Monday, December 16, 2019

'Intimidating and alluring'

From a taxi
We decided to spend our last few Senegal days in the city on the peninsula.

Our previous base, Saly, was specifically created for holidaymaker enjoyment. Those visiting the capital will tell you that it doesn't seem to have been built with anyone's pleasure in mind. It's dirty, crowded, crammed with traffic and displays its underbelly brazenly.

Its street-hawkers, selling anything from clothing to SIM cards, baskets, souvenirs, peanuts or jewellery, are legion and hard to shake off. Some double as fronts for gangs of pickpockets. Its dilapidated yellow and black taxis swarm the place. The drivers, always on the look out for easy tourist pickings, spot you from a distance. You don't hail a cab here so much as fend them off.

The city streets rarely have pavements and if they do there are parked cars blocking them. Walking here is never relaxing. It always involves dodging around vehicles, stepping over potholes or avoiding motorcyclists. The air reeks of traffic fumes, every breath a lungfull of diesel and non-unleaded exhaust.

And, after four days here, I find myself loving the place.

As ever, it's the people that do it. This is a Wolof city. They are energetic, full on, outgoing and warm. The cab drivers gurn and pout when you detbate the fare, but that's all forgotton once you're riding and interacting with them. They ike to know where you're from, what language you speak and what football team you follow.

Everyone in Senegal supports Liverpool. Their star player, Sadio Mane, comes from here. Whenever I point out who I support and feign disgust and offence at their loyalty to my team's rivals, they immediately get the joke, laugh and enjoy the interaction. And I do, too.

Outside our Airbnb
The city's neighbourhoods have distinctly different characters. The Plateau in the south is the relatively more sophisticated locale containing shops, bars, cafes. In the north, Yoff and Ngor are more overtly leisure and tourism places.

We're in between the two, in Mermoz. Although we managed to choose a part that's a little grim in its immediate surroundings, the flat is decent and we're well-placed for getting around the city. Immediately, there's little street lighting, the smaller roads are unsurfaced and there are no decent, walkable cafes or restaurants, but the nature of the cars parked nearby tells that there's money here.

From our balcony
In between Mermoz and The Plateau is the Medina, a grimy, tightly-woven network of narrow streets. With no concessions to visitors, it bristles with craftsmens' workshops, markets, tiny general stores and, incongruously, the occasional modern, bright, clean, air-conditioned pharmacy.

The Plateau is home to the Institute Français. Although, to enter it, you have to pass through some serious security, inside it is a haven of calm and French indulgence. It seems clearly to be a means of maintaining the erstwhile colonial power's influence.

Musical royalty
Baaba Maal
Sometimes you get lucky.

If I wanted one thing from my trip to West Africa, it was to take in local music. Completely by accident last Saturday, once more we did.

We thought we'd go to the Institute for a coffee and a beer and to see if there was any music on. We'd seen a great concert at the Institute in St Louis and hoped we might find another in Dakar.

Some musicians transcend genre and count amongst the world greats in any art form. We saw one such that night, without planning, without effort and, for me it almost justifies the whole trip on its own.

Here were eleven top, top musicians, a magnificently coordinated band, lead by a singer just dripping with talent, know-how and charisma. Here was the craft of The Griot writ large and it was electrifying. I love to see a master performer who knows his value while respecting the respect his audience confers.

I'm still buzzing. Thank you Institute Français, thank you Dakar.

Breaking up...
Getting rid of the bike has taken some effort. Yesterday, one day before we fly to Côte d'Ivoire, I was taken to the customs office in the port by an employee of the shipping agent. I still needed to have my passport stamped to show I had exported the vehicle - or I'd be unable to leave the country.

Still, it's done now. Abidjan and The Elephant's Nest later today.


  1. Sounds fantastic. Safe journey to Cote d'ivoire

  2. Your experience sounds very familiar! So important to get out of your comfort zone, though. Hope you have a brilliant time in Abidjan x


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