Senegal

20th of January 2019 – 4th of February 2019: 

The departure from Mauritania and the entry into the visa free Senegal went quickly and during the waiting time, we exchanged our last Ouguiyas for CFA-Franc. 

After the border area, a high-quality asphalt road expected us for the first time in a while. In St.Louis, we ate the national dish “Tieboudienne”, which contains fish, rice, tomato sauce, garlic paste, manioc and other vegetables for less than one Euro per person. As a drink, we ordered an extremely sweet hibiscus juice. Satisfied, we said goodbye to Jörg, who searched for an accommodation in St.Louis and cycled out of the town to find a camping spot for the night.  

Since a couple of days, the sand is less of a problem for our equipment. Instead, there are thorns and prickles everywhere. When Fabian woke up, he realized that his air mattress lost all its content and he knew why he had a rather uncomfortable night.  

Since we could not find an ATM on the day before, our breakfast had to wait a little. In the first larger village, we organized cash, SIM-cards and breakfast with local coffee. In addition, we were happy to find fruits again after the long time in the desert without any fresh products. Unfortunately, we realized quickly that even in Senegal most fruits are imported. Bananas were imported from Ivory Coast, Mandarins from Morocco and apples even from France.  

We realized quickly what changed after we crossed the border. Women wore colorful dresses; everything is much greener and most people live in houses rather than shacks. However, mosques are still present in every village. The trucks and busses are even more overloaded in Senegal, since there are many more people than in Mauritania.  

During breakfast, a man greeted us friendly, passing our tent with around 50 cows and goats. Back on the bike, we witnessed how the number of vehicles increased gradually the closer we got to Dakar. The traffic in Thies tested our maneuverability for the first time in a Senegalese city. We realized that in Senegal there are many carriages pulled by horses or donkeys and take part in the normal traffic as if they were cars. The fumes, the slowly moving vehicles in the traffic chaos were not easy to master, but we avoided all obstacles. Our Warmshowers hosts Marie-Julie and Michael showed us our room, we took a shower and enjoyed the delicious lasagna with friends of the couple and enjoyed the interesting evening.  

We enjoyed the rest day in the huge apartment and dealt with things, which we wanted to finish a long time ago. One of the things was to find and repair the hole in the extremely important air mattress. The last days we were both not in the best of health and had stomach problems for the first time.  

Reaching Dakar, we achieved another milestone on our journey. We already cycled 15’000km with our bicycles since our start in Norway and visited 14 countries.  

Adrian’s parents landed in Dakar the previous evening and planned to travel for two weeks around the country with us. Therefore, we packed our things in a small backpack and said goodbye to Michael and Marie-Julie. We reached Thies using a local bus and a bush taxi called “sept places” or “taxi brousse”, where we met Rita and André and ate breakfast together. It was a while since Barcelona and therefore we exchanged many stories and discussed some news. Later, we organized a seat in a large bus “Ndiaga Ndiayes”, which brought us to St.Louis. There, we walked to the narrow promontory “Langue de Barbarie” to see the sunset in the poor neighborhood of the island. Afterwards, we discovered the old colonial buildings on the “Ile St.Louis”. The former capital of French-West Africa is at the same time the oldest French town in sub-Saharan Africa as well.  

Through Airbnb, we found a nice accommodation on the Ile St.Louis. The hosting couple gave us valuable tips for our onward travel. After a delicious, long breakfast under palm trees and a last walk through the “Venice of Africa”, we left St.Louis.  

The bus station was extremely busy, even in the morning. We fought ourselves through to the “sept-places” and bargained an adequate price for the five-hour journey to Kaolack. The special thing about the bush taxis is that they only leave the station when the owner sold all seven seats. This was the case after another hour. Even a goat found a spot on the roof of the taxi – she seemed not so happy about her situation. Unfortunately, Fabian realized this fact when he got a “refreshment” from the roof of the vehicle, because of a leaking door.  

