Our man in Saint Louis

Zebrabar was exactly what the doctor ordered and there’s no doubt why it’s so popular with overlanders who have just crossed the Sahara. It is a campement right by the water with a choice of cabins. We booked ourselves into a lovely bungalow and parked the bikes in the soft sand right in front of it. We jumped in the water as soon as our bike kit was off and then joined the other guests on the long table for dinner. Everyone seems to be on the same wavelength here, and Ursula, Martin and their family make guests welcome in a very laid back, hands off way. We shared the table with a young couple from Luxemburg and a franco-canadian couple here to volunteer in a school. Present were also an Austrian couple who were about to begin a university exchange programme. They had a lot of very good advice about Saint Louis and Dakar. Fabian had wanted to overland it to Senegal but it didn’t happen. He did know all about temporary import of vehicles etc though… I had my first taste of a Gazelle beer which I can’t really tell whether its good or not (its been so long). It did the trick for me though! We spent the next 24h doing absolutely nothing except for swimming and reading. We had breakfast on the terrace overlooking the water and were greeted by local fishermen passing by in their colourful pirogues. We were actually very lucky because our first day in Zebrabar coincided with the visit of about 30 kids from a local orphanage. They were spending the day by the water and playing with the instruments and toys Martin has lying around. It may sound like a bad thing to happen when one is looking to relax but these kids were very well behaved and brought a lot of life to the site. We made friends with a few of them, doing tumbles in the water and showing them the bikes. We sat them on the bikes and let them rev the engine too. I know I would have loved that as a kid myself! Seeing their excitement was priceless. 20121114-192806.jpg

During our second day we focused on getting an extension on the 48h temporary import for our bikes. This was an interesting process to say the least… Apparently the local customs office won’t give you an extension (this is debatable though) and one has to deal with the infamous…let’s call him Mister M. Mister M is the son of an influential person in Senegal and he’s got connections… We were given his number and called him to arrange a meeting. We then waited on he terrace of the Hotel De La Poste when, an hour late, a car parked, doors opened and a smartly dressed businessman stepped out followed by an entourage of 3 minions. We shook hands, he asked what we needed and sent a minion away to make copies of our documents. When he came back the price negotiation started… Prices had come up compared to the usual rate. He explained that a third of it was for administration and the rest was for his effort. Louise began using her charm and bargaining skills and he got up and shook her hand at 38€ per bike for a 10 days extension. He then drove off with our paperwork and the promise to be back around 4pm. That left us a few hours to visit Saint Louis which is worth doing. It’s a long and narrow island which, like Manhattan is organised around a grid of streets. That’s where the comparison ends though… It did have some resemblance with another American city; New Orleans, with a certain French colonial feel and beautiful balconies on the first floor.

At 5:30pm, after a few reminders, Mister M. arrived in his car and didn’t get out; he handed us the paperwork, an “exceptional” authorisation to temporarily import a vehicle older than 5 years old, signed by some colonel…

All in all this was pretty straight forward and it’s evident that Mister M. does this all the time. So, for information to all the overlanders who debate this question on different fora, the answer is this. Don’t worry about the “no older than 5 years old” rule or having a carnet de passage for your vehicle. As long as you can grease Mister M.’s hand you’ll get in. FYI he told us the price for a car is 100€. Hope this helps. If you need to contact him, ask Ursula or Martin at Zebrabar; or for that matter, anyone in Saint Louis… Mister M. is a known and respected man…

The only down side to Saint Louis (and you’ll find this everywhere in Senegal) is the ‘touts’ trying to sell you everything from a horse cart ride to a kitchen sink. They are good at sticking to you like glue, asking your name and listening to what you’re after (this was actually helpful when looking for a Senegal flag for the motorbikes!). After a day of this and of street kids begging for money, we were pleasantly surprised to be greeted by a local guy who spotted our bikes and wanted to come and have a look. He was very friendly and wanted to hear all about our route because although he’s a teacher, he ‘lives for his motorbike’. It’s always nice to meet keen bikers!

Upon our return “home”, we had the very pleasant surprise to meet John, a South African who was spending some time in Senegal waiting to meet with his son Anton and his girlfriend Tina who are driving from London to Cape Town. John was a chemical engineer who came up with a process to entirely recycle cardboard. He was now focussing on creating a totally sustainable farm which could support up to 40 people. Louise had a very interesting g conversation with him as they were totally on the same wavelength and she felt very inspired by him. He also told us about his son Anton who has a fascinating story. John and Anton had been on a biking holiday in Argentina a few years ago when Anton had a terrible accident in which he lost a leg. This didn’t slow him down though, as a matter of fact he embraced the change so much that he became an volleyball athlete. And an Olympian too! He’d just finished competing in the London games before setting off to cross Africa in a 4×4 with his girlfriend. Louise and I were very disappointed that we didn’t get to meet them but John very kindly offered to meet up next time we’d be in Cape Town, an offer Louise and I would love to take up.

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One thought on “Our man in Saint Louis

  1. what an interesting narrative. It’s amazing who you have encountered in somewhere as apparently remote as Senegal. Hope you took photos of the children who sat on your bikes.

    Love Chantal

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