the beautiful obituary written by my aunts and uncles to pay tribute to my paternal grandmother, Lucy L. Smoot:  

LUCY LINTHICUM BENNETT SMOOT passed away peacefully at home at the age of 96 on March 3, 2021, after a short illness. She was surrounded and supported by her son and faithful caregiver, Rodney, and other loving family. She was born July 28, 1924, the 13th child of Rev. George L. and Fannie L. Bennett in Lester, West Virginia. Having lost her mother during childbirth, Lucy was provided the safety, security and generosity of surrogate parents, Mr. Will and Mrs. Lenora Watson of Widen, W.Va. After the death of Mr. Watson, Lucy went to live with her father in Lester, W.Va., at about age 12.


Four years later Rev. Bennett was sent to pastor the St. Paul AME Church in Madison, W.Va., where Lucy met the late Andrew Boyd Smoot when she and her father were guests at the 1940 annual Smoot Family Reunion. On many occasions Boyd recounted that fateful meeting and recalled that he declared upon first sight that she would be his bride. 


They married six months later on March 23, 1941, in Madison. Boyd, a brick mason, and Lucy, a devoted homemaker, built their first and only home together. They raised seven children in that home and were separated after 58 years upon Boyd’s death in 1999. Lucy lived in the family home over 70 years and often spoke of it as her first real home.

Boyd and Lucy Smoot clan. (L/R) Rodney, Shelia, Phillip, Vera, Lucy, Alice, Doug, Janice, and Boyd.

Lucy was multi-talented and especially enjoyed crocheting and gifting countless afghans. She was a superb seamstress and often the go-to person in the community for special occasion garment creations and alterations. 

My AKA colors afghan is still in pristine condition.

Her cooking and baking talents were unsurpassed. She loved preparing a plethora of baked goods for family, friends, reunions, and community and church events. In 2019, she was recognized at the 90th annual Smoot Family Reunion as the oldest living woman in addition to the previous three years.

Grandma’s 95th birthday celebration in 2019

She was a remarkable woman defined by steadfast faith, graciousness and kindness. Her warm smile was infectious. She was a lovingly devoted wife, mother and grandmother. She had a particular affinity for children.

Five Generations: Lucy Smoot, Big Phil, Phil Jr, Trey, & Lil’ Phil. IV.

Lucy was an avid flower gardener. She delighted in canning vegetables harvested from Boyd’s vegetable garden and sharing the fruits of their labor with neighbors, friends and others in the community.

She was a devout Christian and member of the St. Paul AME Church in Madison until the membership dwindled to the last three remaining elderly members among which she was the eldest. During its thriving years she was a member of the Missionary Society and Usher Board. Determined to remain in fellowship with other believers, Lucy pursued another church home. She then joined the Maranatha Bible Missionary Baptist Church where she participated in Bible study and was acknowledged as Mother of the Church.

Kelsie and Grandma going to church.

Lucy had a special love for reading and writing. At the age of 80 she authored a book titled “A Slice of Life from Star Route 2.” It gave new meaning to her noble profession of homemaking through her recipes, family stories of lessons learned, craftsmanship as a seamstress and much more.

“A Slice of Life from Star Route 2” by Lucy Bennett Smoot

Lucy was preceded in death by her husband, Andrew Boyd, and their daughter, Alice Carol Gentry. She is survived by six children, Phillip (Alice) Smoot of Winter Haven, Fla., Vera (Thaddeus) Taylor of Union City, Ga., Douglas Smoot of Institute, W.Va., Janice (Jerry) Ferguson of Louisville, Ky., Rodney Smoot of Madison, W.Va., Shelia (Dan) Price of Morgantown, W.Va.; 14 grandchildren, 18 great-grandchildren; and 11 great- great-grandchildren; a host of nieces and nephews, relatives and friends. Lucy left for her family a legacy of love, gratitude, kindness, generosity and old-fashioned goodness.

Grandma and Kelsie Easter Sunday in Louisville, KY
Grandma’s 90th Birthday Party. I ran 20 miles that morning and drove to see her.
I purposely matched our outfits this day.

