I had made the short journey across the Senegal River with a Swedish couple, Anna and David, that I had met in Mauritania. We had taken a cheap canoe from Mauritania to Senegal. I was officially transitioning from northern to western Africa and was about to find out how super social Senegal really was.
Welcome to Senegal! Give Me Money
A friendly immigration officer at the dock ushered us to the passport window. Inside was a plump old man who was more interested in chatting to unseen people than checking passports. 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 not the case. I’d prepared a screenshot in case something like this happened. Mr Plump ignored it.
He then produced a French document showing my country on a list that gets a free visa on arrival. You’d think that seeing as he is the immigration guy, he’d be the one giving it to me, right?. He wanted to argue instead that it wasn’t his job. As I don’t speak French, this was all being relayed through a nice Senegalese man, Mumoudou. I’d just met him in the van from Mauritania. After several minutes, Mr Plump shooed me to the side.
Playing the Game
This was obviously to give me time to think about paying the bribe he was indirectly asking for. I was one step ahead. I’d read that this border was notorious for these kinds of tricks. They think foreigners are willing to pay extra or ‘bribe’ the officer to make the trouble go away. Not this foreigner. So I waited.
Mr Plump eventually motioned for me to come back to the window. He stamped my passport and told me I’d need a visa to enter Senegal next time. (Click here to see why that’s not true). Let’s just forget about the fact that letting someone who requires a visa into the country without a visa makes absolutely no sense at all.
Kez = 1; African border corruption = 0
Finding Transport in Super Social Senegal
The transport station near the border was buzzing with craziness. Mumoudou said to keep close to him and not talk to anyone. That was easier said than done. People gathered around us, trying to get us to buy toothpaste or get into their car. Mumoudou found the car to St Louis and organised tickets for it. We put our bags in the car and relaxed a bit because 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. He told us 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. We did not pay any extra.
On his little walk, Mumoudou had found a car going straight to Dakar, so I decided to swap to that one. It was the same price as the car to Saint Louis, which was much closer to the border. At that point, I bid farewell to Anna and David. They will visit the same West African countries as me, just at a slower pace. You can see a chronicle of their adventures here.
Kids of Super Social Senegal
While waiting for the seats in the car to fill up, little kids were constantly approaching me. They would put their hand out for money, but I found when I put my hand out, they were kind of confused and walked away. Once the word got around that I was doing that, other kids started just coming up and doing it for fun, then walked 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 a splash of colour. I think their clothes would 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!
On the Road Again in Super Social Senegal
Once our car was ready to go, the little boy that had been sitting in it had disappeared. His mother was laying down on her husband’s lap like she was sick. It turns out that her son didn’t have papers to show the police just outside the station. He had sneakily 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 asked, she could say she paid for 2 seats due to illness. Clever.
Whilst making our way to Senegal’s capital Dakar, a lovely Mauritanian man in the car started talking to me. When he left the car a little before Dakar, he instructed the driver to call my host on arrival at the station in Dakar. How lovely of him! 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. Most of the others in the car went off to pray. I was glad to have a bit of respite from sitting in an uncomfortable car. I’d noticed a lot of speed bumps on the road as we approached towns. Even though we were travelling on a highway. I thing we lost an hour on speed bumps over the whole journey! By the time I reached Dakar, it was dark. That meant I’d spent the whole day getting from Nouakchott in Mauritania to Dakar in Senegal. All I wanted to do was eat and rest, so I met My host and got some food. my host lived in the ‘ghetto’ area called Grand Medine.
Dakar – The Capital of Super Social Senegal
Dakar is a bit of 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 was very eager to chat, even if they didn’t speak English. I had a lot of people start talking to me as I was walking. Many of them gave me their phone numbers in case I needed their help while I was in Senegal.
One of my missions while in Dakar was to my Guinean visa from the Guinean Embassy. 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. It was placed 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.
Walking Around Dakar
Dakar is definitely colourful. There are many things that make it this way. The street art. The different coloured buildings. The many coloured items being sold on the roadside. But especially the bright clothes that people wear.
While walking around Dakar could be a little overwhelming, the friendliness is amazing. I could never walk far without someone offering to help me. People would often just start walking with me and chatting. There were plenty of invites to roadside tents for tea or food. One guy tried to help me, but wasn’t sure where the place I wanted to go was. He went to a random shop for assistance. The shop owner was only too happy to oblige.
I’d aimed to explore the city by myself, but I was never alone for long enough to do it. Even when eating a meal, it wouldn’t be long before a local joined me. While sometimes you just want some alone time, it’s nice to be in a place where everyone has time for other people. Not only that, but they are also willing to offer their help so freely.
Getting to the Border
A kind person 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 got to the bus station. Upon arrival, a guy from the bus to ‘Gambia’ tried to get me to run. He wanted to leave urgently. I was surprised to find that the bus was only about half full. Normally in Africa, buses won’t leave the station until they’re full.
The driver had decided to pick up passengers on the way. This was a great theory to get going faster. The problem with that approach was that it required driving around side streets and constantly stopping. It took us 2 hours just to get the airport area. An area that was only about 40 kilometres from the bus station. Even though I’d gotten to the station in the morning, I still hadn’t left the city by the start of the afternoon.
Life’s a Beach
Along the way, the road followed the coast for a little while. I wouldn’t say the beach was anything special. It did look like people were living there in small wooden shacks. In some places, you could see families just hanging out underneath 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 should’ve only held 20 people. I counted 36 at one stage!
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. The wait was shortened considerably when the officer processing entries into Senegal, ushered us into his lane. Even though he didn’t speak any English, he was very friendly. He even asked where to place the stamp. Overall, exiting through this border was quite easy. Plus it had the best signage of any African border so far!
Stay tuned for the next installment as the African adventure move into Gambia
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