When once you have tasted flight,
you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward,
for there you have been,
and there you will always long to return
Leonardo da Vinci
Sometimes in life dream does come true and it did for me when I was at St. Louis, Senegal. I read about this hotel on the Internet while researching about hotels in St. Louis and I fell in love with it just by looking at the photographs. This small hotel had that romantic charm tagged with it, after all the name itself tells a story. Hotel De La Poste which means The Postal Hotel tells a lot about it. But why on earth was a hotel name related to a postal service?
When I reached Senegal I just could not plan out a trip to St. Louis since it was way far from Dakar and I needed to spend a night at St. Louis if I wanted to visit it. It was by luck that I was able to go to a field trip which was near St Louis and a night halt was planned at St. Louis.
When I finally reached St. Louis at night we were supposed to stay at another hotel but that hotel got fully occupied so some of us had to shift to another hotel. It was then that by chance I was shifted to Hotel De La Poste.
As you enter the hotel reception you will be greeted by the gentleman behind the counter. This reception has a huge elephant tusk of pure high grade ivory built into the reception desk, this gives you a feel that you are really in Africa. Right beside the counter you have a small souvenir shop that sells African gem and jewellery. After the initial formalities the receptionist handed over the room key. Now I have been to many hotels around the world but never have seen a key ring as unique as this. The key ring had a small metal airplane where the room number was stamped. Then my attention was diverted to the wall behind the reception and all I could see were photographs, posters etc. of airplanes all framed up. By now I was convinced that this place has a history.
I could not stop my curiousness and asked the gentleman at the reception as to why the whole hotel had a theme of an Airplane. The old gentleman smiled and came out of the reception desk and started explaining the reason behind it. What he told me was like a story worth writing about. According to him early in the twenty century there used to be a regular mail service from Pars to St. Louis, it is to be noted that earlier St. Louis used to be the capital of French West Africa so this city was an important destination for Air Mails. The pilot of the aircraft with the air mails always used to come to this hotel to rest for the night before departure back to France. The pilot fell in love with this hotel and the hotel staff fell in love with him and thus grew a friendship between them. Unfortunately the pilot died in a tragic accident and the hotel owner decided to dedicate the hotel to his honour and redecorated the entire hotel ambience into the theme of Air Mail service.
All this while I completely forgot to ask the name of the pilot and curiously I asked the gentleman as to who this pilot was. The gentleman gave a smile and told me that he was one of the greatest pilot and war veteran, his name was “Jean Mermoz”. My hands froze, this was the same Jean Mermoz who is considered as one of the pioneers of trans-Atlantic mail flights. He is considered as the very few who started flying their planes at night just by using flares and light signals. He created history by flying from St. Louis, Senegal to Natal, Brazil completing the France to South America route and finally reaching the Pacific Ocean in Santiago, Chile.
On 7 December 1936 he was piloting a Latécoère 300 which developed some engine trouble and might have caused the plane to ditch in the ocean. The crew and the remains of the aircraft never recovered.
Jean Mermoz was immensely popular in West Africa and in South America specifically in Brazil. He helped the French to establish a direct route to South America via Morocco, Senegal, Brazil and Chile. He and his team were very few who flew over the Andes. Previously steam boats along with planes were used to connect mails, now direct route was established. He was also appointed as the Inspector General for Air France and was one of the key members in established the Argentinian national air carrier Aerolíneas Argentinas.
There are couple of books and memoirs were publishes in his honour which were mainly published after his death. There were also some stamps that were printed in France and Senegal to honour Jean Mermoz.
It was nearly 10 PM and after a long journey I was dead tired but wanted to continue hearing the story. Reluctantly I bid goodbye to the gentleman and headed straight to the room to freshen up. When you go toward the room you need to go through the centre courtyard which is beautifully decorated in classical French Architecture style. Beautifully decorated with coconut tree and plants you feel as if you are one with nature.
I was provided a small and cosy room but there are other bigger rooms also available. Room was very comfortable with an attached bath, specially loved the soft and very comfortable bed which was sure to give a wonderful night’s sleep.
After a really needed warm and refreshing shower I decided to have a good St. Louis dinner and was lucky to have the wonderful company of few other friends of mine who also happen to be at the same hotel. This hotel also has wonderful lounge bar at the ground floor right next to the reception. So if you want to relax with some wonderful ambience this is the place to be.
The bar has a wonderful interiors made of bamboo and wood, the incandescent light gives this place a more rustic feel. The bar counter has a wonderful set to ivory tusk similar to that of the hotel reception, you will also find a beautiful painting hanging on the wall. The table lamp at the side of the bar counter is an art in itself, beautifully crafted out of an old hotel telecom exchange and an old wine bottle.
This hotel also has a wonderful restaurant called Flamingo, to reach this you need to take the right lane next to the hotel and walk another fifty meters. I and my colleagues decided to have or dinner here enjoying the windy Senegal River which flows just next to it. From this restaurant you can see the skyline of mainland of St. Louis district and a wonderful view of the Faidherbe Bridge.
You get some of the most delicious and lip smacking food over here at Flamingo. You will have the option of having shrimps, fish, chicken, lamb or beef and the menu will have hundreds of options within these. Just order your food and relax, simply enjoy the cool breeze over Senegal River. After having our dinner we headed to the swimming pool which at nights turns into a Jazz bar. You will fall in love with the Afro Jazz which plays live by the house band. You can spend the entire night enjoying to the grooves.
Back at the hotel after dinner it was time for some much needed sleep, it was already early morning hours but could still see the guests of Flamingo dancing to the beat of the music. I guess the party never stops in St. Louis and I was not able to enjoy dancing all through night as I had to wake up next morning early for a walk around the town.
Woke up early next morning and went around St. Louis town, since I have already written a separate blog about it thus will not repeat here. If you want to see details of it then please read my earlier blog.
I was informed that the hotel serves complimentary breakfast in the dining room at the ground floor. The entrance is on the right from the main courtyard. You can however also enter it from another entrance at the front of the hotel.
Once you enter the dining area you will be taken back the beautifully thematically decorated dining room. All around the wall you had various sized photo frames all displaying wonderful colour photographs of air planes and other air carrier related poster. When you look up you get to see wonderful painting on the ceiling all with the same airplane theme.
If you like to sit in the outdoor then you can sit at the wonderful porch right at the entrance, from here you can see the bridge and see the people of the town slowly waking up to a lovely St. Louis morning.
After a wonderful servings of hot coffee, pastries, boiled eggs, fruit juice, bread, butter and of course Baobab Jam I was completely full enough to skip my lunch. Ready to return back to Dakar I quickly packed up and vacated my room, before handing over the key at the reception I shook hand with the gentleman at the reception thanking him for the wonderful service and hoping to return one day as I still had many things left to see at St. Louis. Goodbye for now, see you soon, ending this blog with few lines by Leonardo da Vinci which fits the life of Jean Mermoz.