Day out

Trip Start Aug 17, 2007
Trip End Sep 22, 2007

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Flag of Senegal  ,
Sunday, August 19, 2007

When you drive through Dakar, you notice several things. Your eyes become accustomed to the herds of boney goats trotting haphazardly through the streets, the straight-backed women with their loads of cloth, mangoes, bananas and plastic bags of water nimbly avoiding the unaware goats, the vendors waving their wares at the van window...but the thin horses pulling two wheeled carts stand out amidst the brightly painted public transit vans and bustling cars in various states of disrepair. They haul piles of branches, old tires and people swinging their legs in the clouds of dirt. They don't blink or hesitate. They are just another mode of transportation rushing down the streets. In the dark of dawn, towering minarets dance with the setting moon and the rising sun to a backdrop of waves on the rocky shore. Throughout the day, whether you are in the back room where lost luggage lives at the airport, a military compound, a grocery store or in the middle of the street, you see men whip out their mats of various shapes and sizes and kneel toward Mecca for prayers, often with cars, goats and all other forms of life, busyness and distraction whizzing by unnoticed. The final thing that you notice, when you leave Dakar, are the baobabs-the great, monstrous trees with medusa hair branches and trunks so solid not far from here there's a hotel of nothing but baobab tree houses for adults. I hope I make it there before I leave!
Several of us set out for a day trip Sunday, to the Lac rose (Pink Lake) where the Paris-Dakar rally ends up. I'm sorry, basically all I know is it's a car/truck/motorcycle race that starts and ends in the obvious cities, crosses the desert and is apparently quite interesting. Its destination certainly is. Lac rose is actually pink because of the abundance of algae and bacteria living there since nothing else can because of the salt content higher than that of the Dead Sea. You can't swim in it because you can only float. Along the banks are piles and piles of salt that has been drug up from the bottom of the lake by men who cover themselves in shea butter to protect themselves before diving down with a bucket which they empty into their small wooden boots. They bring them back to shore where women unload them. The salt is then shipped various places to be processed or not for cooking, wintry roads (not here obviously) and other useful things like that. Interestingly, not 100 yards from the lake you see giant hole after giant hole, dug to retrieve the fresh water that is again, not very far from the surface. The land all around this dead lake is fertile, growing cabbage, corn, beans and mangos among many others.
I didn't know any of this when we first arrived because the wily vendors snagged me on my way to see the water. My colleagues zipped by but I decided to chat and barter. Of course, if you're weak (I like to say "friendly") like me, you never make it past the first couple huts anyway...But in the first...or guy spoke English 'cause his brother lives in Ohio. So we chatted in English, which I congratulated him on. Then of course he set in to pointing out his wonderful products. He leaned in and laid a hand across my shoulder, whispering, "Since you are very nice, I'll make you a good deal." Of course I had to tell him I wanted to keep looking and then come back. With very little resistance, he gave me his "business card" hand written on the back of someone else's and regretfully watched me walk away. I didn't get far before another guy sucked me in. This time he had something that caught my eye. Teak wood pipes. I'd bought Jeff some great tobacco in Georgetown so it only seemed fitting. Of course I stupidly showed interest. In each shack they ask you which is your favorite anyway and I figure, eh, I'll compliment them and see if that helps me. So I did. I don't know if it worked or not. In any case, the price for the pipes was too much, no matter how much he insisted on polishing each one individually and showing me how nicely they cleaned up. As a last resort, he snatched a necklace from the display and put it around my neck. "It's a gift, from the heart. From the heart. That means you don't have to pay and there's no obligation to buy. You are very nice. It's a gift from the heart." Fabulous. So I left anyway. Of course I didn't make it anywhere and then there was a guy with annoying tourist American dollars who wanted to exchange CFAs for them...well, I didn't have very many but I told him I'd ask my friends.
In a street lined with vendors, your head spins. Calls are coming from left and right, "Hey, hey, over here!" "Half price, for you, half price!" "Come see the beautiful things I have. Good quality." Those of course are in French but you have broken English now and again too. Most people have more or less the same things and even worse, all of them will lean in and whisper, "Shh. Confidentially. I'll give you a good deal because (fill in the blank). Normally we sell this to tourists for (fill in the blank) but I'll give it to you for (most likely the price they actually usually sell it for)."
Eventually I was tired of such things and returned to guy who gave me the necklace. I bought the pipe for only slightly more than I had originally hoped after he continually explained to me how bartering worked in hopes of getting me up even more. I asked him about the mancala games he had (not what they are actually called here) but just at that moment a colleague showed up and, being French (and hence, well, let's say, more demanding) insisted that IF I were going to buy the game it would have to be sanded and varnished first so I didn't get slivers. The vendor wasn't so happy with this new, stronger-willed victim, but eventually he agreed and sent someone to prepare the game. In the meantime, he opened another and challenged me to a game. If I won, he'd give me something for free.
So I settled in on the bench and a couple people gathered around. We explained the rules to my colleague and set in. I was laughing at my poor math skills and we were joking around as you do. I told the guy next to me it wouldn't count if he helped my opponent, so he sat himself down by my side and declared himself my supporter, even holding out his hands to hold the seeds I'd won up to that point. I asked questions here and there but already knew the game, so things moved along smoothly, until, suddenly, unexpectedly, my opponent found himself with no seeds to move from his side and enough seeds remaining on my side...that I won! He had a flash of surprise but then jumped up, grabbed two more necklaces and showered us again with compliments. We took a photo together, he wrapped up my treasures (there were more, but I'll spare too many details) and we head out, to the shaking heads of our male colleagues. (Of course they'd bartered and bought ceremonial masks and other souvenirs themselves but we're the only ones who got teased.) I think it's because we hadn't realized they were waiting for us to go on the next adventure.
Beyond the lake from the side you arrive on are sandy, palm-tree dotted dunes. Of course, we rented a large open roll bar-protected Land Rover and set out for the dunes! Our driver didn't change the plans for us two girls among the boys and hit hill after hill at top speed, sliding down steep dunes with only one or no tracks before us. We whipped around corners, hit bumps and enjoyed the wind in our faces and the view of the pristine ocean-one of the cleanest, most abundant areas on the coast because it jets out beyond the pollution and into clear waters that supply the crab, lobster, urchins, shrimp and fish I've never seen before Sunday brunch buffet at the hotel.
On the ride back, we saw a herd of camels. At first we calmly approached them but then they got scared and ran away. If you've never seen a camel running, you are missing out! The poor guys just aren't built for that particular type of exertion and their awkward knobby legs flailed in every direction as they moved just hardly faster than they had been walking.
Instead of spending the very last of our money, since some of us couldn't even pitch in for the "dune buggy," we took the ride back to the hotel and ate our usual expensive, but good, dinner there. Everyone agreed that those who hadn't come with us had really missed out and everyone would have to come back again to do a whole day at the beautiful beach, a picnic and this time 4wheeling in the dunes...I may be sitting at the pool by the hotel that day...
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