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Published: August 22nd 2017
Parc National de la Langue de Barbarie
Greetings once more from Senegal! I have made it full-circle on my trip, and am currently writing this one again from Dakar, from whence my journey began, and funnily enough, the exact same room of the Hotel Oceanic (Room 206) where I began this journey five weeks ago today. It feels a long time, I have come a long way since I last wrote, and if I’m honest, I’m really quite tired now…! This has been a wonderful journey, a really enjoyable one, full of really amazing adventures and places, though I will save my post-trip analysis for when I write my final update once touched down back in the UK and safely returned to my beautiful little Victorian terraced home again.
I believe it has been a bit longer since I last updated my travel blog, I believe five days ago from the island of Mindelo in Cape Verde. In reality, it feels like five weeks ago, these last few days have really been quite intensive in terms of the travelling. Intensive, but still highly enjoyable. I have actually spent the last six days in six different hotels, a different once each night – seven, if
Parc National de la Langue de Barbarie
you include the half-day I booked into the Residencial Nazare back in Praia whilst waiting for my evening flight to Dakar. I actually didn’t intend this, I intended to spend three nights in the same hotel in Saint-Louis, but what happened along the journey will be made clearer below. Suffice it to say, I am looking forward to spending two nights in a row in the same hotel/room, and not having to pack my bag again, for the seventh time in a row, tomorrow morning…!
My final night in Mindelo was lovely, in the lovely Residencial Che Guevara. On Friday morning though, my alarm went off at 5am, and the lovely owner of the hotel drove me the 8km or so to the airport, to check into my flight which would take me back to Praia. The flight went smoothly, strangely operated by two Spanish stewardesses from the Canary Islands (probably something to do with the recent takeover of all domestic Cape Verdean flights by Binter, the airline of the Canary Islands). Landing back in Praia, I had around eight hours to wait for my next flight back to Dakar, and I was darned if I was going to
wait in the chaotic hole of an airport that is Praia International (after my experiences there taking my flight to Fogo a few days previously). I caught a taxi back to Plato, and holed myself up in the Residencial Nazare once more, resurfacing only to have lunch, and catching up on some much-needed rest after the 5am start, and the travel fatigue which is beginning to catch up with me now. The return flight back to Dakar also went smoothly enough, and after a long day of travelling, I checked back into the Hotel Oceanic for the third time so far on this trip. I believe I mentioned that I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Cape Verde, and that the islands have so much amazing, stark, arid, captivating scenery to take in, their sheer remoteness merely adding to their charm and raw beauty. After 12 days enjoying my time there, it was also actually really nice to return to (mainland) Africa once more, and I was looking forward to returning once more to the familiar Senegal.
Unfortunately, the taxi that I’d booked from the hotel was definitely not there to meet me this time, and calling the hotel was
Parc National de la Langue de Barbarie
of no use, as I later found out that the city had recently experienced a thunderstorm which took out the hotel’s telephone connection. I had to brave the jungle of animals which are the “taxi drivers” awaiting arrivees at Dakar International Airport. These men were the lowest of the low, the epitome of degradation, they were disgusting. You actually walk out of the airport through a long cage, about 200 metres in length, and all along this cage on either side are ugly, grisly men shouting in loud voices at you, speaking to you in various languages depending on where they think you come from, and sometimes following you along the outside of the cage as you walk through it. They are all of course offering to take you in a taxi ride, but it felt more like walking the final tunnel of doom before entering the gladiator pit of a Roman amphitheatre, baying wolves ready to pounce. Realising that my taxi wasn’t there, and that calling my hotel was fruitless, I spotted a calm-looking figure in a yellow reflector bib, which made him look a little more official than the rest. I approached him, asked him for a taxi,
Sunu Keur Guesthouse
