Hello everyone, greetings from Dakar, and get ready for a long, exciting post! So sorry for the delay, I’ve been really busy moving, traveling, and working, so I’m only just now getting back into a normal routine. As you have probably seen on social media already, my parents and Marla came to visit me for two weeks in June and we had such an amazing time!! None of them had ever been to Senegal or to the African continent before, so I think we were all a little unsure about how it was going to go. Honestly, there was no need to be concerned, because everything ended up going almost exactly as planned. For those of you who have been somewhere Senegal before, you know that is an achievement in and of itself.
The beginning of their visit did not appear to be heading in such a positive direction, because they were extremely delayed leaving Chicago and ended up being rescheduled to a completely new route. After an arduous journey, they eventually arrived without any other major problems and got to experience the joys of the late-night international arrival to the Dakar airport. I’m currently house-sitting for yet another American embassy employee, so luckily my family was able to stay with me in her beautiful apartment, which I think eased them in nicely to their Senegal experience.
We spent the first several days of their visit in Dakar, doing all of the major tourist activities that I’ve appreciated since my arrival. Day one was spent on at the Iles de la Madeleine National Park, which I’ve previously talked about here. I wanted to do something relatively calm the first day and knew that the nature-loving Mosers would appreciate the beautiful park. This time around, we rented snorkel masks and fins, which I hadn’t used in years, and it really enhanced our swimming experience to see all of the fun creatures below the surface.
Day two, we visited HLM, a bustling market known for its awesome fabric selection. HLM is pretty large and definitely an authentic Senegalese market, but I also really appreciate how the vendors there are fairly respectful and definitely aren’t as pushy as they are in more touristy locations. It was especially crowded that day, perhaps because everyone was starting to get their Korité outfits in order, but I was proud of how calm and collected my family was during the whole shopping experience.We then stopped by my tailor Mountaga’s workshop to order clothing for them and I think that despite the language barriers, everyone enjoyed meeting one another.
Our final activity of the day was walking over to the African Renaissance Monument, which I visited with Liana, but had never actually been inside of. There’s a small museum inside and our guide was very impressive, easily giving the tour in simultaneous English, French, and Wolof. The view at the top was beautiful, although pretty similar to the (much cheaper) view from the lighthouse. The entire visit kind of reminded me of ascending the Eiffel Tower or the Statue of Liberty: slightly overpriced but an important symbol of the place and something you enjoy once but probably will never do again. We then took public transit back to the apartment so my family could try it, which I’m sure was received with mass confusion by all the employees and fellow passengers as four toubabs clambered into the Ndiaga Ndiaye.
The next morning, we headed out to Lac Rose for a day trip. This was our first trip with our driver, Alpha, who we had hired to transport and guide us for the rest of our vacation. Of course, we were stopped by gendarmes before we even left the tollway, but eventually made it to our destination without too much hassle.
Last time, I went to Lac Rose basically just to hangout and see it, but this time, we ended taking a boat tour to learn about salt harvesting. I’m really glad we did the tour, because it was quite interesting to go out on the water and learn about the collection process. Afterwards, we did the classic sit near the beach with drinks and try floating in the water. As last time, the lake really wasn’t all that pink, but the salt was just as buoyant as I remembered.
Our final day in Dakar was spent entirely in Plateau, where we started the morning off with a trip to Gorée. I went to the island during my very first week in Dakar and while I appreciated the beautiful architecture and important historical significance, I was also very turned off with how aggressive the touristy vendors were and never returned. Nonetheless, I thought it was an important stop on the Senegal tourist circuit, so I prepared everyone for the experience and we decided to give it a try. We enjoyed the history museum and the Maison des Esclaves, but frankly, the vendors and belligerent tourist tax enforcer were too much, so we headed pretty quickly back to mainland.
After a nice lunch and the family’s first experience drinking attaya, we went over to Oceanium to go SCUBA diving. I had been there before to go kayaking, but had never tried any of their other services. Marla, my dad, and I had all been eagerly awaiting the chance to dive for the first time, but my mom opted just to kayak and observe us instead.
The overall experience was very positive, our instructor was extremely knowledgable and enthusiastic and he made sure we were comfortable with the equipment before heading out on the water. Leading up to the dive, I was much more scared than I thought I was going to be. However, I was nominated to dive first and as soon as I got under the water, it was definitely worth all of the fear. I perused around under there for a while with our instructor and got to see lots of cool fish, urchins, eels, and starfish. He then went back up to the surface and brought Marla down too, so we could swim around together before our dad’s turn. Marla unfortunately made contact with a sea urchin as we were ascending, but barring that casualty, all three of us really enjoying our first scuba baptism. If anyone in Dakar is looking to try out diving for the first time, I would definitely recommend Oceanium!
