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Published: August 5th 2017
Greetings once more from Dakar. I have come full circle now in my journey so far, although am only around halfway through the whole trip. I always find it interesting to return to the same place I started a trip in – when I arrived, and although I had very good first impressions still, Dakar seemed very much a step back from the development of Europe. It still is so, but after two and a half weeks in the Senegalese hinterland, and The Gambia, this place seems so developed in comparison, and it is almost a luxury being here. The Hotel Oceanic, although very basic by European standards, also seems luxurious now, with very quiet air-conditioning, hot water and a powerful shower, fast and continual WiFi connection, and no electricity or water cuts (these were quite common in all other places I’ve been to, including in the boutique hotel back in The Gambia). And breakfast is also a step up again – the basic fare here for the morning meal is simply bread (French-style baguette, though much chewier than what you’d get in Paris), butter and Nescafe. Here, they include a croissant and some orange juice, and the
Reserve de Bandia
coffee seems real, not instant. I have enjoyed being back in the capital of Senegal, pretty much the capital of West Africa in terms of standards of development. Although tomorrow I leave Senegal once more, temporarily, heading westwards on a flight towards the Cape Verde islands, and some island-hopping out there. More on that below.
I believe I last wrote from the city of Touba, the spiritual centre of Senegal for the Mouride order of Sufi Islam. After a very interesting time off the beaten track and in the “real Africa”, on Wednesday morning I took two sept-places in total, firstly from Touba to a city called Thies, and then from Thies to the city of Mbour on the Senegalese coast. In the first sept-place I was blessed with a comfortable seat in the middle row – I have learned that it is the back row seat which is a great deal harder than the others, leaving one with a very sore backside, and after an hour or so, constantly having to shift positions to allow the blood to flow down there. In the second, I got the prized passenger seat, next to the driver, with ample leg room,
so much that I enjoyed spending the whole journey with my legs outstretched in front of me, there was enough room to straighten them both out. I have learned that there is a system here of which seats go first, in this fill-up-and-go type of transport – the passenger seat invariably goes first, followed by the middle row, followed by the back row. In fact, I have seen some passengers choose to forego the back row in a soon-to-depart sept-place to claim the passenger seat in the sept-place behind. This would delay one’s journey by about half-an-hour or so, but seems very much worth it, and may indeed be a tactic I’ll be trying on my final journey in Senegal in a couple of weeks’ time, when after returning from Cape Verde I’ll be taking the five hour trip to and from Saint Louis in northern Senegal.
From Mbour, it was a short private taxi ride to a place called Saly-Portudal – very much the tourist centre of Senegal, and apparently, according to Wikipedia, the most popular tourist spot in the whole of West Africa. However, as I have also learned in travelling around these parts, as well as
some other developing countries, beach destinations are very much the domain of private hotels. They are not like Western coastal resorts, where the public authority or municipality owns much of the beach, and there is a nice public promenade to walk along, with lovely shops and a pier or two along the way. The public area of Saly consisted of a very dusty, traffic-filled main road with no view of the beach to be had, itself 500 metres further west. The best beaches were owned by the expensive resort hotels, which cater to the package tourism industry, and any public beaches left over are home to fishermen and local hustlers, touts or “bumsters” as they are referred to in The Gambia – not the best place to hang around. So I tried to access the beach via a couple of the private hotels, which was actually very much possible back in The Gambia and allowed me to see some fine coastline, but there in Saly I tried two hotels: one just didn’t allow me in, the other charged £20 just to access the beach! Quite a rip-off to my mind. I in fact checked into a very local hotel, the
Road to Touba-Mbacke
Hotel La Medina, but still very nice, well-equipped with a pool, bar and restaurant area, and popular with holidaying Senegalese families. It was situated around a kilometre from the beach, in the middle of a very local suburb consisting of dirt tracks, local people and children crying “toubab”, and herds of sheep. The Hotel La Medina is mainly run by two very affable brothers, Musa and Buba, the latter of whom spoke English which was a welcome relief – I don’t think my French is too bad, even though I say so myself, but because pretty much all tourists here are invariably French, some people, mostly outside of Dakar, are not used to being able to speak slowly in order for me to understand. I also get the impression of the local mentality here, again outside of Dakar, that a “white person” is a “French-speaking person”. Although most people I’ve met are really wonderful, there is a tendency to just speak louder and faster if I don’t understand what someone has said… That doesn’t help much…!
