The Pelican or what’s the price of a cup of coffee?

The best time of day has to be dawn…after a good night’s sleep, everything feels fresh and clean, the dirt of the previous day’s travel has been washed away and you’re ready for your next challenge. 

Stepping out into the early morning chill, I head into town to catch sunrise…and reflect on life in Saint Louis. In short, it’s tough.

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Last night I encountered an old man (well actually 6 yrs younger then me), who for what might be considered obvious reasons, latched on to me.

I’m always interested in people, and always have the time to listen – surely a prerequisite for any traveller. Anyway, Max had my attention as he told me about his extended family, his houses, his animals, at the same time guiding me around the quarter and showing me various things.

In passing a house I noticed a Pelican outside seemingly resting along with a herd of goats. Being a softie for animals, I touched the head of a nearby kid…wrong move! The Pelican was up in a flash, wings spread wide and bill clacking, coming straight at me. Exit stage left. Apparently, it’s guard Pelican and that’s his herd…who needs geese. 

 Coming to the end of the guided tour, Max started telling me how hard it was to feed his family, finding clothes etc. As expected he asked for some money for rice.

Anticipating this, I offered to buy him rice (not give him money), which I duly did. I bought from the neighbourhood store 2,500cfa of rice, which provided him with a few kilos of rice.

To me, 2,500cfa is less than the price of a cup of coffee from my favourite cafe…surely something we can all forgo?

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We’re on the Road to Nowhere. ..

Talking Heads’ lyrics spring to mind as I gaze at the crumbling facade of the railway station in Dakar.

    No where it seems is as true as here. When I first ventured to West Africa in 2005, I had some romantic notion of travelling by train…some hopes as virtually all rail lines in West Africa are long defunct.  Even the line from Dakar to Bamako in Mali ceased to operate in 2009 following  the terrorist  attacks. 

    The news that a new railway line was to be built from Dakar’s new airport (some 60km away), seemed to be welcome news. However, the reality on the ground seems far removed…

    The pictures of a TGV style train (actually the TER  – Train Express Regional)  are encouraging. Sleek with all mod cons i.e. WiFi and aircon, this would bring a welcome relief for passengers who currently have to endure the basic facilities at Yoff.

    Whether the Senagalise will be able to match the sucess of their cousins in Morrocco and Tunisia in building an efficient rail network remains to be seen, I certainly hope so. 

    However, whilst I hate to be a detractor of African ambitions, it does seem that major infrastructure projects are fated to be late and fail to deliver their promises. 

    Point in case, is the Grand Theatre National and the newer Musee des  Civilisations Noires,  both built by the Shanghai Construction Company…the latter still incomplete. 

    How the railway will fare remains to be seen; the latest estimate for the opening of the airport being 2019.

    I look forward to travelling on this in the future. 

    Refrain…”We’re on the Road to Nowhere, come on inside. Taking that ride to nowhere,  we’ll take that ride”

    Dakar…a return visit

    Visiting a foreign city can be a daunting task for the first time, especially when faced with language difficulties (my French being limited to restaurants and bars), a totally different outlook on life and a mentality that Europeans find hard to comprehend.

    First full day in Dakar. Writing a blog can be difficult even when you have Wifi, but when you’ve limited connection, a fone that won’t hold its charge, it makes the task even more fun (Wifi now sorted courtesy of my landlady Mary-Anne).

    Visiting a foreign city can be a daunting task for the first time, especially when faced with language difficulties (my French being limited to restaurants and bars), a totally different outlook on life and a mentality that Europeans find hard to comprehend.

    Three years on from my first visit, and I’m looking forward to these challenges – rather than feeling outside my comfort zone, I’m embracing them, enjoying meeting new people, hearing their stories and sharing a moment of their life. A smile works wonders and is a simple way of opening doors.

    On my previous visit, I’d missed the chance to see the Monument.

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    The Monument de La Renaissance Africaine, despite the approbium poured on it for the cost, some €20m, is a tribute to the people’s of Africa. It’s a colossal piece of architecture standing at 52m, & topping the Statue of Liberty by some 10m!

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    Sculpted in rather a brutalist manner, the man, woman and child dominate the skyline at Mamelles and is clearly visible on the flight path into Yoff international airport. Love it or hate it, it’s worth a visit.

    The vista from the 15th floor (literally in the man head -possibly the only time that you’ll ever get the satisfaction of doing that), provides a panoramic view over Dakar, albeit dominated by the runway at Yoff in the foreground.

    A wonderful end to the visit was the sight of my friend Adolphus performing with a local artist…

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    Kafoutine – a respite

    Overnight ferry from Dakar to Ziguinchor – not too bad, albeit not a lot of sleep in the airline style seats.

    Arrived off the mouth of the Cassamance river just after sunrise, for a pleasant “cruise” up river, arriving at Ziguinchor around 10:00. By the time I had disembarked and recovered my back pack and steppe outside, the thermostat had well and truly been turned up to roasting! After the relative cooler clime in Dakar, this takes a bit of adjusting to…

    Mad dash around Zig – firts stop Guinea Bissau consulate for a visa – this took all of 5 minutes and with the minimum of formalities. Back into town to change some euro’s before heading to the gare routier to secure a seat in a sept place.