The rather savanna landscape with the naked Baobabs alternated throughout the exhausting journey with green trees and further south through arid landscapes.  

During each stopover, countless kids approached us to sell random things or reached out with a begging hand. “Cadeaux, Cadedaux” we heard from all the little mouths. At least we found some delicious and refreshing drinks, like the juice of the baobab tree.  

After a night in an old, rather decayed hotel, we wanted to organize a transport to the Niokolo-Koba National Park. We casually asked the taxi driver, which took us to the bus station if it was possible to rent an off-road vehicle in Kaolack. He said that is not a problem and made a few phone calls. An hour later and a few thousand Francs lighter, we were holding a key for a Ford Escape equipped with 4×4 in our hands. On the way, we all wanted to have the Senegalese driving experience. Almost 350km later, we reached the long-desired park entrance and found out; that we had to pay the full entrance fee despite it was already getting dark. For this reason, we slept in a simple, but beautiful accommodation just in front of the park entrance.  

We paid the entrance fee for the obligatory guide, the car, and us. First, we drove in the direction of the Gambia River, which is not as swollen as during the rainy season. On the way there, we already saw the first antelope species and warthogs. Many colorful birds were sitting on the branches and were flying above our heads. We felt like being in a typical safari movie, in which white people wearing functional wear discover a foreign country with locals. While eating lunch, we saw a crocodile on the other side of the river and many monkeys climbed around the traditional thatched huts. On the more than 100km, partly difficult to drive, we experienced many changes in landscape. At one time, we drove through dense bamboo forests, later in the middle of a smoky bush fire and suddenly, everything appeared in a dark green dress, since the Gambia River was close by. At the end of the day, we were exhausted, but happy from the many impressions and laid down in the same bed as last night in the small hut with a thatched roof.  

With a relatively dust-free car, we started our journey back to Kaolack. Not far from our overnight accommodation, we knew of a second park entrance and asked ourselves if it would be possible to enter the national park free. The river Gambia interrupted the track soon and was not passable. On the way back to the main road, we saw locals equipped with a machete and a long bamboo cane. Quickly it turned out that the men hunt for coconuts and palm leaves. We assumed that they use the long stick, including a hook on one end to harvest the fruits. Far from it! They anchored the hook approximately 15 meters to the top of the palm tree and served as a ladder to harvest the coconuts and their leaves in a risky way. 

Suddenly, a knocking noise took us out of our daydreams and turned out to be a flat tire. The remaining air was enough to reach a very small, simple village. We hardly left the car and were surrounded by the whole village. A passing motorcyclist helped us immediately. Unfortunately, we did not know how to remove the spare wheel beneath the car. Therefore, we had to wait for a mechanic from the next city and had enough time to experience the events of the simple village. The mutual interest made it possible to take countless portraits and group pictures. A few girls even went to their huts and put on lipstick made off a red fruit.  

Because of the breakdown, we drove into the night and slept in the first accommodation that came along. Even though there was no running water and electricity. The recommendations of the Federal Foreign Office not to drive in the nighttime are not without any reason. A lot of traffic with insufficient to absent of car lights and missing streetlamps made the journey to a real ordeal.  

Before we returned the car, we had a few concerns, since we did not remove all the dust from the car and there were some scratches from branches, which were sticking out in the park. The unsuccessful attempt to slap the costs for the tire change and the new spare tire on the renter, ended peacefully, despite a heated discussion. The renter respected our negotiation skills and drove us even to the bus station, where we took another shared taxi. In Toubacouta, we changed the mode of transport to motorbikes and speeded across dusty gravel roads to a small fishing village called Missira. There, a local offered us his simple hut as an accommodation and he cooked a traditional dinner for us.  

Our host followed us systematically since we arrived in the village and we told him that he is too intrusive. Offended and hurt in his pride, we did not see him until we wanted to leave. To discover the surroundings, we walked a few kilometers along the alluvial area of Saloum Delta and viewed monkeys, crabs and many birds.  

