Once clearing Mauritanian immigration, we were treated to a short, peaceful canoe ride across the Senegal River, to the Senegal side for 100MRO (about €2).
As we got off the boat, a friendly immigration officer met us at the dock and ushered us to the window where our passports would get checked. Inside the window was a plump old man who seemed more interested in chatting to unseen people at the back of the room he was in, than checking passports. Anna and David, the couple I had crossed the river with were processed before me with no problems, but when the man took my passport, he tried to tell me that I needed a visa. Of course, I’d checked beforehand that this was indeed not the case and I showed him the screenshot I had of the page showing that a visa was not required.
Not willing to believe the information put in front of him, the man produced a document in French that had my country on a list of countries that could get a free visa on arrival. I pointed out to him, that if that was the case, he should be the one to provide that visa, being the immigration guy. He wanted to argue some more about why he wasn’t going to do that, but eventually just stamped my passport and let me go with a warning that I would need a visa if I entered Senegal again. Never mind that letting someone who apparently requires a visa into the country without a visa makes absolutely no sense at all.
I had heard that this border was notorious for stunts like this and I presume the document in French and the plump old man’s patronising demeanor, are part of an intricate ploy to try to get a bribe out of lone travellers. Perhaps he was counting on me turning up to his country and not knowing anything about the visa regulations, but who would be that stupid? Or perhaps he thought that as a lone traveller, I might just concede and pay some money to make the problem go away. I guess in these cases, if you stand your ground for long enough and they see that you’re not going to back down, they give up and let you go.
Kez = 1; African border corruption = 0
With the completion of another supposedly easy process that had been turned into an epic mission, I headed further into the border area to find a black market money changer, cause that’s how you do it in Africa. Surprisingly, I actually got a pretty good rate for Euro from a dress wearing man. He must’ve been running quite low on Euro to offer such a good rate. From there, with the help of a very kind Senegalese man called Mumoudou, who had been in the van from Nouakchott with us and had taken us under his wing, we got a shared taxi to the station a short distance away, where we would find our onward transport.
The station, of course, was buzzing with craziness. Mumoudou told us to keep close to him and not talk to anyone, which was slightly easier said than done, with all the people gathering around trying to get us to buy toothpaste or get into their car. Mumoudou found the car to St Louis and organised us all tickets for it. We put our bags in the car and figured that we could relax a bit, now that our transport was sorted. Mumoudou went off to buy some water and as soon as he left, the driver took our bags out of the car and told us that we had to pay extra for them. We of course protested, but as soon as Mumoudou came back and we told him the situation, our bags were back in the car, without us paying an extra fee.
On his little walk, Mumoudou had found a car going straight to Dakar, so I decided to swap to that one and thankfully they didn’t try to get extra money out of me. It was at that point that I had to say farewell to Anna and David. They will visit the same West African countries I intend to visit, then continue heading on down to South Africa, as they’ve quit their jobs to experience Africa for at least a year. You can see a chronicle of their adventures here.
While waiting for the seats in the car to fill up, little kids were constantly coming up to me and putting their hand out for money, but I found when I put my hand out, like I was looking for money, they were kinda confused and walked away. Once the word got around that I was doing that, they started just coming up and doing it for fun, then walking off laughing. They eventually stopped approaching me altogether, which was the aim!
One thing I instantly noticed about Senegal is that Women’s hair and clothes were very bright and colourful. After travelling for weeks through conservative Muslim countries, it was nice to see women dressed in what most people would probably be considered stereotypical traditional African clothes. Senegalese women are also not afraid to show off their bodies and a bit of cleavage. I’m a fan!
Once our car was ready to go. The little boy that had been sitting in it had disappeared and his mother sitting on the seat in front was laying down on her husbands lap like she was sick. It turns out that her son didn’t have papers to show the police just outside the station, so he had walked through the back of the station to a point down the road out of sight of the police post. Mum was pretending to be sick, so that if they asked, she could say she paid for 2 seats because she was ill. Sneaky.
Whilst making our way to Dakar, a lovely Mauritanian man in the car started talking to me and when he left the car a little before Dakar, he gave the driver instructions to call my host when he got me to the station in Dakar. The trip was mostly pleasant, if not a tad longer than I had hoped. There was certainly a lot to look at on the way, like the wild goats roaming around. They seem to be the stray dogs of Africa. Some people even walk them on leads as if they were dogs.
