For me this place was like the New Orleans of Senegal or rather Africa. St. Louis is a go to destination if you like jazz, good food and lots of relaxation. When I got the opportunity to visit this city for an assignment while in Senegal I was ready the very next moment.
You can travel either by a private taxi, shared taxi, mini bus or take a flight. It takes around 5 – 6 hours to cover around 320 kilometres of well paved road and if you take a flight then it’s just around 30 minutes. Since I was travelling with a group I did not have the luxury of travelling by any of these so I had to take a 10 hour long bus ride with multiple stops covering different villages during the trip.
By the time we reached St. Louis it was around 8 PM and the whole town was light up against the dark waters of the Senegal River. To reach St. Louis you need to cross Faidherbe Bridge which is like a landmark in itself. Once you cross this tiny two lane bridge you reach St. Louis.
We were all supposed to check into a single hotel but unfortunately the hotel rooms were full and some of us could not be accommodated. This proved to be a blessing in disguise as we shifted to another hotel which in itself was a piece of history. We shifted to Hotel de la Poste which is a mini museum dedicated to an Airline Pilot who flew postal service planes during the early twentieth century to St. Louis and he always preferred this hotel. The entire hotel ambiance has been done according to air travel during the early twentieth century.
I got my key and the first thing that I did was to take a warm shower, all that long bus journey really needed to be washed off. Some of the other colleagues who were also staying at the same hotel decided to experiment for dinner and of course I agreed to join them on this culinary adventure.
St. Louis has a wonderful nightlife and being a Saturday night it was more evident. We went to a restaurant called Flamingo, this was like an eatery by the river. This place had a wonderful view of the Senegal River and Faidherbe Bridge. We were eight in number and all of us ordered varieties of fish, prawn etc. My dear friend Ardo Sow did his college degree from St. Louis so he was the de facto guide for all of us. Over dinner he gave a brief history of the place and its importance to the whole of West Africa.
St. Louis was once the capital of French Senegal during 1673 to 1902 thus this place has a rich influence of French architecture. This city was also the capital of French West Africa from 1895 to 1902. And surprisingly this city was also a temporary capital for the neighbouring Mauritania from 1920 to 1957.
Flamingo restaurant also have an extended pool with a bar which also doubles up as a live Jazz venue at night and this was the perfect way for us to end the evening. We spent some time enjoying the Afro Jazz which was a whole new genre to our ears.
It was way past midnight when I went to bed and from my room window I could still see the Jazz team pumping up the crowd. This lasted till early hours in the morning but I slept like a baby as I was really tired.
Woke up early next morning as I wanted to check the town before our departure. It was early in the morning and the whole town seem to have a handover from the last night’s party. Me and another friend of mine Jun took a short walk around the town. All around us we could see classic examples of French Colonial Architecture. I had seen similar styled architecture in Pondicherry with colourful building and verandas hanging over the street.
Some of the buildings were also in a very bad state of maintenance I wondered if the local administration is doing something to renovate them as these are piece of the local history.
St. Louis is also famous for their annual Jazz Festival and it was scheduled for next week and the preparation was already underway. Tents and Stages were being constructed for the mega event.
We came back to our hotel for our breakfast and we were in a visual treat. The ambience of the dining room was out of the world with planes and maps everywhere. The breakfast was good and filling with lots of tea, coffee, juice, egg, bread and Baobab jam. We were about to end when we were joined by Ardo. He promised to take us around the town once more on foot. This was something which I always wanted since having someone local will be an added advantage.
So Ardo, Jun and I set out to explore St. Louis one last time by foot, we took the small lanes and by lanes. We crossed a bridge where there were several small fishing boats locally know as Pirogues. These boats are very colourful and often have name of saints written on them. We spoke to the owner of one such boat which had just returned from a fishing trip. He proudly showed us the catch of the day.
By now the town had woken up and daily life had already started, we could see people lining up the bus and taxi stands. Also saw some opening up their shop for the day’s business.
We reached the shores of Atlantic Ocean where we were greeted by Seagulls with their signature shrieks. The emerald green and light blue transparent waters of the Atlantic were a sight which I could never forget. The Seagulls were constantly diving into the water to catch some fish and in the distance the villagers could be seen preparing their boats for the journey ahead.
We lost track of time and realized that we need to get back to the hotel and need to check out as our bus would be waiting for us to take us back to Dakar. The return journey was equally charming, saw some group of children playing football with something which actually did not resemble a football but still they enjoyed.
Reached hotel and quickly packed our bags, the busses were waiting and luckily we were not late. We took the back seat and though the trip was over but the discussion continued with Ardo and Jun.
Thanks for travelling along with me through this blog, but it’s not enough just to read my blog you need to visit St. Louis. Rather I should say St. Louis is waiting for you.
Bye from Me and Thanks to our Impromptu Guide Ardo