In the afternoon, we enjoyed a few cool beers in the shade of the oldest kapok tree in Western Africa. The age determination yielded an age of 800 years. The huge roots and branches remembered of pictures of the jungle book. 

In the evening before, we organized a boat tour through the mangrove forests of the Parc National du Delta du Saloum. During the trip through the dense roots, we could observe different birds.  

We turned our back on the small village and searched for a possibility to transport us back to Kaolack. A tourist bus and another bus crawled back to the city of peanuts. Quickly, we found a “sept place”, which brought us in the direction of Dakar. The missing space during the ride and the hot temperatures around 35 degrees increased our urge to arrive fast.  

Abdoulaye and his family welcomed us warmly and cooked a delicious dinner for us right away. We found the extremely authentic accommodation on Airbnb and enjoyed the beautiful home.  

The hot temperatures did not motivate us to spend too much time in the sun and therefore we enjoyed the beautiful garden of our host. Despite that, we walked to the beach to see the touristic side of the country closely. As expected, we suddenly met many Europeans and, on the seafront, there was one holiday home after another. A few fishermen heaved their heavy boats back to shore and looked like they need some support. After we helped to push two boats back to shore, we got a fish as a present. There was no way to reject this kind gesture, so we searched a used plastic bag in the sand, to transport the fish.  

For breakfast, we had delicious, freshly prepared sardine paste with baguette. The authentic and cute family served another delightful meal with fish and rice to us, before we said goodbye and left in the direction of Dakar. On the way, we changed transports many times and traveled for a ridiculous price for about four hours. As soon as we reached the suburbs of Dakar, traffic increased steadily and soon we were stuck in the middle of the honking, smoky and dangerous traffic jam. Suddenly, we witnessed a street battle near the road, in which two groups were throwing rocks and other things at each other. A local told us under laughter that this is normal and those are football fans of two rival teams. 

Hungry and exhausted, we reached Michael and Marie-Julie’s apartment at which all four of us could stay. Our anticipation for the first “real” shower since a couple of days stopped radically when we heard that all of Dakar was without running water. Together we treated ourselves to an excellent meal at the seaside and recapitulated our eventful journey.  

After an extensive breakfast, we exchanged our last equipment with Adrian’s parents, which we wanted to send home. They brought a few spare parts for the continuation of our trip in Western Africa. 

In the afternoon, we walked to the lighthouse that was not far from our accommodation on a hill. From there, we could see the peninsula on which the city of Dakar was built on. We continued to walk to a large mosque, constructed close to the seaside. Even on Sunday many anglers were repairing their fishing nets for the next day and disassembled fresh fish. On the way back, we treated ourselves with a beer with a beautiful view on the beach. In the evening, Rita and André left Senegal after eleven days back to the cold temperatures of Switzerland. The last few days were interesting and we were able to view many stunning places in the country in our group of four. 

The water shortage in greater Dakar was still going on and therefore we postponed our body hygiene. We packed our small backpacks for the coming two weeks on Cape Verde Islands and travelled full of pleasant anticipation to the airport. Fabians parents will discover the former Portuguese colony together with us. The first flight since more than eight months was scheduled and we did not feel well about it. 

–>Forward to Cape Verde

18th of February – 25th of February 2019:

We had to take care of the dusty bicycles. Fabian changed his cassette, his chain and switched the back tire with the front one. Finally, he mounted one of the spare tires we bought in Sevilla on the rear wheel.  

In Dakar and generally in Senegal, one can see the symbol of two veiled men everywhere, one dressed in white and the other one in black. This symbol can be seen on busses, shops and walls. Those men stand for the invention of the Mouride brotherhood. Since the structures of the colonial power slowly disappeared, this Sufi-brotherhood rose to one of the most influential powers in the economy and society in Senegal. For Muslim men in this region of Africa, it is completely normal to have up to four wives. Sometimes, these extended families live under one roof.  

