Neil and I arrived into the bright lights of Dakar as the sun fell, sweeping along wide boulevards passing flash cars and beggars by the road side. It’s a city of extremes.
First stop was the Independence Square near where we grabbed a bite to eat before heading to Chez Vero’s – my friends apartment.
Vero is an art dealer, a teacher, a Parisian and a Dakar resident. Neil just had a day to explore the city before flying back to London.
After a leisurely breakfast we wandered past the beautifully ornate but run down train station – sadly trains no longer run from here to Bamako.
We walked through the centre, down side streets filled with fashionable shops and Lebanese ones selling material and clothes.
Neil wanted to buy something from the large market but the hustlers were so persistent we couldn’t stand it and left empty handed.
Later we headed over to the wonderfully weird Sokhomon Hotel on the Oceans edge for the best sunset in Dakar, according to resident and former Little Baobab guest, Bob. We met with Bob and enjoyed several sun downers by the infinity pool and the sunset was suitably splendid. Bob described the hotel interior as looking like Fred Flintstones home and he wasn’t far wrong.
Amazingly this day – our first in Dakar – was the opening of Dak’Art – the biennial art event that attracts people from throughout the art world.
I headed over to the opening ceremony – the aforementioned derelict train station had been lit up, art installed, a bar inserted and filled with young bright things from New York, Paris, Berlin and elsewhere…suddenly I felt like the country bumpkin in the city – which I was. This is how I felt:
As I stood waiting for Vero feeling a bit out of place, a guy in a boubou and turban approached me and said “hey, are you Simon? I follow your blog!”
Nathan is an American who was born in Dakar and spends his time between here and Berlin running Urban Rituals.
After a good chat, Vero and her young French and Belgian friends arrived and we hung out drinking ice cold flags, watching some kids dancing to some pretty frenetic drumming and then some crazy toubab dancing to a couple of French (I think) DJ’s.
I saw Neil off at about 4am the next morning then spent the rest of the week exploring, visiting art galleries for Dak’Art, hobnobbing with new friends, enjoying relatively fast internet speeds and eating stuff I miss (sushi mainly).
I wanted to visit Lac Rose, about 35 km outside the city. It’s one of those places that often turns up on these viral websites – “the worlds most spectacular places” etc. This is a screen shot of google images:
And this was my view:
Apparently it does go a pretty insane shade of pink due to high salt content, and a particular type of algae that occurs there, but you need quite a hot and windy day. It was quite chilly when I went (by chilly, I mean African chilly – hot but not as hot as normal). It was a challenge to reach – a bus dropped me in the wrong place – in an area of remote bush with lots of half fallen down buildings. I waited an hour or so for another bus, changed to the right one and eventually got there in time for lunch. After a peer at the murky brown water and watching people harvesting the salt I got into a bus and headed back to the north of Dakar.
It was getting on by now, so I descended at the Renaisance monument and climbed up for lovely sunset views.
This is the tallest statue in the world, so I’ve been told, and at $27 million was highly controversial (as was the length of the woman’s skirt). It’s a stunning piece of work though and well worth a visit if you’re in town.
I had an official appointment on Friday at the British Embassy. A while back when this Guardian article was published, the deputy head of mission tweeted it and we’ve had a little bit of contact since (it also turns out we have mutual friends/colleagues). Unfortunately my face decided to fall off following the long boat trip at mid day – I wondered about peeling a bit more off to make a map of Africa:
When she heard I was coming to town she invited me over, so I went and gave both her and the ambassador copies of the book.
I then headed up to Ngor beach where this big chick waggled her ass at me:
I ate prawns and enjoyed lovely views to Ngor island, but there was more than one chick waggling its ass at me and I was forced to move on.
I headed over Yoff, took a look at some of the surf beaches (featured in classic surf move Endless Summer) and eventually reached the Village des arts for another great exhibition for the biennial.
Saturday was a special day and my primary reason for coming to Dakar. I’d long wanted to hold a book event here. The book seems to have taken hold in the Gambia and is well read within the expat communities there. Not so much in Dakar and given the large anglophone American community, I was keen to break this. I’d contact Chez Alpha books, an English language bookshop, with the view of doing a book reading but they suggested I come to the Lou Bess farmers market and sign copies from their stall there.
As I checked out the location I was in for another surprise – it was in the sandy lot outside of the restaurant in Almadies – the exact location where I’d met Ibrahima, the crazy baye fall who’d given me my original gris-gris to protect me when travelling (see the opening pages of the book). Sometimes the universe just seems to align itself…
I didn’t see Ibrahima, despite looking, but the market was a great success. I sold plenty of copies to both expats and locals. I was interviewed by West African Democracy radio and invited in to read sections of the book for serialisation. I also saw this huge truck that I decided might be Kermit’s father:
As I was looking, a woman – Sam – poked her head out and cried “Simon from Abene – I read your blog!” Her husband Mark (a stand up comedian) and their 2 kids have travelled up from Capetown in Reg, their truck, which runs off of cooking oil. When I later posted this story on our facebook page an old friend of mine commented “Simon – what are you, my friend from Zanzibar 16 years ago, doing talking to my good friend from Cape Town?” Another small world moment…
The market had stalls selling all sorts of products – moringa, organic veg, dairy, bakeries, crafts and even sushi. I chatted to old friends and new ones as well as team Chez Alpha:
I was very happy to sell to both expats and Senegalese (plus Gambians and Liberians). One Senegalese woman grilled me: “so, why should I, a Senegalese, buy a book about my country?” I explained that it might be interesting to learn how a foreigner perceives her country – quite a few local readers have complimented me that it does just that.
In the evening, I took Vero to a nice local French restaurant as a small thanks for letting me stay. After we went to a modern bar filled with hip young things and I almost forgot I was in West Africa (perhaps the ash tray gives it away):
Sunday was my last day. I went to record my pieces for the radio station in a lovely modern radio studio filled with fluent English speakers.
Then I met Sam from Clockwise Africa to discuss the world of publishing and how to go about writing a book.
We went back to the Sokhomon hotel, bumped into some former guests from the Little Baobab and then into Justine and Modou who when they heard I write, immediately bought a copy.
A successful end to a great trip.