Posts Tagged With: Senegal

Our Boat

The Casamance region of Senegal is cut off from the rest of the country by The Gambia. The overnight ferry from Dakar to get here couldn’t have been more comfortable by African standards. When arriving in Ziguinchor you sail through miles of green jungle and mangrove swamps, a big contrast to the dusty plains of the North, which gives you the sense you’re arriving in a whole new country. Not only is the landscape a fresh change, Casamance is culturally and politically very different to the North, in fact most people will actually say they’re going to Senegal when planning a trip to Dakar. 

The village of Abéne was the base during my stay here. A pretty hip little hangout right on The Gambia border which draws musicians and artistic people from all over West Africa. It is also the official headquarters of the Senegalese Manchester City fan club, whose corrugated iron shack is located in the bus station. 

The Abéne Ethiad

My home at the little baobab

‘Bantam Wora’ the sacred tree of Abéne is six huge fromager trees, which have fused together over time to create one massive beast. Also known as kapak or cotton trees, they’re always considered sacred in Casamance, but this one is extra special due to its size. Thought to be possessed by a genie that can bring good fortune if offered milk, kola nuts or biscuits, women with fertility problems or men wanting to win a local football match will come here to make an offering. Only time will tell if the packet of hobnobs I left there will be enough to help Newcastle United win any silverware in my lifetime. 

Bantam Wora

The coastal walk from the nearby town of Kafountine back to Abéne takes around an hour. The people here seem genuine and friendly and I got talking to a few guys from different walks of life. First a Gambian fisherman, who crosses the border regularly to work as he makes more money in Senegal. Then there was Mr Kofi, a Togolese gentleman who sells fresh BBQ’ed fish to tourists from his wooden shack. Finally, there was a young man from Nigeria who has travelled to Abéne overland from his home, his ultimate goal – to illegally make it to Europe where he will lie about his age with the hope of becoming a professional footballer. He’s 28 but can easily pass for 22. During his journey he spent a month behind bars in Ziguinchor when he got caught sneaking into Senegal but was released to make room in the prison for more serious criminals. 

Casamance region is an awesome spot for bird watching. I spent four days sitting in a hammock struck down with a mysterious stomach infection, most likely caused by downing a litre of Dakar tap water after a heavy night on the drink. I decided to just let the birds come to me. 

The ferry back to Dakar wasn’t quite as luxurious as it didn’t have cabins, so I was forced to sleep on the floor. It was still well organised and ran on time, a rare feat for Africa. The boat is such a prominent feature throughout this traditional fishing nation, it is impossible to miss the colourful designs and Islamic messages painted on the sides of each vessel. It seems only fitting that the word Senegal comes from the two Wolof words ‘Senuu Gal’ meaning ‘Our Boat’. Somehow, when disembarking the ferry I ended up with someone else’s passport, I was the only white guy on board, so how I got mistaken for ‘Muhammad Sagna Diop” is anyone’s guess. 

Newly built fishing boats in Kafoutine


Back in Dakar, I realised that it is quite a decent city with many different suburbs. Yoff, which is only a few kilometres from the airport, has a lively clean beach with clear water. It’s also the only beach in the world where you will find men training and sunbathers been attacked by giant pelicans on the same stretch of sand. 

Working out on Yoff beach


The affordable and short (ish) flight from England made Senegal an excellent place for a short trip. The North and South are two very different regions and the food is good, although I wouldn’t recommend their spaghetti bolognese. I had a few language difficulties, but the Senegalese people are very welcoming and friendly, in fact they pride themselves on ‘Teranga’ which means ‘Hospitality’ in Wolof. As I’m about to tackle Africa for round five, I’m signing off from Senegal with my generic football top shot, this time I’m going for the full kit wanker. Au Revoir!

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Djoudj Dread

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. 

Middle Seats

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. 

Garbage Rafts

Game on the pavement

Is he giving me the V?

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. 

The park’s main entrance


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.

Tatooine


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 Bird Man of the Djoudj

Squark!


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’. 

