After crossing the border into Senegal, we made a bee-line for the coast. We were looking for surf in Toubab Dialaw; it took three days to arrive. We walked south, right out of the village, to where women were collecting rocks from the sea and then a little further, and bobbed in the waves like seals. When it got bigger, the ride was short and dumpy, smashing Dan into the sand and grazing his head. It didn't stop him trying again of course.
After two nights in Keur Dofi (highly recommended, see below), we went to stay in the spare room of a Senegalese/French couple (Milli and Kiki). Despite our trouble communicating, they made us feel very welcome; we drunk together in the evening, they took us to a local surf spot and invited us to dinner (twice). Milli was a wonderful cook and after buying a freshly caught fish in Niangal (a village slightly north), she barbecued the Dorade whole and we ate them with hand-made chips, onion dressing and salad from their garden.
From Toubab Dialaw, we navigated (/got swept along by) a variety of public transport vehicles as far as Nianing.
What we had hoped to be a relaxing stop-off, turned into a half-day tour, when Dan made the mistake of asking the friendly warden Pierre where we might find a shop. (Due to our lack of French) he insisted we go and see the "biggest baobab in Senegal" together on a caleche (a sort of horse cart). We weren't particularly keen on either aspect of the adventure, but didn't have the heart or vocabulary to escape.
Only after several hours of being bounced behind the poor horse, much trudging through sand ourselves, being introduced to dozens of people, buying some accara (deep fried bean patties with spicy onion sauce), going to the bakery, him buying us a drink in his favourite bar and us ordering pizzas for dinner (one for him too though he didn't ask or even hint), we were finally allowed to relax in the sunset.
He told us some of Senegal's problems and we tried our best to follow. Horribly, up until the point we left him being, we spent the whole time waiting to be asked for money. The question never came.
From Nianing, we went back to the lunatic dust bowl Mbour (forlornly singing child beggars*; outrageously huge, air-conditioned French supermarket Auchan and piles of dates to mark the start of Ramadan) and caught another range of baffling transport as far as Ndangane, the edge of the Sine-Saloum Delta.
Excluding a small collection of very insistent, free-roaming craft sellers (probably exacerbated by plummeting tourist numbers now at the end of the season) and a much larger population of mosquitoes, Mar Lodj was spacious and peaceful.
We shared a boat trip with a group of young French people and saw hundreds of (impossible to photograph without my big camera) birds getting ready to roost at sunset...
After that, we had little more to do than wander in the vast expanses of open land to the south, swim from the beach and occasionally visit the village for groceries.
To take a beer from one of the fancier beach-side establishments at sunset was a real luxury.
*Talibés - Senegal's Street Children
Without doubt the most jarring aspect of Senegalese/West African culture is the still relatively widespread tradition of sending young children away for a religious education which can involve
begging on the streets. Known as Talibés, these children are as young as five and go up to twelve years old. The boys
will often be found (/they will find you) singing or holding out collection tins around gare routières and elsewhere in
bigger towns and cities. It is pretty hard to know how to respond to this, but I try to acknowledge them without giving money and will instead donate to Empire des Enfants (offering many services including medical care and a safe environment to play in Dakar) and Maison de la Gare (medical care, French classes and a dormitory for run-aways in Saint-Louis). It would certainly be nice
and advisable to buy fruit from a stall and ask the owner to distribute it amongst the Talibés. Spreading the concept of endless pocketed toubabs (foreigners/white people) should not be encouraged and a local person will do a
much better job of the distribution.
Advice thanks to Hadiel Mohamed, Senegal (Bradt Guide), pp. 196-197
Somewhat Useful Information:
Currently £1 is around 750 Senegalese CFA.
"Know Before You Go"
I have written a whole post about what to pack and how to prepare for your trip to Senegal.
- The main languages are French and Wolof, though there are also many others.
- The predominant religion is Islam, followed by Catholicism and then a small proportion of other traditional beliefs. Away from the beach, dress respectably covering your knees and shoulders (see my packing list for more details).
- To greet people say "Salaam Alaikum" (may peace be upon you) - to which if a person responds "Alaikum Salaam" (may peace be upon you too).
We definitely overpaid on some occasions, especially for the bag, but it is difficult to know and probably not important enough to dwell on...
- Rufisque (near Dakar) - Toubab Dialaw (number DDD228 big bus) 500 CFA each (ask someone for DDD station to find the place).
- Toubab Dialaw - Diamadio (shared taxi) 300 CFA each + 300 CFA for the bag.
- Diamadio - Mbour (bus) 2000 CFA each (Milli told us it should be 1000 each).
