My recent trip to Senegal blew me away. I wasn’t sure what to expect as it was my first ‘real’ adventure deep into the African continent. I’d been to Morocco a few times, but that’s a whole different vibe.
Arriving at 3:00 am at the Dakar airport was rather daunting. After a long layover in Casablanca and a turbulent landing in Dakar, I was exhausted and a bit shook up. The Dakar airport is not up to standard: dirty bathrooms, missing ceiling tiles and long lines at immigration. I wasn’t sure what I’d gotten myself into. I exited and found my driver, Baye, who came highly recommended from friends, but alas, he only spoke French so clearly our communication was hindered.
In any case, at about 6:00 am, I made it to my dark African hut in Saly, a seaside village about 2 hours south of Dakar and fell fast asleep. Upon waking up at noon, it was like waking up in a dreamland of floral and greenery. The hut was gorgeous.
The triangle ceiling, wound from some kind of thick rope, was absolutely beautiful, and the whole hut was decorated African-style.
My private patio had an adorable breakfast nook and was covered in vibrant pink and white flowers.
To exit, I had to walk through a canopy of green. I could have stayed on that patio forever, but after a lovely breakfast and several mosquito bites, I decided to venture out past the canopy and explore the beach.
Discussing the beach with the locals of Saly (in a mixture of broken French, English, Italian and Spanish, which I perfected over the course of 10 days) offered unfortunate news. Thanks to rising sea levels, the ocean is literally eating away at the beach, flooding and ruining several homes and hotels. The white sands of Saly are no longer a top tourist destination and the locals worry that soon they won’t have their beautiful seaside town much longer.
Despite the high tides and the skinny stretch of beach, I still found the Saly shoreline to be attractive. Anyplace with sunshine where I could thaw out my frozen self out after a few long winter months seemed like heaven to me.
The town of Saly was equally enticing. Villagers constantly stopped to attempt to take me into their stores, their restaurants etc., and while they were decidedly persistent, I never felt unsafe. I realized if I spent a month there, I’d know everyone. In fact, I started recognizing faces and anyone I’d been introduced to greeted me by name and a big smile. The sense of community there is palpable, and after many years living in large cities, I realized I’ve never had that sense of “village” spirit and it’s pretty special.
I didn’t want to spend too much time in the busy city of Dakar. Living in a big city, I find that during my vacations, I don’t want to spend my time in large cities and prefer to get away from the noise, the pollution and the hectic pace that I experience daily in my own life. But, Dakar definitely warranted a day trip and I was glad that I went. My guide, Luna spoke Spanish (it’s actually harder to find English speakers there — many guides prefer to learn Spanish as the country sees quite a bit of tourism from Spain) and we started by heading to the island of Goree.
This visit wasn’t all sunshine and games. We started with a walk around the island, which was lovely and had beautiful ocean views.
But the main point of the trip was to visit the Slave House, which was once the center of the Atlantic slave trade to the Americas. The house had several small rooms made of stone with low ceilings–the slaves weren’t able to stand up straight in many cases.
There were separate rooms for men, women and children and my guide proceeded to tell me how many people were squeezed into each room.
A room, maybe the size of 10 x 10, was used to house over 30 men. There was a door facing the ocean that they call the “Door of no Return, where the slaves were put on ships. Or, if they misbehaved or were too sick, they were simply tossed out the door with their heavy chains on, made to sink.
The whole experience was extremely depressing and I left feeling empty. I do feel like these visits are important though. It’s essential to understand what mankind is capable of, and I will say that the experience not only saddened me but also made me fear for the future.
It’s important to learn, understand and remember but I attempted to store this information away in order to perk up and enjoy the rest of my Dakar visit. We headed back to Dakar on the ferry and saw the giant African Renaissance Monument, which is absolutely massive. It was pretty awe-inspiring, but at the same time, was so large and random I also felt it was sort of out of place. Apparently, many complain the monument represents communism, because it was a gift from North Korea, or sexism, because the man is so much larger than the woman, but who knows. Just looked like an enormous artistic masterpiece to me.
Next, we headed to the Pink Lake, which I think was the highlight of my day. The lake looks pink in certain weather conditions thanks to the salt and salt bacteria in the lake. First, we boated out to the middle and then changed for a swim. Swimming in the lake was so much fun as you float due to all the salt.
You can really only spend a few minutes though, as you begin to get itchy. Then you head over to the makeshift “shower” which is a plank of wood you stand on and some guy dumps water all over you . This experience was definitely one for the books.
Another highlight was the trip to the Bandia Safari Reserve, where you can see all sorts of African animals in their natural Savannah habitat, like giraffes, zebras, crocodiles, hyenas, buffalo, ostriches and more.
Highlights for me were seeing the Rhino and an ostrich sitting on her nest with her eggs.
It seemed very Jurassic Park to me. I also loved seeing the giraffes and the zebras.
Both the zebras and giraffes are such majestic animals with such beautifully patterned coats, and it was so amazing to see the way they travel in herds.
Eating in Senegal was cheap and delicious. Fresh-grilled fish with sides of caramelized onions and rice only cost a few dollars, and I surprisingly enjoyed the Gazelle beer, which was mild and light.
Another enjoyable adventure was a visit to the natural reserve and beach Somone, a few miles away from Saly. This spot was interesting, it’s a seaside area with a lagoon as well, home to many bird species such as pelicans.
A cool Rasta beach bar in between the ocean and the lagoon made for the perfect chill-out spot, and I have fond memories of this relaxing place.
- As I expected, the country is extremely poor and infrastructure isn’t up to par. Toilets are squat holes and people live in desperate conditions in some cases. Previous visits to places like India and Cambodia prepared me for this and it was as I expected it to be. Goats and cows walk the dusty roads alongside buses, cars and horse carts.
- There is so much dust. I found myself coughing and choking in many cases due to the dust and ending up having to take daily allergy pills.
- People are friendly and they like tourists. It’s interesting to be perceived as a minority in a place. I’m not used to being the only white person in the room, and I think these experiences humble you and help you grow.
- Everyone is beautiful, slender and fit. Men come out on the beach after the heat of the day to work out, play soccer and exercise, no one is fat and everyone is fit. However, you won’t see starving kids or anything like in other African countries. Women are gorgeous here. They stand tall and walk with pride. They carry everything on their heads, which is amazing. The Senegalese are truly beautiful.
- Education isn’t great here. Kids don’t attend school until age 7.
- It’s a Muslim country but it doesn’t feel like one. Women don’t cover up and people are tolerant of everyone and live in peace. This is what I think religion should be, something you practice, perhaps live by but doesn’t govern every aspect of your life, your being and your culture.
- People make amazing music here. They are always singing and drumming, and it’s really special.
Senegal was a dream and I can’t wait to go back. Check out my photo page for more images of this beautiful country.