My last visit with grandma was spent making herstory as she made the Coal Valley News for early voting back in October.  I was supposed to visit her again in February, but I didn’t make it.  I have no regrets because I spent a lot of time with her.  I was told that I wouldn’t have wanted to see her in the frail condition.  We always had a good time visiting with one another.  She loved to laugh, enjoyed good meals, going outside when the weather was nice, and social interactions.

Uncle Rodney, Grandma and Kelsie spending quality time and making herstory.

My last time talking with grandma was a couple of weeks before she transitioned.  I could hear in her voice that she was very weak.  Her last words to me were, “I love you Kelsie, I love you, I love you.”

I love you too, Grandma, and always will.

Kelsie Lou

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Points of Interest in Senegal

Senegal, Africa is divided into 14 regions, which are broken down into 45 departments, branching to 103 subdivisions, and several ethnicities.  The term “African” should not be used loosely as a generalized term to identify people who are born or live on the continent.  During my two week visit, I was able to visit 5 regions, plus the small country of The Gambia.  Spending a day connected with nature provided a catharsis after the emotional day at Gorée Island.  

This photo was featured on Instagram @blacktraveltube.

Market in Nguéniène

One of my favorite photos from the trip.

Our day began with a trip to the Marché hebdomadaire de Nguéniène, or Market of Nguéniène.  I have also seen it referred to as the Sine Saloum Market.  This weekly gathering is similar to what American’s call a “Farmers Market.”  The location in the Thiès Region is very remote and if it were not for my Garmin watch, I would not know the location.  

Various grains for sale at Marché hebdomadaire de Nguéniène.

The markets are very common and occur in every small village.  The main mode of transportation are horse driven carts.  Everything from fresh produce, livestock, and textiles are for sale or trade.  I witnessed fabrics being sewn on the spot for custom orders.  The social interaction is a major part of the market days.

Marché hebdomadaire de Nguéniène
Tree in the same family of the baobab at Market of Nguéniène.

There was an understandably mixed reception of me being an outsider taking photos and recording videos.  Those images have been intentionally left out of this summary or cropped.  It was explained to me that some are leary of journalists who go to their village taking photos, and profit off the publications.  

On the other hand, there were some people who wanted their photo taken as a trade off for purchasing their items.  Language was a barrier with most people associated with the Serer ethnic group speaking Wolof as their first language.  

Market of Nguéniène
Fresh beignets at Market of Nguéniène.
Fonio is naturally gluten free.
Market of Nguéniène
Tapalapa Bread. I ate this daily and didn’t gain a pound.
Market of Nguéniène
Market of Nguéniène

Most of the Serer people are muslim.  They celebrate a holiday called Eid al-Adha to acknowledge when Abraham was going to sacrifice his son to God.  My first question was why are Muslims using a Christian example to celebrate?  It was interesting to learn that Muslims recognize Abraham as a prophet.

Vans were used to transport the sheep. They had 3 legs tied to control them. Market of Nguéniène

Bird Islands Fatick, Senegal

We went farther south to the Fatick Region that is home to Bird Islands and the Delta Saloum National Park.

Bird Islands. Fatick, Senegal. Home to flamingos, mocking gulls, pelicans and goliath heron.

The Restaurant Les Piroguiers was a nice open-air restaurant near the water.  This area is usually very busy, so the merchants were happy to see us.  We sipped apéritifs and enjoyed the social interactions while our meals were prepared.

Restaurant Les Piroguiers in Fatick, Senegal.
Restaurant Les Piroguiers in Fatick, Senegal.

One of the merchants arranged a pirogue excursion for us.  It was so relaxing to have that feeling like you are gliding on top of the water.  A combination of land and sea make this area one of the richest ecosystems in West Africa.

In safe hands with Les Aventuriers du Saloum.

There are a lot of boats used for fishing and to transport people to different islands.  The boaters are so intelligent to know how to get around.  The archipelago consists of about 200 islands through mangroves, palm trees and baobabs.  

Les Aventuriers du Saloum made my day.
Loved every moment of Bird Islands Fatick Les Aventuriers du Saloum.

God’s layout of this region is unique because the Serers have been able to protect their culture from European invasion due to their uncertainty of how to cross from island to island.  

