Suitcase and World: Views of Dakar.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Views of Dakar.

Just as we were wrapping up eating, the "restaurant girl" came over to tell us that someone was waiting in the lobby for us. One last sip of coffee and we were on our way. Standing next to the reception desk was a young Senegalese man who introduced himself as *Cher-kh* least that's what it sounded like phonetically. Later on I found out that it is the proper pronunciation for the name "Cheikh" which is a fairly common name in this part of the word.

Cheikh led us to a waiting car and driver. We were on our way to see the sights of Dakar. The plan was to see Dakar in the morning and then head to Gorée  Island in the afternoon.

Our first stop, the Presidential Palace which we would find out is less than a 5 minute drive from the hotel. On the way, I could see the poverty that marks Dakar - there's no need to describe it.

Cheikh had the driver pull over and we got out and crossed the street to see the Presidential Palace. It's not the most impressive of buildings but it is an important one for the country so we paid it due respect

There are no tours of the palace and you can't enter its grounds. Al you can do is take the opportunity to stand next to the guard and have our picture taken. Cheesy, I know but it's the touristy thing that you're expected to do.

From the Presidential Palace, we crossed the street and spent a few minutes looking at what I think is the senate house. According to Cheikh, there are 32 senators in Senegal.

We continued our walk, heading towards Independence Square. Talibah got her first taste of the tout that is willing to follow you for what seems like an eternity.....constantly asking you to buy their wares despite repeated replies of "no". Block after city block, this older man followed us as we tried to take in the sights. He had picked out Talibah and at one point, she made the crucial mistake of actually showing interest in what he was selling which was some of his own artwork....basically collages that were made from butterfly wings. I have to admit that I did like his work but I was in no mood to buy....not after having been hustled by both the taxicab driver and the hotel receptionist. Even Cheikh got tired of the guy following us. At one point, he had a pretty heated conversation with the old man but that did not deter the guy.....he was determined to reel in Talibah. I told her to keep walking and ignoring him....eventually, he would go away.

It was about a 10 minute walk from the Presidential Palace to Independence Square but that can seem like an interminable amount of time when you have to keep fending off the advances of a persistent tout. At some point, we lost him or so we thought.

In the meantime, we turned our attention to Cheikh, getting know him a bit better with each step we took. I recorded one conversation on video. Just a bit of harmless teasing on our part and plus, it was a good way to break the ice and set the tone for the rest of the day. We all loosened up a little bit more after sharing a good chuckle.

Unfortunately Independence Square would not put a smile on anyone's face. It's all very unkempt - the greenery could do with some trimming and the fountain, which was not running, some cleaning. Still, Cheikh says it's a popular place for locals to come and hang out at nights.

As we walked through the square, Cheikh pointed out the banks that are located on street that fronts the park. I made a mental note of that information as I was certain we would need to pay an ATM a visit before we left Dakar.

Next stop on our city tour, Hotel de Ville which is City Hall. As I was trying to take in the sights, I heard a familiar voice behind me. It was that same old man.....still trying to sell his artwork to Talibah. By now, he had dropped his price quite a bit but neither one of us was in any mood to buy anything so more attempts on both Talibah and Cheikh's part to ward him off. Luckily, they didn't have to work too hard at it because our car and driver were waiting for us just a short walk away.

We were off to the Renaissance monument which according to Cheikh is about 10 km away from city center. On the way, I turned on my video camera and captured the street scene whizzing by. It's Saturday and it's market day. The streets were crowded with vendors....selling pretty much everything imaginable. Wares are just laid out on any spot on the ground that they can be laid out on. I'm sure the hustlers were all out in force honing their skills.

Cheikh pointed out an area that he called "Chinatown". As you see on the video, I was surprised to hear that Dakar has a Chinatown cause for as hard as I tried to find them, I could not spot any of the street or store signs that are so stereotypical of areas called *Chinatown*. But wouldn't you know it, I spotted some oriental faces in the crowds and according to Cheikh, Senegalese of Chinese descent do speak Wolof!!

We soon found ourselves on the outskirts of town, driving alongside the ocean, heading north towards the airport.

From a distance, we could see the Renaissance monument, perched high up on a hill. The monument was opened just this past April and from what I vaguely remember, to some controversy though I cannot recall what the fuss was all about. Although I do remember some mention that the figures don't look like a typical Senegalese people.

Controversy aside, the driver deposited us at the base of the steps that lead up to the monument itself. We took our time walking up - taking in the surrounding views as we walked up. It was windy at the top.....a nice breeze to counteract the otherwise, warm humid temperature.


 At the top, we enjoyed an amazing view of Dakar and the ocean that surrounds it. Cheikh pointed out  Gorée Island and where our hotel was brought some reality to the city map that I had become familiar with in doing my planning for this trip.

After admiring the view, we headed back down to the car.  As we were walking down the stairs, Cheikh decided to christen each of us with Senegalese names.  Talibah was tickled pink by the idea that she had a Senegalese name.  From that day forward, whenever a stranger asked Talibah what her name was, she would always give them her Senegalese name. 

On the way back to town, Cheirkh had the driver pull over so we could get out and get a better view of a mosque. I don’t think there was anything particularly unique about the mosque, just a pretty building perched on a bluff overlooking the ocean.

Our next destination was the ferry port – on our way to  Gorée Island!