Losing My Religion 

Stripping out the rad by the roadside (having scrounged tools from passing drivers), the problem was all too obvious – in the UK it would be call the AA for a tow to the nearest garage, here there is no option but sort it. Luckily every good driver just happens to have a tube of FixIt in the tool box…

Well, it’s inevitable that if you travel by sept places, that you’ll break down at some point or another. In this case a loose bolt from cooling fan/water pump gouged a circle of holes in radiator, leading to total loss of coolant. Fearing the worse, I sat in the shade of a thorn bush whilst the driver got to work.

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Stripping out the rad by the roadside (having scrounged tools from passing drivers), the problem was all too obvious – in the UK it would be call the AA for a tow to the nearest garage, here there is no option but sort it. Luckily every good driver just happens to have a tube of FixIt in the tool box… a judicious application of araldite & sand, and the holes were fixed and we were under some 1 1/2 hours later. Apart from a pit stop after some kms to check all was well, we continued and arrivied into Touba some 2 hours late. Hats off to driver, all in a days work!

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The Mosque at Touba, is home to the Mouride order of the Sufi sect which was founded in 1887 by Cheikh Ahmadu Bamba Mbacke. The building of the Mosque was started in 1931, completing in 1967. It now comprises seven minarets which have been added over the years. The tallest minaret is know as Lamp Fall in honour of the founder Bamba – “Lamp Fall”being the name commonly seen adorning the back of cars and lorry’s.

Incidentally, they cannot exceed 7 minarets as this would be to compete with Mecca!

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Unfortunately at present, it is in the middle of a 5 year restoration project, which is replacing a lot of the marble and plaster work which was crumbling. Certainly the sample restoration work is exquisite and the finished Mosque will be something to see.

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Whilst not being able to enter the Mosque itself, I was free to wander around the exterior courtyards; luckily I had the services of the librarian Marabou Diabaye to take me around and show me the works. Part of the restoration includes replacing the white marble in the forecourts with travantine, as the marble gets too hot to walk on (needing to be bare footed to enter the Mosque).

Ignoring any question of religion (those who know me know my views), the Mosque is certainly a credit to the Muslim community, and no expense spared on the travantine and marble from Italy, lamps from Morrocco and Turkey, as well as the skills of the local tradesmen…

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The joy of the “Sept Places”

If you’ve never experienced a ride in a sept place, it’s something to add to the bucket list. They can be good, bad…or very very bad!

Two days in Dakar and it’s time to head north to the old Colonial city of Saint Louis – capitale de l’Afrique Occidental Francaise from 1895 – 1902.

Leaving Dakar involved an early start (or would have been if I’d set the alarm correctly), with an hours taxi ride to the Gare Routier at Boux Mariachers in Pickine, some 10 km out of the centre.

Travel in Dakar is challenging at the best of times, but at rush hour, it’s a killer. The pollution is off the scale, with the air dark blue with choking fumes, which as you crawl slowly though the traffic, becomes overwhelming.

Arriving at Pickine was a relief -the Gare Routier is well organised (unlike the former site at Pompiers), and within 2 minutes of arrival, I’d found the depart for Saint Louis, paid my 5000cfa (plus 1000 for the bag) and was sat in seat 2 of the ubiquitous sept places. As ever my luck, sat next to me was a rather large lady who overflowed on to my seat…

If you’ve never experienced a ride in a sept places (7 seater Peugeot 504s or similar), it’s something to add to the bucket list. They can be good, bad…or very very bad! The cars have all seen better days, having outlived their working life many times over. They continue to function by the sheer ingenuity of the drivers and mechanics who seemingly can fix anything on the roadside. The cars are totally shot – suspension, engines the lot. All have cracked windscreens, doors that may or may not open or are wired shut… (and with a nod to Simon Fenton), no window winders [not true]. If you’re of a nervous disposition, probably an experience to skip!

Hitting the road, we crawled for the next dozen km or so until we reached Ruffisque, then it was open road – a well paved road at that. For a change, the driver was good, not taking risks or seemingly wanting to get to Saint Louis in to much of a hurry.

As the journey progressed,  the heat of the day built, leaving everyone dozing in the soporific heat. A sharp braking brought me to my senses, just in time to see a camel legging it across the road just missing the car by a hair! The adrenaline rush kicked in and wide awake, I sat watching the passing countryside, which had now changed to a mix of scrub and Baobab trees.

Then the fatal mistake – I looked at the kilometre markers…2 hours and still 157 to go. Despite trying not to look, I spent the next hour or so magnetised to them, watching them slowly tick down to 100km… then, it was down to 40 to go with the end in sight.

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Arriving at the Gare Routier, I crawled out, dusted myself off and shook off the accumulated stiffness acquired after 5 hours cramped in the car. Finding a taxi, I headed off to the Island with fellow travellers Vincenzo & Marie to find a hotel – my supposed pre-booked room having been cancelled enroute. Thanks to Vincenzo and Marie who had managed to book ahead, I ended up at the Auberge d’ Chateau, home of the contemporary dance group Duo Solo – rooms 10,000cfa per night, cheap and cheerful, but more than adequate.