Our time in Senegal started as it should in every new country…..a lie in and banana pancakes for breakfast.
After our lazy start we grabbed a taxi into St Louis with Michelle and Leanne as Nicole, Michelle and Leanne were on cook group that evening.
The journey from Zebra bar to St Louis is a long one….about 35 minutes in a taxi but it was a pleasant drive through the National Park and local villages before crossing Gustav Eiffel’s (of Eiffel Tower fame) bridge into the town centre.
We found a nice local restaurant called La Kora where we chilled out for a few hours with some food, drink, ice cream and WiFi. When overlanding such things become simple pleasures.
Then we met back up with Michelle and Leanne for cookgroup shopping before hailing a cab for the 35 minute journey back to camp. The rest of the day was a leisurely affair, which was well deserved!!
The next day was pretty much of a similar pace, we grabbed a taxi back into St Louis this time joined by Jono & Nienke who wanted to do grab some provisions for the truck and that nights cookgroup.
We pointed them in the direction of the only decent mini market before heading off to La Kora for solely a drink and WiFi. However, just to mix up the already forming routine, we then headed to the Flamingo restaurant on the river to meet Nicola and Grant for lunch.
The food wasn’t too bad and I indulged in a Zebu steak with Roquefort sauce. Zebu is a type of cow with a hump!
The plan after lunch was to take a horse and cart ride around St Louis for an hour but the horse and cart never materialised so we took to wandering on foot for a while.
St Louis has a sleepy feel with the most beautiful, crumbling, pastel coloured buildings that led me to label St Louis as ‘The Senegalese Havana’.
We wandered up to La Kora again for a quick drink with Grant & Nicola whilst waiting for everything to open again at 3pm.
We then did jobs such as SIM cards, vegetable shopping for Mine, Grant & Don’s cookgroup the following night and then hailing a cab back to camp.
Again, we lazed around watching the sunset before tucking into dinner.
Saturday also followed suit….taxi into St Louis for Nicole and I, however we then headed over to the Muslim quarter where the Medina is located to take in some more of this lazy but charming town.
We then headed back across to our usual spot…La Kora and sat blogging and eating all afternoon.
We then took a final stroll around St Louis before heading back to camp to pack up ready for our departure the following morning.
Early the following morning we left and headed to the capital, Dakar.
The scenery on route was stunning, small villages with kids waving, Savannah-esque vistas with goat and donkeys, pastel coloured box houses with copious amounts of watermelons for sale and women in amazing African dresses and men in an array of football shirts! Exactly what you expect Africa to be!
We arrived late afternoon at a campsite by Lac Rose and sat dipping our feet in the pool with an ice cold coke. Bliss!
Nicole and I were planning on camping, however, after everyone had sorted out their upgrades it appeared there was a room left vacant so we took it. Such martyrs!
The following day ended up being one of those African days where hilarity occurs, you then lose the will to live, then you regain your will only to lose it again and all before dinner!
So let me begin….9am we all met to jump into a minibus and head en mass to the Sierra Leone embassy to obtain our visas. Sounds simple enough, however, the minibus was already stifling, was a squash for 24 of us and clearly was not of road worthy quality.
So off we set….hot and dusty with such intoxicating levels of carbon monoxide that we have now shortened our life expectancy by 5 years!
The minibus journey continued to be eventful, when Brad leant on the window only for the whole window panel to fall out onto the road below. Thankfully we were stuck in traffic at that point so a local guy was able to pick up the offending window and hand it back to Brad through the huge void where the window should be. He didn’t seemed to perturbed by this incident as though it’s a regular occurrence in Senegal!
Brad then had to sit holding the window for the remainder of the journey whilst the levels of carbon monoxide steadily rose!
We finally arrived at the embassy, after getting lost en route, and proceeded to fill out forms, rush to the cash machine to obtain local currency to pay for the visa (as payment not taken in dollars), then we had to hang around in the embassy courtyard sitting in the floor waiting for some form of action! Eventually a Jono & Nienke said to head off as the passports wouldn’t be ready until the following afternoon..we were finally free to leave!
Nicole, Nicola, Grant and myself headed off to the ATM and Auchan (French supermarket) for such essentials as chocolate and Coke Zero before hailing a taxi back to camp.
This is easier than it sounds as the campsite is a whopping 45 minutes away from the centre of Dakar! We finally found a taxi willing to go and proceeded to direct him, via maps.me, to the lake.
