Unfortunately, due to workload, I didn’t have a whole lot of time to tour Dakar, much less get to see the neighbouring countries. However, at least I managed to hit a few primary attractions. My main goal was to get to see Île de Gorée or Gorée Island – a major holding place where tens of thousands of slaves were sent to the Americas. I decided to walk to the port and along the way got to see a few sights. First, the Hôtel de Ville or City Hall of Dakar:
to get there, I passed through the Place de l’Independence. Now, normally, I think of “Independence Squares” as being grand places, filled with monuments and kept extra clean because they have lots of nationalistic pride, etc. Not so much in Dakar, but again this is part of what I love about the developing world, and Africa in specific. Places feel more “real” at times, a bit edgy, lived-in, and not so sterile.
Last stop along the walk was in front of the Dakar train station. I’d spend lots of the week reading up on the Dakar-Bamako railway which had fallen into disuse, so decided not to go inside and explore any further. You can tell that at one time, this had been a relatively grand place:
Next stop was the ferry to Île Gorée. I’d found a timetable online, and when I arrived purchasing a ticket (albeit at the tourist price – residents get a discount which I was offered “based on your accent” but since I didn’t have any ID to prove it…I got to pay nearly 10x as much) was very straightforward. The next ferry was in an hour, as I’d planned, and I was going to leave extra time in case there were issues. There weren’t, so I headed off to find some food at the grocery store. Just one problem: the guides. This is where “Papi” latched onto me, and wouldn’t let go. He was a guide for the island, blah blah blah, and wouldn’t take no for an answer. He finally accepted “maybe” and “I will be back later” so I could go get food.
When I returned, as promised, there he was…problem was…there were also over 200 schoolchildren swarming the gates and filling up the entire ferry. There was no way I’d get on. There were a few other upset looking tourists, and eventually the ferry people told us not to worry, although the next one was scheduled in two hours with this many people waiting they would add an extra. Papi, of course, took that as his opportunity to pretend he held some sway and made a great scene of yelling at the workers, etc, for the next 20-30 minutes. Of course, 40 minutes later we finally left, and he made sure to let me know it was thanks to him. By this point, I’d agreed to hire him, if only to get a little historical knowledge and fend off the other touts. Of course, his price was “whatever you want to give me” which means he’ll not be happy no matter what. Anyways. First view of Île Gorée from the ferry:
First stop on the island was a statue/monument dedicated to slavery. The one good thing about having Papi with me was that all the other touts pretty much left us alone. Except for some of the younger girls, and honestly…I don’t want to know why Papi allowed them near me and not the other touts.
From there, it was on to the primary site on the island, the Maison des Esclaves, or Slave House. This is where the slaves were sorted for the journey to America, and where families were broken apart. It was a pretty uncomfortable place, mainly because it was a little eerie, and because several other tourists were having a pretty emotional time of it. Several women (mostly americans) were visibly trying hard to hold back tears, and one woman was actually crying and wailing at the top of her lungs she was so moved by it. In the complex was the “door” which was supposedly the last door slaves walked through onto the boat and their last view from Africa. I didn’t want to take a pic, it was seriously an uncomfortable situation, but Papi insisted I had to have a picture here to remember my “last step in Africa.” I relented, and although the lighting is poor you can kind of see the ocean looking west behind me.
We continued on out of the complex, and down a pretty typical street on the island:
…and a view back on Dakar from the highest point on the island:
I have to comment here at the salespeople on the island. Paintings, sand art, bracelets, jewelry, pottery, you name it they were selling it. I kind of regret now not buying anything, but honestly there was nothing I wanted that badly – and I felt once the wallet came out they would smell blood and I’d never get away. I wish I had a small souvenir, but that’s the breaks. As we got back to the ferry port, there’s where the hard sell started. On the beach, there was a small café, where my guide suggested we sit down. It was hot, an ice cold beer sounded good, so why not. A view of the beach waiting for the ferry:
So, got a beer, guide got a soda (which I bought) and that’s when it started. “So, this place is better, less people will see us changing money.” I’d already made up my mind that I would pay 5,000 CFA – a fantastic sum for two hours of work in Dakar, and I’d been advised by coworkers this was more than fair. Of course, as predicted, it wasn’t enough. “I have 4 wives to support” (you shouldn’t have more than you can support) “they have 14 children with me” (again, you shouldn’t have more than you can support) “I have to take care of other guides/families/friends on the island who rely on me” (I can’t help everyone) etc. After a while he finally relented with the excuses, but the last stinger was “5,000 is only like $10 – you people are rich and so cheap – black americans give so much more.” Wow – playing the racism card – touché – nicely done! I managed to join the throngs waiting for the ferry:
There was one last catch, my guide decided to get on the ferry even though his home was Gorée in one last attempt to guilt trip me…he rode with me back to Dakar in silence, and blocked my way off the ferry. “I’m hungry, I have so many people who rely on me, etc.” I told him point blank that what I had paid was more than fair, and had he wanted more he should have been clear in advance. With that he finally gave up ;)
One Sunday afternoon (yes, that’ how much we were working) I managed to sneak away for about an hour and take a taxi to another site which I was very curious about. Part because you could see it from just about everywhere in Dakar, part because I knew it was really controversial, and part…well, because it was there. This was the Monument de la Renaissance Africaine – or African Renaissance Monument. It was just completed in 2010, and is 49m high and sits on a 100m hill well above Dakar. It was designed (supposedly) by a Sénégalese architect, but built by a North Korean firm. 19 African heads of state attended the unveiling, but it’s the source of all sorts of controversy. Some religious people believe it’s too sexy and provocative, others think it’s just ugly, more believe it was a giant waste of money for a country with budget problems. A few pictures, and you can decide for yourself:
View from the top of the hill by the monument:
The last sight I got to visit I actually saw many, many times since it was on my walk from the Radisson to the office. It was the Place du Souvenir – couldn’t really find much info about it online, but it made for some fantastic photos – especially at sunset!