Dakar

Finally made it then. I can’t seem to upload photos to this today so will try again later.

First impressions of Dakar are great, as they were in Lagos. It’s a lot cooler here, in the sense that it’s not quite as hot and is much, much less intense. It was a pain getting out of Nigeria but I managed it. Welcome to ‘Moaner’s Travel Rant’.

I flew with Asky, a new company, set up in 2010 I think, and they only have 8 planes. They have a slogan that reads something like “Every time I fly with Asky, I win again”. That must be aimed at the staff who pocket the extra cash for selling the same ticket twice. We got to the airport 3 and a bit hours before my 11am flight yesterday. I was the 2nd person in the queue. I had to wait an hour and ten minutes, stood there, whilst they ponced about opening their kiosks. Time does seem to go a bit faster in Lagos – a 4 hour traffic jam really doesn’t feel that long – but it’s still just wasted time hanging around waiting for other people. I don’t know what they were doing and neither did they.

At the check-in desk, they said I needed to go upstairs so they could change my ticket. It was booked for the previous day of course. That was another hour and ten minutes, just sat there whilst they saw to everyone else who came in after me but not my ticket. They said that I didn’t need to do the Ouagadougou leg of the trip and that I could go straight to Dakar from Lome, the first stopover, so that’s the alteration they needed to make. After me there was a French bloke who wasn’t on the manifest, a Russian violinist whose dog was 1kg over their limit and 2 men travelling together who only 1 of them could be checked in. There was also a woman who needed to go to Accra to be with her children for Thanskgiving. She’d bought her ticket two weeks ago, except the flight she had booked, that they sold her, didn’t actually exist. “No we don’t fly that route on Thursdays”, the man at the desk said. “But my children are waiting for me and I have had this booked since before I came to Nigeria, why sell me a ticket if you don’t fly” she said. I don’t know if she made it in the end, they were trying to get her on a fight for the next day, meaning she’d miss Thanksgiving with her kids. As I eventually checked in, having sat and stood there waiting for a combined 2 and a half hours, the woman at the desk said “sorry Sir but the flight is running a little late so you’ll have to wait”. “Course it is”, I said. They also couldn’t print me a boarding pass so I needed to get one in Lome. It’s a comedy sketch of an airline, except the people on the end of their rubbish don’t find it very funny.

Having to go upstairs to their office for ages also meant that I didn’t get to say goodbye to Ojo properly, as I think he assumed I’d just checked in and gone to the departure lounge. The airport staff don’t allow people who aren’t flying in to the airport, in their continued attempts to be the boss and help nobody, so he had to wait outside, and probably didn’t see me get whisked upstairs.

I had another wait sitting there before I could go through to departures. The Passport control was yet more hassle. I have a 3 month Visa for Nigeria but they only stamp you in for 1 month at a time. When they planned on telling me this, I don’t know, so as I’d been there 5 and a half weeks, the stamp had run out. The security fella got really arsey about it (they love their rules here in the name of being as totally unhelpful as possible to as many people as possible). I went up to another bloke and said I had no idea that I needed repeated stamps and was leaving anyway so did it really matter and he was kind, helped and let me through. More people like him would be nice. The arsey bloke then said “let me see your passport” but I was in no mood and walked straight past him. The woman at the bag security then asked me for 500 Naira for chocolate. You can imagine my response.

I had a brief look at Duty Free out of curiosity and it was all priced in US Dollars. I saw packets of Milk Choco Leibniz. Now, these are the biscuits of the Gods. The Holy Biscuits. The finest of their form. I was doing a pack a day before I left England, worshipping at the altar of ‘more chocolate than biscuit’. I was quietly fuming so I didn’t buy any.

Another hour and a bit sat there as we waited for the plane to arrive to take us to Lome. It’s good reading time, all this waiting. After all that, the flight was only 25 minutes! They played music on the plane and it was 2 Ethiopian tunes, one of which I recognised as the hook from Muziqawi Silt by Wallias Band. It must be a common musical hook. They only had 2 songs though and as the flight was delayed again whilst we sat on the plane, I heard them 6 times each in a row. It’s like Nigerians have read the book ’10 things that irritate Liam’ and absolutely mastered it.

