Readers' Submissions

Delightful West Africa 7 – Tours and Tourist Business in Saly, Senegal

  • Written by Anonymous
  • January 29th, 2011
  • 11 min read


Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok

I talk to several waiters and receptionists around Saly, Senegal's best-known beach resort (also see last submission). Usually they earn 50 to 70 Euro per month. That doesn't include any food or lodging. A very simple one-room apartment in the wider area, as in Saly-Niakniakhal, costs at least 30 Euros per month.

— Marcel and Marceline —

"Chez Marcel" is a small, old-fashioned dance bar on a sand road near the beach. The band plays soulful Cuban and Capverdean tunes, but will do western and mainland African songs on request. It's really just a few chairs and tables, but has its own character. Elderly European ladies with their young rastaman lovers sit and dance here. Some black men obviously sandblast their silver ladies with the same contempt they hose on any other European on the beach (see last submission).

You're welcomed by a friendly, black young waiter who quickly finds you a table. That's actually Marcel, the owner. Fittingly, his friendly black young waitress is Marceline.

Marcel pays Marceline only 50 Euro per month, and her room costs 35 Euros alone. But Marcel does take care of his employee: He tells single male visitors that they can have more of Marceline's services after hours.


— Hotel Cocotier —

The Cocotier is one of Saly's few hotels that are not detached from the beach, but offer direct sea view and a short way to the water. They rent small double-story apartments for 43 Euros per person per night. Too late I discover that the fridge costs extra.

I inspect and book my room one day in advance. The next day, I arrive two hours later than announced. Still my apartment is a mess: "Today only one cleaning lady came", says the head receptionist reproachfully, "she has a lot to do as you can imagine". The main door cannot properly be locked. The promised additional chairs are not there, and the mosquito net promised for the big sleeping room window isn't there either. I'd really love to sleep with ocean sound, and the sleeping room is so hot that you even need air conditioning if the window remains closed due to possible mosquitoes.

Every day I have to ask for the promised improvements. One day I return to find that without any announcement they have moved all my things to another apartment – which now has the long-desired mosquito net on the sleeping room window.

"I personally carried all your things over to the other apartment", prides the head receptionist. "I also found your laptop hidden in the cupboard".

But the new place has only half of the light bulbs required, no toilet paper for two days (I use my emergency supply from Europe), the holes in the sleeping room mosquito net let the two house pelicans walk through effortlessly and this apartment is not reached by the hotel's wi-fi network (they know I need wi-fi and they know this apartment is wi-fi-less).

For all Senegal's extended power outages, the Cocotier of course has a generator. But they never turn it on. We remain without power. "We ran out of fuel", sighs one of the owners helplessly. The receptionist asks me for payments almost daily, for room, laundry and food, but the money doesn't help to get the generator running.


I am the only customer most days. The managers and owners, the two boisterous brothers Cheikh and Mohammed, shout my name mercilessly all over the compound each time I am spotted: "EHH, HANS, HOW'S IT GOING!" They spoil the otherwise nice beachside restaurant by playing noisy rap and Stevie Wonder from a ghettoblaster.

The music changes when one waitress tells me that she can say "I love you" in German and would like to learn more. I suggest creating a German pop CD for her with lots of romantic phrases like that. From that day on, the schmaltzy German likes of Howard Carpendale, Peter Maffay and Bernd Clüver are on endless loop in the Cocotier beachside restaurant. Gardeners and receptionists praise me for the wonderful tunes.

The Cocotier is one of the few places in Senegal that are locally owned and run. That's why it is such a complete disaster, according to other locals. I am willing to adapt to all of the Cocotier's shortcomings, but only with a substantial discount. The head receptionist and I find no middle ground and the discussion almost ends in a personal feud.

Finally he says from up above: "I will only grant you more discount if you give me that black textile bag that I saw in your luggage." That's a small bag I once bought from a Ka Pao Tung factory outlet in Bangkok's MBK mall for 200 Baht. It is unobtrusively special. I decline his demand.

Even though I would like to stay a day or two more, next morning I pack my things to check out before noon and the head receptionist knows it: All my bags are packed, I'm ready to go. Still around 11.30 a.m. he appears at my door and offers a discount that would have satisfied me the day before.

30 minutes later I pay the bill at the desk.

"Ah, monsieur has decided to leave us", quips the head receptionist.


— Tours —

In Mbour I visit the enormous market, reportedly one of the largest in West Africa. Women sit on the bare pavement in the sun and hawk two fishes or three melons. Even here I am followed by disturbingly aggressive tourist hasslers (see above). I stand a while in front of a closed shop, when yet another man tries to talk to me. Before he can say much I shower him in racist anti-Africanisms and how much I am tired of all these hasslers like him. He just gives me a baffled look and says "Sorry, monsieur, I am the owner of this closed shop. I just wanted to find out if you desire anything from there." I shower him in apologies.

***

The small island of Fadiout sits completely on sea shells. You reach its village over a long pedestrian bridge from Joal on the mainland. Fadiout also has a mixed Christian-Muslim cemetery on another sea shell islet, even the graves are covered in shells. Muslim Senegalese in other provinces won't believe me that mixed cemeteries exist.

