Senegal was an unexpected surprise. We had not originally planned on visiting this lovely country on our trip, but due to some last minute itinerary changes, found ourselves in the enviable position of several days to kill in the funky town of St-Louis. This is a true gem of a city with a laid back, easy going and super friendly vibe. We all instantly fell in love, proudly showcasing our Senegalese pride by sporting happy pants and Senegal shirts…it was like we had all been brainwashed overnight as we found ourselves donning the most outrageous outfits and fitting in seamlessly with the locals. Another added bonus was a quick visit to Dakar, the capital of Senegal, which was also another highlight especially given the rather dire security warnings in our guidebooks, which after the fact, we realized were blown way out of proportion. In any case, Senegal was a real treat. We loved this country and wouldn’t hesitate to return for a repeat visit.
As soon as we crossed the border and started the short drive to St-Louis, we noticed a distinct difference in the landscape. Shops were lit, people were out and about enjoying the night life, restaurants were plentiful, and the atmosphere seemed lively and electric. What a huge difference from drab and dull Mauritania! We were excited by the energy in St Louis, and Nancy came over the intercom to announce that we had a pretty long drive to our campsite, the Zebrabar which was 17 KM south, near the entrance to the Langue de Barbarie National Park. Once we got closer to our campsite, some folks noticed large crabs crawling in the moonlight by the waterfront, and we were pleasantly surprised to find a really nice campsite at Zebrabar. The bathrooms were clean and stocked with toilet paper, the showers had luke warm and plentiful water, and most importantly, the bar served chilled beer on a tab. Even though it was past midnight when our tents were erected, the bar was full as everyone rejoiced that we were in Senegal a day earlier. Huge props to Chris for his great driving skills and willingness to go above and beyond in his daily duties. We crashed by 2 am, with Becky’s cook group to make breakfast at 0900 tomorrow.
11 Dec: Tropical birds awoke us the morning, as did Frans’ annoying alarm clock (he had set it and it had gone off while he was in the bathroom and it rang for well over 10 minutes). Once awake, we took showers (very refreshing) and Becky assisted Ruth and Tim in making a Spanish Omelet and cubed potatoes, using the ingredients from last night’s dinner for breakfast. Even though it took a while, everything was good and ready by 10 am, making it more of a brunch than breakie. Nancy announced that we would head into St-Louis at 11:30 pm and spend about 4 hours there, with the next 2 cook groups responsible for shopping. Truck guards were Pam and Norma for the first shift, Luke and Lars for second shift, Sean and Sara for the third and Chris and Ruth for the final one. Since we weren’t on the truck guard roster, we had a few hours to explore the city and boy were the first impressions favorable. People here was super friendly and the hassle wasn’t aggressive, with folks giving their best sales pitch and moving on if no interest was shown. Our first order of business was to get sufficient funds for our onward Burkina Faso visa (a whopping 100,000 CFA or 153 Euros), and Ghana (15,000 CFA). We forgot our ATM card on the truck and had to backtrack to get it, but did manage to get our funds out (250,000 CFA was the daily max) before linking up with Bree to get some “happy pants”, which was these cool multicolored patchwork pants that were perfect for keeping the mosquitoes off at night. Robby bargained them down from 10,000 CFA to 3,500 CFA each. Lunch was the next order of business but kept finding ourselves getting sucked into various stores (the souvenirs here are marvelous). We ended up lunch on shwarmas and chips (3000 CFA for the two of us plus drink), and walked around St Louis where we all fell in love with this vibrant and lovely French colonial city. We caught wind of a concert tomorrow and made tentative plans to stay late in the city to enjoy the entertainment. At 4:30 pm, we linked back at the truck where we found that Luke, Lars, Mike and Marie were going to stay in town to enjoy themselves, with the rest of us returning. Lucky convinced us to join him on his afternoon jog, and 33 sweaty minutes later, we did a shortened ab workout before taking refreshing showers. Great day!
12 Dec: Free day in St-Louis! After breakfast, we coordinated a boat ride in the Langue de Barbarie National Park (2000 CFA entry fee and 2500 boat fee per person) for 10 am. Becky climbed the lookout point at Zebrabar for a wonderful 360 degree panorama. The boat ride was OK although it was a bit of a downer that all we did was circle around one island that had a large flock of gulls and a solitary pelican. We all agreed that we had seen more driving on Nala through the Diawling Park in Mauritania. Lunch was served at the campsite (salad sandwiches) and after relaxing for a bit, we coordinated an afternoon (2:30 pm) taxi ride into St Louis. Since Marie decided to join us at the last minute, we hoped that the taxi driver would accept 5 passengers (he did and charged us 7000 CFA for 5 pax as opposed to 5000 CFA for 4). Since our group had to take two taxis, we linked up with Luke, Sean, Sara, Dowelly, and Lucky at the café/patisserie at the Hotel du Palais, which had a kick ass décor with colorful wall murals and painted furniture. Our taxi held Marie, MJ, and Bree so our group consisted of 10. All of us ordered a bottle of Flag beer (1200 CFA) and a samosa (300 CFA), and had the bonus of free wifi at our fingertips. Street vendors hawking “happy” pants started showing us their pants, and Dowelly scored his for the price of 3000 CFA. We saw Matt, Katherine and Lars in the street so they ended up joining us after purchasing some happy pants of their own. After spending a bit of time here, our group wandered over to the souvenir store that started the happy pants craze, and Luke managed to bargain two sets of pants (one for him and one for Lucky) for the price of 5000 CFA. Happy pants for all. After shopping to our heart’s content, we headed over to the Flag Bar, which had large beers for 1000 CFA, plus free peanuts and good music to boot. Everyone was having a good time socializing over beer (Lucky ordered a margarita but it was lacking), and eventually we realized that we needed some food to combat all the alcohol. Our original goal was to eat at the “La Galaxie” restaurant, but for some reason we ended up at the same restaurant we ate at the day before. It took a while for our group of 10 to be served, but we whiled away the time watching true Sengalese entertainment of “La Lutte” wrestling competitors on TV. It was true gladiator style fighting, complete with two massive opponents decked out in little more than their briefs duking it out (with the winner forcing his opponent on his back in the sand). Our meal was good, and after getting our fill, we headed over to another bar, which was richly decorated in an old, French colonial style. After some aggressive vendors hassled Matt over a happy shirt, we emptied out of the bar and headed towards the World Festival of Black Arts and Cultures, but got lured in by a bakery with overpriced deserts (a whopping 800 CFA for a tiny sliver of cake). The free festival show was kicking, with singers, drummers and a sizeable crowd gathered to watch the entertainment. At this point in the night, our group split off with some folks headed back to the campsite, while we opted to stay. However, the performers changed, and the new show consisted of a troupe of modern dance and the evening took a turn for the bizarre so by 11 pm, we were ready to call it quits. Our taxi driver quoted us a rate of 4000 CFA to take us to the Zebrabar, but bumped it up to 5000 when we got to camp. After refusing to pay the difference, it was a stand off until the driver finally relented and took off. Becky was feeling a bit off and thought it was perhaps a combination of too much beer or her shwarma sandwich.