The next morning, we hit the road and headed up north to our next stop on the trip. As with visiting any metropolis, Dakar is great and has a ton of things to do, but it is also crowded, polluted, and transportation here can be tiring, so we were all a little ready to get out of the city. After a stop on the side of the road near Thiès to buy some of the baskets that area is known for, we made it to St. Louis with no problems. We stayed at Au Fil du Fleuve, a lovely guesthouse on the old island with delicious food, awesome drinks, and a wonderful hostess. I probably would never have stayed somewhere like that on my own, so I was very appreciative of the great opportunity to stay there.
St. Louis is the ancient colonial capital from the French period and the city is spread out between the mainland and two islands, one a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the other home to the traditional fishing community. Our first evening, we walked around the island where we were staying, taking in the vestiges of the colonial period, including the famous Faidherbe Bridge and the lovely architecture.
The next morning, we took a carriage ride around both islands with an excellent guide who spoke great English and gave us some fascinating background about life on the two islands and the history of the region. This excursion was another thing that I might never have done on my own, but it was very informative and I think it was particularly important for my family to get a taste of a fishing community like that, much as I did when I first visited Yoff.
In the afternoon, Alpha took us to the Langue de Barbarie, a national park comprised of an island formerly connected to the fishing island in St. Louis, where we saw some beautiful ocean views and lots of birds. We had originally planned to visit the famous Parc du Djdouj and while unfortunately it was closed for the season, we definitely got an adequate bird fix with this cute little park.
On the way back, we stopped at the Réserve de Faune de Guembeul, a nature preserve focused on rehabilitating species that are native to Senegal and transplanting them back into other regions of the country. We got to see some giant tortoises, oryx, antelopes, and even a flock of pink flamingos. If you’re looking for a classic safari experience with a ton of big game, I would recommend Bandia over this as more bang for your buck, but we all appreciated the setting of indigenous Senegalese species in their native environments. We concluded this busy day with a nice dinner on the water at a Vietnamese restaurant back in town, where we had the place to ourselves while everyone else in town was ndogou-ing.
The next morning, we hit the road again for our longest drive of the trip, from St. Louis to Toubakouta. We passed through a large swath of central Senegal, which was new for me, including cities like Bambey and Fatick, crossed the river at Foundiougne via the cute little ferry, and eventually made it to our destination in the Sine Saloum.
The Sine Saloum is a region in central/southern Senegal just north of the Gambia and is home to a national park filled with winding mangroves, waterways, and a ton of ecological diversity. It’s home to a range of ethnic groups, particularly the Serer people, and is also a huge tourist destination for Senegalese people and foreigners alike. I’ve heard so many great things about this area and when planning, my dad and I were the most excited about this stop out of everywhere in our entire trip.
Our hosts at our hotel, Keur Bamboung, picked us up at the dock in Toubakouta and transported us via pirogue to the Ile de Sipo, where the hotel is located. The island is in the middle of the Aire Marine Protegée de Bamboung, a community-managed natural preserve that is also recognized by the Senegalese state as a protected area. The park existed originally, employing local residents as surveillance, and the ecolodge was created later to sustainably fund the park’s and generate income for the surrounding villages. It’s located right on the water and houses guests in adorable solar-powered huts complete with running water, real beds, mosquito nets, and little terraces. There’s also an on-site restaurant and a combination of free and paying excursions. After such a hectic first week, we were extremely ready to relax and appreciate the unbelievable and pristine natural environment around us.
During our visit, we took advantage of a guided nature walk, kayaking, wading through the mangroves (one of my biggest highlights of Senegal to date), and lots of relaxation. We were able to observe a ton of flora and fauna, including plenty of birds, warthogs, bats, baobabs, mangrove, and numerous other species.
We also visited the village of Sipo, where we met the « queen » of the village and observed bread-making in a traditional, wood-fired oven (I had missed tapalapas since my return to Dakar!!). I was struck by a bad bought of stomachache the second day, but other than that, it was such an awesome and perfect experience. If anyone reading this blog lives in Senegal and is interested in visiting the Sine Saloum, I would highly, highly recommend Keur Bamboung and am happy to share logistical details !!
Our final morning in the Sine Saloum, we headed out with all of our baggage via boat to avoid driving all the way back around the waterways to meet up with Alpha. After three days in nature and one four hour boat ride through lots of salt water, we were all pretty grimy but looking forward to visiting the Petite Côte. On our way to our next hotel, we made a couple of quick stops, the first being a baobab tree billed as Senegal’s largest. It was pretty touristy, but admittedly vast in size.
