Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Trip from Dakar

We woke up at 6am. Well, really I woke up at 6:30 to go down the street to the bank and patisserie and Claire stayed asleep for a bit. The travel alarm clock works great, but it’s quite easy to snooze. I think our record is 11 snooze cycles. Anyway, I walked the half mile or so to the bakery, Grain d’Or, and picked up a couple of baguettes and a pastry for about $1.50 US. I walked to the bank next door and tried the ATM, but I think it was out of money for the weekend, so I walked further down the street to try to find a different bank.

I passed a club/hotel on the way with party goers still streaming out. It was 7am. Young kids anywhere from 18 to 25, whose parents, I assume based on their choice of cars, worked within the “system,” as Miche called it. Dakar is an interesting place. Very stark contrasts, though I guess that is true many places. Well dressed men climbing into their nice SUVs, avoiding, if possible, the talibes who, in return for a surah or two, ask for money with their matching red and yellow margarine tubs, a new begging trend according to Debbie, who says the fashionable coin receptacle used to be large cans from tomato puree. Porche Cayennes and new BMWs driving beside horse and buggies, beaten-up old taxis, taxis that look as if they’re about to burst into flames, a few taxis that have just burst into flames, and 15 different kinds of public transportation that, to the untrained eye, don’t seem to have a destination, unless the guy hanging off the back operating the door yells it to you, in Wolof of course. We actually took one a few days before, an ndiaga ndiaye, with the help of Miche’s daughter, who pushed me in, with the help of Claire, without explaining that I had to move to the front or that the seats lifted up out of the isle or where we were going. It was fun though. And it cost 20 cents US.

Anyway, back to yesterday, I walked for another mile or so, but did not find an open bank or ATM. it was 7:15 on a Sunday morning, and even in a Muslim country the banks close on Sunday, I guess mirroring the financial market. Another side note, women don’t go to the mosque on Friday. Only men go, though, “Grandma might go too,” as Miches daughter informed us. I eventually gave up on finding an ATM and stared to walk back to Debbie’s and Miche’s.

The taxis, even the ones that look as though they are one hill away from a nice flame-retardant foam shower, honk at you if you look like you need a ride, and if you are white, you apparently always need a ride. Well, that’s not completely true. As we spent more time in Dakar, I noticed fewer and fewer honks, which is something I am kind of proud of I might add, so it might have had more to do with our appearing lost than the color of our skin. As I was running late, we were hoping to be at the Gare Routiere by 7, I decided to try my luck and bargain down a taxi ride back home to the 300 CFA I had left.

A fairly undamaged taxi with a passenger already in the back honked and slowed down. I told him where to; he gave me his price; I disagreed and gave him mine, trois cents; he said no; I started to walk away; he waved me in to sit down. That’s how it usually worked, along with some mumbling in pseudo-French on my part. You gotta love a place where you can grab 1000 CFA on your way out, about $2, and cover breakfast and a ride home. We were, however, ready to leave Dakar. Though Debbie and Miche were about the most hospitable people you could ever find, Dakar was a little much for both Claire and I.

After arriving back at Debbie’s, giving a good morning to the night guard, trading a little money to pay for our trip, slinging on my 80lbs of crap, saying our goodbyes and thank yous, Claire and I set off for the Gare Routiere Pompier and, eventually, the Gambia. We walked about 50yds, down a side street, before a taxi spotted us and honked. I didn’t feel like bargaining and accepted his offer, trois mille, the most we had paid yet, about $6.

The drive to the Gare, about three quarters of the way across town, was a harrowing one. No more than the other taxi rides we took in Dakar, actually I had a seatbelt for the first time in this one, but it was harrowing none the less. Driving in Dakar is…an experience. The drivers are not bad; in fact, they are all quite skilled. They just don’t do lanes or signals or traffic lights or stop signs or right-of-ways or crosswalks or brakes. It is a constant rhythm of roundabouts and barricades and parked cars on the autoroute. There are goats and cows and chickens left to wander, stray dogs and cats. There are people jogging and walking and selling and waiting in the street, not to mention the other cars and trucks. If you are ever in Dakar, and the taxi you are riding in still has its side mirrors, i.e. they haven’t been clipped of in some routine gap-shot between a semi and horse cart, don’t look in them if you don’t feel like defecating in your pants. On that note, I have not needed my Cipro yet despite eating my fair share of sketchy shawarma and even a hamburger, Dakar style.

If you can look away from the certain death in front of you, beyond the trucks and horses and exhaust, Dakar is really a beautiful place. Beautiful people, cute kids, many up a 7:30 in the morning. Interesting buildings, spotted with mosques, high-rises, and many tarp and sheet metal homes and cafes, Dakar is under construction.  Much different than construction in the US, people build when they have the money. Big, three-story houses that will house an entire family are going up everywhere, but without the usual fences and hubbub that you see back home. The house next to Debbie’s has been under construction since they moved in, 4 years ago. People build as they can, which seems weird and doesn’t make for a very picturesque cityscape, but, as Debbie told us, people don’t go into debt here. It makes sense really, and that’s just the way Dakar is.

We arrived safely at the Gare, and though we had been there the day before, it was a loud, crowded, confusing scene. Our foreignness or confusion could easily be seen through the taxi windows, and we were quickly surrounded by hawkers and drivers and people legitimately trying to help us out. We found the sign that said Banjul and a man chewing on one of the ever present chewing sticks that ushered us to a car and put or things on top and in the back, quickly telling us that together our luggage would be 5000 CFA. We were then shown to our seats, another 6000 CFA each. Our seats were, of course, in the back, which , by the way, should not exist in the old Peugeot 504s that constitute sept places. After telling the men that we did not want to buy the middle seat for another 6000 CFA, paying our 17000 CFA, somewhere near $30 which was too much, but again I didn’t feel like bargaining, and filling in the rest of the seats, we set off for the Gambia.

There Claire and I were, perched atop the gas tank of some 1980’s European station wagon, banging our heads and knees and elbows, clutching our bags of cameras and money, hoping to God that the drive would only last the proposed 4 hours by a man at the Gare.

It does not take 4 hours to get to Banjul. Maybe in a monster truck. Really, as I looked at down the road in front of us that was the only vehicle that I could imagine handling it well. A hovercraft might even struggle with the stretch leading out of Kaolack. Words would not do it justice. In fact I found myself wondering if there were two words for road and pothole in this area or if they were one and the same. I took a video that I will post when I have more time. You can see for yourself.

Long story short, we made it. After a 6 hour sept place ride, a 30 minute border crossing, a 10 minute taxi ride, a 30 minute wait, and a 2 hour ferry ride we arrived in Banjul, the Gambia.

The end for now. (Claire is ready to go!)