From Dakar to Kaolack and Back Again

Visas are tricky. Governments are tricky.

I didn’t purchase any visas before I came to West Africa, because they are super expensive in the U.S. and because situations change and many tourist visas are only good for 3 months. No point in getting over here with a bunch of visas to realize Guinea-Bissau isn’t safe to travel to right now and you shouldn’t take the bus from The Gambia to Ziguinchor. Which is exactly what happened.

So my trip which began in Senegal, and was to follow the coast and head east until Ethiopia, has changed to flying out of Dakar to Cape Town. That decision was made in part from visa issues and safety, and another part from a creepy couch surfing experience which has led me to booking a hotel room in Dakar for two nights before I leave, crouched in a corner rocking myself and whispering inaudible things. More on that later.

* * *

My first experience couch surfing was wonderful. I arrived in Dakar at an unusually reasonable hour this time: 8:45 AM. Most of the flights arrive at 2 AM or some other such nonsense, where you are whisked away to your hotel to sleep a few hours and then get up to work. But not this time! Marcus, my couch surfing host, picked me up at the airport and we drove along the sunny cost, following the line of blue water and craggy rocks. His wife and a few friends were headed up to Lac Rose, would I care to join them?

Lac Rose is a Pink Lake, as the name suggests. It has an even higher concentration of salt than the Dead Sea, and the level of salt in the water causes a person to float. You cannot sink. It’s the weirdest sensation— and a burning one. Slightly raw or recently shaven area of skin will burn, so it’s not a place you want to swim for any length of time. But after a few beers at the bar next to the lake, bobbing in the salty water for a bit was fun, even with the burning.

Afterwards, we rented 4-wheelers (called quads here) and rode them all around the lake, racing over dunes and through small villages, until we got to the sea.

The other side of Lac Rose, where salt is harvested by boat.


Quads around Lac Rose

Over the dunes on the quadsTo the sea!

A huge expanse of beautiful crystal clear blue water in the late afternoon sun, was practically deserted. We threw our clothes on the backs of the quads and jumped in the water to swim and splash around. The locals say it isn’t safe to swim out far because of the currents. It was true, there were channels in the sand even in the shallower parts of the water, and you could feel the current pushing you around. After a while, I began to imagine seeing dark shapes in the water and got out.

The next few days passed in a busy blur of working on the site, learning French (oui!) and taking photos around Dakar. I went to a great Hatha yoga class with Roberta just down the street, a famous market in the city, and visited the friends in the area. Before I knew it, 4 days had passed and I was at the Pompier to go to Kaolack, a bus station in Dakar where I was catching a sept plus. A sept plus isn’t a bus, it’s a station wagon where 7 people are crammed inside for 4 hours (if you’re lucky enough to only being traveling for 4 hours— some people were traveling 12+). Luckily, my awesome former colleague met me at the station at 6 AM, to help me get on the right one. He got me the coveted ‘behind the driver’ seat, which is not only good because of the extra room, but because it’s the safest place.

4 hours later, I was in the midst of the bustling market Kaolack is famous for, a sprawling maze of stalls only a local could navigate and not get lost. My couch surfing host, Anthony, had his friend show me around the market for a few hours, negotiating with vendors about taking photos and communicating with me in hand signals, me in broken French.

Seafood area in Kaolack Market
Meat stall in Kaolack Market

After running around for hours, dusty and carrying all my bags, we grabbed a taxi to Anthony’s place to clean up and make some lunch.

I left early the next morning to head back to Dakar. Exhausted and completely filthy, my good friend Mariama helped me book a hotel room where I could finally take a shower and enjoy some quiet to decide where I was going to travel next. South Africa!