***

The Reserve de Bandia is a fenced-in mini Serengeti. My taxi with the driver and the obligatory guide almost drives through towering giraffes and stops a few centimeters short of an enormous rhinoceros, that munches on dry steppe grass without caring for us. "The rhinoceros is not at all dangerous", informs the guide, "but beware of the ostriches".


***

In the Accrobaobab park you move on ropes and ladders between the tops of enormous Baobab trees – with lots of alpine equipment, reportedly to European safety standard. I personally only want to get up to the treetops and photograph from there; I certainly don't want to use all the ropes and ladders between the trees, fifteen meters over the hard sahel ground.

I have already paid and am packed into ropes and clamping levers. When I want to get up the first tree, my personal instructor says that I cannot bring the camera up: "With a camera, people are too distracted on the treetops. We have completely forbidden cameras in the trees. But my colleague will take your picture from the ground."

He doesn't oblige. I have to climb up without a camera. The whole point of my visit is lost.

From the first baobab tree I have to jump into empty space (of course secured with many ropes and clamps). I need five minutes and am thankful that my instructor doesn't lose patience. Actually I tell him that I can't jump at all and that I will climb down right now. That he doesn't allow either and finally I struggle my way from treetop to treetop over evermore adventurous constructions, scared to death nonstop, one time even in a fishing boat hanging on ropes. The colleague on the ground fills my memory card with many pictures of Hans hanging stupidly down from trees.

The best thing are the hammocks in the cafeteria.


— The Price for Honesty? —

Then I forget my camera in the Accrobaobab's cafeteria. The whole team in the park had been very nice, reasonable and welcoming. I have not the slightest doubt at all that I will get the camera back without any problems. I call them two hours after I left the place: Yes, the camera was there and I could pick it up any time during business hours, also next day. Three hours later I'm there and get my camera. I drop five Euros on the counter and say "à boire", lit. "for drinking", the default phrase. They look a bit unhappy, but don't move the money back to me.

I find it always awkward to pay service people for an extra favor that may or may not be part of their job description. In Thailand a hotel receptionist had carried out some lengthy phone research for me. When I gave her 100 Baht "for a good coffee" she looked as if I had made an untoward remark. And now the staff at Accrobaobab park obviously wasn't completely happy with my tip. And why: Keeping the camera in the drawer until I arrive was no hard work for them. With my tip, I obviously paid them for not stealing the camera. I stressed, probably, that I didn't necessarily expect honest staff. So next time, not give any extra money to helpful staff?


— Thiès —

I spend two days in Senegal's second-largest town, the completely untouristic Thiès, 70 kilometers from Dakar. I expect to do a lot of computer work in my hotel room in the daytime. But in typical Senegalese fashion, there are extended power outages; and in more typical Senegalese fashion, the big hotel generator next to the house wall is not turned on. So no wi-fi and no air-con most of the time.

In the evening I share a table with a government employee in the Le Croissant Magique restaurant. He wanted to drive home to his family that night, but due to the power outages that also troubled me, he had to stay in his office much longer than expected.

He describes his dissatisfaction with the government and all of Senegal's shortcomings. He talks himself into a rage and starts boxing my arm with anger about the corrupt ones in Dakar. He rolls his eyes and gets so intense that I leave the restaurant.

***

I end up in a pub where I talk two sentences with a young man. He now believes that we are best friends and that we should spend the next 48 hours closely together. He follows me all around the club. When I sneak to another part of the building, he sends a friend after me asking angrily why I don't stay with his friend.

I leave the building secretly and try to stop a taxi without standing in the streetlight. Interestingly, I end up at another music club where a band plays salsa, of course with a very distorted sound typical of African live performances. Conservative black couples in black suites and expensive robes shuffle well-studied dance steps in dim light. A scene from another era.


***

On Friday night in the music pub Palais des Arts, I sit at the bar and wait for the "Acoustic Soiree" to begin. It is after 1 AM, it should start in the next two hours (normally). A black lady with short dreadlocks arrives and smiles and talks with the few guests including me. She has a fresh, friendly way, but disappears soon after.

On Saturday night, I am back in the Palais des Arts. Renowned Mbalax pop singer Ma Sané and her band Waflash are going to play. Ma Sané is also the owner of the Palais des Arts.

Who enters the stage? The fresh, friendly Rasta lady who had greeted us last night. That had been Ma Sané personally. The concerts starts with Ma Sané accompanying herself on western guitar and assisted only by one background singer. When the other band members appear, the style turns to polyrhythmic, danceleg tickling Senegalese Mbalax pop. It is one of the best concerts I hear during 80 days in Senegal and Gambia. The perfectly controlled sound deserves a special mentioning, all instruments and all voices remain wonderfully recognisable; Ma Sané on stage is her fresh, friendly self and as usual in Senegal, all band members stun on their instruments and with immaculate interaction. Thanks to the Lonely Planet guide book for pointing out this amazing music venue in an unlikely town.

My only complaint: The concert begins at 3 AM.


Stickman's thoughts:

Like I have commented in previous submissions in this series, it all sounds very interesting and quite the adventure, but perhaps preferable to read about, rather than being there!