I can’t believe we are going through the mangroves of Bird Islands Fatick, Senegal.

Baobab Sacré

Baobab Sacré Fadial, Sénégal

The Sacred Baobab was given its name for having a circumference of 32 meters, making it the largest baobab in Senegal.  The friendly host of the site took his time while giving me an overview of how it took 850 years to reach this size.

Baobab Sacré Fadial, Sénégal

Senegalese scientist and historian, Cheikh Anta Diop, developed the technique of carbon 14 dating.  Diop’s research proved the amount of melanin in Egyptian mummies matched those of Africans today.  His work was discredited at the time, but after his death his lab was raided only for his work to be stolen.  I am currently reading one of his books called, The African Origin of Civilization to gain a better understanding of his research.

Baobab Sacré Fadial, Sénégal

Baobabs are technically classified as plants although they have the visual characteristic of a tree.  The Colonel at Gorée Island let me feel how fibrous the wood is.  

Baobab wood fiber

The porous wood is not used for building.  The baobabs have many uses.  Not only are they gathering spots for relief from the sun, baobabs have medicinal value.  One of the most common is the use of the leaves for a tonic to relieve stomach issues.  

The Baobab Sacré teacher asked if I wanted to go inside.  I was caught off guard because I didn’t think it was possible.  He told me to touch the “tree” with my left hand, and make a wish for good luck.  I was thinking about the tradition at Showtime at the Apollo as I made my wish.  

Inside the Baobab Sacré Fadial, Sénégal.
Grateful for this experience at Sacred Baobab of Senegal.

After the excitement of being inside Senegal’s largest Baobab, I purchased some carved wooden masks from a vendor.  I know they rely on visitors to make a living off their talents.

Akon City

Akon City is in the beginning stages of an ultra modern design plan.  We passed the construction site for the corporate offices during our day trip.  It is in a very rural area of Nianing, along the Mbour-Joal route.  

Akon City Construction Site

We pulled over to find out that Akon would be on site to check the progress of his project.  A small crowd gathered with anticipation of his arrival.  I just knew Akon was there based on a luxury SUV that was parked, but it wasn’t him.  I love that Akon is giving back to his homeland.

Not too far from Akon City is the unique architecture of the Epiphany Church of the Lord Nianing.  It is designed after the termite mounds that have a chimney like feature to release hot air.

Epiphany Church of the Lord Nianing

We were on the go everyday except for Christmas.  This two weeks vacation scratched the surface of what Senegal has to offer.  Saint Louis and some of the islands off the coast of Senegal are on my wish list, along with the neighboring countries of Guinea-Bissau and Mauritania. 

*All of my content is protected by copyright.  Please ask permission for use for any of my photos.  These images are solely for informational/educational purposes and not for sale.*  

Kelsie Lou

Kelsie L. Smoot

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Gorée Island, Senegal

Kelsie Smoot at the Door of No Return, Gorée Island, 12-22-20.

“Welcome home.”

Those two words held so much power when I was greeted at the historic site of the transatlantic slave trade which took place on Gorée Island.  The largest slave trade area off the west coast of Africa is a 25 minute ferry ride from Dakar, Senegal.  I was all smiles leaving the Port of Dakar towards Gorée.  I left with a mix of emotions on my way back from a life changing experience. 

Professional photographers will have your prints waiting in the Port of Dakar.

The ferry ride was up tempo from the vendors who use the ferry ride to introduce themselves.  This interaction is a pre-sale for you to purchase their goods once you arrive.  I remembered Kenza, because I liked her name.  Kenza made sure she called out “Kelsie” so I could shop with her.  I respect the hustle, but I didn’t feel obligated to buy anything because she knew my name.

Self exploring on Gorée Island is an option, but it is best to hire a guide.  There are plenty of official tour guides who wait along the path next to the heart welcome sign.  I was told that the sign was put there as a symbol of forgiveness of what easily can be viewed as unforgivable. 

Forgive, but never forget.

We were fortunate to have the island’s well respected,“The Colonel” as our tour guide.  He has lived on Gorée Island since he was a small child.  Colonel has an elementary education, but don’t let that fool you.  He taught himself how to speak six languages by engaging with travelers from all over the world.  The musician Akon even requests Colonel when he visits Gorée Island.  

