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Tiana: Meet me in Saint Louis

April 3, 2010

Crossing the bridge to Saint Louis

Spring break couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.  Excited for the week ahead, I hopped in a taxi on Saturday and arrived at Dakar’s insanely busy gare, a garage filled with buses, taxis, and sept-places (aka: decked-out station wagons). I soon found our group and called our contact who was to find us a genuine good price. We found two cars to fit the eleven of us, 35,000 FCFA each (approximately 12 dollars per person), and we hit the open road.

Technically we didn’t hit the open road right away.  We sat in traffic for a good half-hour on the way out of Dakar, partly caused by construction and partly by the fact that the roads leading out of Dakar are a little bit narrow.  But despite the traffic, our group dynamic remained exceptionally positive.  After all, we had fataya (a delicious snack, kind of like a perfected egg roll, that Johanna’s host mom made), we had no homework, and we had each other.  We were on a road trip with absolutely no idea what was to come.  Usually this would freak me out, but I found myself actually relaxed for the first time in what I would contend to be years.  Remind me to be spontaneous more often…

The ride was long, and boy, oh boy was it hot!  So you can imagine our exuberance when we got within close proximity to Saint Louis, our first destination and the former, oceanside capital of Senegal. Our arrival was accompanied by cool breezes coming from the ocean and the river that surround the city.  We crossed a long pont, or bridge, to the island portion of the city, and were driven past colorful, colonial buildings and down a sand alley to arrive at our gem of a hotel, La Louisiane.  Arriving at the hotel, we were greeted by incredibly friendly staff and shown our beautiful, spacious rooms.  Just outside our bright blue door, there was a quaint, charming little courtyard equipped with table and benches, bright pink flowers, and completed by a cat napping in the shade.  Passing the tranquil restaurant area of the hotel, we found ourselves on a narrow balcony greeted by the cool breeze and an enormous vista of the river and the peninsula, complete with palm trees and painted pirogues.

Aside from an entertaining mini-concert of traditional music and dance put on by a local music troop, the evening was calm.  We ate bread and chocolate and salted and sugared peanuts, drank large quantities of Ananas (a delicious, carbonated pineapple juice), had some girl-chat time, and went to sleep.

Sunday, I awoke early and had some breakfast with Devyn. The food was great!  Hardy, good bread with butter and a fruit jam that turns your tongue black, complete with a bottomless cup of coffee.    The day was spent exploring the island, which is only about a mile and a half long and eight or nine blocks wide, and bargaining with local vendors for scarves, bags, jewelry, gifts, etc.  Devyn and I split from the group and ended up having some pretty cool encounters with local folks.  One man who works at the church on the island offered us a look inside.  It is the oldest church in West Africa, dating back to the 1800’s, and was a very interesting site to see.  Continuing our walk, we ran into a local woman by the name of Amine who shared with us her experience of becoming a sort of women’s rights advocate in Senegal.  Coming from a family that didn’t encourage her education or her involvement in commerce, she worked her way through school and is now involved with a women’s microfinance group that allows women to start their own business.  She was really excited to meet us, and we had a super-insightful conversation.  Afterwards, we reached the very southern point of the island, snapped even more pictures, and met up with everyone for lunch.  Then, after a bit more shopping, we returned to the hotel to rest for the afternoon.  Day turned into twilight, which turned into evening.  We spent the evening looking out over the ocean and listening to the waves crashing at the foot of the plateau that we were standing on.  It was an eerily awe-inspiring sensation, to not really be able to see the waves because of the darkness, but to still be able to hear their power so intensely.

Fisherman at sunrise

We woke up at around 6:45 in the morning the next day, eager to head out and watch the progression. Fishermen, near and far in the water, readied themselves for the day’s work.  A large crane waded through the shallows.  And then, the sun came.  It was breathtaking!

Monday was spent as another casual day in the shops and around the town.  We found an incredible restaurant called Chez Agnes for lunch, stopped several times by the Galerie Nomade, arguably one of the coolest shops on the island, and walked once more to the ocean to watch the sunset. Our final night in Saint Louis was spent relaxing once again.

In the morning, we ate another delicious breakfast, made travel arrangements (thanks to the incredible hotel personnel who located a bus) that would take us all to Djoudj for 35000 FCFA (about 6 dollars per person). Suddenly, we were off on the next leg of our great spring break adventure…

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