I'd successfully avoided the scammers at the Mauritanian border in Rosso, changed my remaining ouguiya to Senegalese CFAs at a decent rate (CFA is the West African Franc which, like it's sister currency the Central African Franc, is guaranteed by the French Treasury), and patiently queued up behind the iron bars as the man in the concrete cell stamped me out. This was going relatively smoothly...
The sting came on the Senegalese side, after the free boat ride across the river. A French and Canadian couple were stamped in, but not me. I asked the Canadian lady, who spoke fluent French, if there was a problem with my (NZ) passport, and she was told that I should have got authorisation to enter Senegal from the Senegalese Embassy in Nouakchott.
So there you go. The Internet told me that Kiwis get free 90-day visas on arrival at borders into Senegal, but such is the bureaucracy and control-freakery in West Africa that it all turned out to be a pig in a poke.
I had nightmarish visions of being made to return to Nouakchott, with another €55 Mauritanian visa payable. The immigration chap 'phoned his boss, apparently, and was told to stamp me in, but to warn me not to do it again.
I was left feeling extremely grateful to the Canadian woman and the Immigration bloke but, at the back of my mind, I couldn't help but wonder whether it was an attempted scam, a power play or, as advertised, another bureaucratic hoop to jump through.
Welcome to West Africa!
One final hurdle was proof of a valid Yellow Fever jab. Then, a short walk to the gare routière. I felt the first spots of rain in my month away.
Sept-places are creaking old station wagons with two rows of three and another seat next to the driver. Bags are often charged extra, especially for newly arrived foreigners. It's ok to bargain.
For the 95 km to Saint-Louis the price was 2,200 CFA plus 300 CFA for my bag, at an exchange rate of about 750 CFA to a pound. There are roadside stops for nibbles including mandarins and peanuts.
Saint-Louis is situated on the coast south of the Mauritanian border. It was established in the 17th century by French traders, and served as the capital of French West Africa until 1902, and of the colony of Mauritania until 1957. Named after Louis IX and the contemporary Louis XIV, the city grew on the export of slaves, hides, beeswax, ambergris and gum arabic.
The city's fortunes waned as those of Dakar, with it's better harbour to the south, waxed, such that by 1885, when the railway opened between the two cities, circumventing the port, Saint-Louis started it's decline. Today, it is a World Heritage Site, and gets a steady trickle of tourists, particularly from France.
The city has three environmental influences. It is situated in the Sahel, and so is sandy, but also has more vegetation, such as a few palm trees. It has a marshy area, reflecting the occasional river floods, and it forms the southern part of the long Langue de Barberie, the sandy spit that stretches, in some form, all the way down from Nouadhibou, at the northern tip of Mauritania.
Saint-Louis made a nice introduction to Senegal, with the cool breeze off the lagoon making a relaxing walk across the famous Pont Faidherbe that links the first island to the mainland.
There are numerous goats, often clean due to regular de-lousing in the sea. There are countless children playing marbles, football or jumping around in the sand. They sometimes ask for "argent", but not aggressively. There are many pirogues lined up along the litter-strewn beach.
Small buses around town are 100 CFA and the conductor sits in a cage by the rear door taking money and issuing tickets.
A few foreigners come through Saint-Louis, many heading out to the nature reserves at Langue de Barberie, or the Birds of Djoudj, 50 km north-east of the city.
I saw my most northerly baobob tree. They become more frequent, alongside acacias, heading south towards Thiès (pronounced 'Chess'), as the scenery becomes slightly less desertified.
I eschewed Africa's most westerly city, Dakar, and it's heaving hordes.
I passed through the city of Thiès en route to Sindia, and thence to the village of Popenguine on the coast. It has a splendid beach and tranquil ambience. Although it's only 70 km from Dakar on the 'Petit Côte', the larger towns of Saly and Mbour (pronounced 'Moor') tend to draw the crowds.
I stayed in a small stone hut near the beach, and for the first time this trip, didn't need a blanket. I'd finally outrun the northern winter...
