St Louis and Dakar

We had moved to a different campsite in St Louis, one that was cheaper, had a nice bar and was sans putains! We stayed only one night and me, Jem and Laas got quite hammered in the bar till 4 am. I think Laas needed the drinks as we had just heard about some tourists getting kidnapped/murdered in Timbuktu and Laas thought that he knew one of them and that they were bikers like us (we’re not going to Timbuktu now).

In the morning, we locked our bikes together and we left all our things, except a few clothes, sleeping bags and a tent (you never know) with the French guy who works at the campsite. We piled into the camper van and went in to St Louis town centre for a bit of a walk around and to find some food. We had parked near to one of the customs offices when the same customs guy came out and was asking why hadn’t me and Laas gone to Dakar yet? and was making notions suggesting that we were in trouble. There was nothing we could do about it so we just blanked it out of our minds. All would be well in Dakar. The customs guy also sent us to an excellent restaurant where we stuffed out faces in preparation for the drive to Dakar.

Traveling in the camper van was a real contrast. Inside it is very spacious, more like a narrow boat than a van and keeping Zia and Lyla (Jem and Christine’s children) entertained was a welcome change to navigating and avoiding corrupt police. We did get stopped by one policeman about 50 km outside of Dakar, but it turned out that he was just hitch hiking into work, and we invited him to join us. It was really useful having him with us too as we got waved through every other checkpoint, that is once he had stuck his head out of the window and shouted a few things at the other police. Having a sort of police escort really came in handy when the traffic came into a complete standstill on the way into Dakar. Dakar is a relatively narrow peninsula with about 2 million people living there so you can imagine that traffic gets bad from time to time. The policeman had Christine take ‘short cuts’ through what can only be described as off-road driving on paved areas. He even got out of the van at one point to stop traffic so we could rejoin the queues afterwards. He left us at a roundabout and we went on to find a hotel that we had read about in a guide book that was nearby the customs office at the port so would be convenient for us to sort out our documents. However being near a port, also meant that the hotel was at the arse-end of an industrial estate with very bad roads and no banks and nearly no shops nearby. Eventually we found the hotel but it was very expensive, so we cheekily used their wifi to find a cheaper place to stay and we got lucky when we found that there was another hotel right next door that was half the price. At 20 euro a night it was still way more than we had wanted but it was getting late and besides the hotel was right on the beach and had beer. Me and Laas went out and got beer and kebabs from one of the only shops in the area and we all continued drinking. Later we moved down the beach to listen to a band that was playing in the bar of the other hotel that we were too tight to stay at (we got moved on after about an hour).

The isolation of the hotel really frustrated me the next day. I didn’t want to pay for the food or drink at the hotel but I needed to get something. I’d spent the last of my money on the booze and food the previous night so a trip into the city was needed. After a bit of haggling, me and Laas got a cab into the city centre and went to use the ATMs. Within the 5 minutes of leaving the bank I had already been harassed by about 3 people. I had heard that Dakar was like this, but with my sunglasses on and my inability to speak French, how bad could it be? We hadn’t wandered far when a big guy came over to us claiming to by security at our hotel and said that he knew us. I didn’t really care whether this was the case or not and suspected him of being a tout but Laas was getting on with him quite well and he guided us to see the some sights of the city. I was convinced that he was a tout when he took Laas to a shop that had loads of people making clothing. He said that it was a charity that made and sold clothes to raise money for kids orphaned by a boat accident or something like that. At this point I wasn’t even listening to him anymore as I had already noticed that the rest of the street had loads of little workshops making exactly the same tat. Lass didn’t mind though as he was actually in the market to buy some gifts and he started negotiations to get some things. I sat off and started my ‘how I don’t like football’ conversations with the various other touts who obviously couldn’t understand what was wrong with me. The big tout guy took us to a little bar, that stunk of piss, and asked us what we wanted to drink. We were the only tourists there and the barman got very sketchy and was reluctant to tell me how much the beers are (I’ve had that scam before in Cuba). In the bar, the tout gave me and Laas some jewellery as he said that his wife (one of them) had just had a baby and that it was good fortune for his kid if he gives gifts to strangers. At this point I’d had enough. I’d had another guy try the same scam on me in Nouakchott that resulted in me giving him back his bracelet when he asked for cash. Laas still thought that the guy was genuine though, and stopped me mid sentence when I was telling him thank you but I don’t wear jewellery. It was at this point when some other younger guy came into the bar and immediately started an argument in Wolof with some other people in the bar. It looked like it might turn ugly and several people stood up at some point. We just sat there drinking, although Laas sat closer to the big tout while I scanned the room for exits and improvised weapons (use the ambience!). It all calmed down, but the instigator then came over to talk to us two and was apologising, albeit in a very aggressive way. He was saying that he believes in one love and we are all the same, black and white, and can I buy him a drink! I pretended to have misheard him, and thanked him for offering to buy me a drink but I already had one. He replied ‘no, buy me a drink’ to which I went ‘hmmmmmm, No’. Laas then said the same. I hadn’t seen this one before but me and Laas have since named it the ‘Angry man in bar scam’. We left our beers half drunk and got out of there, mainly cos of the bad atmosphere (aggression and the piss smell) but also cos the big guy suggested we should go (the angry guy immediately mineswept the remainder of our drinks). We headed down the street and Laas, still unconvinced by the nature of our large friend’s interest in us, asked him to help me buy a watermelon (I’d been saying I wanted one for the last 24 hours since buying bottle of chilli sauce in St Louis). We wandered to a shop were I picked up a melon. The guy in the shop weighed it and then our ‘friend’ said that it was 5000 CFA (almost 8 euro). I tried to plead with Laas “can’t you see this guy is ripping us?” while the tout was saying ‘perhaps I should suggest 4000?’ We said we didn’t want it anymore and we went to get a cab. The tout hit us up for money before he left and I gave him some. Stupid I know, I’d been on to him throughout but I just wanted him to go at this point. We got a cab back to the hotel, stopping off to buy a huge watermelon for 750 CFA from a guy on the street.

Me and Laas had a huge debate about the whole situation as he felt that I was closing myself off to potentially benefitial chance encounters. It certainly is a quandary that all travellers face. The majority of the world is considerably poorer than our own countries. Its a sad reality, but to travel in these places will put you in the way of a lot of harassment. I do not wish any ill will to the touts as they are just trying to make a living, but in the same respect, I do not have the money to travel if I give it away to everyone I meet! It is a shame that we have to put up a shield around us when we travel to filter, or just plain ignore the advances of people trying to get money out of you, especially when we travel to places where we want to meet local people to get a feel and understanding of cultures that are very difficult to our own. But constantly dealing with touts is very annoying. I haven’t been to India yet, but I’ve heard all the stories and it is only going to get worse, yet all who travel there say it is still a very rewarding place to go see. From my experience, most people are welcoming to tourists and I have made good friends in infamously touristy places like Thailand and Cuba, but I have usually met them outside of the tourist areas and given the choice, I sometimes think that I would prefer to avoid capitol cities altogether. This is not going to be possible for this trip however as I will need to get visas en route, and there are always ‘bottlenecks’ were concentrated tourism will bring the touts (i.e. borders). Trying to find a suitable balance is challenging to say the least, but I wouldn’t want to be put off from meeting the genuine people of the world.

Back at the Hotel, Jem, Chris and the girls had had a relaxing day by the beach and were just on their way out to get some food and a couple of beers. I went with them straight away and we ended up outside one of the little bars behind the hotel. After a couple of beers it became obvious that the bar was preparing for a birthday party and eventually we got to meet the birthday boy himself.

Bass, was a very friendly guy and spoke excellent English. He invited us all to join in the celebrations and his friends all came to say hello to us. Some of them were grilling fish in the street and we were all presented with grilled fish and fantastic yassa onion sauce (very Senegalese dish). Bass knew everyone on the street and soon the bar was full. There were people playing djembe drums (like bongos) and we were all getting into the African rhythms.

They taught me an amusing dance were you stick your fingers into the back pockets of your trousers to give the impression of dancing arse cheeks! We were all hammered at this point and Bass had been passing around a couple of bottles of Whisky, making the level go from very drunk to very slaughtered. It was suggested that we go into town. I really didn’t need any more alcohol, but being in the locked state that I was, I dragged Laas and Chris with me. We ended up in a karaoke bar where I sang a couple of songs. Luckily there are no videos for you to see! I got so plastered in the club that I actually had to tell Laas and Chris that I needed to leave and we left in cab to go back. Back at the hotel I had sobered up a little and after a unsuccessful mission to find more booze. Chris produced a carton of rose from inside the camper van. Me and Laas started exchanging martial arts moves (you know me) but in a fairly peaceful manner. Chris then said that she could beat both of us as girls are not bound to the same rules of combat as guys. Stupidly, I took up the challenge and after a couple of minutes of being bitten, I gave up after having quite enough pain for one evening. What I don’t understand is why Laas, after seeing this , decided that he could win and although he may of got a submission from her at one point, she bit the shit out of him too.

I was still drunk when I got up the next day, which helped with the pain somewhat. Laas went and got me a bottle of water and a baguette, without which I wouldn’t have been able to function at all. We quickly packed our stuff and headed into town to go to the customs office (we had found out that the one by the port was the wrong one). We were all very apprehensive about dealing with Senegalese customs again. The border at Diama had been an unbelievable ball-ache and we didn’t want to give them any excuses to demand any extra cash from us. We certainly didn’t want to turn up two and a half days after our pass documents had expired, which was exactly the case.

