Monday, January 24, 2005

Taking The Dakar Bypass

Eid afternoon was calm and peaceful in St-Louis. Everyone on down to the smallest toddler was walking around in their best, most colorful Friday go to meeting robes. I had my own mini-Eid myself, having some vegetables and noodles at the Vietnamese restaurant next door, then some onion pie at the hotel.

Saturday morning I got over to the gare routiere (taxi/minibus lot) and got a seat in a sept place heading for Dakar. The gare was orderly and efficient, with only a few boys doing some desultary begging. All of Senegal seemed pretty darn civilized, considering that it is still essentially a very poor country. The front seat passenger and driver dutifully fastened their seat belts, we all sat relatively unsquooshed, and the trip transpired in modest silence.

We headed south through the Sahel, which is going to predominate geographically for the rest of my trip. The middle ground between the Sahara and places where you can actually farm, it is basically flat and has the appearance of an endless overgrown vacant lot. Except of course that it is dotted with trees, from about one or two per acre to the occasional semi-copse. This is the dry season, and so it looks especially brown these days.

What livens it up a bit, besides the people, are the baobab trees. These quintessentially African trees look kind of like giant upside down tubers, and come in all sorts of sizes and comically grotesque shapes. Many seem dead, some have little tufts of leaves. Sometimes there's one per mile, sometimes whole groups of them looking like Ents waiting to wake up. Maybe if Central Texas planted a bunch of them it would, along with the armadillos, give the state a little flair.

Anyhow, I had this plan to bypass Dakar. Partially it was the crime, partially it was because I have no great need for an exciting nightlife, partially it was because everyone said that it was one big congested, annoying hassle. Mostly, however, it had to do with my not wanting to pay an arm and three legs for a quarter decent hotel room; if I wanted to pay $120 a night I could do that in the States and get a much, much better room.

Besides which my book said that there was this incredibly idyllic place about forty miles south of the city. So I got out where the roads diverged and arranged a taxi out to the beach.

Idyllic was advertised, and idyllic it was, with flowers and fanciful stone walls and such. I was mostly surrounded by French tourists, who are smaller and much thinner than us Americans, wear shabbier clothing, and all have a hard bitten edge (probably from smoking all those Gauloises), but, what the hey, nothing's perfect.

I went down to the water, which was about 60 degrees.

(As if to prove the point of my last post, the electricity went off right here. So I walked around town until I found another internet place, where I waited around while they found some oil and then cranked up their generator. Upon returning to blogger, I was amazed to see that my draft was saved at the last possible moment, so that I can now proceed from here, generator chugging away.)

Which was kind of surprising since this is Africa, and I'm well into the tropics now. But it's also January, and there's a cold current offshore to boot. Still...

I was also at about the westernmost point of West Africa. Not quite, but at the actual point there's a Club Med. And the temperature, which a few days ago in Mauritania was a wet and windy 50 degrees, was now inching up to about 80. Above me on the twenty foot cliffs were pretty nice villas (for Africa at least).

I decided that my public required a dispatch (Is anyone reading this besides my wife?), and so spent four dollars to have the hotel driver take me five miles through the sleepy backcountry to the closest internet place. I guess everything was too sleepy, because the guy was gone. And I was informed that if and when he did return I, as the only customer, would be charged four dollars an hour for the telephone hookup. I decided to cut my losses and return to the idyll.

Where I sat around in the sun, read a little, took a long romantic walk on the beach by myself as the sun set, then came back and had some vegetarian lasagna, and finally sat on a small terrace in the moonlight watching the sea and the bright lights of Dakar on the horizon.

I strongly suspected that this was about as good as it was going to get.

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