Having arrived from Dakar, where things were not so great, I was totally blown away by the colonial beauty and friendly atmosphere of the former Senegalese capital city.
But let’s follow the course of events as they happened & get you some useful information if you ever plan to visit this stunning west african country.
Languages: Mostly French and Wolof (you better speak French if you go here)
Na nga def= hi, how are you?
Magui fi= I’m fine
Djredjef= thank you
De det= no
Nyata la?= how much?
Visa: visa free (yaay)
Religion: islam (92%)
Currency: CFA (west african franc)
Exchange rate: 1€=650 CFA (as of July 2017)
- – Public transport Dakar (1 ride): 100 CFA
- – Public transport Saint Louis (1 ride): 100 CFA
- – Pack of biscuits: 100 CFA
- – Pack of peanuts: 100 CFA
- – Bottle of water (1,5 l): 400-500 CFA (depending on where u are)
- – Double room 1 night Dakar: 10 000 CFA
- – Double room 1 night Saint Louis: 7500 CFA
- – Car share ride Dakar-Saint Louis: 5000 CFA/per person
- – Meal in a restaurant: 1000-1500 CFA
– Pack of Marlboro’s: 700 CFA
We went to the senegalese capital from Farafenni, a small town in the Gambia near the border. The distance between those two was some 230 km and the journey took us…guess what…9 hours! Yes, that’s right. Nine bloody hours. We took a bus, like we usually do since we try to be lowcost. We are already used to african buses and traveling in Africa, but this was quite something even for us. The bus stopped literally every 500 m or so, to bring in more people or to let some people get off, or sometimes for absolutely no reason. Add the west african heat in July (33+ and enormous humidity), no food except for peanuts and bananas sold by the road and you end up with a not-very-pleasant experience. Only our fellow senegalese passangers made the journey a bit better by being nice and helpful to us, offering us food and chatting with us.
Even after the 9 hours the journey wasn’t over. The bus kicked us out at the gare routière at the outskirts of Dakar, from where it was another good 90 minutes to our accomodation at Les Almadies. Why 90 minutes? Well, simply because traffic in Dakar is like…traffic in every other major city in Africa. That is MADNESS. We arrived to our accomodation which we found on AirBnb (yes, works pretty well in Dakar) around 11 pm, exhausted and hungry. I was feeling like having a good african plate of rice and fish or chicken, but oh-you are in Les Almadies, you don’t get that so easily here! Les Almadies is a high-profile part of Dakar, where most of the embassies and UN organizations are with luxury western restaurants for expats and rich senegaleses. Which means two things: 1) it´s safe and nice 2) it´s slightly less african. When we got on the main road, all we saw was tacos, burgers, wraps, crepes, fresh juice, pizza and an asian restaurant. Where is my poulet yassa? Or thieboudienne? (typical senegalese dishes). There was one african street kinda “restaurant” (if you can call few chairs and a hut with a cooker inside like that), but after seeing a MASSIVE cockroach crawling next to the entrance to the kitchen I decided to go for a burrito. I know, I know, there are cockroaches everywhere in the city, and I most likely already ate tons of food prepared in a kitchen with cockroaches in it, but as long as you don’t actually see it, you don’t care, do you…?
Pink lake or just…a lake
Anyway. One of the few things to see around Dakar is the Lac rose, or the Pink lake, which is…yes you guessed it right…pink. There are some special algae that cause the colour to be pinky pink. But oh, nobody told us that this happens only in the dry season of the year. Actually, we read about it before, but since it hasn’t been raining for a week now, we thought that it should be ok (= pink) even now, in the rainy season. Greedy senegalese taxi drivers were so keen to take us there, telling us oui oui, lac rose, you gotta see it!, which further assured us that it IS a good idea to go there. Those of you who happen to be in Senegal in the rainy season and are planning to go to see the lake, listen to me carefully; DO NOT GO THERE. It is NOT PINK. It’s just a regular, rather mediocre lake with a regular, rather mediocre colour. Even though it didn’t rain the previous week, it rained before and that caused the water to mix with the sand and thus the pink colour to be gone. So we spend a fortune on going there, just to take a quick walk (since it was around noon and thus super hot) and then to go back. What a lovely trip.
Getting back to our accomodation our mood swiftly changed when the lady we were staying with (an old lady renting rooms in her vila) told us to join her and her sister for lunch, which was not only nice but also absolutely delicious. As we found out lter during the trip, senegalese do tha often; they are proud of their food and they are happy to share it with you. They say senegalese cuisine is pretty awesome and after eating my first thieboudienne (fish marinated in parsley, garlic and lemon juice with rice and veggies), I had to approve of that. It is so full of flavours, and for me, a keen lover of fish and rice, it is just the perfect combination. I think I found my new favourite dish.