he quoted me a reasonable price of 5000 CFA (around £7) to take me to my destination, and led me to another chap in a yellow bib who actually had a taxi (he took the bib off straight after he set off – it just goes to show, and this makes a good point about our/my naivety, you only have to wear a yellow bib to look important and official…). Once we set off, departing the crazed melee of animals, I have no better word to describe these hustlers of Senegal, he then asked me in French whether we had agreed cinq mil, or sept mil. I told him cinq mil, which he didn’t seem to understand, so whilst we were moving I opened my car door and told him to let me out. I was in no mood to play games with the fool. He quickly agreed to cinq mil again, and calmed down after this. Whilst travel in this country certainly has its rewards, the hustlers of this country are definitely not one of them…
So after another peaceful night at the Hotel Oceanic, I packed my bags the next morning to brave the five-hour sept-place journey
Sunu Keur Guesthouse
up north to the beautiful French colonial city of Saint-Louis. I use the verb “to brave” after my experiences so far in sept-place travel – although the seven-seater Peugeot estate cars are super speedy and direct, they are highly uncomfortable, and do not generally make toilet or rest stops. The level of comfort of the journey also depends on what seat you get, and this depends on when you arrive at the terminal. The first seat to go, as I believe I mentioned in a previous blog, is the front passenger seat, with bags of space, legroom and a comfortable seat. Behind this is a mildly comfortable middle row, which receives good air circulation from the open windows on either side. Behind this is the highly uncomfortable back row, slightly higher up than the rest of the passengers, on a seat that looks soft but isn’t so after an hour or so – there are no windows back there, and you have to depend on the circulation of air coming from the open windows in the front. At the back, the rear wheels also protrude into the amount of space available there, so three people can only generally squeeze in
Sunu Keur Guesthouse
if at least one of them leans slightly forward, and your comfort-level is also determined by the amount of luggage piled up in the estate car’s boot directly behind you. I was convinced that I would settle for nothing less than the front passenger seat, on this five-hour journey to Saint-Louis. Unfortunately for me, all three sept-places that were filling up for my destination only had a back seat position left, the first one next to two very large ladies. Not fancying my chances with that one, I spotted one more sept-place right at the back, with its doors locked and nobody in it, and went straight over to it to mark my position by leaning on the passenger door. I waited there until the three other sept-places had left, and it began to take its position at the front. When the driver came in and I loaded my big backpack into the boot, a tall, grim-faced gentleman in long robes walked up to my position in the passenger seat, upon which I told him that was mine – I had left my small backpack there leaning against the outside of the door. He accepted this, and begrudgingly took a
Hotel Pointe Sud
position in the middle row behind. He asked me to give him 2000 CFA, I asked him why, he explained – I didn’t understand his explanation, but I ignored him anyway. Later I learnt that some passengers actually pay each other a few francs for the position of the passenger seat…!! I was overjoyed as we set off about 20 minutes later, facing the killer of a journey, but having all that extra legroom, a comfy seat and an open window right next to me – life couldn’t get much better than that!
A hot, sweaty, but very roomy five-hours later, we arrived in the northern Senegalese city of Saint-Louis. My overall impression of the city is actually now quite positive, it has a very vaguely Venetian quality to it. Saint-Louis was the first settlement that the French built in French West Africa, and amazingly dates back to 1638 – I find it incredible to think that the settlement was already there not much longer after Elizabethan and Shakespearean times. It developed as a trading post, trading mainly in slaves and gum, and by the middle of the 19th
century had become the capital of French West Africa –
Hotel Pointe Sud, Saint-Louis
a huge colonial territory comprising of eight modern-day states stretching all the way from Senegal in the West to Niger in the East. The city has been on the decline, however, since 1902, when the French authorities moved their capital to the more port-friendly city of Dakar further south. It has become somewhat of an ex-colonial backwater ever since, an island around a mile long by 400 metres wide, surrounded by the Senegal River as it makes its final approach to the Atlantic Ocean. The island is filled with superb French colonial mansions, some restored, some left to decay, and is surrounded on all sides by palm trees and delightfully photogenic Senegalese fishing boats called pirogues, as well as three bridges linking it to the mainland around. It makes for a wonderful place to explore and wander, and take some really quite excellent photos of the combination of French colonial faded grandeur and the modern-day Senegalese fishing industry.
