After weeks of traveling around in Morocco I decided it was time for me to do something a little more adventurous. Something a little more precarious, the stuff adventures are made of. With little thought as to what I was headed into, I booked a flight from Casablanca to the capital of Senegal, Dakar. A place known to me only by my childhood stamp collection and stories of the Paris-Dakar rally. It would be an understatement to say that it was a bit of culture shock.
After my flight landed early in the afternoon, I proceeded through a very small airport and cleared customs and baggage relatively easily. Then I walked out into the small waiting area and was faced with hundreds taxi drivers, touts, money changers and pickpockets all vying for my attention. Shell shock, to say the least. If you ever come here, make a beeline straight outside and just avoid them all, they have a thousand tricks and scams, and all are there to make a quick buck. I have heard however that these days things have been cleaned up considerably.
I made my way into the parking lot out front, reeling already, only to find a dirt parking area with goats wandering around the cars. I shook off the last of the touts and found a real taxi. I had to bargain hard but managed to get the price down to about 1/10 the asking price. Never mind that there was a broken windshield, he got me to the Al Afifa Hotel in one piece. A bit of a splurge, but well worth it.
I stayed just one night in this city, It is an overwhelming place to come to, especially as an introduction to West Africa. It is noisy, crowded and feels a little unsafe. The police are virtually useless except for giving directions. In the morning I jumped into one of the Sept-place wagons headed for St Louis. It took just a few hours on well paved roads (at some very high speeds) but it was like a million miles away from Dakar. Situated at the mouth of the Senegal river, this town still has the feel of colonial Africa. It is laid back and quiet and you almost get the felling that you have gone back in time a little.
Nearby are a handful of amazing natural areas, parks and wildlife sanctuaries. When you see the mist rising off of the land in the early morning, it reminds you of the many African documentaries you have watched on TV. But you have to see it in person, to get a sense of just how big Africa actually feels. However, West Africa is not where you come to see the wildlife, but the people. The Senegalese are a friendly lot, always smiling and laughing. They will offer food and drink, simply to have a conversation with you. Their smiles will leave a lasting impression. Just make sure you brush up on your conversational French, if only a little.
I spent the better part of a year wandering across the Sahara and West Africa. the trip was both inspiring and intense. Over the course of a year I felt some of the most interesting and at times lonely sensations that I ever had. Many compare it to overland travel in India, though I would say that India is far easier to travel in, there being more services for the independent rouge overlander. It was an amazing trip, and although it’s not something that I am ever likely to repeat, I’m glad that I did it. Value = 2 years at university.