West African Dakari - On the rocks with a twist

Trip Start Mar 07, 2013
Trip End Apr 19, 2013

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Flag of Senegal  , Banjul,
Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Bonsoir madames et monsieurs, bienvenue au Dakar! As usual I've a lot to cover so prepare for bullet point telegram style writing.

It began with us sitting on the beach at 7am on Friday morning waiting for our boat to cross the River Gambia but this is Africa, so 7 slowly dragged out until 9:30 before we left Banjul.
Arrived at the border; got passports stamped, refused to pay bribe, told to beware of Senegalese as "they're a bunch of thieves" and then hopped onto a horse and cart and over into Senegal. Then the fun began.....
We decided to go for the cheaper option and bus it to Dakar rather than a 7-seater taxi. Bad call number 1. We got on the bus without any provisions as we had no small denominations of CFA (west African francs). Bad move number 2. We didn't notice the 3 babies already on board our bus. 3rd mistake. We failed to notice our driver was about 12 years old. Error number 4.

Summary of the subsequent two hours:
Bus remains stationary, midday sun converts bus into steam cooker, pre-pubescent driver argues with fellow driver and gets punched in face, half of bus get fed up and transfers to alternative bus, driver returns and refuses to go until bus is full, remaining locals leave bus to go and pray at nearby mosque, bus fills up and drives off with luggage of mosque based passengers still worshipping, angry locals chase bus, everyone refuses to travel with driver and new driver is hired to get us to Dakar.

Next 8 hours spent sitting with knees against ears, while locals throw up and change their babies nappies, chucking the soiled ones on the floor. For our entertainment we had a window view of the dullest landscape known to humanity, think Mad Max meets the Sahara decorated with a million plastic bags.

What a nights sleep! No shrieking minarets, no strutting cockerels, just the roar of Boeings from the airport next door, but we didn't even notice!
We very quickly discovered that the senegalese like holidays, so much so that this 95%25 Muslim country takes Friday too Monday off for Easter! So with great disappoint we discovered the only thing to do was go to the beach.
We headed a bit north and took a small boat to the island of N'gor, an idyllic place with small beaches, no hassle, great food and a really relaxed atmosphere. We walked the entire island which is full of hidden winding lanes and entertained ourselves greatly with a good game of Rocks (Kev and I throw rocks at a tower of rocks and try to knock down the rocks)

Into central Dakar for a visit and to get our bearings. Wandered around the leafy streets which though not architecturally comparable do have a very Parisian feel to them, and discovered Eric Kayer a coffee shop from heaven in which Anna finally found the good coffee she's been searching for and Lauren satisfied her chocolate daily allowance. Dakar centre was all closed so with a heavy heart it was back to N'gor to the beach again for some BBQ fish skewers and swimming.

Up and active for a morning of surfing! Anna and I were joined by Chris, a German guy from our hostel, while Lauren and Kev were dedicated paparazzi. We met our instructor Boubakar who is an excellent teacher and very patient (phew!) donned wetsuits though not as thick as the ones we have at home. Over the next 2 hours we were battered and bruised by the rough conditions and the self induced wipe outs, but overall we managed not to totally humiliate ourselves!
Then we left Chris to his work and headed for Pointe Almadie, the western most point in Africa, which added to the compass tally of Kev (been to the eastern most) and Anna (southernmost). Box ticked, food eaten and then uphill to the lighthouse on one of a pair of hills called Les Mamelles (the breasts). Here we got great views of the Dakar skyline and saw how much development and urban sprawl is taking place. The other breast has had a partial mastectomy and reconstruction compliments of the North Koreans who replaced it with an absolute monstrosity of a statue showing three people freeing themselves from shackles of oppression, pot kettle black for North Korea I think! But the moral of the story is don't go to Pyongyang for a boob job!
That night we met Chris for dinner and were joined by 4 Danish medical students working in Guinea-Bissau.

Back to Eric Kayer for breakfast accompanied by our Danish friends, and then a ferry to Il de Goree. After deciding I was going to return and live in N'gor my plans went out the window when we got to Goree. An island crammed with stunning French colonial buildings and lanes and streets turned into shadowy arches by vines and bougainvillea, it felt like walking back in time. At this point I became a bit trigger happy with my camera and now have albums of doors and windows! Even with nothing specifically to do on the island we were content to just wander the town, peer through old shutters and visit the cool and deafeningly quiet church. We got treated to marching practice by the local children's brigade of the Order of Malta and watched as Kev and Penel challenged the local kids to a game of table soccer. By the end I was very tempted to skip the ferry and stay.

And then suddenly it was over and we're sitting in a 7-seater heading for the Gambian border.
Bus journey aside it was worth it. We saw a beautiful part of Senegal, met great people; Chris is off to Tanzania and then Kenya where he is working on renewable energy projects but he reckons he'll settle in Senegal in June for a year or so, the girls (3 Danish, 1 German) are all working in Bissau on medical research and we're going to visit them in Bissau in a week or so.

So back to The Gambia for a few days. Apologies about this tome of a post. And a massive thanks to Sandra Marchal for the tips on Dakar living, especially the food based ones!

Au revoir
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