Next up was lunch and a stroll around Joal-Fadiouth, two neighboring town that are known for being Senghor’s hometown, a sea-shell island, and religious diversity. This region is home to the highest concentration of Christians in the country, who only make up about 5% of Senegal’s overall population. It was surprising for me to see so many churches, bars, and Christian first names, particularly after spending several months in one of the most ardently Muslim parts of the country. Fadiouth is the big tourist destination of the two towns and they make you visit it with a guide (a reoccurring theme that I was getting a little sick of by that point).
We started off on the first island where we saw more pigs than I’ve seen in months (there’s always livestock running around in the streets here, but never pigs, thanks to Islam’s ban on pork), some interesting religious icons, and my dad negotiated expertly with a souvenir vendor. We then progressed onto the second island, which is home to a mixed cemetery with both Christian and Muslim graves. It was quite beautiful with all of the crosses and crescents mixed in with the white seashells and a poignant symbol of the tolerance Senegal is so known for. This view was well worth a stop, despite the mud, slightly irritating tour guide, and aforementioned pigs.
We then journeyed onward through Saly and Mbour (with a quick stop at Senegal’s classic artisanal liqueur business where they give free tastings) to our next hotel. I have heard a lot about Saly since living in Senegal and had somewhat intentionally avoided it until now. It’s known for being home to a plethora of tourists, especially the French, and there’s many people who come directly there without even stopping in Dakar or ever visiting any other city in the entire country. I’m glad we were staying in La Somone, a smaller town nearby, because even just driving through Saly stressed me out.
If you know the Mosers, you know we are not generally a resort type of family, so this was Marla and I’s first experience staying in an all-inclusive resort. It was undeniably beautiful with lovely beaches and pools, as well as an unlimited buffet and bar, but it felt weird to be in this enclosed system with no real contact with the surrounding community. We spent two nights there and while I really enjoyed staying there, I’m glad we didn’t stay any longer.
Our penultimate stop on the vacation was to a funky hotel named Sobo Bade in Toubab Dialaw, which is also home to an artist’s colony. Their buildings were beautiful, the neighboring beach was incredible, and the hotel’s restaurant was one of the tastiest I’ve tried since coming to Senegal. However, we decided to cut our stay there a night early so that we wouldn’t be traveling on Korité and ended up heading to Dakar a night earlier than planned. The family was leaving at 2am the following day, so we had the entire next day together before their departure.
Korité, what Senegalese people called Eid al Fitr, marks the end of Ramadan and the streets were basically empty all day as everyone ate food and spent time with their families. We first went back to Mountaga’s workshop to pick up the family’s clothing, which had all turned out really well, especially my dad’s new wax fanny pack (probably a first).
We then voyaged over to Aby and Pape’s (my Dakar host family for those who are just now reading this blog) house for a Korité lunch with the entire extended family. It was so lovely to introduce everyone and so fun to see Marla and my parents experiencing eating on the ground around a communal bowl with their hands. We hung out for a little while afterwards, chatting about Senegal and the US and politics and religion and family. It was so great to see everyone together and I think that both sides enjoyed themselves! We eventually had to head home so my family could finish up packing and prepare for their flight that night. We were all really exhausted by then, but they made it off with no major problems to their next adventure in Toulouse!!
Overall, I am so beyond happy that my family had the opportunity to visit me, especially because none of them had ever traveled anywhere like Senegal before. I don’t want to speak for them, but it seems like my family really enjoyed their visit and got a lot out of the trip!! It was definitely exhausting at moments, particularly because they speak varying levels of French and I was translator in chief for the entire trip. Furthermore, negotiating prices, navigating tourist destinations or markets, and traveling around Senegal is obviously much easier when you’re one single person riding in public transit.
However as I said at the top of this post, I was really pleased and honestly proud of how the whole trip went. This ease was definitely facilitated by our lovely driver, Alpha, and again, if you’re someone living in Senegal now and are looking for a professional, capable driver with a nice car, please contact me and I can give you his contact information.
Right before my family left, I definitely felt a little left out as they were preparing for their next adventure in France and a small part of me kind of wished I was just leaving for good with them. At the same time, I’m glad I have a little more time here and besides, I actually only have less than three weeks until my own French vacation and subsequent return to the US. My departure is starting to feel real, even though I’m mostly in denial that I’m actually leaving this country so soon!
Thanks so much for reading if you made it down to the bottom of this page, I hope you enjoyed hearing about all of the crazy Mosers’ adventures! I’ll probably post one or two more times before I leave Dakar, so stayed tuned and thanks so much as always for everyone’s support (: