Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Surprising, sanguine Senegal ♡

From the Pillion

And so goodbye to Senegal, the surprise country of the trip, for many reasons.

We approached its border as fully-fledged motorbikers, crossed it a bit more doubtful having fallen off the bike, and have left the country sans bike, adopting a different mode of travelling.

The sentiments are mostly relief, tinged with a bit of sadness at the abrupt end of the bike trip.

El Camello is on its way to customs in Dakar, the exercise of shipping the bike back home having usurped all of the Pilot's energy and perseverance. A job well done and enough material for a separate blog!

I have discovered two new sources of anxiety whilst on the bike: potholes, some pouncing on you unannounced and some so big you might disappear into them and the uncompromising sandy turnoffs from asphalted roads with the promise of several tumbles. My stomach still registers them, even though we're not on a bike anymore!

The stuff of nightmares

Some seasoned travellers will traverse West Africa in a 4x4 only.

When you mention 'Africa', the images conjured up are usually of safari, wildlife and desperately malnourished children.

We've seen poverty, but it's not malnourishment. It's lack of infrastructure, lack of access to education and opportunities, and corruption.

There are places of abode so basic; rubbish in the yard, goats in the front and yet the lady of the house, in bright garb, proudly sweeps the steps. People just going about their business. Women carrying babies on their backs and a basket of goods to sell on their heads, swaying along.

It felt wrong and intrusive to take photographs, so we didn't. Some memories will have to live on in our heads only.

The people we've encountered return your smile easily and have a wicked sense of humour - they even understand Simon's!

We've been warned of the hustlers, and they come in gradations.

Quite laidback on the Île de N'Gor (they leave you alone after the first 'Non merci') to a more insistent version in Saly (more limpet-like) to downright in-your-face in downtown Dakar. Simon now pretends he's Igor from Russia and that stops them in their tracks as that's one of the languages they don't speak. I, on the other hand, am immediately identified as German - and I thought my French was improving!

'Christmas hats!'
Simon told a guy the other day that he was from Nigeria, which elicited a chuckle.

Thankfully, we've come across some taxi drivers who stick to the agreed price. Not all the streets of Dakar have names and there are no house numbers. Places are found by identifying a well-known landmark or simply calling the person/business you want to visit and taking directions over the phone as you get nearer.

The taxis range from basic (4 wheels, no seatbelts) to economy I (seatbelts in the front) to economy II (seatbelts in the back but nowhere to 'clunk') and finally to a fully-functioning, comfy vehicle with AC. We travelled to the airport to leave Dakar in economy II, as befits the city.

Bargaining and bartering is de rigueur. Goods or services are being offered, a price is suggested, vehemently rejected by the buyer who walks away. The seller then reconsiders and agrees to a lower price. And here follows the funniest thing; in at least half the cases the seller then adopts what I call the 'Senegalese pout'. Lips protruding and a facial expression that seems to say 'You've just robbed me of my life's savings and may you have seven years of bad luck henceforth!'

Except it's usually the buyer who's been robbed!

Did I mention sand? There's more of the stuff here and every bar/restaurant employs staff who sweep and mop the grainy substance away. A rather Sisyphean effort.

The Sengalese have an above average proportion of beautiful, handsome people. A lot of the men are tall and slender and the women rather curvaceous as is their aspired-to image. A skinny woman means her husband can't afford to feed her properly!

I could stare at them for hours, especially those dressed in the most vibrant of colours. Simon bought himself a colourful shirt and had to drag me away from my ogling.

The Senegalese also like to party, but often things don't get going until 1.00 or 2.00 am. That's pushing it, even for the night owl!

All aboard!

The stresses and strains of the trip have probably shaved a few years off our lives, and a few days ago was such an occasion. We travelled in a motorised pirogue from Dakar to a little island, the Île de N'Gor, maybe half a mile away. Passengers piled in, more than I felt comfortable with, and we nearly capsized even before taking off. The life-jackets handed out were more perfunctory and would probably have assisted the drowning process.