Taking the p***

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A Tale of Two Statues 

“Why Senegal?” That’s a standard question I get asked when I mention my latest holiday destination. No I didn’t just pull a name from a hat, no I didn’t flick through an atlas and get my girlfriend to tell me when to stop. My logic behind coming to this not so obscure West African nation is a lot simpler than that, I fancied some winter sun, it’s visa free, I managed to find a cheap flight from Newcastle and the Dalai Lama says “once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before”, I’m not counting my visit to the refuse tip in Gateshead, so Senegal it was! 

Dakar is the capital and largest city in Senegal. Arriving late we jumped into an airport taxi, the driver tried to sell us tours, hash and woman, not bad considering we’d only been in the country half an hour. He then charged £15 to the neighbourhood of Ngor, about two kilometres away and still had the nerve to ask for a tip to buy a late night supper. Shortly after finding a hotel we then fell for a sob story by a man selling little plastic baobab tree statues. He claimed he’d travelled from The Gambia to Dakar to buy expensive medicine because he’d had a stroke and desperately needed money. Now all the scams are out of the way, let’s enjoy Dakar! 

Horse and cart is still a common mode of transport in Dakar


Ngor is a commune and one of the four original Lebou villages that made up the original city of Dakar. There is a very local eatery that served grilled chicken so finger lickin good that a local drunkard stumbled in and finished everyone’s leftovers. The hotel seems to double up as a place for expats to pick up local girls and there’s a monkey chained up outside. I would say Ngor definitely falls into the ‘shanty’ spectrum, but overall is a friendly neighbourhood. 

Ngor

On this weekend, Dakar’s streets were pretty quiet as a large percentage of the population have fled to the city of Touba for the annual Grand Magal Muslim festival. This was a good time to make the long walk to the African Renaissance Monument. Towering over Dakar, the colossal 52 metre tall statue, is the largest in Africa. This brain child of former Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade was officially opened around the 50th anniversary of his country’s independence from France. Wade said the statue was to be a symbol of liberation, but with the total bill exceeding 30 million dollars the people of Senegal were furious that Wade was wasting public money, considering the economy collapsed leaving the education and healthcare in crisis. It costs 6000CFA (£8) to go to the top of the statue, 35% of which goes directly Wade after he claimed intellectual property rights. 

Wade’s giant piggy bank

Street art at the base of the monument

Only 3km from Dakar into the Atlantic Ocean lies Gorée island. Zero traffic on the island makes Gorée a harmonious heaven with a dark history. Seen as Dakar is statistically placed on the Cap-Vert peninsula, the westernmost point of the continent, slaves were brought to Gorée from all over West Africa to be held here while they awaited their fate – death on the island or at sea, or a lifetime of slavery in the Americas. 

Chilling on Gorée

Erm…


Most tours of the island are in French, so I didn’t bother paying over the top for an English speaking guide. The Maison des Esclaves (house of slaves) has some foisty and dank cells that are on par with some of the hotel Rooms we looked at, it is here where the men, woman and children were held before passing through the door of no return and shipped off to ‘The Land of the Free’. 

The door of no return

World War II Cannon


Blaise Diagne was a French political leader and former mayor of Dakar. Born on Gorée island, he was a pioneer of black electoral politics and advocate of equal rights, it seems only fitting that his son was the first black African to be selected for the France national football team. 

Blaise Diagne’s bust


There were a lot of pushy fake football top salesmen in Dakar who didn’t seem to take no for an answer. I eventually learned that all I had to say was “I don’t like football” and they left me alone. The Senegalese do love football, and they also love foosball. In most villages you will see a lot of  young men crowded around a tiny foosball table cheering like they’re at a real game. Let’s hope there’s not a pitch invasion. 

PSG v Madrid – foosball style

Unfortunately we couldn’t spend too long hanging around Dakar, a big city which seemed to have a lot more to offer. Just as we were about to head out of Ngor, all the local hawkers are now selling the same plastic baobab trees we were tricked into buying, and funnily enough everyone of them has had a stroke since yesterday afternoon. How convenient.  

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