I mention that I enjoyed Saint-Louis overall, but I didn’t have a particularly good start there. The hotel I had booked two weeks previously, the Sunu Keur (not recommended, I will be writing my honest and frank TripAdvisor review shortly after
Pont de la Geole
my return to England) did not honour my booking. They told me that they were currently accommodating a large group, and they could put me up in the large suite for the same price of a single room for that one night, but would have to book me into another hotel for the following two nights. I was having none of it, and explained that they need to honour my booking, and have me in their hotel for the full three nights. The man on duty said he would see what he can do – he said he could “perhaps” arrange for me to stay there for three nights, I said he needed to tell me for certain. In the meantime, I had come to the conclusion that I would actually prefer only to stay two nights in Saint-Louis, there wasn’t that much need in the end to stay more than that, and I had a good idea about how to make the return journey to Dakar more manageable, by splitting it into two days of two shorter trips, thus needing one extra day somewhere. After returning from exploring the city, I was told I could actually stay there three
nights, or just the one, but not two. This seemed mighty strange to me, but I got the impression that they put large group bookings ahead of anyone else, and this is what I will be referring to in my TripAdvisor review. I stayed there the one night, and then moved to the infinitely more wonderful Hotel Pointe Sud (highly recommended!!) for my second night. This place was a dream. The former was unprofessional (the breakfast guy asked me for a cigarette while I was enjoying my morning smoke), their breakfast was the same old bread and butter and Nescafe as anywhere else, and whilst it had the decorations and appearance of a wonderful boutique hotel, it was clear that the place was living off its glorious past reviews, and not making any efforts to keep up any high standards previously had. It was also in a very noisy part of town, with loud people outside and shouting at all hours, including late at night and early morning. The latter was in a blissfully peaceful part of town, on the southern edge of the island. It was welcoming, professional, highly comfortable, quiet, had a restaurant, and breakfast which included an
egg and a selection of different pastries – wow! I was very glad to have moved there on my second night, and enjoyed my time there very much.
What also compounded my initial dislike of Saint-Louis, along with the poor welcome by the Sunu Keur, was the sheer volume of hassle on the streets – the worst I have encountered so far on this trip. Around the central few blocks of town, people accost you one after the other. On one block, after one souvenir seller tried the usual “hi, where are you from, welcome to Senegal, you want a horse-ride, buy something, good price for you”, a second one took his place after he finally took heed of my indifference. After he had finished, a beggar boy decided to follow me – and these boys were there in their hundreds. Thus, my first day and impression of Saint-Louis was abysmal, giving me the decision to just spend two nights there. I later learned, although still very happy with the two nights, that it was only that central area of around eight street blocks or so where the hassle was like that. Elsewhere on the island, particularly along its
edges, and also around my second hotel area, it was calm, quiet, and you could walk around completely hassle-free. I was very glad of this to be honest, the central hassle really was too much.
My impressions of Saint-Louis lifted greatly on my second day there. In the morning I made a wonderful trip and tour to the nearby Parque National de la Langue de Barbarie, a bird-filled coastal spit of land surrounded by water: initially the Senegal River on one side, the Atlantic Ocean on the other. Sadly, there will not be many years left to see this wonderful place, however, as after a disastrous decision by the Senegalese government and a Moroccan “engineer” in 2003 to cut a 2m gap in the peninsula in order to prevent coastal flooding in Saint-Louis, the ocean has been eroding the spit away by a phenomenal rate, the 2m gap now extending to a whopping 5.5km within only 14 years. There is little time left to see the remaining 15km of coastal spit which is home to thousands upon thousands of both local residential and migratory European birds. Walking around the area was both astounding (taking in the flocks of gulls,
terns and cormorants, as well as the odd one or two magnificent pelicans) and depressing (noting the numerous uprooted and dead tree trunks, no longer able to survive on increasingly sandy soil and saline water). The boat which took us over to the spit of land actually hit a tree that had been submerged by the water, and very nearly overturned – that was actually really scary!
