Updated On: July 13, 2006
Route: Dakar - Soukouta, Senegal
View Route
Miles Traveled : 361 miles
Cumulative Distance: 9,888 miles
Current Weather: Sun/Rain, Warm/Humid
Wildlife: Red Hornbills, Nile Monitor Lizards
Activities: Making some new friends while exploring Sine-Saloum Delta

 
  Dakar, Senegal - June 28, 2006
(Jim Writes): Back in Dakar, 370 miles from paradise, we were quickly reintroduced to life in Africa. Taxi hell. First there was the matter of negotiating a reasonable fare from the airport. This took the better part of 20 minutes as we listened to every conceivable argument why the normal fare into the city didn’t apply to us. Once in the taxi and away from the airport the driver started arguing about the fare again and no longer was willing to honor our agreed upon rate. We were in no mood to be scammed and as soon as the car stopped in heavy traffic we grabbed our bags and got out on the middle of the highway. The driver followed in hot pursuit, leaving his car sitting in the middle of the road. Not eager to give up his fare, things got a bit ugly and it looked as if we were going to go to blows. So there we stood debating the matter on the side of the highway. Not able to come to an agreement the driver threatened to go to the police. We agreed and started down the side of the road towards two officers standing a few blocks away. On the way I couldn’t help but think that this couldn’t end well given our past experience with Senegal’s finest. And so the argument continued, only now with the aid of some arguably biased arbitrators. The conversation was maddening, with the driver conveniently arguing his case in Wolof (the local language) while we provided the best rebuttal we could muster given our limited French vocabulary and even more limited knowledge of what was being said against us. In the end, who knows what was said between the driver and officer. Certainly we didn’t. All I can say is that after some back and forth, one of the officers turned to us and said, everything was fine and that we should get back in the car. The driver would take us to our original destination. No problem. Hmm, somehow this didn’t seem like a great idea. We protested arguing the driver was nuts and the officer just smiled and said that everything was now fine and we should go with him. So much for cutting our losses and finding another taxi. Now we had the cops telling us to get back in the car. And so, with some hesitation, we did. And off we went, not saying a word to each other for the rest of the ride. On the positive side of things he actually took us to our destination. When we arrived at Oceanium, I handed him the fare and received an earful as we were getting out of the car. Regardless, we were back and more importantly, Betty was still there and under a thick layer of dirt, looked to be unscathed.
 
 
     
 
 

Dakar, Senegal - June 29-July 9, 2006
(Sheri Writes): The next several days were spent in Dakar at the dive center, Oceanium, taking care of all the stuff you put off because you dread doing (kind of like weekend errands back home). Our laundry list of to-do’s included working on the website and getting visas for The Gambia and Mali. The head of the dive center was kind enough to allow us to camp for free. It was a perfect location – near the city center and on the water -- and it had everything we needed. Despite the sea of to-do’s, we managed to do a few fun things. Jim got a couple of dives in, the first of which he aborted because of a few red flags that he noticed. Following the disastrous dive in Cape Verde, we jointly came up with a filter test, which we agreed to put every dive through. If anything about the dive failed the test we agreed to abort. As luck would have it, his first dive in Dakar failed on several accounts. He ended up with a leaky BCD which would fully deflate within a couple of minutes, 15 litre tank which is larger than he’s use to, new dive buddy and very poor visibility. Moreover, he was told on the way out to the dive site that the 30 meter (99 ft.) wreck dive would really be more like 40 meter (130 ft). And so he aborted at 13 meters, opting for a shallower dive the following day.

Later that day, we all attended a large party which Oceanium throws on the first Saturday of each month. It was a raucous event, attended by a mix of 800 locals and expats that began at midnight and ran strong until 6:00am. The music was blaring, drinks were flowing, the dance floor was thumping, and we were having a great time. I even let Sharikay convince me to join her on the dance floor for a bit. When 5:00 am rolled around, we decided to call it a night and head to bed. Easier said than done as the party was still going strong and our tents were only a few feet away from the dance floor!!

Since we would be heading to The Gambia in a few days, Jim and I dropped off our visas at the Gambian embassy. The embassy folks very friendly and told us to come back the following day at 3:00 to pick them up. In true African fashion, we arrived the next day as directed, only to find the embassy closed. A local we met outside informed us that everyone had left for the African Union Summit in Banjul and wouldn’t be back until the following Wednesday. It was Friday and we weren’t too happy about the possibility of waiting until the next week to pick them up. Waiting for our passports made us feel like hostages as we were now stuck in Senegal until the embassy decided to reopen. The following Monday we stopped by just in case the embassy was open. - no such luck. We asked around and were told the same thing – the embassy was closed until Wednesday due to the AU Summit. It was beyond us why we were told to return the previous Friday, but then again this is Africa and you come to expect such hassles. Nevertheless, we stopped by again on Tuesday, just in case. To our surprise, the doors were open and we were greeted by the very friendly Gambian woman that we spoke to the previous Thursday. Her first comment to us: “Where have you little bats been? I was worried about you. Why didn’t you come on Friday?” We of course explained that we did come back on Friday at 3:00 as she said. She explained that she was there until 4:00. Hmmm, defies explanation. Then again, this is Africa and most things defy explanation – particularly when it comes to bureaucracy. Happy to have our visas in hand, we headed straight for the Mali Embassy the next day and were told to pick them up in 2 days. Everything went smoothly and we picked them up on Thursday without a hitch.