Here's what went on in my head: if we capsize, I'd grab my bag, make sure Simon's ok and swim to shore.

Here's what Simon thought: should we capsize, I'd grab Angelika's bag and throw it overboard as the weight of the damn thing would probably drown her and she"ll try to hang on to it, and then save us both. Priorities!!

All aboard?
We still don't know whether we'll be able to sail back home by cargo ship from Ghana. Our medical cover includes repatriation, but the shipping company want to know how much exactly the insurance will cough up if one of us croaks on the ship and they have to repatriate the remains.

Suppose they don't have a morgue on board?? When we recounted the story to a couple from Belgium, they said, 'Why, we thought the captain would just throw you overboard'! This humour made me think they must have been Brits in disguise.

We spent our last few days in Dakar in a comfy Airbnb in a neighbourhood needing a bit of TLC. In the flat I discovered a Lonely Planet of West Africa from 2006.

Leafing through it made me feel sad. It waxes lyrical about the Adrar region in Mauritania, epic Saharan country, and the cultural heritage of Mali. Both are off-limits now to travellers. In fact, parts of the Sahara and regions of some countries of the Sahel have become lawless and provide fertile ground for terrorists, greatly aided by the political vacuum following the collapse of Libya.

New mosques are springing up everywhere, all the way down from Morocco. They are being financed by Qatar and Saudi Arabia who are introducing a stricter version of Islam. First the music stops, then the children no longer play football and then the schools only teach the Koran. Teachers who want to teach other subjects are dismissed. People we spoke to in Morocco, Mauritania and Senegal have confirmed this insidious infiltration.

There is a 'softer' version of Islam in Senegal and the current president seems to have his heart and head in the right place. There's hope.

Dakar oozes energy by the bucket-load and the traffic makes your heart jump. I fear for the mostly young, mostly men, on their small motorbikes, zipping down the roads, dodging street sellers on highways (who's buying a duvet at a busy roundabout?), goats, horse-drawn carts and other vehicles, none of which obey traffic rules as we know them.

After you!
There's little aggression, though, and people rely on their 9 lives. Inshallah!

Things are different in Africa people tell us with a knowing smile and it certainly applies to time.
In Senegal, one comes face to face with the paradox of time - the more you relax, the quicker you get things done. If only we had known this earlier...

And, I'm with Simon, I've also come to love this place.

Here's the now customary relationship update. A tip: If you want to travel with another person for several months, possibly on a motorbike, spend 2 weeks locked in a panic room and see how you get on.

On our last evening in Dakar, we spent the evening with our now host in Côte d'Ivoire and a lovely couple from Iceland, who are both out of a job currently and decided to travel. Simon spontaneously invited them for dinner and we had a great time. Lots of laughter and jokes. 

It brought home how much we missed regular interaction with and company of other people. The same old jokes and comments can become a bit stale.

Simon was getting fed up of me getting fed up with him and vice versa.

When we met, Simon promised me one thing: it won't be boring! Well, he's keeping his promise!! 😉😉

The birthday party
I loved seeing Bianca, Dom and Bryan for my birthday and have decided a year's travel is too long. We're ready to come home soon and spend time with our respective families and friends before we've killed the relationship.

My mum's eighty now, I'm gonna hang out with her and my sister for a while. Travel by train, my favourite means of travel.


  1. Beautiful. Lovely to read your updates x

  2. So grateful for your thoughtful insight and honesty. We really miss you both and look forward to your return.

    On the subject of avoiding hassle from street sellers by pretending to be from somewhere where the locals can't speak the language: on my trips to India and the more touristy parts of Nepal, I used to pretend to be Icelandic (and what's more, an Icelander with no English, probably a very rare thing!)

  3. Lovely update, and thanks for the honesty - every experience is worthwhile though, isn't it - we learn so much from the challenges we face xxx I'm loving both your blogs, and the photos are great - can't wait to see you again! ♥️♥️♥️


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