It was in the month of February 2015 that I was given a hint that I might be given an opportunity to travel to Dakar, Senegal. It seems that my luck always favours me when it comes to travelling the African Continent. Previously I had a wonderful opportunity to visit Kenya which is Eastern Africa and now I am getting an opportunity to visit Western Africa. By early March it was more or less confirmed that the trip was on and I need to start preparing for the great escapade.
As is the norm now we head straight to Google and type in our requirement, unfortunately for Senegal which is not that much of a tourist country the information’s are quite sketchy. French being one of the official language made it more difficult since most of the local travel agency websites are in French and most of my emails to them in English only resulted in monosyllabic reply. This meant that I had to do lot of research and find out places of interest.
The main reason why I was going to Dakar, Senegal was to attend an international conference (Global Land Forum) organized by International Land Coalition thus most of the days I will be extremely busy with the conference related activities and my only free time would be during the lunch breaks or during the evening when the sessions get over. The list was drawn and I planned to visit these:-
- Monument of Renaissance – https://subhadipindia.wordpress.com/2015/07/03/renaissance-of-africa/
- Pink Lake – https://subhadipindia.wordpress.com/2015/05/27/the-pink-lake-of-africa/
- Dakar City
St. Louis was dicey since it was quite far from Dakar and it would require me to spend a night out there for which I did not have time. But I was fortunate that I managed to get a chance to visit St. Louis as a part of field trip included in the conference schedule.
As with all travel planning I was more concerned about the safety & security since I had some bad experience on my Kenya trip and I was constantly making backup arrangements. To start with I got myself a travel insurance, informed by bank about my travel plan just in case I might use my bank card to withdraw cash, getting the contact details of the Indian Embassy just in case that I may require during any emergency situation that may arise. But mostly I was worried about EBOLA since most West African countries just had a severe outbreak with death toll crossing huge figures. Luckily Senegal was not in the danger zone. Next was a list of medicines that I would carry, I almost carried a mini pharmacy with me with all sorts of medicines. I did not require any of them but it came handy during my trip to St. Louis where one of my colleague got sick and a quick Disprin did the trick.
The day of departure finally arrived and on 10th of May 2015 I took my flight from Kolkata to New Delhi and from there I took a flight to Brussels and further to Dakar, Senegal. Ironically except the Kolkata to New Delhi flight all other flight were a smooth ride. The flight from Kolkata to New Delhi had an air-conditioning malfunction resulting in an unbearable hot cabin. Details about this experience can be a blog so I will leave it for some other time.
The flight from Brussels to Dakar was most enjoyable since the airplane was flying in low altitude and I could see most of the European and African cities below. The real time map display on the flight made it more enjoyable. And the most interesting was when it flew over Rock of Gibraltar.
We landed at Dakar at around three in the afternoon and came my first shock, it was a real small airport, even smaller than the airport of small towns in India. Before we could enter the country our body temperature were measured by the airport officials, this was done to prevent the flow of EBOLA around West Africa. Senegal had started giving out free Visa’s from May 2015 this meant that you just need to give your biometric finger prints along with your digital photo and you will be issued a Visa.
Representatives from the conference management team were there at the airport to arrange for our transportation from the airport to the hotel who guided us to a waiting bus. Once outside I could see Dakar town for the first time with my own eyes. Surprisingly the town looked quite neat and clean and very few people were there on the streets. For me this was something new since anyone from India will expect people and cars all around.
We drove through the streets and all around I could see construction of new houses and office complex. This was a good sign since this means that this country is somewhat in the right path of development. Senegal as a country is democratic and did not face any military coup in the recent past unlike most of its neighbours, this only meant that the Senegalese people were very peace loving people and that democracy is being maintained.
We were taken to King Fahd Palace Hotel which true to its name was like a palace with some of the best view of the Atlantic. There is a small golf course just next to it from where you get to see the mighty Atlantic. I will have a separate blog about this hotel since I need to show its real beauty in details.
Senegal is the Western most country in the Old World which means that this country is the far western even than European countries. Dakar city is located in the Cape Vert Peninsula overlooking the Atlantic in the three side. The view of the Atlantic is at its best from here with crystal clear blue-green water.
Senegal has a wonder road connectivity, most of them are well paved and quite wide. There is a new four lane toll highway which connect the country vertically which really looks stunning and very well maintained. This toll highway can rival any European road ways. Surprisingly I did not encounter any power cuts during my stay and even in the remote villages I have seen power transmission lines.
For local transportation in Senegal you have the option of yellow taxi, shared minivan, bus, horse drawn carriage and donkey drawn carriage.
At the moment the country has two airports, one in Dakar and the other in St. Louis but a new airport is under construction in Dakar and hopefully if I get a chance to visit this place again then I will be landing at this new airport. Railway is more or less non-existent in Senegal, there is just one line in Dakar connecting to Niger.
Dakar as a city is well developed considering to other African countries. There are quite a few landmarks in and around the town. Most of the city is have a French influence which can be seen in the daily lives of the people also.
I want to end this blog with a couple of paragraphs on the people of Dakar and of Senegal as a whole. I have personally found them extremely friendly and courteous. All my fears of being robbed at gun point in the streets proved to be my imaginations only. Even though all of them spoke only Wolof and French still they made an effort to understand my English. They were extremely friendly and often resorting to sign languages to make me understand directions.
Senegal is a country of fit people, all around me I saw people jogging or exercising irrespective of their age and financial status. Even with torn and tattered running shoes I saw people jogging on the beach. This is one football crazy nation and any free time is utilized in playing this sport.
And at last… how could I forget their smiles. No matter who I met all of them greeted me with a smile. Senegal is a Muslim country yet most of the women here do not wear a Burkha nor do they cover their head. Senegal is a potpourri of culture, like a mix of African, European and the spirit of Senegal.
One of my close friend Ardo Sow who I met during the conference told me that the word Senegal comes from the native language Wolof and is derived from “sun gal” meaning “our boat”. “Senegal is like a boat and all its citizens are travelling in this boat. Each one must ensure the safety of this boat, in a way everyone must look after everyone.”