There’s never a dull moment and that was once again proven on July 4th, when Jim and I were the recipients of a wonderful surprise. We usually are very careful to guard our tent and belongings, so we typically put our tent down each morning, and if we don’t put it down, we take the valuable things out. I think we got a little too relaxed and neglected to follow our usual protocol, in Dakar of all places, and left the truck with the tent up and our sleeping bags and various other gear inside. In Dakar, such lethargy doesn’t go unpunished and when we returned that evening let’s just say that our load had been involuntarily lightened. One sleeping bag, North Face 2 fleece jackets, one pillow, two pillow cases, a mosquito net, two tent poles and, of all things, my mouth guard were taken. Bummed, but knowing that we only had ourselves to blame, we set out the following day to replace the pillows and mosquito net. Since it’s bloody hot we will wait on the sleeping bag and fleece jackets. Unfortunately, I’m SOL on the mouth guard.

With our post Cape Verde stay in Dakar nearing two weeks we were getting antsy. Hanging out at Oceanium was starting to make us feel lethargic and we were ready to get back on the road and pick up our pace a bit. After all, at our current pace it would take us about 15 years to get around the world. We prepared for the next leg of our journey by pouring over maps and guidebooks. Ready to get back in the saddle, we sat down with Sharikay and Eric to discuss our plans. While we were eager to pick up the pace and head east into Mali, they were more comfortable with the current pace and were planning to park the truck for a few weeks so that they could backpack to Sierra Leone. This would put them a month or so behind us, so we decided the best plan was to split off and go it solo.

Not sure if we’d see them again, we got together for a celebratory dinner. Nothing fancy, just pizzas and beer, which seemed fitting considering the number of pizzas we’d consumed together other the past 6 months. During dinner, they presented Jim with a gift. It was the SPG (Submersible Pressure Gauge) that had failed on his dive in Cape Verde when he ran out of air. A wonderfully thoughtful gift which they’d been planning to present at Christmas. Dinner ended with no goodbyes or fancy farewell speeches as we all left hopeful that we’d cross paths again at some point down the unpredictable, often unpaved road which is Africa.

Sharikay and Eric were off and Jim and I spent the last couple of days prepping the truck, working on the website, and other miscellaneous items. We are both very excited about moving on and about facing the challenges of traveling alone. We’re very ready to get back in Betty and head to the Gambia tomorrow!

 
 
     
 
 

Toubab Dialao, Senegal - July 10,2006
(Jim Writes): Finally ready to pull ourselves away from the relaxing oasis that is Oceanium, we got an early start and set about preparing to depart. As Sheri loaded up our gear and reorganized the truck, I pulled off the left front wheel to see if I could figure out the cause of some recent break problems. After a quick look it was obvious that Betty’s little foray into the mud back in St. Louis had gummed up the caliper. Working on the truck drew quite a bit of attention and before long I had some unsolicted help. A local kid who'd been hanging around for the past few days. He actually proved quite handy and together we had everything degunked and ready to go in about an hour. When we were finished, the boy didn't ask for anything in exchange for his help. I gave him two cigarettes to say thank you and he departed with a big smile on his face.

After a quick goodbye to the kind folks at Oceanium, we were off. It was great to be back on the road. Alone for the first time since Morocco, we were excited about the prospect of traveling solo for a while and eager to see the rest of West Africa and beyond. Getting out of Dakar was typically horrible, but once out of town it was smooth sailing along a modern tar road and in a short time we arrived at Sobo-Bade, a highly recommended seaside Auberge in Toubab Dialao. For 8,000 CFA we got an ocean front room perched on a scenic cliff and lazed about in hammocks for the rest of the afternoon reading and watching fishermen pilot their pirogues back onto the beach.

