|Subject: Back from Senegal (black Africa)|
I'm back from my seasonal holidays in Senegal (17 days). Why in Senegal ? Because in Italy there are a lot of people from Senegal so I decided to see what is Senegal!
Senegal has been my first experience in the Black Africa and, even though Senegal is the less poor and the more democratic country in the area, travelling there as a solo tourist (I mean not with a guided tour that bring you in 5 stars hotels and move you with air cond. coach) is still an experience. I flew into Dakar but my hotel was in a village close to the Airport. What say about Dakar ? I'm happy I chose my accommodation outside the city: Dakar is a big awful city with a terrible car traffic. The city center is nothing special and you will be addressed by any kind of sellers. Yes, I known, that's Africa but Dakar is something more stressfully than other place. Anyway the Gore' island, where black slaves left Africa for America, is a special place: it is an historical island with museums and a fort, without cars, where you can enjoy your stay. Definitively worth a day trip. After Dakar I went in Louga, Saint Louis, Kaolak, in a tiny village on the Salon river delta (Toubakouta) and in another village in the Casamance, Abene.
Louga is a regional capital city with any interest for tourists and that mean there are not shops for tourist with sellers. I was there to visit a person that I met last year on an overnight train in Italy. He invited me in is house and I had the chance to taste the life style (and the food) in a Senegalese family. Saint Louis is the former French colonial capital of the western Africa. The city has an European style plant and buildings. It has been built on an river Island and is linked to the land by a bridge projected by Eiffel. The city is pretty pleasant because there is few traffic and relatively few sellers. There are also lots of restaurant in the main street. The only draw back is due to the usual problem: there are not enough money to look after the historical buildings in order to preserve them from the time so the city center looks a bit decadent. Kaolak is just a passing through city with nothing special a part for the street market. Toubakouta is a small village, ideally to rent a pirogue and visit the river delta. It is also an ideal place for try to figure out how is the real life style in Senegal. Even though there are a couple of big hotels for western tourist (but I used to stayed in lower category bungalow), it has maintained its charm: dusty streets with no asphalt, no cars, no banks, no restaurant as we intend this word. Speaking with locals they complained that the hotels owners tell to the guests to be careful with locals and not trust them in order to make them all the business and don't allow tourists to rent pirogue or guided tours from locals. That mean few business for locals and higher price for tourists that take the hotels trip. Walking in through the village just 300 mt away from the main hotel, you won't see a tourist and people invited you to drink a tea.
Casamance is a region located south of Senegal, after Gambia (that is a former English colony totally bordered by Senegal). Casamance is quite different from the rest of the country for the people and for the landscape too: it is greener and wild. Abene, the village by the ocean where I stayed for 4 days, is a tiny village where, at the end of December, there is an African style percussion festival that is not just for tourists but where also locals enjoy it. In Abene I rented a bed in a private house because the few hotels was fully booked. Staying in Abene is an experience: in the village there isn't electricity! Only now I can really understand what mean live without electricity! It mean no light in the evening, no lights in the street, no fresh food because you have not fridge and other amenities, have the dinner with a candle light and, moreover, no water from taps. I had to take my shower bringing water from a well, going in the garden behind a palm leafs wall and washing me with an empty tomato can. Even some hotels don't have flushing water. The restaurant where I had me lunch a couple of time was just a place with just one dishes, without nothing to drink, to eat in a big table lighted with a candle. Actually I found a western like restaurant where I had dinner a couple of times, then I become friends with the waiter so they used invite me to eat with the family owners in the back of the restaurant: it was an other Senegalese style dinner/lunch.
Eating in a Senegalese house means sit (usually on ground but as you are a guest, on a chair) around a common big plate full of rice and fish or rice and chicken from where all people take food. Usually they eat by hand but, as you are a guest, they will give you a spoon. Anyway the best bit of food is reserved for you!
Impressions: well, I doubt to be able to get what was my impression but I would spend a couple of lines since the aim of my trip was not to stay 2 weeks on the beach in December but to see how people live out there. People live day by day, only few peoples in Dakar have got an office job as we are accustomed to think. Women sells fruits and fried food on the streets for few money; in sea side villages women spend all the day drying fish fished from fishermen. In Senegal (even in few star hotels where I used to stay) there isn't liquid milk because too expensive and I tried powered milk for the fist time in my life. There aren't public intercity buses so to move between cities you have to catch an awful old station wagon car with 7 people inside plus the driver (named collective taxi). On the other hand women dress nicely with colorfully clothes. Majority of people haven't their home phone so there are lots of telephone center where people go to call. Take the ferry in Gambia to go in Casamance is an experience: lots of people, carry on every kinds of things, running on the ferry when the gate is opened in a disordered way: if you lose the ferry you have to wait 2 and half hours! Locals buses are olds and full of people even, I have to admit, more comfortable than collective taxis! Going in Casamance means also drive by the taxi in the savana in a dusty road and stop at a custom in the bush to get your stamp on the passport with the light of a candle. Entering in the houses, you can easily understand if in the family there is a person working abroad (mainly in Europe) or not because, in the last case, the house is poorer. I found that to understand the society you have to change your point of you: everything is for sale but not because they are avid people but because it is the life day by day stile. Family are huge and patriarchals. Anyway I found poor but proud people that prefere to sell you something instead just beg.
Finally I have to say that travelling in black Africa as an independent travelers need a spirit of adventure and not too be too exigent on the hygienic side but that is an experience that is worth to do at least once in the life to better understand how a big portion of the people on the earth live. Even if I'm tired after 3 weeks traveling in the real Senegal, I have to say I'm happy that I had the chance to see how people live there and got an idea how difficult is their live.
Ciao, Marco in Milan - Italy