“Well, I broke down in east St Louis…” Tom Waits.
That was the tune running through my head as Glyn, Sharon and myself slowly headed north to Saint Louis in a supposedly good car that we’d privately hired, foolishly thinking it would be quicker and easier than travelling by public transport. We hadn’t gone far before the driver started furiously pumping the clutch. As we glided into a toll booth of a new highway outside of Dakar, he was unable to get into gear and we ended up pushing the car over to the side of the road. The side of the road where I seem to spend so much of my time these days. It reminded me of my hitching days.
He did a bodge job, carried on a few clicks and then we appeared to be going in the complete wrong direction. No, no, this is quicker said the driver as we snaked down a narrow country road, stopping and starting, crossing sleeping policemen every couple of kms. In early 2015 I’d followed a brand new highway going in the correct direction, whizzing along at high speeds without a care in the world. I started to think the driver may be a fool. At the next town, the clutch failed again and we conveniently glided into an air conditioned petrol station – the north of Senegal is a different world to the Casamance – where Glyn, Sharon and I bought some snacks and contemplated a new car. The driver was insistent it would be fixed. Lo and behold, 20 minutes later we were on our way. He had a habit of not looking at the road and veering wildly, but we got to Saint Louis. Eventually.
We’d booked a little place on the mainland via Airbnb. Chez Marie was wonderful in every way except one – it was next to the mosque and today was a holy day, a gamu. But we didn’t know that yet.
We headed into town, across the iconic bridge and straight into the hotel Dupalais, relaxed and refreshed ourselves.
We were too exhausted to do much else, so headed back for an early night only to find people in the mosque were chanting through a distorted loudspeaker all night, just meters from the guesthouse. This is Africa.
The next day, having secured a hopefully better car and driver for the next leg of the journey, we spent a day mooching about the atmospheric old French colonial buildings of the town as well as along the beach and the fishing village where Glyn very nearly swapped Sharon for an old, and very keen, fish scrubber. Here are some images of the city. As always, don’t hesitate to contact me if you’d like a personalised tour of this region – I’m itching to explore the nearby national parks that are a paradise for bird watchers, as well as journeying along the river Senegal at the edge of the sahara to visit old forts and remote Sahelian towns.