The office hadn’t opened yet and we joined the group of people waiting on the stairs outside the office. Inside, we all took numbers and settled in for what looked to be a very long wait. Chris decided to go to the bank as the it looked like we would be at the back of the queue. While she was away, a random bloke started telling us that we were in the wrong place to get our carnets stamped and dragged us into another room where this was confirmed to us. Chris returned and after chatting to the random, we were all back in the camper van (Jem was off with the Kids somewhere) heading to a different office at the port. A taxi hit the camper van as Chris parallel parked. There wasn’t really any damage, but the taxi driver hung around complaining, even though it was his fault. We ignored him and he went away. Inside the office it was all straight forward. We handed over our carnets and they got stamped for us no problems. The random guy told us that we needed to pay 10,000 CFA each for the paperwork but we just told him that we had heard that it wasn’t like this and he gave in immediately.

Back in the car he asked Christine for money for ‘helping us’. She told him no, as he should have said this in the beginning. He got out at the lights. Besides, Chris was angry with him because she could have got her pass documents extended at the first office, but instead she now had to go to a fourth office as the previous had now closed. As we looked for somewhere to park, Chris got pulled over by a policeman who asked to see her pass documents, and unfortunately her insurance. We had all bought insurance in Mauritania so that we could avoid buying it at inflated prices from touts at the border but we had only got it for a few days as insurance bought in Senegal can be also used all over West Africa. Chris was pleading with the policeman and had to resort to the advanced female technique of aggressively crying to get away with it. By now it was getting really late and the office should have closed by now. Chris ran in while we watched the van. After a couple of hours she emerged triumphant.

We had decided not to go back to the same hotel, and we had heard of one not to far away that was cheaper. It was not too far from the British Embassy and when we found it, it was deserted except for the one guy working there. The hotel is like an eco-tourism place and it specialised in diving. We got kebabs delivered (my third that day!) and I went to bed, still feeling like shit from the night before.

Now that our carnets were stamped, me and Laas though we really need to be reunited with our bikes and after breakfast we got a cab to what I guess you could call a bus station. As we entered the site, touts immediately started to run alongside the taxi. Here we go again, I thought to myself. We found the bus to St Louis, and bought some fixed price tickets. I couldn’t see the scam, but the touts wanted money for helping, which we didn’t pay. It turned out that the scam was actually the bus itself, because it did not leave until it was full, and there was a constant line of people walking through the middle trying to sell us tat. Fruit, bread, torches, glasses, chargers, mirrors, you name it. I nipped out to get us some food, as the bus didn’t look like it was going anywhere and I was able to buy us two plates of local food at local prices, which reassured me that it was a genuine bus station. I asked for the food to take away but it was served to us in metal dishes with metal cutlery. I brought it back to the bus anyway and as soon as we started eating it the bus’ engines were started. I ran back to the shop and offered to buy the dishes as I felt bad because they had been fair with me. I was promptly ripped off on the purchase of two plates and two spoons and the bus then sat there for an hour without going anywhere. When we finally did leave. The bus would stop every 5 km or less, sometimes as little as 800m! so that venders on the side of the street could get onto the bus and sell stuff. I felt like screaming at my fellow passengers “Stop buying shit, you’ll get there quicker and you can buy this shit there!” when Laas pointed out that every time the bus stopped he saw money being handed to either the driver or the kid at the back of the bus by one of the venders. All in all, it took 6 hours to travel the 250 km to St Louis. We were hungry (although I don’t know why with all the food that was on offer to buy) and in need of a beer. We went back to the nice restaurant we knew, ordered food and then sat in darkness as a power cut hit the city. The food was great again, although someone had trouble adding up the bill (I learnt that one in Cuba too). We met some more locals who told us that a new restaurant would be opening the next night and that there would be a famous Malian Kora (type of African harp) player there. We had a couple of beers and went back to the campsite to see our bikes safe and sound (I’d missed mine).

I had made plans to go back to Dakar to have dinner at Bass’ house and to meet up with Jem and Chris for scuba diving, but after the hellish journey to St Louis, I just could not face returning to Dakar. Laas was going to go ahead to Mali but he decided to wait for me as he would only be waiting for the Ghanian embassy to open and we would have fun riding together. Later we found that there is a music festival in St Louis the day after next so the decision was made. I apologised to Jem and Chris and Bass, but looked forward to a couple of days of chilling and cheap living. I’d spent a fortune since arriving in Senegal, on what I couldn’t quite say. Certainly drink plays a part as I’ve been drinking most nights but at 1.50 – 2.50 euro a half litre bottle, it doesn’t account for all the money I’ve spent and for the first time in Africa I’ve been going over-budget. I shall be keeping an eye on things for now on.

3 thoughts on “St Louis and Dakar

  1. Hi Andrew,interesting reading but take it easy sounds like u r drinking ur way around the world haha, keep it up ronnie george .

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