The House of Slaves (Maison des Esclaves)

Check out the video I recorded of The Colonel giving us a tour of the House of Slaves.  He can tell the story much better than I can:

I am standing where the colonizers lived lavishly above the horrific conditions. Notice the Door of No Return below.
This was the last holding cell before innocent people were forced from their homeland.
Letters from all over the world fill the House of Slaves Museum.
My forever President.
Gorée Island famous visitors including Tiki Barber and President Clinton.

It is best to plan for half a day on Gorée Island to explore the many historical sites.  There is a prestigious all-girls boarding school where the highest academic achieving young women focus on math and science.  

Monument at the highest point of Gorée Island.

We toured the St. Charles Eglise Church.  The irony is how the church was built while people were being treated so poorly.  European missionaries used Christianity as a way to condemn traditional African religions such as Voodoo.   

Gorée Island St. Charles Eglise Church

Inside the St. Charles Eglise Church is a framed letter from Pope John Paul II.  The contents are his apologies for the life and freedom that was stolen from the people of Africa. 

House of Slave Museum artifacts: Pope John Paul II, the infamous slave ship planking.

The St. Charles Eglise Church is still an active place of worship along with a mosque on the western slope of the island.  The call to prayer was being announced over the speakers as we walked down the pebble steps to the sand art demonstration.

We were encouraged to take photos and film the process of making African sand art.  Senegalese high schools promote art through special programs that teach this specific process. 

Talented Artist on Gorée Island

There are 24 types of sands that come in different colors based on where they originate.  Some of the sands come from the beaches of Saly, termite mounds, the Sahara Desert, mangroves, Sudan, Chad, Cap Skirring, and Lac Rose (The Pink Lake). The outer ring of black sand is from volcanoes.  The pigment was used in the construction of the African Renaissance Monument.  The glue used in the process is a mixture of the baobab sap and Arabic gum.

African Sand Art

There are several talented artists who make a living by creating handmade jewelry and paintings.  I was sorting through my photos for this blog post and noticed one artist had a sign that said, “no photo acheté c’est mieux.”  The English translation is, “No photo, buy is better.”  I agree and respect his wishes.

My biggest takeaway after visiting Gorée Island is the yearning for knowledge about my true ancestry.  Smoot is a borrowed name that my paternal lineage can only trace back to 1842 in Tazewell County, Virginia.  My maternal side (Thomas) traces to Alabama similar to other African Americans who claim the South as their origin.  Our history and herstory did not begin as enslaved, escaped, or freed Americans.  

Photo Credit: The Colonel.

The real question is, “In what country in Africa did we originate?”  African Americans are missing a huge part of our cultural identities.  My dna testing kit from African Ancestry should be arriving any day now.  I cannot wait to see what my results will be!

Still looking for answers.

Kelsie Lou

Posted in Art, Culture, Education, family, landmarks, Photography, Religion, Senegal Africa, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

The Original Dakar Rally

One of the world’s most dangerous off-road endurance events is called the Dakar Rally.  Thierry Sabine was a French motorcycle racer who established the Paris-Dakar rally almost 40 years ago.  Lac Rose in Senegal was the final leg leading toward the Dakar finish line.  Due to safety and terrorism concerns, the Dakar Rally moved to South America.  It is currently held in Saudi Arabia under the name, The Dakar.  One of my excursions in Senegal was a chance to experience the sand dunes where these popular, and sometimes deadly rallys took place.

Adrenaline and Adventure, here I come!
Tour of the Dakar Rally sand dunes, Atlantic Ocean and Lac Retba (Lac Rose)

Competitors raced for two weeks to finish 10,000 km (6200 mi.) over steep sand dunes like the one I glanced back to photograph.  

Dakar Rally sand dunes in Senegal.

I had to be very careful not to drop my phone along the jolty ride.  I was living in the moment by feeling free from a life of quarantine, virtual teaching, and tutoring four nights a week. 

Self care activated.

Similar to the struggle back home, there were times where our vehicle was using all the horsepower it had to traverse the sand dunes.  It was more challenging than the option to rent dromedaries.