- Mbour - Nianing (ndiaga ndiaye/mini bus) 500 CFA each + 300 CFA for the bag.
- Mbour - Joal (ndiaga ndiaye/mini bus) 2500/3000 CFA total (we didn't get given our change).
- Joal - different "garage"(?) 4km (taxi) 1000 CFA total (we just had to trust people at this point).
- Joal south "garage"(?) - Ndangane (shared taxi) 1000 CFA each + 1000 CFA for the bag.
- Ndangane - Mar Lodj (private pirogue (long, thing motorised boat, something like a large canoe)) 6000 CFA total.
- Mar Lodj - Ndangane (public pirogue - very overcrowded, I would not advise if you cannot swim) 300 CFA per person - leaves Mar Lodj at 7am and 10am.
- Ndangane - Mbour (direct ndiaga ndiaye/mini bus as it came to meet public pirogue) 1300 CFA each 1000 CFA for the bag.
Toubab Dialaw - Keur Dofi - 13,000 CFA for a double room (en-suite).
- Run by Ghyslaine and Cheikh, a very friendly French/Senegalise couple.
- 1 minute from the beach.
- Small swimming pool.
- Relaxed roof terrace with hammock.
- Kettle, tea and coffee in room.
- Net and fan.
- Very clean.
- Can be quite a bit noisy at night as right in the centre of the village.
Nianing - Akwaba - 20,000 CFA for a double room (en-suite) + 1500 CFA per person (bread, soft cheese, jam & coffee).
- Right on the beach front, plenty of outside seating.
- Swimming pool.
- Aircon (though you don't need it) and mosquito net.
- Friendly dogs.
- Quiet at night apart from the waves.
Mar Lodj - Auberge Sakado - 14,000 CFA for a double room (shared bathroom, sink in bedroom).
Sakado was the only accommodation I could find within our price range on Mar Lodj, but if you have a bit more to spend, it would be worth staying at the locally owned Farakaba, luxurious Le Bazouk Du Saloum or any of the other water-front properties; partly for the view, but mainly for the mosquito deterring breeze.
- Guest kitchen including fridge, four ring gas hob, sink and utensils.
- 20 meters from the beach (good for swimming).
- Slightly cheaper accommodation in dorm room or hammock available.
- Net and fan (you need them both for the mosquitoes).
- Outside lockers (if you have your own lock).
- Outside sink and washing line.
- Quiet at night.
- Little fish pies with onion sauce - near mini-market Supérette "La Fidélité" (also selling alcohol) on the main road - approx 200/500 CFA.
- For breakfast, buy bread from a shop and take it to the small "restaurant" next to Keur Dofi for onion and potato or tomato bean sauce (check whether they are open first). 150 CFA for big baguette in the shop behind Keur Dofi (green sign, friendly man) and 100 CFA for half a baguette of onion and potato sauce.
- Le Gui (on the beach, about 100m further north than Chez Baby) - delicious grilled fish with truly exciting salad and rice/chips 3500 CFA, but takes an age to arrive (he went to purchase the fish and potatoes after we ordered...) It is locally owned, with very friendly service - highly recommended if you have time and patience.
- La Colline Bleue (on the main road) - surprisingly cheap "fast food" options - 1000-2000 CFA. The pizza is not recommended, but try something else. Service is still pretty slow, but quicker than sit-down meals elsewhere.
- Have a beer at Sabo Bade in the evenings as the sun sets and maybe watch a performance later (ask what's going on while you're there. Food is also rather posh, but reasonably priced and they have icecream!
- Le Coco Diop (just east of the main road) - very good pizza for 3500 - 4000 CFA.
- Accara (deep fried bean balls) with onion sauce available on the street (just east of the main road) in early evening (ask around). 100 CFA for four balls.
- There is a bakery.
We took advantage of the kitchen at Sakado.
- Good bread (tapalapa) is available from the first grocery shop on the left as you enter the village.
- There is a small market selling fruit and vegetables in the village each morning.
Toubab Dialaw - balafon/kora lesson at Sabo Bade- 7000 CFA for an hour (balafon teacher will probably try to sell you his CD for 10,000 CFA, but you can of course refuse).
Mar Lodj - boat trip to "Bird Island" - 25,000 CFA for the boat (we shared price between six).
Beaches around the world:
If you want to visit the beach in The Gambia, try Sanyang.
Some more peaceful beaches around the world:
- Around Galicia in Spain.
- At Cabo Blanco, Peru.
- On the Isle of Islay, Scotland.
- At Scoor on the Isle of Mull.