The Super Bowl is coming to the Twin Cities. Perhaps hopping a plane to Africa is an overreaction. But perhaps not. Regardless, we find ourselves in Senegal, the westernmost point in Africa.
This trip is a new experience for us – our first time in Africa, but also our first time hiring a guide for a trip. After consulting with folks who’ve spent substantial time here, it seemed like trying to do a self-directed week in Senegal would involve more waiting-in-bus-stations than actual traveling. We instead chose to hire a dedicated guide and driver for the week, a first for us.
One of the side effects of this choice became clear as soon as we landed in Dakar. Clearing passport control involves telling them which hotel you’ll be staying in. Because we hadn’t handled any of the planning for the trip, we didn’t have that information. And, without working phones, we couldn’t reach out to our guide Ali to learn more. Now, had we been slightly less exhausted, we would have done the sensible thing and lied (“Oh, we’re at the Radisson”). Instead, through a lot of bad machine-translated French, I was able to leave Kat at passport control and go find our guide waiting in baggage claim (with a strong promise to return!). A quick dash out and back in (err, are you supposed to be able to go back the other direction?) all was well and we were on our way.
Dakar opened a brand new airport in December, replacing an older facility in the heart of the city. The new airport is about an hour away from the city. The government is hoping to spur development around the airport, turning it into a major shipping and transit center for Africa. On the drive back into the city, we were able to see numerous building projects underway – “that’s the culture center the Chinese are building. That’s the Art Museum the Chinese are building. That’s the train line the Chinese are building” … you get the picture. No great revelation here (and we can’t even lay all the blame on our shithole President) but the lack of US influence is striking.
We dropped our bags at our hotel in the city, and then immediately jumped on the ferry to Gorée Island. Gorée was a major part of the Atlantic slave trade, sending millions of enslaved Africans to America (and disposing of millions more that died before they could be shipped off). The island has a long history in the hands of the French, the Dutch, the Portuguese, the British, and finally the Senegalese. It was a military outpost for Vichy France during World War II, though it never saw substantial combat.
Because of a tight schedule, we only spent a couple hours on the island. It’s incredibly peaceful – no cars or bikes, lots of sea birds, and UN World Heritage-preserved architecture. It would be a treat to spend a couple days at one of the bed and breakfasts along the water. Instead, we had our first taste of Senegalese food (onion-sauce and rice with a freshly caught fish) and then hopped the ferry back to Dakar. A highlight of our trip to Goree was actually our guide Mika. Mika lived on the island for many years and everyone knew him by name and stopped him to chat. It was a wonderful introduction to the friendliness of the Senegalese.
The rest of the afternoon was spend on a driving tour to the city with Ali – the major Mosques, museums, and fishing villages. We saw the African Renaissance Statue – built by the North Koreans, checked out a fishing village, and stopped at an art village to wander a bit. The city mostly shuts down on Sunday, but a few vendors were around. The many shops are arranged in clusters, with workspaces behind them. We wandered into one area where men were carving beads and sculptures from ebony and teak. While the finished products weren’t that interesting, Kat negotiated to buy a very nice piece of raw ebony. After an exhausted negotiation, she also bought some fabric that will one day become a dress.
By late afternoon, we were dead tired, so we went back to the hotel for a bit of a nap. Not wanting to sleep the whole evening away, we got back out to buy some snacks from the grocery store and find dinner. A vendor on the street noticed us wandering and asked if he could help us. Kat told him we were looking for dinner. He mentioned a couple places to eat, and then walked us to his favorite, a small cafe inside someone’s house. We had some really awesome fuufuu and ceebu.
Now, it’s time to pass out.