Bactrian camels have two humps; dromedary camels have one.

At the top of one of the highest points gave us panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean.  Even from this distance, the sounds of the waves coming to shore was louder than any beach I have experienced.

I had to keep reminding myself that I was walking along the coast of Africa.

There was a model and production crew who used the beautiful views for a photo shoot backdrop.  

Melanin Poppin’

After the thrill of the dunes, we went along the Atlantic Ocean shore to go for a dip and ride four wheelers.  

Never lost. Always Exploring.
A small scale of what the Dakar Rally feels like.

The currents were very strong.  I was the only one brave enough to run out there sort of like the excited child who darts out into traffic.  That was me.

I live for moments like this.

We got back in the 4×4 to see Lac Rose.  The signage in the roads leading to the lake call it Lac Retba.  Either way, the name is to describe the pink color cast off by the algae that grows in the salt water.  I found it interesting that it’s located only five minutes from the Atlantic Ocean.

A very faint perimeter of pink was visible around Lac Rose in December.

The color pink was not very obvious on the date I was there (12-21-20). I have read about different times of year or day to visit to get the best pink effect.  The women selling their artwork made of sand and beaded jewelry were some true hustlers.  The woman in the blue was like, “Take my picture.”  I loved her energy.

It’s the confidence for me.

The vendors didn’t speak much English, and I don’t speak a lick of Wolof or French, but we still bonded.  My boyfriend bargained back and forth over my souvenirs.  I’m more of a “just buy it” person.  He explained how it is their form of entertainment to haggle back and forth with tourists.

My Sisters trying to teach me the skill of balance.
Original art made from sand and salt at Lac Rose.

I learned how the salt harvesters slather their bodies in shea butter to protect their skin from salinity concentrations which exceed the Dead Sea.  I have a somewhat high salt tolerance from years of doing the Master Cleanse that involves sea salt flushes.  In fact, I had just completed a 10-day fast in November.  I dipped my finger in the water to taste it.  Yes, it is very salty. 

Senegal is the largest salt producer in West Africa.

Last, but not least is the memorial marker for Thierry Sabine.  He lost his life when his helicopter crashed into a sand dune.  He was well-known and loved by the Senegalase people.  His name will live on for generations because he helped improve the economy with the Dakar Rally.

In Memory of Thierry Sabine, founder of the Dakar Rally.

Kelsie Lou

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Peace & Harmony in Joal-Fadiouth

Joal-Fadiouth is in the Thiès region of Senegal.  The village and commune names are combined because the narrow peninsula of Joal is linked to the small island of Fadiouth.  Fadiouth, also called Shell Island, is a name given from the pathways that are made entirely of clam shells.  How did that happen?  Centuries of indigenous people eating clams and throwing the shells on the ground caused island expansion. 

Teacher being a lifelong learner in Joal-Fadiouth.

A walking bridge connects Joal to Fadiouth, where 4,000 people call home.  The locals rely heavily on selling livestock, fishing and tourism to support their economy.  

Children being active in Joal-Fadiouth
Walking across the bridge to Fadiouth.

In the past, tourists would get turned off from the overwhelming pressure to purchase crafts.  The elders organized a tourist company to make the island visits more pleasant. 

Wood carved art and utensils in Fadiouth.
Wooden artwork and crafts from Joal-Fadiouth.

Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic has caused financial loss to Joal-Fadiouth.  The positive side is that they have not had any confirmed cases of the virus.  When I was on vacation for Winter Break, Senegal had about 18,000 Covid cases making it safer to be there than anywhere else in the world.

The highest point of the Joal-Fadiouth cemetery.

The first thing I noticed on Fadiouth was the number of pavilions with built in seating.  Each pavilion has a bell that someone rings to notify the surrounding community members.  The business usually involves settling disputes between neighbors, death announcements, or other important news.  We witnessed a bride’s family being welcomed to her husband’s family.  They shared bottles of wine and other gifts.

One of many pavilions used for community meetings.