Adrian had problems with his gear changing when approaching Dakar. The gear changing mechanism did not react when moving the gearshift on the handlebar. Therefore, it was not possible to switch from the lower into the higher chain sprocket at the crank. Adrian searched several bike mechanics, who were all sure that the gear changing was broken and needed a replacement. This spare part, however, was impossible to find in Dakar and the three mechanics of the last bicycle shop had to use their creativity. In Senegal, people must fix their cars, mobile phones etc. with simple materials and therefore a found temporary solution quickly. They used a valve cover of a bike and inserted in the right place, so one could change gears with almost no difficulties.  

We said goodbye to Michael and Marie-Julie, who hosted us several times in the last few weeks and offered us their beautiful home. We hope to meet the lively and likeable couple again somewhere.  

Mentally we were not ready to continue cycling, but packed our bags anyway and entered the dusty and due to exhaust gases foggy streets. Before all the roundabouts, a several hundred-meter-long avalanches of vehicles was stuck and we fought through it. Mostly, there was enough space between the vehicles, so we fit in the gap and were therefore much faster than the rest of the traffic. After 35km, we left the last suburbs of Dakar and could finally catch a breath without fearing immediate cancer. 

The unfamiliar dry heat and temperatures around 35 degrees, made it hard for us and we did a break under the trees of a lively village. In the early afternoon, we reached Nguerigne where we visited Abdoulaye and his family. With Adrian’s parents, we slept two nights in the rather simple accommodation and became friends. This time, we could sleep in our tent in the garden and his wife cooked a delicious dinner for us.  

Instead of cycling further south, we decided to take a rest day and enjoy the beautiful, calm garden with the hammock. We told the family from our adventures of the last weeks and talked about the upcoming elections. In the afternoon, we had another interview with Radio Sunshine and relaxed together with the family in the cool, windy shade. In the evening, the whole family assembled in front of the roaring television and ate traditionally with their hands. Always on Friday people of most Muslim countries eat couscous-meals and they pray in the mosque. For us it was interesting to see, how many neighbors, school friends of the children and friends of the parents visited all day. Some stayed only to relax in front of the television and others came to have a chat.  

After a nice day with the family of Abdoulaye, we sadly had to say goodbye and entered the sandy streets of Senegal again. Before we left, Abdoulaye shook our left hand on purpose, which means that we will see each other again.  

In Sali, a tourist town for Toubabs (white people), we saw many Europeans who spend their holidays in non-authentic luxury hotels and resorts. Besides, this forces the local Muslims indirectly to work as prostitutes, serve unhealthy western food and alcohol.  

To cross a river, we had to take a ferry to the other side. Like all modes of transport, the ferry was overloaded and the passengers could not even move anymore. For dinner we saw a woman, equipped with a plastic chair, a self-made deep fryer and a small table served each of us ten pastries with an onion sauce for less than one Euro. The first camping spot in the wild since a longer break, we found between a baobab and a cashew tree.  

During the consumption of a few breads with chocolate spread, we talked with the villagers, which presented proudly their pink fingers. This coloring meant that they already voted for one of the five presidential candidates for today’s election. Open and enthusiastic as always, the men presented us their favorites.  

At the border town Karang, two young men stopped us, which sat together with the police in the shade and asked us where we plan to sleep. They told us that the police closed the border since last night because of the election and invited us to sleep with their family. Thanking, we accepted the invitation, which was not without any business thoughts. We ate a delicious dinner with the family and pitched our tent on the concrete floor of the inner yard. 

The border to the Gambia was only 200m away and the departure was finished in a heartbeat.  

–>Forward to Gambia

23th of February – 26th of February 2019:

A moment after we left the Gambia, the Senegalese police check point followed and they asked us where we want to go and why we are here. The same answers as always satisfied the police officers and we said goodbye. We realized rapidly that the landscape got greener. Left and right of the road, we saw dense bushes and there were many thick, tall trees not far away with their bizarre shapes. Besides the obvious change of language, the children did not react anymore when we passed the villages and only looked at us puzzled. 