13 Dec: It was an early rise as we had breakfast at 7 am and still had to settle our outstanding tab with the Zebrabar (2000 CFA for the park entrance fee). We headed into St Louis so that the next two cook groups could shop for food, and Becky went back to the Hotel du Palais café with a laptop in tow so that she could check on email, contact Oasis about a follow on Cairo to Tunis trip, and post some more photos on Facebook. The café insisted that the minimum purchase was a coffee (1200 CFA) or the privilege just to surf would cost 1000 CFA. MJ set the trend for happy hats by getting hers for 2000 CFA, and Becky, Norma and Pam followed suit as well. In the meantime, Robby found a liquor store where he managed to get some cheap whiskey and rum (produced in Senegal). When we returned to the truck at the agreed upon meeting time of noon, we found to our dismay that Chris had a hell of a time at customs with our vehicle, and threats to impound it were made (we were given a 48 hour grace period to register and since we entered late Friday night, were unable to do anything until Monday morning. The St Louis officials were unforgiving, and had demanded Chris hand over his vehicle keys). Thanks to the Zebrabar Swiss owner, our group was granted a 12 hour extension pass to Dakar where we could hopefully sort the entire mess in the morning. Becky was still not feeling well and it was a long drive afternoon as Chris drove like a mad man to Dakar. The initial impression of Dakar was impressive, as we came upon fascinating street scenes, and realized we were entering a huge cosmopolitan city. Our campsite tonight was fantastic, at the seaside “Su-Nu-Gal” Plage Restaurant, at the corniche de l’aeroport. Robby was on cook group duty and we enjoyed a delicious fried rice with peanuts and beef meal. Luckily for us, the campsite was near a free wifi spot, and several of us were able to check our email.
14 Dec: The campsite really wasn’t adequate to accommodate 25 passengers, as there were only 2 western style toilets, 2 squat style, and 2 open air showers. That meant whoever showered would do so in the buff and in the open. This meant a late night shower for Robby and an early morning shower for Becky, before the rest of the group awoke. After breakfast, we were on the road by 8 am to reach the Dakar city center by 9 am. Here, we were granted two hours of exploration, with our truck parked at the Place de la independence which was a great central location. Our first visit was to the nearby Cathedral, which had an impressive painted scene within its dome. The Presidential Palace was close by, and we happened upon a wonderful patisserie with the most delightful brownies (bargain priced at 500 CFA) which we enjoyed before heading over to the Marche Kermel. This large market had a very nice seafood and fresh meat section, surrounded by fresh fruit and vegetable stalls. Everything looked hygienic and clean. Circling the exterior of the market were dozens of souvenir stalls, where the friendly (and sometimes pushy) vendors were trying to hawk their wares. We enjoyed the atmosphere and vibe of this city, and were dismayed that the write ups of Dakar in both our guidebooks had been full of doomsday scenarios and warnings. Our group linked back up at the main Plaza at the agreed upon time of 11 am, and we had to wait a little while for Chris to return (he had gone to refuel the truck). Once he pulled off, we were off on our way to Bamako, Mali, embarking on a long 5 or 6 day bush camp journey in a mad dash to reach the capital city before Monday, 20 Dec. Our lunch stop was good, although the sun was out in full force and getting everyone’s attention. Everyone angled themselves for the best truck seats, and it was a constant shuffle to get out of the scorching rays of the sun. Our bushcamp was just off the road in a peaceful spot and we enjoyed a dinner of stir fried noodles, vegetarian style, cooked by Nancy, Marie and a drunk George who had egged Robby on with a whiskey drinking competition earlier on in the day.
15 Dec: Breakfast at 7 am. The truck had a cracked front leaf spring so Chris had everyone offload from the truck while he did truck repairs, telling us to make ourselves comfortable as we weren’t headed anywhere anytime soon. At 11 am, we were finally able to load onto the truck and head out. Our lunch was of deviled eggs (yum) and it was a non eventful truck drive day. Cook group tonight was Bree, Lucky and Dowelly and we were in for a treat with the “Lucky Surprise”, consisting of a pasta dinner with salami! Great meal, which was prepared while curious Senegal onlookers gazed intently. Everyone retired early tonight.