I didn’t think I was going to get Ebola, but I didn’t really know what my experience would be like in Dakar Senegal. I knew the basics about the country; it is a former French colony, the people speak French, it was the centre of the African slave trade and it has a fairly robust democracy. The economy isn’t too bad too. (The currency is the CFA used along Western Africa.) But what I didn’t really expect was an African country still recovering from a dark fractious history but still so pleasant.Dakar, the capital of Senegal, is rugged- surrounded by an intense grey-blue Atlantic ocean. Downtown Dakar reminds me of Johannesburg CBD, with worse drivers and a lot less crime. Also it has the ruins of French colonial infrastructure as opposed to the British infrastructure common in South Africa.
Now not everyone can hustle when it comes to accommodation and you want to get back to clean sheets and a hot shower. There are many world class hotels in and around Dakar and most tourist visit hotels in Pointe des Almadies- a precinct which is the Western Most point of Africa. I was booked in the King Fahad Hotel which is very uptight and fancy if you like the fine things in life while close to downtown is the Raddison Blu hotel Dakar which is very central.
I was quite emboldened on my first day in Dakar and ventured on the streets by myself. If ‘bojour’ is the only French word you know, it may be a problem to hit the streets solo. I hailed a cab and went down town hoping to explore the markets and the rest of the city by foot- let’s just say it wasn’t the way I planned. But is life ever as we plan it to be? My first stop was the bustling Marche Sandaga- a rough African market in its truest form, filled with uniquely African textiles and crafts.
Again, the language barrier and my inability to bargain were sore points- so obviously I was conned of a lot more money than I should have paid- like six times more.Turns out- when they asked where I was saying, and I said the King Fahad Palace hotel, they thought I was some descendant of King Fahad and so I were Arab royalty what’s a few thousand CFA more?! The next time I went with a local senegalese person, they were shocked when they realised I was actually from South Africa. While downtown, I went to the Presidential Palace and went to see the national parliament (As a friend tells me, very politics/ Qaanitah type of things to do.)
On the way back from downtown I stopped at the Quakam Masjid which has a wonderful tale. The area where it’s situated used to face a series of Tsunamis and so one pious tribal leaders asked the government to build a masjid right on the sea shore with the hope that they would be protected from the devastation of a tsunami. Since the Masjid was built there has not been a single disaster in the area.
As you drive any where around downtown Dakar, you would definitely see an overarching monument of a man, woman and a child, perched high on one of the twin hills in Oukam. The African Renaissance Monument is 49 meters tall- the tallest statue in Africa- and was built to commemorate Senegal’s 50th anniversary of its independence from France. Locals are a little bitter towards it- it cost them a penny and a half.
If you have a touristy bucket list than a must visit is Pointe des Almadies- the Western Most part of Africa- to admire the view, eat freshly caught fish (that is pretty much everywhere) and purchase from the market. There is a lot of development in this area so locals hope it would be frequented by much more tourists. Also, it is just cool to look at a map, see the Western tip of the continent and say you have been there.
There are many ‘touristy’ things to do along the Senegal coast. Theme parks, malls and boat rides. But quite frankly, I can do all of that in South Africa. Since arriving in Dakar, I was pumped on the idea of visiting Goree Island where Africa’s slave trade used to take place in wholesale. I plan on dedicating a few thousand words describing my surreal experience on the island and at the Door of No return. A 20 minute ferry ride will take you to a historic minefield filled with the pain of a dark past and the smile of a bright future. Goree island has changed my life in more ways than I can articulate.
My trip to Dakar, Senegal fed my soul. The people are warm. The ocean is intense. The culture is vibrant. The hopes of a better future are palatable. I am a firm believer in Pan Africanism and that starts with being proud of being African and celebrating African destinations, culture and life. Tourism in many African countries have a long way to go. It may not be as flashy as Dubai or quaint as France. But this continent sure has a greater story to tell which is rich in hope and kindness- as so its people.