Upon returning to Saint-Louis, I explored the island beyond the hassle-full central area, which was actually really quite delightful, before settling in to my cosy room for the afternoon and dinner in the hotel restaurant in the evening. My impressions of Saint-Louis greatly improved on my second day, and I leave with good memories.
Whilst being partly informed by my decision that the city warranted only two nights, I also curtailed my stay there in order to be able to split the return journey to Dakar, as mentioned, into two more manageable chunks. Thus, on Monday morning, instead of braving another five-hour journey, taking a gamble once more on which seat I was going to get, I took a much shorter three-hour journey to the quaint, hinterland city of Thies. I
had read that Thies was actually quite an enjoyable city to walk around, with its broad, tree-lined streets and relaxed, hassle-free environment. My mind was made up, and I also enjoyed my time in Thies. I checked into the oddly-named Hotel Big Faim, getting a huge, beautifully appointed room for the night, and enjoying wonderful food at the hotel’s attached restaurant, and its delicious French-influenced creamy and mustard-based cuisine. My stay in Thies, along with walking its comparatively delightful broad tree-lined streets (“comparatively” being the operative word here, as this is still Senegal/Africa, the streets are still full of dirt, horses, water, noise, smells and beggar boys – again, more on that below), I was also able to visit the amazing, internationally-renowned MSAD (Manufactures Senegalaises des Arts Decoratifs) which is based there. I was guided around the institution’s peaceful grounds, and was given a real insight into how their uniquely-designed and hand-woven textile murals and carpets were made. Whilst stunningly beautiful, the pieces also attract huge prices, the cheapest selling for around 800 Euros per square metre. Previous buyers and displayers of the MSAD’s wares have included the African Union based in Ethiopia, the US White House and the New
York United Nations building. At the end of the amazing and very informative tour, I was toying with the idea of buying their cheapest product (a tiny piece 30cm by 10cm) for 40,000CFA (just over £50), but decided against it when I thought about how many wood-carved African animals or sand-glued pictures I could buy back in Dakar for a fraction of the price…! It was a good visit though, and I enjoyed my time in Thies. It was also the place I happened to be for the Solar Eclipse 2017, or at least the partial eclipse which was due to be seen there around 7.30pm right at the end of the eclipse’s journey over the earth. Unfortunately, due to cloud cover, I wasn’t able to see it, but by staking myself out on my hotel’s rooftop at dusk, I was completely wowed instead by the surprising sight of thousands upon thousands of bats flying around the skies over the city, screeching incredibly as they went.
And finally, after a very comfortable night at the Big Faim, this morning I took my last ever (yay!!) sept-place journey, or public transport journey for that matter, in Africa! This was for
the final two-hour journey back to Dakar – only 65km away in distance, but taking so much longer than it should due to the awful traffic conditions I mentioned in a previous blog that exist as a result of such a bottle-neck entry into the capital city. I also carried out a trick that I had done the previous day in the trip from Saint-Louis to Thies, as in both journeys I only had the option of a seat on the back row with no other sept-places lined up behind, so I paid for two seats on the back row rather than just one (£10 and £4 respectively, instead of £5 and £2 – well worth the additional cost!!), affording me some much needed leg- and shoulder-room for the two journeys – what a great idea Mr Waring! 😊
Following the two-hour journey back to Dakar, there was still another hour-long journey by private taxi through the traffic jams of the city back to the wonderful Hotel Oceanic left to go. Apparently there is much more traffic at this time than normal, as the country is gearing up towards the festival it refers to as Tabaski. Tabaski is actually
Eid al-Adha to most other Muslims, the second Eid of the year after Eid al-Fitr marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan, and commemorates the time when Abraham is believed to have sacrificed a ram to God instead of his son Ishmael (notice Muslims believe it to be Ishmael he is to have nearly sacrificed, not Isaac as per the Jewish and Christian traditions). While some Muslims in non-Western countries commemorate this festival by sacrificing a ram themselves, Senegal takes it to a whole new level in that every adult male in the country is generally expected to sacrifice a ram. If the population of Senegal is around 14 million, then that must be around 5 million adult males must sacrifice about 5 million rams. I actually find this barbaric, particularly as the streets of every major town I have been through recently, and even more so in Dakar, with potentially around 1 million rams to sacrifice, have been full with traders who have travelled there to sell their rams from far and wide – often from as far away as Mauritania, Mali and Burkina Faso. I have seen numerous vehicles either with rams on the roofs (as
