Revamping some old stories from West Africa, with a hint of nostalgia and wanderlust.
Africa is expensive and now I am relying on a volunteer nurse for one week-long trip to Dakar, Senegal, after spending few days in Banjul, the Gambia. My Taiwanese friend, Joyce, had to borrow 1,000 USD to pay for the airplane tickets, hotel and pocket-money. At Christmas time the banks are closed, and the travel agency doesn’t accept credit cards…
We flew at mid-night and so the adventure began.
At the Dakar Airport, a car from the trvael agency was waiting for us – but instead to bring us to our hotel, the driver stopped at another hotel – probably thinking we were too tired to notice. After making few calls, he dropped us at the right address.
From the hotel it took us about one hour with the local bus to get to the Dakar downtown. The local bus is rusty and the conductor sits on a chair behind metal bars. There are also colourful mini buses.
First day we tried to find a bank, so I can pay my debt. Visiting banks in Dakar wasn’t in our plan. We couldn’t find a bank with a working card reader for my VISA.
Second day – let’s go to the Unesco World Heritage – Ile de Goree, 30 minutes ferry ride from the Dakar port. The island was a center for slave trade. It is a calm place, with narrow alleys and old houses. We spent time strolling and giving candies to the children.
Third day – the main attraction was the Magic World. After a walk along the beach we arrived at the amusement park. The “swinger’ was a thriller and driving the electric car and knocking Joyce was fun.
Nearby was a Christmas show for children. The Senegalese families were coming wearing beautiful clothes, traditional and modern. Small boys in suits and shiny shoes, and little girls dressed like princesses.
We were sitting on the side-walk when a jovial, English-speaking man approached us. He was happy to have a new-born baby. After chatting with him for a while, he gave us necklaces and he pretended he goes away. But he came back and asked for something from our countries for his “baby”. Joyce gave him francs (West African CFA), but the con artist was looking at me: “money from Canada, money from Canada”.
The taxi trick. Night time. Joyce pays the ride with a banknote of 10,000 CFA. The driver takes the banknote and hides it. Then, he is showing another banknote of 2,000 CFA as the one being given to him by Joyce. Confused, she took it and gave him another banknote of 10,000 CFA.
Being tricked twice in one day was too much!
The good thing was that I was able to withdraw 1,000 USD in francs (more than half million CFA) from my VISA card. I never had so much cash at me, and in Africa is a dangerous thing.
Last day of the year – we hired a local guide with an old, rusty car, to bring us to the Lac Rose (“Lake Retba”).
The pinky colour of the lake caused by an algae, is particularly visible during the dry season. Men in pirogues (raw boats) extract salt from the bottom of the lake. At the shore, women transfer the salt from pirogues into baskets. The salt is let to dry and later packed in plastic bags.
We celebrated the New Year at the hotel with red wine and playing cards under the sound of firecrackers.
Relaxing time in downtown Dakar! A stop at Cafe du Rome and trying our luck at slot machines for a hopefully lucky new year for both of us!
Dinner at the Lagon 1 restaurant is a must. On the shore of the Atlantic Ocean with a nautical theme and very good food, Lagon 1 is highly recommended. We served the seafood platter: sea urchins, giant prawns, clams and red wine.
West Africa was a totally new world for me. The Lonely Planet guide doesn’t tell you everything, and what worked in Asia, doesn’t work here anymore.
I was lucky to know Joyce. She was a wonderful host in Gambia and a very handy bankomat, GPS and security guard in Senegal!