The majority of Senegalese people practice Islam.  The reverse is true in Fadiouth with it’s 90% Christian population.  Jesus statues were prominent with a main one facing the largest baobab tree on the island.  As mentioned in the Bandia Wildlife Reserve post, the baobab is considered a sacred jewel to the community.

Jesus crucifixion facing the largest baobab on the island.
There were about 20 piglets and a couple of pigs around this Jesus statue.
Sacred baobab tree on Fadiouth Shell Island.

Visiting Fadiouth Island on a Sunday allowed us to observe a church service.  It was later in the day during a children’s worship time.  There were sibling groups of children walking in their Sunday’s best to church.  The teenage girls and women have mastered the method of walking on shells while wearing heels.

Youth church service Joal Fadiouth.

The Fadiouth way of life is very laid back and traditional in terms of preparing meals and using donkeys to haul grains. No motorized vehicles are on the island.  

Our tour guide walking past men of Joal Fadiouth.
Very common to see fish drying in the sun.
Children of Joal Fadiouth

Another walking bridge leads to a popular cemetery where Muslims and Christians are buried.  The burial grounds mirror the harmony that is shared amongst the living in terms of cohabiting in peace. 

Walking to the Joal Fadiouth Muslim and Christian cemetery.
View from the Joal-Fadiouth Cemetery towards the church.
Section of Christian grave sites marked with white crosses.
The Muslim sections mainly had name grave markers.

After walking around the cemetery, we took a pirogue around the Fadiouth mangroves.  The tour guide was a championship wrestler in his prime.  His strength was still on display as he used a single paddle to maneuver the dugout with four adults.   

On a pirogue heading towards Joal.

Fadiouth is the largest fishing port in West Africa, but they also consume grains to balance their meals.  I admire the cleverness of building stilts to hold granaries to protect the store houses from flooding.

Storage for grains.

We have a lot to learn from this region of Senegal.  Live and let live regardless of what a person believes or does not believe.  We may end up meeting again in the afterlife.  

“Maa Lekum Salaam”

Kelsie Lou

Posted in Art, Beaches, Culture, Education, landmarks, Religion, Senegal Africa, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

African Safari: Bandia Wildlife Reserve

Move out the way Disney Animal Kingdom.  During my two week visit to Senegal, Africa I went on a real safari at the Bandia Wildlife Reserve, also known as the Foret de Bandia.  A 30 minute drive from the coastal town of Somone lies 9,000 acres of protected land and wildlife.  Visitors and locals go to the Bandia Reserve to get an up close view of animals in their natural habitat.  

Bandia Wildlife Reserve Sindia, Senegal

There was an option to remain in our vehicle and have a tour guide join us, or to rent a safari truck.  That was a no brainer.  Even without the Covid-19 virus, I would have opted for the open air 4×4 so I could take better photos.  One person drives while the tour guide taps on the window to tell them when to stop at a sighting.  

Open air 4×4 for up close experience.

We toured this wildlife shrine later in the day when the animals are more likely to be active.  The only two predatory animals on the reserve are the hyenas and Nile River crocodiles which are kept in contained areas.  The crocodiles can grow up to 6 meters long.  

Hyena kept separately from the herbivore animals.
Nile River or Egyptian Crocodiles

Warthogs tend to dig under the fence and roam outside of the reserve’s grasslands.  There is a quarantine area where new animals are brought from other parks.  Right across from the hyenas is the tortoise enclosure.

Giant Tortoise

We weren’t five minutes along the dirt road when we witnessed the majestic beauty of the giraffes.  It’s amazing how these tall animals can blend with their surroundings.  The guide had to point out another giraffe that was walking in the savanna that I would have never noticed.  

Male Giraffe

The videos I took are way better than still images.  (IG: @kelsielou.c0m)  The male giraffe has darker spots.  Towards nightfall, we saw a male giraffe walking by himself because he was kicked out of his family.  I felt so bad for him.  I would not want to be out there all lonely, especially at night.  The guide said he needs to fight to win back his companion.  

His lady chose another giraffe.

Another male dominant species is the ostrich seen with the dark feathers.  This alpha male was seen several times and had no problem walking in front of the approaching 4×4. The female was more low key and hidden in the bushes.