After a few hours on the road, we stopped at a town called Gueoul, where most of the others in the car went off to pray, while I was just glad to not be sitting in an uncomfortable car. One thing I noticed is that there seemed to be a lot of speed bumps on the road, which was supposedly a highway, as we were approaching towns, which of course slowed us down a bit. By the time I reached Dakar, it was dark, so I just met my host, who happened to live in the ‘ghetto’ area called Grand Medine, grabbed some food and decided to rest early. Boring I know, but the days events had taken their toll on me.
This place is really an assault on the senses. It’s next level chaotic. Cars going in any direction they please, walking and stationary vendors trying to sell you their wares. Dust everywhere, with random puddles of mud, probably due to the small bit of rain we hit on the way in. Everyone seems to be very eager to talk to you, even if they don’t speak your language. They also seem very eager for you to take their phone number within a few minutes of initiating a conversation, just in case you need their help while you’re there.
One of my missions while in Dakar was to my Guinean visa from the Guinean Embassy there. It was my best visa experience yet. After looking at all the stamps in my passport and asking me few questions, the officer decided that I could have the visa and placed it in my passport within 10 minutes. He then started giving me a lesson about the geography of Guinea and was so happy about getting to practice his English that he took me to lunch. Of course, he gave me his phone number and told me to call him if I needed anything while in Guinea.
While walking around Dakar could be a little overwhelming, it was also amazing how friendly everyone was. I could never walk very far by myself without someone offering to help me get to where I was going. People would often just start walking with me and chatting to keep me company or invite me to a little roadside tent for tea or food. One guy tried to help me, but didn’t know exactly where the place I wanted to go was, so he stopped in a random shop to ask a stranger for assistance. The stranger was only too happy to oblige.
Even though I’d aimed to spend most of my time exploring the city by myself, I was never alone for long enough to achieve it. Even when eating a meal, it wouldn’t be long before a local saw me sitting alone and decided to join me. I even had offers for people to keep me company for my onward travels to Gambia. While sometimes, you just want some alone time, it’s nice to be in a place where everyone has time for other people and are willing to offer their help so freely.
Getting to the Border
One of the kind people I’d met along the way, had secured a taxi to Gare Routiere des Baux Maraichers (inter-city bus station) for me. He’d even asked the taxi driver to show me where to go when we arrived at the bus station. Upon arrival, a guy from the bus to ‘Gambia’ tried to get me to run, because the bus was ready to leave, but that wasn’t going to happen! I was surprised to find that the bus was only about half full when I got inside. Normally in these circumstances, buses won’t leave the station until they’re full.
It seemed that the driver had thought he could pick up the rest of the passengers on the way, which I guess is fine in theory. The problem with that approach is that it required driving around side streets and constantly stopping. It took us 2 hours just to get the airport area, which was only about 40 kilometres from the bus station where we’d started. Even though I’d gotten to the station in the morning, I still hadn’t left the city by the start of the afternoon.
Along the way, the road followed the coast for a little while. I wouldn’t say the beach was anything special, but it did seem like people were living there in small wooden shacks. In some places, you could see families just hanging out underneath their washing that they’d hung up on a makeshift wire placed between their shack and the nearest power pole.
There were a lot of stops on the way, as many people in the bus were going to towns between Dakar and the border. Every stop would inevitably start with local sellers almost climbing over each other in an effort to get people on the bus to buy their stuff. Then some poor passenger would have to push their way past the vendors to exit the bus.
With all of these stops for people to alight, the bus had become considerably more comfortable and quiet the closer we got to the border. That combined with the increasingly greener scenes outside the window were making the ride much more pleasurable.
When we got to a town called Kaolack, about 100km from the border, the driver inexplicably made us leave his nice roomy bus for another overcrowded bus. I’m guessing the bus we were switched to was probably only supposed to seat about 20 people, but at one stage there were 36 people squeezed in there, including kids!
The 270km trip from Dakar had taken around 8 hours, so by the time we got to the border, it was after 6pm. I was a bit worried as I’d been told that this border closed at 6. Luckily, it was looking very open. I joined the long line, thinking that I’d be waiting for quite a while, but the wait was shortened considerably when the officer processing people entering, ushered us into his lane. Even though he didn’t really speak any English, he was very friendly and even asked me where I wanted him to place the stamp. Overall, exiting through this border was quite easily and it had the best signage of any border so far!