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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Five days in Dakar, Senegal

Photos (from top to bottom)
1. Cows on a turn-table island. Classic Africa.
2. - 6. Hiking up to the statue in Dakar.
7. - 9. Hiking up to the lighthouse in Dakar.
10. and 11. Playing pool and bowling in Dakar.
12. A Dakar car park.
13. A crazy fabric shop in Dakar.
14. Bartering in a Dakar market. Typing numbers on a calculator helped us break through the language barrier.
15. In a gele in Dakar.
16. The hotel we stayed at.
17. Sunny on the beach.
18. An art gallery security guard working really hard.
19. The roof of a market in Dakar.
20. - 22. Downtown Dakar.
23. - 28. On the road to Dakar.

Sunny was recently invited to a wedding in India. However, like most everywhere in the world, you can’t go to India without a visa and you can’t get visas for India in The Gambia. Therefore, I accompanied Sunny as she traveled up to Dakar, Senegal, for five days so that she could apply for and receive said visa. Below is an account of our adventures and above are photos that I managed to take. We had a fantastic time in the city that is often called “the capital of West Africa.” We ate as many French pastries as we could afford and hiked all around the city. We visited the hectic markets and tried our best to barter in French. We relaxed on the beach, visited an African art gallery, and ate a lot of ice cream. The time really seemed to fly by!

We had a smooth journey from Banjul to Dakar. We rode a taxi to the Banjul-to-Barra ferry at 6am on Sunday morning and it was so cold that I had to put on a fleece jacket. After cramming ourselves in a gele and riding for about half an hour, we found ourselves at the Gambia-Senegal boarder. Once our passports were checked, we rode on the backs of Motorinos to the Senegalese car park. Believe it or not, this was my first time on a motorized, two-wheeled vehicle. Scooters are surprisingly more stable than I thought they were, though I was glad that the one I was riding on was so rickety that it couldn’t go faster than 10 mph. We then rode in a set-plaus for six hours and finally arrived in Dakar. It was interesting to see the passing landscape change from farm fields to salt flats to baobab fields to suburban towns and finally to the sprawling city of Dakar. We found our hotel easily and dropped our things in the room. We went out to dinner in a northern part of the city and Sunny was almost instantly pick-pocheted. Luckily, she was smart and had not been carrying a large amount of money or anything else important. However, we learned that you have to be EXTRA careful in larger cities, like Dakar. It seemed our trip was not off to the best of starts.

On Monday we made our way into downtown Dakar and had a much better day. We ate some delicious pastries from a shop close to the hotel (where we continued to go to get breakfast the rest of the time we were there). Sunny filled out the paper work for her visa to India and then we hit the larger markets. I was amazed to see things like cross walks and parking meters. We enjoyed visiting the markets, though the venders can be overwhelming and the language barrier made things a little frustrating. However, I was surprised by the number of Fulas I encountered (or at least the number of people that knew a little bit of Fula). We returned to our hotel in the late afternoon and ran into three other volunteers from The Gambia, who just happened to be traveling through. It’s a small part of the world.

On Tuesday we tried to find our way onto a nearby island that has been preserved as a national park. However, the ferry to the island and the national park office were no longer where the city guides said they were and we eventually gave up. Instead, we found a nice beach to relax on and spent the afternoon swimming and reading. That day on the beach left us starving and so we went to a Senegalese cuisine restaurant downtown that was stupendous. We also found a great ice cream shop nearby (which we also visited a few more times before we left).

We spent yet another day in downtown Dakar on Wednesday. After visiting an African art gallery we stumbled across an Italian imports grocery store, where I went crazy pointing out all the cookies and snacks that I had always loved when I lived in Rome. We spent a long time in the afternoon visiting fabric venders and then returned to the hotel. That night we went out to a nearby mall, where we went bowling and played pool. It almost seemed like we were back in the US.

We made our last trip into downtown Dakar on Thursday morning and returned to our hotel after lunch. We spent the afternoon walking, first to a lighthouse situated on a hill near our hotel, and then a little further to the huge statue of a man, woman, and child that Senegal recently erected near the lighthouse on the coast. The statue was impressive and the hill we climbed to reach it offered an amazing view of the city. It was quite windy and we enjoyed watching a group of children as they played in the wind and marveled at the little, tiny cars that went whizzing along on the roads far below. That night we went to a Vietnamese restaurant that was delicious.

Early Friday morning, I said good bye to Sunny and took a taxi back to the Dakar car park. I rode a set plaus to the border and crossed back into The Gambia. Though I had to wait for the ferry for a while (as always), I got through Banjul and back to Tanjeh by 6pm. I had brought pears and a pine-apple back with me, which my host-family and I enjoyed at dinner that night. Meanwhile, Sunny packed up her own things and went back downtown to pick up her visa. She managed to make it to the airport and began her journey to India. I must admit that while I greatly enjoyed Dakar, I was immensely relieved to be back in The Gambia, where things are a little calmer and I speak a language that is understood by most other people around me. As when I returned from Mali in October 2009 and when I returned from the US in 2010, I realized that The Gambia really has, in some ways, started to feel like a home to me. Never-the-less, this is a home that I will be leaving in only a few months! I’m glad I was finally able to visit Dakar; though it only took me two and a half years to get around to it.

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