 
 
 
 
 

Dijifer, Senegal - July 11, 2006
(Jim Writes): After a relaxing night sleeping to the sounds of the waves just outside our window, we woke-up, got in a quick run along the dusty dirt roads of Toubab Dialao and headed out to Djifer, a small fishing village at the tip of the Pointe de Sangomar Peninsula. The first leg of our drive was along sealed roads and passed through small villages, where women with baskets of mangos on their heads ambushed stopped buses and cars in an attempt to sell their wares. Shortly before the coastal town of Mbour, we stopped for gas along the side of the road. As the gas was being pumped I struck up a conversation with the pump attendant and then, just as I was paying him, a car pulls up to the next tank and three questionable looking characters climb out. As I was handing him my money, one of the men approaches and distracts the attendant by saying something in Wolof and pointing towards the station. Meanwhile, a second guy stands close to the attendant’s side while a third guy walks up behind him and slips his hand into the attendants pocket to steal his cash. All as I’m standing there with cash in hand. It was so obvious and clearly in plain view. I wasn’t sure what to do. I wanted to say something but at the same time, I was standing there with cash in hand, beside my shiny, expensive looking 4x4 (well, it’s actually not so shiny as it’s completely covered in dirt and bird crap) and I didn’t want to be robbed in the process. So I quickly handed over the cash, not bothering to wait for change, jumped in the truck and took off.

At Mbour, we saw a most fascinating site. On the side of the road, a new building was under construction and the workers were transporting wet concrete from the ground floor to the roof three stories above using shovels. In perfect sync, four workers on the ground would shovel a load of wet cement and, all at once they would hurl it through the air to four guys on the second floor who would do the same. And so the concrete made it’s way to the roof. It was a fantastic site, worthy of being video taped had we only had a tape handy. Such as life!

At Joal-Fadiout we turned off the main road and onto a dirt track which took us through tiny traditional thatched roof villages and coastal wetlands to Djifer. Starving we set out to find some food and a place to stay. Along the main road into town we stopped to ask directions from a man leading a donkey cart into a nearby campement. The man’s name was Mohamed and he turned out to be very friendly. We told him we were very hungry and would love to find a cheap place to eat. He said no problem and went about giving us directions into town. Noticing that we weren’t getting all of his directions, he offered to take us into town and to show us himself. And so, Sheri climbed onto the center console and Mohamed, still dripping sweat and covered in dirt from his work, climbed into the passenger seat and we bounced our way along a badly corrugated road into town. Once in town he led us into a tiny restaurant and once he was sure we were taken care of bid us farewell. It was mid afternoon and the place was empty. The tables were filthy and there were more flies than I’ve ever scene in one place – which is a significant statement considering that our daily life is filled with millions of flies. There was no menu and nobody asked for our order. We just sat down and a few minutes later two plates of rice and what can best be described as “fish parts” arrived along with two giant fly swatters. Other than the head and a mouth full of sharp teeth, which Sheri got, I have no idea what the parts were. It just looked like somebody had taken a cleaver to a whole fish – guts and all, and thrown the bits onto a plate. All said however, the service was fast, the food was descent (read: filling, and we didn’t get sick), and most importantly, it was cheap.

Afterwards, we went hunting for a place to camp, finally settling on a campement just ourside of town. Once situated, we spent the rest of the afternoon exploring before returning to the campsite to fix dinner and turn in.

 
 
     
 
 

Dijifer, Senegal - July 12, 2006
(Jim Writes): Our plan for the day was to break camp and head to Yayeme, a small village about 30 minutes away. There we planned to explore the delta before continuing on to Foundiougne the following day. Life in Africa however takes some interesting twists and turns and today ended up nothing like we had imagined. Before departing we inquired about hiring a pirogue to explore the surrounding delta. The owner of the pirogue was a friendly, laid back, Senegalese man named Papa (Pap). To make a long story short, hiring a boat turned out to be more than we had expected and so we decided against it. In the process however, we struck up quite a conversation with Papa and a couple of enjoyable hours later, he invited us to join him at his house for lunch. We gladly accepted and agreed to give him a few minutes head start so that he could let his wife know to expect us. We left a short while later and on the side of the dirt road leading into town, we found Papa walking his moped. When we asked what had happened he said that he’d gone too fast over the corrugations and it stopped running. And so, we threw it on the roof and Papa climbed on as well and we drove into town – Sheri and I in the front seats and Papa and his moped on the roof.

Papa’s house was located along a narrow dirt alley, lined by small concrete houses with thatched roofs. Along the alley, fishing nets were hanging to dry and children were playing. When we arrived his wife was cooking over a fire in the backyard. It was a traditional Senegalese home. Like the others, it’s comprised of a cluster of small concrete buildings, some with thatched roofs, some with tin roofs. Water’s supplied by a hand drawn well in the backyard and there’s no electricity (the village only has electricity for a few hours each night). Seated on the floor inside, we spent the next couple of hours visiting with Papa and his three children, eating a huge meal of rice and fish, and drinking round after round of Senegalese tea.