I spent two nights at the Hotel La Medina, and on the morning of my full day, did a tour with a local
travel agency to the nearby Reserve de Bandia. Whilst Senegal does have some beautiful wildlife, including many birds and lots of different types of antelope and monkeys, it lacks the big game of the more famous African destinations in the Eastern and Southern parts of the continent. However, in the Reserve de Bandia, along with some Senegalese local wildlife, they have also imported some zebra, rhinos and giraffes, and although the safari tour around the park was really quite impressive, it didn’t quite feel too authentic. Still, if one forgets the lack of complete authenticity, the game-spotting was great, and due to the small size of the enclosure, sightings were numerous, including the afore-mentioned zebra, rhinos and giraffes, along with oryx deer, impala, buffalo, crocodiles, monkeys and a variety of different birds. I was very happy to have done this tour.
In the afternoon, I visited the local beach, sporting my tactic learned in Tunisia of wearing my sunglasses and listening to my MP3 player, thus being able to completely ignore anything that anyone says to me. Some of the touts there, and also here in Dakar, are actually quite rude, and when you say politely that you don’t
want to speak with them or don’t want whatever they want to offer you, can become quite aggressive, pulling out the “racist” card – I find this truly abhorrent, given that it is they who are the racist ones, choosing the one white person out of the many Africans to latch onto. The sunglasses and MP3 player works a treat every time!
After an interesting time in Saly, enjoying also the French-style cuisine there, which was just excellent, I caught my last sept-place for a while yesterday morning, to make the short, 65km or so journey back to Dakar. On a map it seems short, but getting through the suburbs of Dakar is rather torturous to say the least. Dakar is a city of around 3 million people, not to count the many suburbs and satellite towns on its outskirts. However, it sits on a peninsula, almost completely surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, except for an isthmus about 5km wide to the north-east of the main urban conglomeration. This makes for a truly bottle-neck situation entering or leaving the city by road, and the 65km or so journey, which should have taken less than an hour anywhere else in
the country, actually took around two hours, due to the amount of traffic, minibuses stopping everywhere, cattle and sheep on the road, and people left, right and centre. At one point, a few cars ahead of us, a guy actually fell off his motorbike! Though he seemed fine as we passed by, smiling to himself as he picked up the broken bits which fell off in his mishap – poor guy… Once the sept-place arrived at the Gare Routiere, the taxi ride from there to the centre was equally torturous – it took around an hour to travel the 8km or so. The driver, instead of choosing the freeway to the centre, for some reason chose to drive through the industrial suburbs of the city on its eastern side, jam-packed with huge exhaust-expulsing lorries, often making three- to seven-point or more turns either entering or exiting an industrial location. At one point, the traffic was so bad, we made a complete u-turn to return the way we came, only to try another way to find it equally solid. After a couple of short-cuts, and some meditative moments I chose to conduct for myself, we eventually arrived back at the Hotel
Buba, Me and Musa
Hotel La Medina, Saly
Oceanic, back to where I began this journey only two and a half weeks ago. The receptionist joyfully welcomed me back, and it is lovely to be here again – I feel like I know the cleaners, the bar staff and the kitchen staff now, and they all greet me with “Alex!” now, which is lovely 😊
Today I spent a wonderful day exploring some of the more modern and developed western suburbs of Dakar, dramatically overlooking the Atlantic Ocean to the west, starting out with an amazing visit to a recently-built statue on the west coast, called the Monument de la Renaissance Africaine, or African Renaissance Monument. The statue, believed to be the tallest in Africa and taller than the Statue of Liberty by 10m, is 52m high and was completed in 2010 at a cost of $20m. Whilst many have criticised its bland design, and state of undress of its characters particularly in such a religiously conservative country as Senegal, I found it utterly incredible, and certainly a worthy monument for the city. It was built by the North Koreans, and is actually very communist in style, with a man, woman and baby, the few clothes they
are wearing being blown by the wind, and pushing forward in the oh-so Soviet-style of communist optimism. It is said to signify the renaissance of Africa, and the uniting of Africans and the African diaspora, in overcoming the tragedy of the slave trade which tore much of the peoples of West Africa apart. The woman’s hand is pointing backwards as she leans forward, pointing back towards the Americas, but instead of symbolising any “Go West” type of sentiment, her leaning into the man, the man leaning forward holding the baby who points eastwards towards the rest of Africa, signifies the return of the African diaspora back to the “Old World”, I guess, and towards a, well, renaissance of Africa. Perhaps a little overly-optimistic in the potential for African development, given the current state of political affairs in a number of corrupt African nations, but I couldn’t help but admire such a positive sentiment of progress for the continent, and I wish it well.