In Ziguinchor, the largest city of the Casamance, which is the region south of the Gambia, one can get the visa for Guinea-Bissau. At the embassy, there was nobody and on the rusty gate, there was a handwritten note with a telephone number. Just when we wanted to dial the number, a brand-new Mercedes stopped in front of us and the second highest employee of the embassy got out of the car. He said we can follow him to his house and we would get the visa there within 20 minutes. There, we paid the friendly, rather introvert man and got our one-month visa in a heartbeat. 

From our friends Inga and Kenneth, we got the tip to take a boat to Pointe Saint George, to relax on the riverside. Apparently, it is even possible to see dolphins and sea cows from the shore. At the port, we found out that we just missed the daily pirogue (a simple, small wooden boat) and decided to reach the village by land. Despite headwind we made good progress and even met another cycling tourist from Tunesia who pedals through Africa himself for a couple of months and chose Cap Skirring as his next destination. 

Shortly before we left the main road to tackle the dirt road to the river, we ate a meal to regain strength. The restaurant was equipped with about six huge speakers that blasted out, so we could not exchange a word without screaming ourselves hoarse. Rather unfamiliar were the half-drunk teenagers and the served pork meat, since we travelled in a catholic region for the first time in a while. 

The subsequent dirt road was possible to cycle in the beginning, since a new road is under construction. However, the second half was extremely sandy and impossible to cycle. Quickly, we avoided the sand and moved to the side to be able to cycle at least some bits of the way. Of course, it got dark quickly and the situation got even more difficult. A couple of times we got completely lost, stranded on some fields and had to push our loaded bicycles through the rutted irrigation canals. It felt like five hours passed, when we finally arrived in the small village in the complete darkness. A helpful couple gave us even a key for the toilet of an unfinished hut and showed us where to camp directly on the water.  

We earned our rest day directly on the river Casamance after the ordeal yesterday crossing the sandy road and cycling more than 100 km. We enjoyed the cool breeze, washed us in the very salty water and observed sporadic boats and birds. 

The local who showed us our place for the night, offered us a tour around the village and invited us for dinner. He showed us how villagers produce palm wine and we tasted the local drink at several locations. The thirsty guide drank the wine like water and reeled quite a lot when walking back to the village. The dinner with the family was delicious and we saw how popular palm wine really was. At the end of the night, we could hardly understand Jacques and it was not because our French sucks.  

In this part of Senegal live mostly Diola people, a tribe that is not Muslim like the rest of the country, but catholic. Therefore, one can see pigs walking around everywhere and alcohol is omnipresent. A typical handwork of the Diola is the cultivation of rice and the production of oil and wine from oil palms. The region Casamance is the breadbasket of Senegal with countless fields as far as one can see. The Diola are famous for their unique architecture and one can find even two-story buildings, which is extremely rare for a traditional house.  

 

Some kind of diving tower served us as an observation deck and breakfast spot at the same time. Thanks to the perfect view, we could see manatees gasping for air close to the riverside. Afterwards, we packed our things together and walked along the beach to the military base where the pirogue back to Ziguinchor was supposed to leave. A group of Frenchmen waited for the same boat and was surprised to see us with our bicycles. With all our strength, we tried to transport our bikes including the entire luggage into a small rubber boat and then into the larger wooden boat that was already filled with more than 40 people. During the two-hour river excursion, which only cost us around five Euros, we saw dolphins and many different birds. After a hot, but rather interesting ride, we reached the large town, ate some chicken with rice and started cycling towards the border with Guinea-Bissau. At the sparsely frequented border, which we reached quickly, we had no problems at all to exit Senegal. 

We did not spend so much time in Senegal on the bicycle and rather cycled on main roads along the coast. Therefore, we did no stay much in remote villages and did not experience the highly praised hospitality as much. For the first time in Africa, we visited a national park and saw our first wild animals. Senegal is a diverse country, where one can discover many cultures.

–>Forward to Guinea-Bissau

<–Back to Mauritania