I once met a fascinating guy who bought old, Land Rovers, drove them from Europe across the Sahara Desert and sold them for a hefty premium in West Africa. I was interested in his journeys and wanted to make a similar trip one day. I pondered whether this could be done by public transport. There are many roads across the Sahara, with varying degrees of difficulty. My take was there was just one viable option, the road down the West Coast of Africa through Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania and Senegal. Mauritania seemed to be the problem because there may be bus and taxi services but I could not find much confirmation information. One day I saw an incredibly cheap flight to The Gambia and on a complete whim, purchased a one-way ticket and decided to make the journey South to North. With Mauritania visa secured, I was off one cold November morning. One travel quote says “the journey is more important than the destination” and this was such a trip. Although there were many interesting places en route I was more interested in the desert crossing. But, I did spend 3 days in The Gambia prior to the journey to thaw out around the pool, after the beginning of the British winter. I left before sunrise, going North; hoping to get to Dakar, the Senegalese capital in one day. My first obstacle was to cross the mouth of the Gambia River on the first ferry of the day, here I was fortunate to meet two students who did volunteering work in The Gambia and we’re heading to Dakar for a weekend away. These two girls had also worked in Senegal and were familiar with the route; they invited me to join them, as they needed a strong handsome man to accompany them. Or was it the fact that the shared taxis would fill up quickly with me tagging along, as they don’t leave until they are full? I think the former. After the ferry, it was just a very short taxi ride to the Senegalese border. We crossed quickly with no fuss.
Senegal – To get to Dakar required you to travel in 7 seater taxis “sept places” as the language has now changed to French. The taxi station was a few kilometres from the border, but enterprising youths on motorcycles were quick to offer you a ride for a few francs.
The taxi station was mildly chaotic but the next car to leave for Dakar only needed 3 more passengers and we were away minutes after our arrival. These taxis are “ rough” built in the 70’s or 80’s with various parts missing or held together with chicken wire. They are none too comfortable because sometimes they cram as many as 10 people inside these contraptions.
Fortunately, all of the other passengers left the vehicle 3 hours into our 6-hour journey giving us plenty of room to enjoy the scenery, as we ventured towards the capital. After passing through many towns and villages we finally hit the traffic on the outskirts of Dakar and crawled into the gare routiere. Here I parted company and headed off to find a guesthouse in the northern suburb of Mamelle.
Guesthouse secured, I went off to explore my immediate surroundings, I particularly wanted to see a huge monument close by. The controversial African Resistance Monument is the tallest statue in Africa made in bronze by a North Korean company. It sits proudly atop a hill overlooking the sea and depicts a muscular man holding a baby in one arm and a scantily clad woman around the waist with the other. The baby is pointing across the sea towards America. It’s supposed to represent the achievements of Senegal and Africa emerging from colonization and slavery. At a cost of $27 million it represented to me the megalomania of the President who had it commissioned, it is rumoured that he receives a percentage of all admission fees citing intellectual property rights. Whatever it is, or represents, it’s very impressive.
Senegal has a vibrant music scene and that evening I headed off to a club that had been recommended to me by the girls. Very swanky it was too and would not be out of place in Paris or New York; the prices of the drinks certainly were similar. You could dine here too while the band played the distinctive Senegalese music dominated with the sounds of drums and guitars. The band came on very late but I was fortunate to get to see them earlier during a practice.
I’m afraid I did not make the main event, the journey had taken its toll and I turned in early.