|01-24-2013, 10:59 AM||#271|
Joined: Apr 2010
The election is only a few days away, and it looks like the result could upset the whole country. The incumbent president Wade has twisted the rules trying to get a 3rd mandate while the Senegalese constitution allows only two. It's always extraordinary difficult for an African president to step down and relinquish its power. And all the perks that come with it of course. No one can guess how the outcome will be, but if the Ivory Coast is any example it could be nasty. On the other hand Sénégal has a history of democratically elected leaders and no coups. On top of that, and to prevent any attempt at skewing the results, all travels between provinces is forbidden during the election. So I have to move to Dakar and find a safe place at my friend's house before the deadline.
Now Dakar isn't that far away and the roads are good. I still can spend a couple days exploring the area, not enough to go down to Casamance has I had wanted to, but the Sine-Saloum (a natural area of mangroves in the delta of the Saloum river) in on my way. The road out of Kédougou is being completely overhauled, a usual pre-election gift. So that means a few klicks of rough diversions and then perfectly smooth and fresh tar through the Niokolo-Koba national park. Unfortunately for me there are no animal to be seen from the road (and I heard that it's not so great inside the park either). The temperature is rising fast too. Gone is the coolness of the Guinean mountains, it's now hovering above 40 degrees at mid-day, a normal temperature for this time of the year. Of course there is no way to get out of the road crossing the park, so the ride is pretty dull. After 370 km I've had enough and try my luck at a campment that's sign posted from the main road. The bungalows are OK and after some haggling the price is acceptable. It turns out it's a relais de chase, providing accommodation for hunters who come from France and elsewhere to try some different game. Needless to say I didn't have much to share with this kind of rich and colonialist people..
The main road continues until Kaolack, where I turn south-west toward the sea. The villages become obviously more and more touristy with many hotels and campements. I start looking in Toubakouta, and have no trouble finding a bungalow at a good price as most of these places are empty because of the approaching elections. Unfortunately that also reduces my options to do some tourism. The attraction of the Sine-Saloum are the mangrove in the meanders of the river, that you can only explore by boat. For me it was too expensive to hire one alone, so I had to look at it from the river side, which is nothing to write home about.
But I'm a biker and I crave for some proper dirt roads. The problem is the Saloum river, but apparently there's a ferry crossing in a village called Foundiougne - I'll let you english speaker find out how this is pronounced . I had to find out because after having left the tar road I stopped regularly to ask the locals how to get there.
I end up on some very nice single-trails with hard-packed sand, making for some excellent if short ride to the river.
The ferry is here but it's not ready to leave yet. I chat a little and watch the line form behind me.
Islam here comes often wrapped in a sect lead by some guru, whose picture the drivers put on their dash - or directly on the windshield.
The crossing is short and uneventful. On the opposite side I shortly consider crossing through the fields but the countryside seems more crowded and I reluctantly hit the tar again. As I cross the last main towns before Dakar, a strange phenomenon strikes me. Within a couple km, the temperature that's been in the low 40's very suddenly drops to the mid-20's. Just like that, and without any change in elevation. It's feels like I'm hitting a wall of coolness. Very weird, that's the first time I see a drop of 15 degrees or more in such a short distance. As I top a hill I begin to see the sea. The Atlantic is bringing cool air which blocks the hot inland air much like a thermocline in seawater.
From there on, the road changes into a 4-lane highway and the famous Dakar traffic congestion slows the traffic down to a pace. Thomas had given me the address and GPS coordinates of his house, situated at the very end of the peninsula. Fortunately I had loaded the OpenStreet map of Dakar which helped me get through the city without much drama. My friend is working for a big Swiss firm, and is renting a big house in the poshest area where all epxats are living - indeed his neighbor is the ex-dictator of an African country. Can't be bad, uh ? We should be safe from the unrest of the elections, if any. My friends has even been given a sat phone by his employer in case the country goes tits up.
As you know by now the election went very smoothly, the bad guy lost and didn't play hardball. He just left. Incredible, and again the Senegalese have proven to be one of the more solid democracy in Africa.