Lome’s a nice airport. There was music on the bus from plane to terminal and music played through the airport P.A. There was no hassle and my boarding pass was sorted out fine. The flight to Dakar was delayed by over an hour, so more time just sat there, but the music was alright and by that point I’d become a pro in ‘sitting’. They did food, including these little baguette sandwiches that were the size of a baby’s forearm. It stopped off in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, before finally arriving in to Senegal at about 7.40, almost 12 hours since I’d got to the airport at Lagos and ages since I’d finished my book. I had to conserve phone battery just in case so only listened to tunes for an hour.

I hopped in a Taxi to the hotel and he charged me more than it should have been but by that point I just went with it. He was friendly so it was alright. His car got a flat tyre halfway through. He didn’t have the tools so a local mechanic whisked him off somewhere for half an hour, leaving me in the car on my own in the middle of nowhere in a back street of Dakar, with only Youssou N’Dour for company on the stereo. I thought that it was either total madness or that Dakar is really safe so it wasn’t a problem. I really liked one of the tunes though and am on a quest to find it. And that ends Moaner’s Travel Rant!

I’m staying at Les Cristaux Roses, a lovely hotel on Lac Rose. It’s about an hour out of the centre of Dakar. Lac Rose means ‘Pink Lake’ because in the right sunlight the water turns pink due to the high salt content. I’ll get a picture of it soon. The hotel is lovely and very peaceful. The rooms are huts and there’s a nice mix of people staying here, including an old bald French bloke with a beautiful young Senegalese girl. Fumin.

Yesterday I had my first tourist excursions in to Dakar. Never seen not in a Senegal shirt, Modou is a really friendly guy who works here that helped me with all my questions put to him in appalling French. A driver called Abou works for the hotel and he took me on a tourist visit in to the middle of Dakar. He has a bit of a stutter and doesn’t speak English, so my French was really put to the test. I imagine ‘6 out of 10 see me’ would be being kind. Abou’s lovely and a pro at taking new people round Dakar.

We first went to Place de L’Independence, a square in the centre of Dakar surrounded by huge colonial buildings, the Chambre de Commerce and banks.

It’s quite calm considering it’s the heart of the centre of Dakar. It’s very multicultural too and the hassle here is minimal. There’s a few bars and restaurants and it really looks like Paris round the backstreets. There appear to be 3 major things in Dakar – it’s very French, very African and very Muslim. My early impression is that all 3 share equal billing as to what makes modern Dakar. Outside of the city, the Muslim and African elements rise and the leftovers of French colonialism start to disappear, apart from the language.

We also saw the Presidential Palace, where President Macky Sall lives. I wasn’t allowed to take a photograph of the building. We walked the buildings around Place de L’Independence for a bit, taking in how French it all feels. It’s so much calmer. I think if you can deal with Lagos, you can deal with everywhere. I loved it there but by the end was so pleased to get out for a bit.

I bought a Senegalese phone charger that stopped working after 20% so I need to think of something else to do with that.

We then hopped back in the car and headed up to the African Resistance statue, at the top of one of the two hills in Dakar. They are called Les Mamelles – the breasts – and one has a lighthouse on top and the other this statue, unveiled in 2010.

Built by the North Koreans (!) it cost millions of US Dollars and depicts a man, woman and child looking out to sea. Senegal is over 90% Muslim so the statue caused controversy because you can see part of the female figure’s breast and thigh. It’s very striking though and incredibly impressive. It’s also Africa’s highest structure and even higher up than the Empire State building and Christ the Redeemer.

The views of Dakar from up there are gorgeous too.

Graffiti often lines boardings and are great examples of Senegalese art.

Then it was back to the hotel for some grub and to relax for the evening. We were joined for part of the journey by two beautiful Senegalese girls in traditional dress cadging a lift. How I wish I could speak French. Although it’s best I’m only thought of a fool rather than open my mouth and prove it. Both car journeys I’ve had have been accompanied by Youssou N’Dour on the stereo. He’s the minister for culture here and I get a sense that people are very proud of that, and rightly so. When 7 Seconds came out in 1994 I was absolutely obsessed with it. I was 5 and my Mum was seeing a bloke she would later marry (whose surname was Emerson, hence) and he had a knackered old brown Toyota that took us everywhere. 7 Seconds seemed to forever be on the radio and I still absolutely love that song to this day. The other tunes of his I’ve heard so far are good too, and he owns a live music venue that I’ll check out.

I like Dakar a lot so far and the plan for the rest of today is to head back in and see the Musée Theodore Monod and find some music for the evening. I’m enjoying the reduction in intensity and some time on my own but I won’t say too much as I don’t want to jinx it.

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