St Louis

Trip Start Sep 13, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Senegal  ,
Friday, November 10, 2006

One morning in Nouakchott Mauritania, I got up and felt like it was a good time to leave. While saying good bye to the few people who hadn't already left, I started psyching myself up for the border crossing at Rosso that will take me into Senegal.

Leaving Nouakchott turned out to be as easy as jumping into a bush taxi with another 6 people and wait the 4 hours of travelling out. We went through quite a few smaller towns, each of which had various election campaigning tents with people hanging around drinking the tea and smoking their little Mauritanian pipes. Then we reached the Mauritanian side of Rossa which is a town situated on both sides of the border divided by the Senegal River. Having been informed by emails from other friends who had previously crossed here, I knew all kinds of useful things like exchange rates and prices for entry into Senegal. After converting my cash, which involved intense debate, and required that I walk away a couple of times before they gave the price I wanted, I rocked on up to the border guards and said let me in.

The border guard took one look at me and said "have you got an exit stamp for leaving the Mauritanian Territory?"

Now I knew full well that I didn't need to pay for an exit stamp for leaving Mauritanian, and knew perfectly well that the border guard was going to ask me for one, knowing perfectly well that I didn't need one, but not knowing that I knew, I promptly told him that I didn't need one. This meant that he knew I didn't need one, I knew I didn't need one and he knew that I knew I didn't need one. Now that we had reached this higher level of understanding he looks back at me and said. "Where is your exit stamp?"

I played his game a bit and after 5 minutes I resigned to the fact that he has not got anything better to do then keep asking me for a stamp all day if need be, which effectively is him asking for money I negotiated the cost of the stamp down to just under 1 euro, which I paid but really didn't need to.

After a little boat trip across the river I got herded towards a taxi bus, where this very tall guy told me we were going to leave straight away. I thought great, I should make St Louis before dark. The very tall guy then walked about 5 meters to where a group of his friends where hanging and started making tea.
2 hour later he decided we'd better get going, and I though to myself I'd better get use to this liberal notion of time, cos I think the worst thing would be to try and visit Senegal in a rush. However we did see an absolutely fantastic sunset and was in St Louis late that evening where I got me a taxi to the youth hostel.

Managed to catch up with a few people I hadn't seen for a while at the hostel and the very nice gentleman there offered me a pint of beer for around 1 euro. Now after two months backpacking in Islamic countries and cruising in deserts, a beer was a very beautiful sight. That night I reckon I might have drunk a few. That night I also met Ghalied the South African with whom I would spent the next 20 days at St Louis.

Saint-Louis was named by the French after their king and use to be the capital city in Senegal up till 1958 and was previously the capital on French Western Africa, but that was a while ago in 1895 to 1902. Originally the city was only on a largish river island on the Senegal River but it has now about 171,000 people, whom live mostly on the mainland. The Senegal River runs parallel down the coast from which it is separated by a thin sliver of land called the Langue de Barbarie.

Deciding that we wanted to go to see the beaches we walked across the bridge to the Langue de Barbarie which is probably 50-100 meters wide we went to admire the beach, which was hardly admirable as it was covered in rubbish and smelt terrible because not only do people throw their household rubbish directly on the beach but they use it also as their personal toilet. In fact most ways you looked someone was squatting relieving themselves. It's hard to try and understand how people here could let the beach get to that state, so I didn't try any longer.

Instead we took ourselves by clandestine taxi (20 cents) to the Hydrobase. The Hydrobase use to be a stopover for planes coming from Dakar, where they would stock up on water before crossing the desert north before arriving in Europe. Here the beaches were cleaner and the people are always smiling. With Ghalied, we tried a small hotel for a few days and ended up at another Camping Grounds (Called 'Camping' but had grass huts) on the beach where we stayed and got to know most of the locals with whom we had beers most nights at the local bar/disco called Le Papayer.

In St Louis it seemed to be that there are a lot of begging children. I later found out from Abdul who runs a neighboring camp site and also an association that helps these children, what the essential problem is. When a child reaches 3 or 4 years old, the parents often sends them to what they call a Marabout. This Marabout is a religious teacher who is suppose to undertake the task of teaching the children about the Koran. There is a debate as to whether Marabout should in fact exist in the Islamic religion as there should only ever be a one-two-one relationship between a believer and Alla. But exist they do and have hold a lot of power in the Senegal society to the extent that the population will generally vote the politicians that are supported only by the brotherhood of Marabouts. Anyway these children who sometimes come from 100s of kilometers inland are told by the Marabouts to go begging in the streets and any money they make they must return to the Marabout. If they don't return with enough money then they often get beaten. As a result they run away from the Marabout and don't go back home and become street kids. Abdul's association set up a house where these kids can go and just hang, or get a meal and have their clothes washed. But it seems they have too many kids to look after and not enough resources.

I never intended to spend so much time here, but I decided that I needed to have a sort of vacation from the vacation. Most days I either spent on the beach reading, surfing or swimming. Else I went into town for supplies, checked out the museum or just walked around talking to the hustlers and touts. Time slipped away and slowly the urge to make a move blossomed and we started planning to attack Dakar.

However before we affronted Dakar, we left one morning and went 20 kilometers further south along the Langue de Barbarie to quite a famous camping site called Zebraba situated within a national bird reserve. We managed to take a little boat trip down the river and to the bird island were we saw about 50 seagull and a pelican. The seagulls were only so interesting and the pelican would have been more impressive if we hadn't previously been attacked by one while frequenting a neighboring hotel. The fact we got away from the attack unscathed was due to the fact that the guard pelican seemed to have a broken leg. Oh we did see a dead sting ray being ripped apart by crabs, that was cool!

The day after the boat trip we got a lift to the St Louis bus taxi stand and paid for a seat direction Dakar
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