I spend a few days enjoying the soft mattress, white linens and air-conditioning - actually there's no need for A/C as the temperature is pretty cool at night. I walk around the place, but as it's an upmarket residential area there isn't much to see except for the gigantic Monument de la Renaissance africaine which reminds of the soviet architecture. And has apparently cost around 20 million euros... unfortunately, the Senegalese chicks don't dress like the woman depicted, otherwise I would still be there .
I service the bike and purchase a Mauritanian visa - a painless process and the last visa I'll need to come back home.
No this isn't used motor oil, this is how they make coffee here, and it's actually pretty good. Unfortunately it's time for me to hit the last leg of the trip, straight up north through Mauritania and Morocco. It's about 3500 km to Tanger and to me it looks like next door.. I'm in no hurry to get home, but I've made plans to meet my girl-friend in Marrakech.
Before leaving I make an obligatory stop on the Lac Rose of Paris-Dakar fame, and this day luckily it is actually pink - which isn't always the case.
The road north between Dakar and St-Louis is quite enjoyable and varied. At some point it looks like they had set up a vegetable market in the middle of the road, but it's actually a truck that's turned over and been emptied before fixing it and reloading it.
The area is thick with baobabs, a tree that's special to Africans. And to me too.
You can see that the baobab growth rings are very eneven, which makes it hard to determine their age. It's also a kind of wood that's brittle and difficult to use for construction.
I have to stop at the Zebra bar I've been told about, near St-Louis, one of those places where overlanders meet. Well, it's a nice place all right in a beautiful setting, but there were no other overlanders, only German tourists - as it is run by Germans.
St-Louis is a very nice town with a well preserved colonial architecture.. and an auto parts market, where I buy a scooter's rear mirror and have it welded to the stem of my broken BMW mirror. Much better.
From there on, there are tow border crossings to Mauritania: the infamous Rosso border, where many overlanders have their first taste of African corruption - and often leave a few dozen euros lighter. And then there is the Diama border, at bridge over a dam that's less used because the road behind it is gravel and impassable during the rains. Well for me there's no contest: last time (it was more than 20 years ago) we spent the night in Rosso to avoid paying a bribe. Diama it is.
The border is very quiet, no fixer, normal. The customs side is easy, the carnet is stamped out and I walk to the immigration office. There's a guy half-asleep, he wakes up, looks me up, takes my passport and asks for 20€. Ah-ha, here we go. I start my show, explaining to him how I crossed dozens of African countries without paying any bribe and I'm not gonna let go now. He starts his pitch, everybody pays up so I should too (a thick wad of Euros bills comes out of his shirt pocket). 1-1 we see each other's a pro, that's not going to be a walk in the park. I use my tactic of stretching out and making myself comfortable, as if this is going to take a long time and I'm in no hurry. And then the guy folds and gives me back my passport. What, so easy ? come on, you can be better.. but I'm already back on my bike. The last hurdle is the toll on the bridge. This one seems legit, and it's cleat the guy isn't giving a shit what I'm saying and won't budge. This time I cough up the cash and I'm let through to the Mauri side.
On their side it's all pretty straightforward. The small office is full of crates of beer and alcohol that's been seized: Mauritania is a dry country! I need to purchase an insurance, but that's expected. What I didn't expect was the guy a few kms later on the middle of the piste asking me to pay for the entry to the national park. How convenient to put a national park where the road crosses, isn't it ? But overall it's a very easy crossing and none of the drama of Rosso (although it may be a little more difficult coming the other way).
The road that follows the river on the Mauri side is bad corrugated gravel, which means that most vehicle prefer to drive next to it. Arriving in Rosso I head toward the center to fill up. As I arrive, a swarm of fixers assault me showing me the way to the border. Tough luck dudes, I've already crossed and I'm heading home. Disappointed they go back waiting for the next gullible tourist. Pfew! With a full tank of petrol I turn north - toward the Sahara.
Bye-bye black Africa, salaam aleikoum Arabian world.
2006-2007 Mongolia - Pamir - India - Nepal
2010-2012 Caucasus - Middle-East - Africa
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