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24 Hours in Dakar, Senegal

Originally booked on a Friday Air France flight from the Guinean capital of Conakry to Paris, strikes in Paris forced the cancellation of my flight. I rebook onto Air Mali through Dakar, Senegal, yet, that too is canceled due to technical problems. I finally board an Air Senegal flight two days later to Dakar. While I finally manage to get out of Conakry, I am met in Dakar by strikes at the airport, so cannot get off the plane! This is when I discover that I am sitting next to the cousin and manager of the internationally acclaimed Senegalese singer, Baaba Mal, and discover that Baaba Mal's entire orchestra is on the plane with me! While thoroughly satisfied with my hour stuck on the plane, I am not quite as pleased when I finally make it through customs only to find that I have long missed my connection to Washington. Next available flight…24 hours… So this is the story of my first 24 hours in Dakar.

Still at the airport, I call around to several hotels to find an available room. By the time I am ready to head into the night, it is 4 a.m. Stepping out of the terminal and dragging my suitcases towards the taxi park, I am immediately surrounded by a group of taxi drivers fighting for my business. Despite my car’s broken windshield and having to be push-started, we make our way (albeit quite slowly) towards the center of the city. I check into the hotel, sleep for five hours, and then rise to take advantage of the unexpected time in Dakar. Having read about a fishing village called Yoff 30 minutes from the capital, I decide to visit there first.

Port with boats facing part of Dakar, Senegal.

I had barely eaten over the past 24 hours and was pleased to be greeted by tantalizing smells emanating from a beachside fish stand.

Men with fish at Yoff, Dakar.

I sit down with my taxi driver for a very memorable meal of fresh grilled fish topped with mustard and a side of onions.

Fish cooked on tray at Yoff, Dakar.

Next, I head down the beach to visit the Seydina Limamou Laye Mausoleum.

Senegal Beach next to Seydina Limamou Laye Mausoleum.

As my taxi driver takes the opportunity to pray, I watch a group of children washing in the fountain of the mausoleum.

Children playing in Senegal.

A young man walks toward me. Casually swinging a long knife, he stops to greet me, introducing himself as Abdoulayi.

Dakar, Senegal with a young man in glasses.

Born and raised in Yoff, Abdoulayi does not speak French, but speaks very good English. After a few minutes of conversation, I ask him what the knife is for. “To cut a watermelon,” he responds, promptly inviting me to eat with him. Though initially hesitant, I follow him to a tent next to the mausoleum, where he proceeds to dig a watermelon out of the sand.

Young man digging up a watermelon in Dakar.

Cut into large pieces, we enjoy the refreshingly cool, sweet watermelon served with Chinese green tea. Abdoulayi tells me about his travels throughout West Africa, and his three years living in the Gambia in a house with a group of American students, where he learned English.

Forty-five minutes later, I find myself following him to his house. He disappears for a moment, reemerging to hand me a piece of paper with the names and addresses of all his American friends in the Gambia. He sorrowfully tells me how he had lost touch with them over the years, as the addresses and contact information are old. I peruse the list and stop short, staring at a familiar name of a woman in Maryland. I think I know this person! Abdoulayi immediately disappears for a second time, reappearing a minute later with a large brown envelope in hand. Out comes an assortment of old, yellowing photos. He leafs through them briefly, then hands me a photo. There it is, staring me in the face — a photo of him with a former colleague of mine in Maryland!

Photo of a friend in Dakar.

Such a series of events were not supposed to happen, leading me from one adventure to the next, as if each step of the journey was meant to bring me to this final destination.

After some time, I regretfully thank Abdoulayi for his hospitality, and my driver and I head back to the taxi, pausing along the way to photograph a group of children in front of a roadside mosque and to admire the colorful wall paintings advertising a tailor’s shop.

Children in front of mosque in Dakar.

Colorful wall paintings on house.

Once back in Dakar, we visit the colorful Marché des HLM (“HLM Market) with its long rows of market stalls decorated with colorful fabrics.

Darkar market selling cloth and clothes.

We end the day at Dakar’s coastal fish market, small piles of fish dotting the beach.

Women sitting with fish caught at Yoff, Dakar.

My very first 24 hours in Dakar turned out to be absolutely magnificent…

For More Info

On the coast of West Africa, Senegal makes an excellent travel destination for any first-time or experienced traveler to West Africa. While Dakar is a big city-in fact, regarded as the "Paris of West Africa"-the hospitality of the locals overwhelmed me. Despite my airline troubles on this trip (which I do not regret at all), Dakar is generally easy to fly in and out of, with a fairly modern airport (at least compared to other West African countries). You will also have a host of both low cost as well as excellent business class hotels (such as the Sofitel Teranga) to choose from. And the food is excellent...

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