Popenguine has a Nature Reserve to the east. It has a church for it's Christian Sereer minority, and is invaded by Senegalese in May for the annual festival of the Black Madonna. There are two or three tourist restaurants, but also two or three local eateries, a nice balance. The Senegalese President has a well-protected house in the village.
A 500 CFA sept-place south-east from Sindia is the dusty, ramshackle city of Mbour. It's beaches receive a few tourists, but had little appeal for me. I headed 40 km further south, to the southern end of the Petit Côte, and the fishing town of Joal, with it's unusual sister town of Fadiouth.
Fadiouth is a shell island, without cars, although I did see a couple of motorbikes, and even a tuk-tuk, phutter across the long wooden bridge. Carts, often donkey-driven, bring over the goods. It's narrow shell alleyways present a maze to new arrivals, winding from the church to the mosque to the old baobob tree.
It is also pig central, masses of them wandering around, scratching against posts, and even paddling in the sea. The Muslim minority don't seem to mind. A second wooden bridge leads to another island, on which Muslims and Christians share a cemetery.
In the late afternoons masses of pelicans return to their roosts in the mangroves. Egrets, and occasionally flamingos, stalk the shallows.
This is the end of the road. The mangroves extend eastwards into the Sine Saloum delta.
I stayed at 'Le Finio', near the bridge on the Joal side. There isn't much cheap accommodation in Senegal, which presumably precludes the great majority of Senegalese from travelling, unless staying with friends or family.
I paid 8,500 CFA (£11) for a clean but simple stone hut, including breakfast. It's a fine place, in a good location, the cheapest available. By British standards, of course, it's dirt cheap, but this was the most expensive accommodation of my trip.
The elongated fishing beach of Joal makes a nice walk, the locals being very friendly. Indeed, the amicability of Senegalese people is a prime attraction. I've not felt threatened on the whole trip, least of all in Senegal, though it always pays to be wary of potential pickpockets, crooked money changers and the like.
Crime is never far away. A few weeks ago a group of Spaniards were robbed, and the women raped by the roadside, in Casamance, the region of Senegal south of The Gambia, which has had a restive reputation for years.
The downside to every nice place, unfortunately, is litter, now a global blight. Like the streetkids, it is what it is. The World in 2018 has big problems, and they aren't going away "anytime soon".
Joal was the birthplace of Senegal's first President, Léopold Senghor, who was well respected, leading the country from 1960 until 1980. Perhaps less well known is the fact that Joal gave birth to the first beer of my trip, a corn beer called 'Gazelle', at 800 CFA per 63 cl bottle, 4.2% alcohol, and very cold. I ordered another..
After three days I tore myself away from Le Finio for the inevitable hardships of the road towards Gambia. It's difficult for a westerner like me to understand why some countries seem to make things as complicated as possible. Why put a simple bus route between cities when you can make it a chaotic sept-place journey? Apart from the fact that many sept-places employ more people...
The trick to these broken-down old station wagons is to try and get in the front seat or the middle seat. The back seat doesn't have enough room for a tall person to sit upright. When only the back seat is available I've learned to wait for the next one, but this is Africa so there isn't an orderly queue.
When seated, a man appears and collects your fare. Most people don't have the right change. The man then disappears for a while and, just when you start thinking of writing off the money, he miraculously re-appears with the right change for each passenger. Then the driver shows up, and it's off to put some fuel in the tank.
I arrived in the city of Kaolack, 100 km to the north-east of Mbour, around midday, and found a motorcycle-taxi driver, who asked around and found the place I was looking for. 'Le Maison des Œuvres' has a basic dorm (with a few mosquito nets) for 2,000 CFA, just under three quid. No-one else came, tourists don't generally visit. For my last night in Senegal I had finally found somewhere for a realistic price.
Kaolack at first seemed a nondescript, dusty town, just a stopover. Or is it? Are there any redeeming features, apart from the cheap lodgings? Well, the food (rice, fish and veg) was good and the beer at 'Blue Bird Cafe' cold, with free peanuts (they grow around Kaolack). The markets are interesting and there must be something I missed. Another night is tempting..
The plan is to cross into The Gambia. After my last two border crossings, what could possibly go wrong?
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