Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Bank Holiday in Dakar

So I've been here a week now, and finally I've done something vaguely interesting! In Senegal, Good Friday isn’t a bank holiday, but Easter Monday is, so we still had a three-day weekend. Saturday I was still too wrecked and cold-ridden to do anything except stay at home sleeping and reading, though I also ventured out to the supermarket again and moved furniture in my room around to make it easier to at least sort my clothes into neat piles rather than just letting my bag explode over the floor.

On Sunday, though, I was start to feel better, so I ventured out for a run. Unfortunately, 2 ½ km in, I realised I’d forgotten to put on sunscreen and since it was mid-afternoon, in Africa, I should probably go home and do something about that. Anyway, it was a successful experiment – not too much hassle, saw lots of other women out running, including one other lone white woman (aside: I need to remember to call them toubabs now, instead of wazungu). I’ve discovered there’s a hash in Dakar, so think I’m going to join them if I want to keep up this running malarkey.

On Monday, we sat around all morning before Aoife from Team Mali and I decided it was time to break the cabin fever. It was a bit cold and windy, but we decided it wouldn’t be a bank holiday without a cold, windy trip to the beach, so we decided to go to N’Gor island. We got a taxi to the place where you get the pirogues, passing by the Monument of the African Renaissance, a *cough* totally-gender-sensitive construction featuring a muscled African man striding into the future, carrying his child in one hand and dragging a bare-breasted female behind him.



I’d heard of this statue before, but wasn't prepared for its sheer scale – huge, and up the top of a mound with stairs up to its base. Running up those stairs, Rocky style, is my new ambition. Sadly the monument is quite a way from my house, so even getting there and back will require a reasonable amount of training, let alone facing what looked like about 200 stairs, but it’s always good to have goals!

Past the monument, we got a pirogue across to the island, complete with lifejacket (woo! Health and Safety!) and went for an explore. The island's pretty small - 5 minutes of so across - but whereas the mainland side has sandy beaches, the far side has dramatic rocks and surf. There were a few surfers out, so obviously can be done, but the water's still freezing so I think I'll wait a week or two until real summer starts!

With the island explored, we ended up back on the original beach where we shared a beer and a brochette of gambas with fries – huge, fresh, spicy, delicious and pretty cheap – and watched people on the beach. From my observations I conclude that common Dakar beach pass-times include:
- Football
- Wrestling (national sport in Senegal, dontcha know)
- Stripping down to your speedos, covering yourself in baby oil, then walking out in front of a group of people, bending over to touch your toes (with your back to the crowd) then getting down and doing press-ups in sets of 16 (yes, we counted) every 10 minutes or so. Of course.

Then, finally, as the sun went down, we got the pirogue back. So far, living in Dakar hasn’t felt that different to living somewhere in Europe - one of the less developed bits of Europe for sure, but still Europe. But the pirogue back reminded me that I’m definitely in Africa. We all got lifejackets again, but then they piled us into the boat like sardines in a can. When we pushed out, we were about 6 inches above the water, and whenever we got hit by a wave, it'd slop into the boat, we’d all get soaked, and the boat would get steadily lower. Luckily it was fairly flat, but it was still both scary and funny.

So a good day out, about 20 minutes travel time from my house, total cost: less than a tenner. Could definitely get used to this!

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