Sand-Strewn Streets of the Sahel
with buses), rams on laps ( as with motorbikes) and even rams closed up in car boots (really?!!), and the traffic in Dakar is apparently much worse now because of this, simply due to the amount of rams and their traders who have arrived temporarily in the city. Again, I find this practice barbaric, and is one point which has not impressed me about Senegal. Fair enough, one has to kill animals in order to obtain meat, but do this in the proper way, a relatively painless way in an official slaughterhouse somehow. I do not condone the practice of physical religious sacrifice in this modern day and age. Just the idea of all these rams everywhere, not knowing the fate that lies in store for them in 10 days’ time, just doesn’t seem right to me.
And just one more thing which hasn’t impressed me about Senegal: the institution of “talibes”. I didn’t realise this originally, but after having read up about it, all the beggar boys (estimated at around 50,000 throughout the country) that one sees on the streets of Senegal have in fact been sent by their families (often from neighbouring countries such as Mali or
Guinea) to study the Qur’an at a Daraa, or Koranic School. Here they are schooled in the verses of the Qur’an, which of course seems fair enough if this is the kind of religious upbringing their parents wish of their children. Along with this however, a number of these schools send their boys, seemingly between the ages of around 8 and 10, out onto the streets during the daytime to beg for money for their maintenance – all money of course goes to their religious instructors. They are dressed in rags, extremely dirty, and sallow-faced, and seem to have lost any spark of childhood innocence. During the night they sleep together in overcrowded, insanitary conditions: Human Rights Watch condemns the practice. Whilst my Bradt guide seems to take the overly politically correct perspective that this is an unchangeable part of Senegalese culture, and in fact many adults who were once talibes as a child speak of the humility learned through their suffering, I see it as enforced child orphanisation, sending a boy away from the love and care of their family to go begging on the streets. It seems to my mind some bizarre form of Fagan-esque human trafficking and
child abuse. Fair enough if one wants to send a child to receive religious instruction, that is to my mind the choice of the parents – but feed them well, house them and clothe them well, and allow them to be brought up by their loving family. This “talibe” institution does not appear to me a particularly appealing side to this country, particularly as such children inevitably latch on even stronger to a “toubab” who of course is here to give everyone money.
But alas, I seem in this blog, I have indeed noticed, to have reached the end of my journey. I know this not only because the date tells me, but also my blog has started to turn into a bit of a rant and outlet for complaints – this is what can happen towards the end of a journey, when things move from being exotic and interesting to tiresome and irritating. It is indeed time to go home! I plan to spend these next two days just chilling and resting around the Hotel Oceanic, eating good food in the restaurants around here, buying some final souvenirs, and perhaps visiting the nearby upmarket beach resort of Les
On Thursday evening, I fly on an overnight Iberia flight once more back to Madrid, changing there for a flight back to Gatwick on Friday morning, arriving home hopefully around Friday lunchtime. This has been an incredible trip, a wonderful reccy into the region of West Africa which I have not previously set foot in, shining light into my understanding of this region usually associated with bad stories and negative press. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here, and have learned and experienced lots. I will save my final reflections for my final blog, which I plan to write once more from the comfort of my lovely spare room back in my delightful hobbit-hole back home.
So, thank you once more for reading – if you have got this far, a special thank you also as it is indeed a long one! All the best!
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