Country number: 92
Territory number: 100
When? February 2009, coming from The Gambia
How? Car, boat
Who? With Alex
‘The gracefulness of the slender fishing boats that glided into the harbor in Dakar was equaled only by the elegance of the Senegalese women who sailed through the city in flowing robes and turbaned heads. I wandered through the nearby marketplace, intoxicated by the exotic spices and perfumes. The Senegalese are a handsome people and I enjoyed the brief time that Oliver and I spent in their country. The society showed how disparate elements– French, Islamic, and African– can mingle to create a unique and distinctive culture.’
Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom
Off the ferry from Banjul (over the River Gambia) and overland to Saly. On the way, it’s the dry brown rolling hill scenery typical of the Sahel and assorted traditional villages, circular huts with mud walls lining the roads. We spend a good part of the journey crossing the huge Sine-Saloum Delta which extends 45 miles along the coastline and 22 miles inland. (Not long after I visited -in 2011- the delta was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. I’m sure there was no connection.) It’s not hugely appealing. There are brackish channels linking over 200 islets, lots of mangrove forest and a vast expanse of dry forest. A few birds linger safely in the distance, but I can’t see the flocks of pink flamingos I had hoped for
The hotel is attractive, with chalet style rooms. There’s a stout woven fence between the grounds and the beach and it very soon become apparent why this is necessary. Morning and evening the beach is alive with local men exercising, body building and playing football. I’ve read that wrestling is Senegal’s most popular sport and has become a national obsession. It seems to me that the whole population aspires to a wrestler’s physique. There is a great deal of posturing, and much sweating. It’s hot and humid, even at breakfast. As the gymnasium disperses the middle of the day is given over to touts selling their wares. They’re naturally more interested in interacting with the tourists rather than just posing. The whole is a colourful spectacle, (the costumes are flamboyant and wonderful) though increasingly exhausting, as the noise never ceases. It’s also a huge deterrent from walking on the beach, although once past the throng it’s interesting to watch the gaudy fishing boats being unloaded. Like the Gambia, the sands are broad, but brown, and the sea a murky grey, so it’s not the prettiest of beaches.
The road to Dakar is slow and winding and the traffic round Dakar itself appalling. We almost miss our plane home. No wonder they cancelled the rally….
Senegal is the westernmost country in the mainland of the Old World, or Afro-Eurasia, and owes its name to the Senegal River, which borders it to the east and north.
‘Senegal’ comes from the Wolof “Sunuu Gaal”, which means ‘Our Boat.’
The Portuguese were the first Europeans to take an interest in Senegal in the mid-fifteenth century, but it was the French who took control in 1677, via the infamous slaving island, Gorée.
Senegal became fully independent in 1964, but the official language is still French.
Senegal is the only country in West Africa never to have experienced a military coup.
The network of protected areas in Senegal covers about 25% of the national territory – there are six national parks, plus other types of protected areas.
Senegal’s main income comes from fish, phosphates, groundnuts and tourism
Senegal is a secular state, but Islam is the predominant religion in the country, practised by approximately 94% of the population.
The country hosted the Paris–Dakar rally from 1979 until 2007.
To see more of my photos of Senegal, visit this page.