    Journey from Zig to Kafoutine took 2 1/2 hours, arriving at The Kora Workshop – http://www.thekoraworkshop.co.uk/ – in time for dinner. The workshop is run by Kath Pickering and her partner Adam with the help of Jobarteh and his wife.

    Lunch is the main meal of the day, with typically a dish of rice with a sauce of fish and vegatables – all eaten from a communal dish. Dinner varies – from a barbeque by a log fire to salad and eggs. If you’re up for a bit of local game, theres always bush rat – bit like a cross between rabbit and squirrel!

    After the noise of past 10 days – it was never quiet much before midnite in Dakar, it was a shock to experince the peace and quiet of the campement. Chilling for a few days…literally recharging my batteries (metaphotically and physically) before I head off to Guinea Bissau on Monday.

    Yesterday went done to the fishing port to watch the catch being landed – what a spectacle. Kafoutine is the largest port in Senegal, with some 300 boats operating from it – double its size of a few years ago.

    The fish is collected from the boats which lie offshore at the surf line – porters wade out through the surf to chest height to collect of box of fish – they then “run” the 40kg box to the market – got to admire these guys for their strength and endurance – really tough job thats paid some 250cfa per box (30 pence). They will make up to a dozen runs – damn hard way to make a living.

    The fish market is a sight to see in its self, with fish lying out to dry, being smoked or shipped fresh to markets. Fish is exported to The Gambia, Mali and Guinea Bissau, as well as for domestic consumption. Nothing is wasted – skin and bones going for fertiliser.

    The ecological consequences of sustaining such a large fleet are enormous – both in terms of overfishing and the impact on the bush, as wood is cut for smoking the fish. The reality is that the port’s life is probably shortlived at this current level…

    Tonights “Reggae” night in town – another late night in the offing.

    Next update will hopefully be from Bissau

    Dakar – moving on

    Penultimate full day in Dakar before catching the ferry Tuesday evening for the overnight sailing to Zinguinchor and on to Kafoutine for a few days.

    Its been an interesting few days – Dakar is in your face. There is constant noise, be it taxis, the blaring loadspeakers on roadside stalls reciting verses from the Koran, or just the sheer volume of people. In the evening in my room, I can hear a constant hubbub of people and its rarely quiet before midnite.

    A thick skin is a prerequisite for a foreigner in these parts, but a smile and good humour will see you through.

    Even with my lack French, I’ve coped – the only time I’ve had anyone blatently refuse to comprehend was today in the Post Office. She was not going to understand my request for stamps, even though my request was perfectly ok (in both French and English – which she spoke). Resorted to the use of fingers lol, much to the amusement of the locals.

    Dakar, like many places in Africa will have a stall selling everything and anything- paws, claws and jaws, to that part for your vintage car! However, “le papiere de toilet” is a different matter – thankfully Kleenex tissues saves the day!

    Saturday evening/Sunday morning – I managed to catch the respected Senegalese musician Pape Cheikh in concert at the popular Just4U restaurant/niteclub. Dakar nite life starts late, with the gig kicking off at 01:00 and finishing just before 04:00, the group playing solid with no breaks – great evening.

    Sunday –  after a late start, off to Isle Goree, the former slave island just off the coast from Dakar. The island played a small part in the slave trade before its abolition.

    The weather has been good, although less hot than expected. Typical day time temperatures are in the mid to upper 20’s. It’s noticeably chilly in the evening with the need for extra layers.

    I hope to be able to add an update once I arrive in Kafoutine.

    Dakar, Sénégal

    Settled in with family in HLM, in Dakar and will remain here until next Tuesday when I take the overnite ferry south to Cassamance and up to Kafoutine to stay with Kath at The Kora School for a few nites.

    The trip north from Banjul in The Gambia was a bit hairy… took some 14 hours, starting with ferry from Banjul to Barra, then an hours drive to Sénégal border and transit Gambian &Senegalese customs & immigration.

    Then the inévitable wait for the Sept Place to fill. Eventually off at 16:00 for a 6 hour drive to Dakar (240km). Roads a mix of good pavé but too often resorted to dirt track in preference to potholes – more a case of potholes joined by strips of tarmac! 

    Sunset at 19:00 and not even half way…rule is to avoid travel at nite, still no choice as driver races lorries in dark to get around potholes. After an eternity approched Dakar, by this time extremely concerned as hadn’t been able to contact my host Beya. Eventually through calls to UK made contact.

    Arrving at Pompier garage at 22:30 was a bit scary, especially as Beya wasnt contact able. Luckily driver helped and got it sorted.

    Have received amazing hospitality from extended family who have made me very welcome. Despite my rubbish French, getting by.

    Dakar is the home of the yellow taxi – its noisey, chaotic, smelly, dirty but fun at the same time. If you can accept all th shortcomings, you’ll enjoy the experience.

    Last nite was a chance to savour some of the nite life…summed up nicely by a sign at the entrance – Entry Free, Consummation Obligatory! 

    Enough said.