Afterwards, Pap asked if we’d like to join him at the fish market to meet his pirogue and it’s crew as it returned from a day of fishing. When we arrived at the beach, pretty much the rest of the village was already there doing the same. Pap explained that as many as 1,000 pirogues arrive at around the same time every afternoon and the entire village comes down to meet them – sellers, buyers, middlemen, and beggars alike – village life revolves around fishing. As we waited on the beach, we were greeted by dozens of children calling “toubab” (a name give to the white man, apparently during the slave trade), “toubab, toubab. Toubab, photo. Toubab photo”. The energy was incredible as pirogue after pirogue came ashore, met by hundreds of Senegalese. Some offloading fish. Some hosting the boats ashore. Others negotiating to buy or sell. And still others washing, cleaning, salting, and drying the catch.

Finally, Pap’s boat arrived and he sprang into action. There was a bustle of activity as a dozen or more people met the pirogue well before it reached the shore. The catch of the day: octopus. Crate after crate was offloaded and quickly shuttled across the sand and into the market where they were weighed and Pap negotiated a selling price. The entire process was over in a few minutes. 45 kilos in all at a selling price of 1,400 CFA’s per kilo. After expenses, each member of the team walked away with 4,000 CFA’s ($8.00). Pap was pleased, however he lamented that he watched his fledgling team give away too much of the catch to friends and family. Nevertheless, a good day at the office.

Afterwards, Pap took us into town to show us around and help us do some much needed shopping for food and supplies before we bid him farewell. In the end, it was a fantastic day. An unexpected surprise which provided us with some excellent insight into the Senegalese way of life. He was such a gracious host. If only we could have more experiences like it while in Africa.

 
 
 
 

Soukouta, Senegal - July 13, 2006
(Jim Writes): We broke camp this morning and departed for Missirah. A change in plans after having spent an extra day in Djifer. Our plan was to head to Missirah to spend a couple of days exploring the eastern side of the delta. The drive was uneventful, a combination of corrugated dirt tracks, smooth sealed highways, and a new breed of road we’re just starting to see which is part decaying pavement, part bone jarring, car eating potholes.

Nevertheless, we arrived, more or less unscathed around 3pm and set out to find a campsite. This proved painful because, in spite of it being the low season, prices were ridiculously high and the quality of the accommodations were ridiculously low. Slightly dejected, we’d resigned ourselves to returning to the cheapest place we could find – a gloomy, deserted campement in Taboukouta that said they’d allow us to camp for 7,000 CFA’s/night. As we headed down a muddy dirt road towards the campement, an old woman stopped us and asked if we were looking for Keur Bamboung, another campement we’d tried to find earlier in our search. Not overly excited about our current fate, we said that we were and followed her as she led us to a nearby village and introduced us to a man standing in front of what appeared to be a house in the center of town. Thinking it was the campement in question, I climbed out of the truck and asked him if it would be possible to camp. Following a brief pause, he asked how long we wanted to stay to which I replied one night. He then replied that it would be fine. I asked how much it would cost and after another brief pause he smiled and said that it was no problem, we could stay for free. I continued by asking the normal line of questions including whether or not they had a shower and toilette and if they offered dinner. The man stared at me inquisitively, and after another brief pause said yes, he had a toilette and shower and he’d be happy to prepare dinner for us. We then followed him inside to have a look at the facilities. On the way to the toilette, we passed chickens pecking around in the yard, children playing, and several Senegalese women going about their day-to-day chores. Inside, it felt much like a well lived in house rather than a campement. After a quick tour of the toilette, the man turned to me and said, rather than sleeping in your truck, you can sleep in this room, pointing to a small bedroom off of the main hall. I replied by asking how much it would be for the room. With a warm smile he replied, I think you may be confused. This isn’t a hotel, this is my house and that is my bedroom. We’re happy to have you as our guests. Ah! A light bulb came on and it all made sense! He must have found it very amusing when two toubabs showed up on his doorstep asking if they could camp at his house, use his toilette and shower and have him prepare dinner for us. Talk about warm hospitality!

We gladly accepted his gracious invitation and after getting settled, joined him for a brief tour of the town and trip down to the delta to observe a group of Swiss volunteers who were building a boat dock for the town’s fishermen. Now, on a side note, for some reason I forgot that Sheri doesn't speak any French and so it wasn't until we were sitting at the boat dock that she put two and two together and realized that we were staying at someone's house and not a campement. That made the whole situation all the more amusing.

Afterwards, we returned to his house where we spent an enjoyable evening visiting with his family and friends. Dinner was excellent and included a fresh chicken, plucked right out of the front yard (McDonald's couldn’t have prepped a chicken that fast). It was a wonderful evening. An example of the warm hospitality that makes Africa so special.