The quiet side of Dakar

A guest blog by Louise Wilson

We woke up to find the ‘dead’ cochroach under the sink was still on its back but somehow had moved from its originally place. It’s legs were now moving all over the place; a sign of how even the insects here are determined to never give up.

After discovering that the Internet wasn’t working in our hotel (not uncommon in Senegal) we decided to wander to the cafe next door for a coffee and WiFi. And that’s when the annoyances started. Within a second of leaving the guest house a taxi driver had pounced asking if we wanted a taxi. A simple ‘no Thank you’ wasn’t good enough as his reply was ‘why not?’ seriously, ‘why not?’ are you not allowed to do anything here without being questioned? Then we had a couple of ‘orange top-up phone card’ sellers waving their cards at us and this was all before we’d achieved anything for the day.

We had tossed the idea of going for breakfast at a particular patisserie in the Medina which was recommended but after reminding ourselves of how annoyed we’d be with being bothered we decided on a leisurely breakfast at the hotel (this was the first place we had been given fruit for breakfast!) before taking a taxi direct to the port for a boat to the island ‘Goree’, south east of Dakar.

The island of Goree is less than a kilometre in length and only a 20minute ferry ride from the mainland. It’s famous for its slave house and as there are no cars on the island, makes for an nice day out. Apart from being befriended in the ferry terminal by people with shops on the island, the ferry ride was pleasant and an interesting way to catch a glimpse of Dakar’s busy shipping port.

The island was beautiful. Colourful buildings with bougainvilleas lining the streets and wonderful views back to the mainland from the castel.

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We had a wander around to get our bearings and check out the views then headed for the beach to read our books over lunch time while the museums were closed. The beach on the bottom corner was quiet and lined with old, rusty looking sun parasols. After looking around for a moment a guy jumped up from his sun lounger , opened up a parasol and laid out a mat for us to sit on. The ‘old, rusty’ looking parasol was actually well looked after and we saw a team of guys restoring them. We had intended to have a snooze on the beach but there was too much going on for me to sleep.

The guys restoring the parasols were fascinating. The spider web like frames were opened up and each piece was being under coated. It helps when the sun is hot and the paint dries in a few minutes. Numerous coats were being painted and clearly, like the Severn bridge, when one set are completed, the next set need renovating. The salt air must rust the frames in a matter of months. The other guy was checking over the ones being used for any damage that needed seeing to. Of course, mid work was the obligatory prayer to Allah. One of the painters knelt to prayer and I must say, of all places I’ve seen people pray, this was a beautiful setting looking out to sea on the edge of the island peninsula. A beautiful sight.

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There were also fishermen catching their meal/earnings for the day and it was clear when they had caught something good. A loud cheer was heard and the parasol guys would raise their arms in recognition.

A few guys came down to the beach to cool off in the water and carry out a few push ups. It’s fair to say the Senegelese are very fitness conscious and working out on the beach is a regular occurrence.

Possibly the most intriguing moment was the kids who came with their goats to, I guess, clean them in the sea. The goats (although I later discovered they were sheep with no coat) knew what was coming and did not want to go into the water. It’s clearly a cultural thing but I find it difficult to watch how they treat their animals. You could argue that forcing them into the water is good because it cleans them but dragging them backwards by one leg seems cruel. Anyway, the cleaning took quite some time. First they got them wet and rubbed them all over, then the sheep would come out of the water and be rubbed all over with sand, then taken into the water to rinse off, then the process was repeated. The sheep came out looking very clean but still they bleated and hissed the entire time.

After our relax on the beach we headed for the slave house. It was restored about 20 years ago and although small (it held about 100 slaves) is very good, if not a bit too good at showing what conditions the slaves would have lived in. Small, dingy, damp cells for men, women and children and even smaller rooms for those that protested.

20121118-075408.jpgThis house is famous for its “door of no return” which looks out to the sea. It’s a strong symbol for the condition of slaves and their harsh life to come across the ocean but it turns out that slaves never went through it…On a positive note, the slave house has a wonderful staircase up to the first floor of the building!

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Before our ferry back we had time for one last drink by the beach in one of seafront the restaurants. A kid who we’d seen carrying a fish around had found a knife and a good spot by the water to gut it. All we could see was bits of fish being thrown into the water, a local cat looking for some food and about 10 birds of prey (buzzards?) circling above ready to swoop into the water for a meal. While this was going on we could hear the sound of the maracas style hand held instrument the guys were selling. We were glad to leave the sound behind but to be fair, Goree was a dream come true after such a difficult day in Dakar the day before. You can stay on the island and wish we’d arranged to do that. Having said that, I have no idea what we would done with our motorbikes and the reality of ‘we’re not normal tourists’ rang home!

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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