What we discovered is that the combination of a long drive coupled with a driver who doesn’t know where he is going and westerners trying to direct him using apps Ella’s a 2 hour hot and dusty taxi ride involving a detour around remote villages, a building site and at one point we even participated in some off road sand drifting.
Once back we chilled around the pool envious of everyone’s journeys back which took 30 mins to an hour max!
Tuesday we unfortunately had to endure the same 2 hour taxi ride into Dakar, not because we were off roading through sandy villages but because the traffic was so horrendous on the toll road.
This time we got the taxi driver to take us to the harbour as we were going to grab a ferry over to a small island called ‘Île de Gorée, which is a small island 2km off the coast of Dakar famous for its role in the Atlantic Slave Trade.
It has a museum called House of Slaves which goes into detail about the slave trade in this part of west Africa. The house is reputed to be the original slave market with cells for women, men, children, young girls and babies.
Given the island’s dark history you would have thought it would be a depressing place to visit but the island is a peaceful and relaxed haven away from the craziness of Dakar. The architecture is stunning and similar to St Louis and the locals are friendly and welcoming. There are no vehicles on the island so you can easily meander about the sandy streets until your hearts content. I have therefore nicknamed Gorée the Senegalese Gili Meno.
There are also copious amounts of local artisans who call the island home and the streets are full of vibrant and fantastic artwork which appears to celebrate the joy of Senegal and the African continent.
We spent a good 4 hours wandering island taking in the crumbling architecture, great local food, colourful artwork and the house of slaves. It turned out to be my favourite place of the trip so far, such a chilled and friendly vibe to the place with fascinating art and history to boot.
Sadly it was time to leave the tranquility and grab the ferry back to Dakar. We pop to another Auchan so Nicola and Nicole could buy cookgroup stuff then grabbed a taxi back to the campsite.
This time we didn’t intervene with the taxi drivers route and only used sat nav for the final turning towards the lake…what do you know…made it back in 45 minutes!!
The lesson here is don’t try to organise what appears to be African Disorganisation…it will only make it actually disorganised!
The next day, Wednesday, we left Dakar for Palmarin which is a leafy wetland and beach area nearer the Gambian border.
During the days drive we drew our Secret Santa and I bought some Christmas wrapping paper and sellotape from a random stationery shop we cam across at our lunch stop!
Eventually we arrived at our campsite for the next 2 nights and Nicole and I decided to crack out the under used tent and camp! Oh yes!
We pitched the tent under a tree to get some shade from the sun during the day which worked well but had a slight downside in that at 1am I was woken up by something hitting the tent followed by a buzzing noise…then it happened again and again! I thought we were under attack by African killer bees as we had seen some earlier and a chunk of dead honeycomb had fallen out of the tree.
So I did what any self respecting tent mate would do and woke Nicole to advise her, I believe my words were something like ‘err dear I believe we are under attack by bees, just thought I better tell you incase you were gonna get out for a wee’! We had a brief freak out when it appeared they were getting in the tent and we were planning to grab our stuff and run somewhere! However on closer inspection we realised they were on the outside of the plastic window, could not infiltrate the tent and weren’t bees but some form of brown mayfly!
They continued to fall out of the tree onto the tent for about 40 minutes at which point I fell asleep only to awaken a few hours later to the loud hum of hundreds of bees in hives above our head..in the tree…joy!
Thankfully the bees never made an appearance and we managed to have a chill out day free from insect attack. We sat in a huge roundhouse lounge building using the crap WiFi and eating lunch until mid afternoon when we tried to have a nap in the tent…well we lasted an hour in the tent before we emerged dripping in sweat! I can only describe it like trying to sleep in a sauna whilst someone chucks water on the coals repeatedly!
Nicole then had to head off to cook group and I took a walk along the beach with Victoria to watch the sunset.
I then took a long stroll along the beach with Grant and Don before heading back for dinner and another night in the tent with the mayflies bomb diving us, this time at 3am!
The following morning was an early start…Nicole was up at 5.30 for cookgroup duties and breakfast was at 6am and we left at 7am for our long journey across the Senegal Border, Gambian border and down to Banjul where we were going to have to grab a ferry before getting to the resort of Sukuta/Senegambia.
All the exciting details of that and our stay in Gambia will be in the next edition of the blog!