After reaching the top of the statue, via a lift to the man’s hat, for some amazing views over the Dakar peninsula, meeting a great Brazilian guy called Tiago, and happening upon a nearby event with
live music, dancing, and an acrobatic clown performance (!), I hopped into a taxi to the nearby Sea Plaza shopping centre. During my travels, I purposefully seek out a modern western shopping mall, in order to enjoy a bit of luxury, buy some souvenirs in a hassle-free environment, and sometimes get my haircut in a place geared towards western barber-dom. This experience was no different, and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment at the Sea Plaza. A visit to the food court filled me up with a delicious Philly cheese steak and Frappuccino, whilst I indeed bought some lovely souvenirs in a small boutique shop, and had my haircut for the trip. I usually have my hair cut every four weeks or so, so a journey like this one always involves a haircut at some point. I purposefully choose a good place to have it in, ever since a haircut disaster I had a few years ago back in Laos, when I don’t think the lady had ever cut a man’s hair before, and I ended up with a near-mohican, quickly and extremely gratefully rectified by a Parisian-trained barber around the corner. I am pleased with my haircut, and glad I
have this weight lifted off my mind for this year’s trip…!
So now I am just chilling once more in my air-conditioned, white-sheeted room. I plan to be here, well, until tomorrow evening, visiting the restaurant downstairs at meal times, and thoroughly resting up from my two and a half weeks around West Africa. Tomorrow, my journey takes a very different turn, as I mentioned I fly westwards, to a few dots in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean known as the Cape Verde islands, a little further south from the Spanish Canary Islands, and around halfway between Portugal and Brazil. I have a feeling that these next 12 days of my trip will be in stark contrast to what I have experienced so far, Cape Verde being by far the most developed country in West Africa, or even in Africa apparently. They speak Portuguese there, and I get the impression it will be more European than African. There will be no more sept-places to take, until of course my planned return trip to Saint Louis upon returning to Senegal after 12 days. I plan to travel around the islands by plane, although there is also a little story
Hotel La Medina, Saly-Portudal
to tell there too.
Upon writing to confirm my accommodation booked on the Cape Verdean island of Fogo next Wednesday, the owner, seemingly an Italian guy, informed me that only last week, the government had made the snap decision of discontinuing all internal flights operated by the country’s national airline TACV from 1st August onwards. This was a bit of a blow, and caused me a minor panic, as although it would seemingly not affect my return flight from Dakar to Praia, I have four internal flights booked, and already paid for, whilst there, to get me around the islands. I was quite shocked by the surprise nature of the announcement, as apparently are most of the airline’s employees, 50% of whom are believed to be in danger of losing their jobs, as I am sure are most Cape Verdeans at such a snap decision. Fortunately, after a bit of research, it seems that the airline, Binter, which runs internal flights within the Spanish Canary Islands, will be taking over the running of Cape Verde internal flights, naming itself Binter Caboverde. After phoning, emailing, and also visiting yesterday the TACV office in Dakar, I have confirmed indeed that all
my internal flights within Cape Verde will now be operated by Binter Caboverde, as opposed to TACV, and although they are all thankfully on the same day as I booked them for, two of them do have some quite dramatic time changes. Still, after a couple of days wondering whether my journey will actually be able to continue in Cape Verde, it seems that now it will, and I am very excited indeed about the next 12 days. Everyone I have spoken to have said how amazing the islands are which I am going to visit, how different they are from each other, and how different they also are from West Africa. I am looking forward to this next part of my journey, and of course will be updating my Travel Blog as I go.
So tomorrow evening, I fly TACV (International) to Praia, the capital city of Cape Verde, on its main and largest island of Santiago. I plan on spending three nights there, then three on the island of Fogo, one on the island of Sao Vicente, three on Santo Antao, two more back on Sao Vicente, and then back to Praia and on to Dakar once
more. I have all accommodation booked throughout my travels there, along with the flights, as I was advised to do so as August is the high season in Cape Verde, and accommodation needs to be booked months in advance apparently! This is indeed in stark contrast already to Senegal and The Gambia, having travelled here during their low seasons. Perhaps indeed, and at last, I may be able to join group excursions again more economically this time!
So, until the Cape Verde islands where I plan to write my next one, I will say “a bientot” for now, or perhaps even “ate logo”!
All the best
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