The next day, senegalese people continued to surprise me with their generosity and warm-heartiness. Peter was sick, so I decided to go to explore the city on my own. I went to ask the lady we were staying with which bus should I take to get to downtown, when a random guy she was talking to at that moment said that there was no way I am going on my own, put his shoes on and went with me. He paid the bus ride for me and then showed me the city, or rather gave me a 4 hour tour around downtown and the surrounding beaches. Asking nothing at all for that. Now this is what I call kindness. We are friends till now. As in every country, you will find people like this as well as peple who are not like this at all. Overall, I would describe the senegalese as very lively, loud, passionate, friendly, generous people with strong trading skills (both in good and bad sense). You’ll experince a lot of hassle and endless negotiations but on the other hand also discussions with random people, free wolof lessons, marriage proposals and jokes. The seneglese are simply everything but boring. You might love them, you might (sometimes) hate them, but culturally-wise, Senegal will definitely be an experience.
As I already said, Senegal is quite a culinary country, so I have to dedicate a whole paragraph to their cuisine, because it is really SOMETHING.
Probably the most senegalese of all senegalese dishes, theiboudienne is a fish marinated in parsley, garlic and lemon with rice made with tomato sauce and roasted vegetables (e.g. eggplant, carrot, potato).
Yassa is a white sauce made from onions and vinegar. Served over a piece of crispy chicken typically with rice. You can also get it with fish, which for me is even more delicious.
Meat (typically beef or goat) stew in a peanut-based sauce. Served over rice. If you love peanut butter (like me) you will LOVE it.
…and then there’s also thiakry, my beloved thiakry.
Thiakry is a senegalese couscous millet pudding that you can buy in little plastic bags in every shop. Tasty, puddingy/vanilla yogurt-ish and simply yummy. Perfect thing to grab when walking around the city or when you are on the road and you get hungry. Since it´s a milk product it’s always kept in the fridge which makes it even more perfect in the hot west african days.
After 3 days in Dakar we moved further north to Saint Louis. Former capital of Senegal, by the locals often called N’dar, is a lovely african city with colonial architecture surrouned by the waters of the Atlantic ocean and the Senegal river. The old town is actually built on an island which is linked to the mainland by a bridge designed by Gustave Eiffel (yes, it’s the same guy who did the Eiffel tower).
Heading there: senegalese car share
According to the advice of the locals we took a car share from Croisement cambrène in Dakar. When you get there, just scream Saint Louis, Saint Louis! and negotiate your price. It should be around 4000-5000 CFA. It’s just slightly more expensive than the bus, but much more comfortable and faster. We were lucky to get a brand new car with air conditioning and a guy who just wanted to get to Saint Louis as quickly as possible and thus he didn’t bother to stop every 500 meteres to get other people in, even though we had 2 free seats left.
As soon as we woke up the next day and went to explore the city a bit, I fell in love. It was the second time I fell in love in Senegal; the first time with thiakry and now with this amazing city. The vibe is so chilled out, the streets are so pretty, the architecture so lovely, the views stunning and the people so nice. You are not in the capital city anymore, so nobody is trying to scam you or get money from you at every possible occasion and at the same time you are not in a village so nobody is yelling toubab toubab at you all the time. I would describe the city as a dirtier and more chaotic southern France. There are lot of little nice restaurants and shops and then the colourful fishing boats…you just gotta love it. Combine this with the african vibe and chaos, and you get the best african city I’ve been to so far.
Tip: Restaurant La case de crevette, opposite to the post office in the old town.
Since we were staying in Saint Louis almost a week, we chose a hostel on the beach, at Hydrobase. It turned out to be a good choice, the hostel was just amazing, we had the beach right behind our windows and the old town (la ville) was just a 10 min ride by the local bus, which costs only 100 CFA. By the way, the evening runs at the beach were one of the best runs in my life. Sunset, endless atlantic coast, fellow senegalese runners and occasional marriage proposals.
Tip:I am happy to recommend the place for those who are planning to travel to Saint Louis; it’s called Auberge Pelican, Rue de l’Hydrobase, Saint Louis. You can find it on booking.com or at http://www.auberge-pelican.com.
It breaks my heart to leave this beautiful city, but I know that this is one of the places I will definitely come back to once I get the chance. Now it’s time to go to Mauritania. Stay tuned!