Highway Blues

Trip Start Mar 23, 2008
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Senegal  ,
Monday, June 16, 2008

     The gare routiere at Dakar is a field of dilapidated old jalopy station wagons parked in a puddle of mud and filth.  Instantly people approach and direct you to the next car leaving in your direction, once the seven seats are full.  You haggle over a couple of dollars difference like it's your kids college savings.  Men blow you of with the back of their hand then return again for more. 
     I take my seat and watch the driver say a little prayer for the engine to fire as he turns the key.  None of the gages work, you can feel the springs in your seat, the emergency brake is always useless, the power steering is gone, the rear view mirror is barely hanging on, and only half the door handles ever work.  We make our way to Highway N2. 
     Its hard to tell how many lanes of traffic their are on African highways.  There is no paint on the road, even if there was no one would pay it mind.  Where there is space there is a lane.  Shoulders of the road don't exist.  In fact, the eight feet of earth next to the tarmac is often made into a lane itself.  We weave and flow through the chaos.  I adjust to a comfortable position, crack the window the feel the breeze, and look out to admire all the people going to and fro, hawking whatever makes money, selling their mangoes and nuts. 
    About one mile down the road the rear of our old jalopy sways right as the front tires continue straight.  As ever in moments like these everything slows down.  Adrenaline travels from your heart to your fingers, your pupils dilate, you grip whatever is in your hands, and your legs tense.  You notice everything.  The driver jerks the steering wheel to the right, we fish tail to the left.  He turns left as hard as he can.  This seems to go on for awhile though it's just seconds.  The car then slams into the center rail, thank god this road has a center rail.  It almost seems comical as the car makes impact, like Lubowski slamming into the trash bin.  Instantly I want to get off the road.  I have taken care of too many people in the ER who have received the Darwin award for standing still on highways.  I grab Gina and pull her off the street.
     The back right tire has been riped in half.  Lesson number 139 of traveling Africa; check the tread of tires before taking public transport.
     Two kids in rags appear from nowhere.  The 12 year old boy is an expert in roadside mechanics.  His business is to wait patiently next to N2 for his customers arrival, and a lucrative business it is.  Soon enough we are moving down the road.  The driver has to make a stop for a new spare.  While pulling off the highway to the garage, a large van decides to swap paint with the right side of our ride.  Two accidents and almost two hours later we are still in Dakar.  The driver gets out to look at the damage.  I'm not really sure why it's important.  No one has insurance and if the car still moves from A to B, no one will pay to have it fixed.
     Finally, we are moving along.  The wind is in my hair, baobab trees in the horizon, grass villages along the road, and mangoes everywhere. 
     We arrive in Toubatouka.  This feels like the first real African village of the trip.  Dirt paths with grass structures, hundreds of shoeless children, docile donkeys, yellow plastic pales of water, infants feeding on their mother's breast, girls balancing anything and everything on their head.  Kids yell out "Tubab!" as we walk by looking for a place to rest. 
     Every region has its word for a white tourist.  I'm a Gringo in Latin America, a Farang in Southeast Asia, and now a Tubab in Africa.  And the word doesn't discriminate nationality.  Whether your home played a part in the countries tragic past or not doesn't matter.  Everyone falls into the category, even light brown skinned girls like Gina aren't sparred.
     We find our place, drop off the rucksacks, and walk out to a dock full of colorful pirogues on the Sine Saloum Delta for a Senegalese sunset. 
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