Monday, December 12, 2005

Senegal--The Travelogue

I had the RIPESS Congress ( on my schedule for a long time, so it seemed like the opportunity to combine the meeting with seeing more of Senegal and bringing my family. I really found Senegal interesting for lots of reasons on my first trip with a friendly, confident people. It would be the first trip for Carol, Erica and Brett and having the structure of the conference, as well as good contacts in a country that was hospitable and forgiving for a newcomer made the idea appealing.

The RIPESS Congress and all associated with it was great and is covered in a separate article.

Dakar is a huge sprawling city of constant motion and continuous negotiations on the sea. Like the travel books say, it has an old and worn colonial infrastructure that is now patched together and expanded to meet the demands and needs of a growing population and serving as a commercial hub for the country. It buzzes in Woloff—the dominant African language of Senegal and French. By the end of the two weeks, we gained confidence through knowledge in negotiating every cab ride, the souvenirs, and our way thru the streets.

We spent almost all of our Dakar time in the sea-side suburb of Almadie. We stayed in the best place—a small 6 room guest house/hotel called Ambry D’Hotes (
It is owned and operated by a Belgian couple—Jean Marie and Nicole. It was clean, cool, and comfortable with a fridge full of beer and drinks, breakfast in the morning, an enclosed yard and garden, and extraordinarily helpful people.

Besides attending the meeting, we spent the time at the beach—a small one near the airport—Plage voyage—the place to spend hours with a boogie board, a Flag—Senegalese beer, and to just sit. We took the ferry to Isle de Goree—the site like many others where slaves were shipped from Africa to the Americas… You can visit the quarters where the men were held, the young girls held, the rebellious one imprisoned—all on the ground floor of a building that had the living and entertaining quarters of the Europeans on the second floor.

We left Dakar for a week on an itinerary created by Jean Marie. We took a taxi—glad we made the decision not to rent a car—for about 140 miles to the start of the Sine-Soloum River Delta—a huge expanse where two or more rivers empty into the Atlantic. There are hundreds of square miles of mangrove, small islands—mostly uninhabited—and winding waterways. Travel is by piroque—big African canoes with either paddles, poles, square sails, or motor. We were dropped off at a ferry that crosses the river to the town of Foundiougene. We walked off the small ferry and were greeted by one of the staff from our hotel—the “Indiana Club.” He led us to the 2-wheeled horse cart, we jumped on—and went a mile down dusty dirt roads to the Indiana Club complex. This is an old complex now owned by a Swiss couple—Paul and Martine. The “club” is completely rustic and charming, with a small pool, thatched roof cabins, the bar, lizards, a feisty young dog Theioff, and electricity that comes on ever so often for maybe a third of the day… Paul and Martine owned a bar and restaurant in a small Swiss town. They came to Africa for the first time seven years ago and bought this place and love it. Martine is a great cook.

The next day, we hopped back on the horse cart and went about 6 miles down no roads to Soum—a typical Senegalese village. We met women harvesting peanuts, kids, the local clinic, a house where the mother was pounding millet into couscous. It was an easy visit with our guide who grew up in this community introducing and translating for us…

In the afternoon, we got into the piroque with a motor and headed to a deserted island in the hot sun….We walked across it, seeing the tracks of pythons and other big snakes that traveled the same space at other times. We saw pink flamingos, pelicans and other birds. The water was teeming with fish and life in general. We stretched out on the sand, drank gin, watched the sun slip to the horizon, tried to pull into our vision the huge sky.

I would go back to the Indiana Club in a minute and spend at least a week—sitting, touring around, fishing, whatever, and being treated so well by Paul and Martine, and not so well by Theioff. See more at

On a windy day, we were picked up by a motor boat and went three hours through the delta to the town of Toubakouta and the resort Kerr Saloum. This is a classic upscale resort in a very poor town own by Belgians. Europeans come in and are gated off from a typically poor community filled with stands selling carvings, masks, etc. for tourists. This is a jumping off place for fishing and other adventures. Certainly comfortable and easy but not interesting… It became the site for scrabble, and Brett became a champion. (Certainly a moment that will be in his memoirs—at a later date).

A cab back to Dakar, a disastrous night trying to deal with cancelled flights, another day sitting in a café overlooking the water in Almadie (settling the nerves) and then home to the snow.