Male Ostrich

The African buffalo were the opposite of the ostriches and giraffes.  They roamed the savanna in all sizes.  There were about 20 in the herd we passed and that number can get up to 300 in some areas.  African buffalo are considered one of the Big 5 Game Animals, meaning they are considered one of the hardest and deadliest animals to hunt along with lions, elephants, leopards, and rhinoceros.  One looked like it was ready to charge.

Don’t get too close.

Another animal that roams in herds is the Cape eland.  Elands are the world’s largest antelope.  There was a spiral horned eland grazing alone.

Common Eland

The roan antelope were very cautious around our 4×4 because it is a white truck that drives around to capture them for slaughter.  Their meat is served in the Bandia Reserve restaurant that is on site.  I would imagine it tastes like deer meat.  I will never know!

Antelope that are captured, slaughtered and served at the Bandia Reserve Restaurant.

The patas monkeys run the show.  They are all over the place and not to be trusted.  They will snatch your phones and cameras if they catch you slippin’.  The monkeys’ behavior was the most nonchalant.  They carried on with their business unbothered by humans.  They are best viewed on video versus still shots because they move so quickly. 

The animal that I admired the most was the impala.  There were three of them dashing across the terrain like the elite runners of the reserve.  I was lucky to capture a photo of an impala in the middle of the trees as it glanced back at something.   I see why Chevy uses this name; much respect.

Can you spot the Impala?

The Bandia Reserve is the home of hundreds of baobab trees.  One in particular has a shape that earned the name of Elephant Baobab.

Elephant Baobab

The core of the baobabs are so large that Griots, or elders/storytellers of a tribe are buried inside of them.  I heard two stories about the logic behind the burials.  On this safari I heard about the baobabs being sacred, and it was a form of respect to preserve the Griots inside of them.  When I visited Senegal’s largest baobab in the Fatick region, I was told the Griots were lazy and did not like to work.  It was considered bad luck to bury them in the ground that they did not like to farm.  Either way, the ritual was banned in 1962 due to biological hazards of decomposition and discrimation.  The Tombeau de Griots is located inside a 1,000 year old baobab.

Tombeau de Griots

The so-called “Tree of Life” at Disney’s Animal Kingdom does not compare to the natural beauty and fails to acknowledge the cultural significance of Africa’s native creation.  It made me reflect on how Disney is a culture vulture in that aspect.  

One of the national symbols of Senegal.

Hopefully, this post will highlight the natural beauty of Africa.  It will help to change the narrative that Africans live in the jungle with wild animals.  No, if they want to see exotic animals, they go to the zoo, or reserves like Reserve De Bandia like we do in America.  

I will be covering more about my trip to Senegal in several posts.  Stay tuned.

Kelsie Lou

Posted in Animals, Culture, landmarks, Senegal Africa, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Central Florida’s Best Kept Secret

Cedar Lakes Woods and Gardens is a Japanese inspired botanical garden retreat between Gainesville and Ocala, Florida.  The once abandoned lime rock quarry was purchased by Dr. Raymond Webber to build his residence.  What miners used as a resource to create the foundation of Highway 27 would become a fishing pond for the owner.  With the help of others, the dentist transformed the contaminated swamp area into a flourishing garden. Fertilizers are replaced with organic compost to keep everything lush.

The Cedar Lakes Woods and Gardens entry fee is $12 for adults.  You are given a map that is marked with a blue upper level and a red lower level.  As a runner, my feet appreciated the cool and soft feeling from the walking pathways.  My Mom and I visited Thanksgiving weekend when Christmas lights were beginning to be displayed.  

It was a safe activity to enjoy in the midst of a pandemic.  We saw way more animals than we did people; one being a pet squirrel kept on the back porch of the main residence.

We saw a 500 year old Southern Live Oak and some Leopard Tortoises in an enclosure at the end of our self-guided tour.

Cedar Lakes Woods and Gardens is about a 45 minute drive from Crystal River where my Mom and I spent the morning watching manatees.  It was totally worth the drive.

Check out my Instagram Reel @KelsieLou.c0m or click the link below:


Kelsie Lou🦢

Posted in Florida, Gardens, Kayaking, landmarks, Photography, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments