Have you been to Dakar?

A guest blog by Louise Wilson

We had to visit Le Lac Rose seeing as it was the finishing point for the famous Paris-Dakar race and because we wanted a stop off point before tackling the Dakar traffic. Maybe the off peak season isn’t the time to visit or maybe it just simply isn’t that magnificent. We had been told that there is too much water in the lake at this time of year for it to look pink so weren’t too disappointed and instead tried really hard to find a rose shimmer. The lake is a salt lake where many workers go and dig for the salt to sell. Apparently you can swim/float in it but the edges aren’t very inviting and anyway we found a hotel with a swimming pool…!

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As we approached the lake, from Saint Louis, there was nothing to be seen and the piste was covered in sand (for non motorbike riders reading, riding in the sand is no fun as the bike either sinks or slides). We were hot, tired and not massively inspired by what we saw. Then the touts appeared! Senegalese are very friendly but they can also be annoyingly over the top when they want to sell something. I keep telling David to say he doesn’t speak French to try and deter them but they are persistent. After a tout insisting on showing us to the hotel we wanted and after many negotiations on the price and choice of room, we came away happy with a good deal. A round hut with en suite, air con and breakfast (not forgetting the pool) all within budget. They even opened the restaurant and produced a wonderful grilled fish meal for us.

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We had an interesting set of visitors. Along with the usual stray cats, a group of frogs were jumping around beneath our table.

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The only other guests were an Italian man with his Senegalese girlfriend. He turned out to be a motorbike lover and insisted on showing us his photos of his motorbike trips to Morocco. He owns 20 bikes, one of which is an ex-Paris Dakar bike that was ridden by Meoni!

The next day we were up early, had a wander over to watch the salt being collected (only to be bothered by touts) had breakfast and headed to Dakar.

It’s a good thing we decided to stay by the lake so they we only had 60km to do to reach the city. It’s notorious for its traffic jams because of the peninsula geography and therefore one road in and one road out. The hardest thing we found was the lack of street signs. Senegal isn’t very good for road names and or direction signs.

After a number of stops to ask for directions, a few checks of the iPhone GPS, some close shaves with traffic and the odd swearing, we made it to Cap Ouest, a guest house recommended in the Lonely Planet which is on the north side of the peninsula. It had been suggested by a number of people that we stay slightly out of the centre to avoid the traffic and have somewhere to escape in the evenings.

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We dropped our kit, showered and jumped into a local taxi for the 15min ride into the centre.

At first it was quite pleasant. We were dropped by the Place de l’independance and decided to wander around to absorb the atmosphere. The covered food market was well worth a visit to see the women with fruit and veg piled high and then men hacking away at meat. We wandered down to the French Institute to enjoy a drink by which point we were feeling confident to venture into one of the markets. That confidence lasted about 10minutes when the first guy insisted on walking with us to his shop, then on the left a guy came wanting to sell us wooden carvings, behind was a guy wanting to sell jewellery (nasty plastic necklaces!) and then a mini argument broke out with me telling them to back off and them annoyed at each other for annoying me. We very quickly spotted N’Ice, an ice cream parlour which was meant to sell local fruits ice-cream and ran inside.
!

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The ‘Obama’ chocolate flavoured ice cream made us chuckle and the touts were left well behind.

Post ice cream we walked away from the centre towards the Grand Mosque through streets with kids playing table football, men welding in the street, women roasting peanuts, taxis honking, numerous Orange phone card topup sellers, Nescafe instant coffee kiosks (Senegal needs to learn a thing or two about coffee from Morocco) beggars, a man trying to sell me socks, men selling shoes on the bonnet of someone else’s car and a man proudly displaying his selection of digital calculators.

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We jumped back in a taxi and headed to the guest house for some peace and quiet. On the way we saw a man standing on a busy street corner holding three analogue clocks for sale. David said he was just being Flavor Flav’. The highlight of the day was the guys selling oranges (although they were green) that they peel in a thin, continuous spiral. It looks amazing and it wasn’t for knowing I’d be pounced on by a tout if I stopped, I’d have bought one purely for the skill!

The lows were how, as a westerner walking around, you spend 40% of your time trying to shake off touts…Unfortunately this makes it difficult to be open and get to know locals. The heat, smells and dirtiness of the city also make it hard to relax but it’s fascinating to experience a big African city

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5 thoughts on “Have you been to Dakar?

  1. Thank you for such an interesting update. Love the frogs. So Morocco isn’t the only African country where you are pestered by touts! At least you have found a restful place to stay with pool and air con – better than we achieved in Uganda.

    Not sure how you dared admit on a blog that would be read by your mother that you ate ice cream in a third world country………..Did you ask how reliable the electricity is for the freezer?!

    Love Chantal

  2. After all the rain you experienced in Azrou, you might be amused to learn that the roads were closed in the Azrou – Khenifra – Midelt area of the Middle Atlas this week whilst an early heavy snowfall was cleared. So enjoy the sun!

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