The most popular mode of transport in Senegal is the sept place (pronounced sept plas). A sept place is a very old Peugeot station wagon that is no longer legally road worthy in France, so has been shipped over to Senegal. Extra seats have been added into the large boot so they can carry seven passengers (sept place is French for seven seats) and providing you avoid these seats, journeys can be relatively comfortable. Most sept places, as you can imagine, are run down heaps of junk and pretty much every component of the interior is broken or missing, however they still work and they get us from A to B faster than any bus.The island city of Saint Louis was once a deserted rock in the muggy waters of the river Senegal until it was handed over to the French by the son of the reigning king of the Waalo Kingdom. It served as the capital of French Senegal until 1902, which is noticeable in its typical French architecture. Named after King Louis XIV it’s not quite Marseille, but sort of how I’d imagine a city in the south of France, excluding the excessive amounts of rubbish and numerous chancers bumming cigarettes and beers. Senegal has a problem throughout the country with little boys begging around bus stations. These kids are not beggars but Quranic students called talibés who have been sent away by their families to receive a religious education from a marabout (Quranic teacher). The begging is not only a way for them to support themselves, but supposed to help the talibés acquire humanity throughout their spiritual journey with the idea that by suffering like this, they will be rewarded by Allah in paradise. Saint Louis has a lot of normal, friendly kids too though that don’t need possessions to stay entertained. Parc National des Oiseaux du Djoudj is on an inland delta southeast of the Senegal river, Djoudj meaning tributary/delta in a local language. The bird sanctuary is a wetland of streams, ponds and backwaters which is visited by around 350 bird species. This oasis is a welcome sight and essential stopover for over 3 million birds annually making the transcontinental journey south from Europe, marking the end of their very long crossing over the Sahara, I certainly felt like a drink after my flight over the same desert after being sat near a screaming child for 9 hours.
We decided to pitch a tent within the park. I had visions of camping in a beautiful garden of Eden surrounded by waterfalls and the sound of African bird song, but the reality was completely different. The lodge “station biologique” looked like it could’ve been a decent place at one point, now it’s a sorry, dilapidated shadow of its former self which looks more like Luke Skywalker’s village on the planet Tatooine than a tourist lodge.
The list of bird species you can see in the Djoudj is as long as luke Skywalker’s lightsaber and includes ; Senegal Thick Knee, Zebra Wax-bill, Long-tailed Night Jar, African Jacana and Kitlitz Plover. These names are meaningless to a non-bird enthusiast but one thing that will certainly make your jaw drop is the pelican breeding colony. Thousands of pelicans nest on the island to minimise any predatory threat and each one weighs in at around 14KG, that’s a lot of bird.
The public holiday is over now and everyone seems to be going back to Dakar, making the sept place ride a long, cramped and sweaty one. We passed through the industrial town of Rufisque, which was once an important port until the rise of Dakar. Now it’s basically a dusty traffic jam which stinks of open sewers and is known for its production of cement, I think I’ll pass on a leg stretching stop. We were just starting to get into Dakar when I felt something wet and warm on my shoulder. I turned round and realised that the driver’s goat which was strapped to the roof of the sept place decided it couldn’t wait and had began pissing, which was trickling down the car, through the window and onto myself and the angry Senegalese woman I was quashed next to. For some reason she didn’t find it as funny as us, although she probably has never heard the phrase ‘only in Africa’.