Saint Louis, Senegal, October 23 - 24, 2007
Trip Start Sep 19, 2007
85Trip End Jan 05, 2008
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Saint Louis is a UNESCO World Heritage sight and with its colonial era architecture and prominent annual jazz festival is often compared to that other former French colony on the other side of the Atlantic - New Orleans. That comparison might only be apt, however, to a New Orleans a couple weeks after being hit not only by Hurricane Katrina but also an earthquake and a rubbish blizzard. Saint Louis is described as having a faded elegance, but if its elegance fades much further it'll be completely bleached out
After a week in alcohol-free Mauritania, it was certainly nice to have beer again on our first night in Saint Louis. It isn't something you think about much back home, but it just seems so wrong to have to go an entire week without beer when on holiday. Our nice beachside campground (Camping Ocean) was memorable for its evening dips in the sea, refreshing beach bar, and a population of land crabs so dense I was kept awake as they climbed onto and fought over territory on top of my tent.
I spent a full day wandering lazily around Saint Louis and taking in its sights - Guet D'Dar fishing village near our campground, the fisherman's cemetery, Governor's Palace, Saint Louis Museum, Cathedral, Place Faidherbe (central square), and a number of African art galleries. As in most places in Africa, the most fascinating parts of Saint Louis were not the buildings, museums, and other traditional "sights" but rather the people, especially the busy fishing communities with their boat builders, fishermen putting out to sea or returning with their catches, and the merchants trading the fish
Saint Louis was the first place we experienced the strange phenomenon of having difficulty changing U.S. dollars at banks and bureaus de change, perhaps the first place I've been in the world where the dollar is absolutely not king. With the currency used in most former French colonies in West Africa (Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Cote D'Ivoire, Benin, Togo, Niger), the West African CFA, being pegged at a fixed rate against the Euro, Euros rather than U.S. Dollars are clearly the preferred currency. Unfortunately, I had brought mostly dollars with me, which in Saint Louis meant settling for a poor rate of exchange of 400 to 425 CFAs to the dollar rather than the 450 to 460 official exchange rate.
After some time at an Internet cafe I returned to the campground for a late afternoon swim and a beer or two at the beach bar. A group of six of us including drivers Dave and Ben decided to go to dinner a few doors down at the Pelican Restaurant where (keeping with my tradition) I tried to order the regional specialty. Here in Saint Louis that was Poisson et Crevettes Saint Louisienne, a sauteed fish of some indeterminate sort with shrimp and a sweet and spicy brown onion sauce.
The highlight of the evening, though, was not the food but the show I put on that gave everyone a good laugh
Now if this had been in America I would have immediately been surrounded by restaurant staff helping me up and managers ensuring my wellbeing lest I take up the offer of one of the ambulance-chasing lawyers certain to be present to sue the restaurant for the maximum it's insured for. This being Africa, though, the waiter (possibly proprietor), a middle-aged blond Frenchman, gave me a look that absolutely screamed, "Huh, you are so stupid," made some joke I didn't understand, and gave me another only slightly less flimsy plastic chair to sit on. I just felt fortunate he didn't try to charge me for breaking the first one.