Wednesday, February 17, 2010
After six days of non-stop traveling, my boyfriend and I woke up on Monday and decided that we needed to give ourselves a little bit of time to relax.
We sat by the pool at Le Meridien in Dakar from 10am until almost 2pm, reading books and sipping café au lait. I have to admit that I had a hard time with it. Being type A++, I wanted to be on the move, exploring more of Dakar.
However, I was also exhausted and running low on energy, and knew that I needed to take some time to rest if I wanted to keep up the pace of the first half of the trip.
Once we were sufficiently rested, we found ourselves a taxi at the hotel and went into the city center. On the way from Les Almadies in the northwest to the ferry port in the southeast, we drove all along the coast of Dakar. The huge surfing waves, rows of whitewashed mission-style houses with terracotta tiled roofs, and stunning cliffs made me feel like I was in San Diego. Dakar’s beautiful coastline and peaceful aura were pleasantly surprising for a city that my guidebook described as having open sewers and being inadvisable to walk around.
We reached the ferry port after thirty minutes and boarded the boat for the short hop to the famous Ile de Goree. The island is known for being both the first French settlement in the Dakar area and for its unfortunate involvement in the historical slave trade.
We alighted at the pier on Goree and found ourselves in a peaceful car-free town full of leafy trees and beautiful colonial buildings. For the next two hours we walked all over the island, exploring everything from the small streets to the castle, the artisan markets, and the museums (which, incidentally were all open despite everyone having told us that they were always closed on Mondays).
The rich red and yellow hues of the buildings and the bright bougainvillea that climbed their walls were stunning. Wrought iron balconies and brass lion-shaped door knockers added rich detail to the scene, as did the contrast of the snow white goats bleating softly against the backdrop of the sea.
At one point we heard a noise coming from some bushes on the edge of the cliff by the castle. I thought it was a bird at first, but my boyfriend recognized it as the cry of a cat. We braced ourselves on a tree and leaned over the edge to discover two newborn kittens. They couldn’t have been more than a week old.
The pair was smaller than my outstretched hand and their tiny squinting eyes and not-yet-developed ears were absolutely adorable. We tried several times to get them to look up for a photo, but they were preoccupied with crying for their mother. I hope she eventually came back.
We left the Ile de Goree in the beautiful yellow light of the early evening and headed back to the mainland. After a quick stop for tea at Cafe de Rome in the city center, we drove north to an Ethiopian restaurant called Lalibela. My boyfriend had read good reviews online and we couldn’t wait to try it.
We weren’t disappointed. The outdoor roof terrace was all pillows and lanterns, with wrought iron furniture and large swaths of bright fabric overhead. The chicken with ginger and spices was amazing, as were the side dishes of lentils and cabbage. Not surprisingly, I ate way past the point of satiety.
After an early night, we woke up the next morning and ventured back into horrendous traffic on the way to the outskirts of Dakar. We were headed to Le Village des tortues, or Turtle Village.
The village was a sanctuary for turtles, complete with a breeding program and a nature conservation scheme. Since my boyfriend’s favorite animal is the turtle, we couldn’t resist the chance to visit.
Le Village des Tortues did not disappoint. Despite being in Dakar, it felt like it was a million miles away from civilization. The tree-lined sanctuary had a sweet perfume-like scent that was a welcome relief from the exhaust fumes we had inhaled in the city, and the turtles were plentiful and active.
The sanctuary was well-run and had information about both the turtles and the other wildlife in the enclosure. We first walked by the adult pens, where there were a few huge turtles that weighed 90 kilos. In each pen there was a dog that seemed to have adopted the turtles, watching over them from the edge of the fence. We couldn’t figure out if the canines were trained to do so or if they just took a special liking to their shelled companions.
Next we came to the juvenile pens where the 3-10 year old turtles lived. There we found some biologists weighing and measuring the turtles. We watched for awhile as they took the dimensions of one turtle and then tied a rope around its shell before hanging it from a scale to check its weight.
After they finished, the biologists turned to acknowledge us and held out the turtle. Smiling, we took turns holding it and posing for photos. It was much heavier than it looked!
The final stop at the turtle village was the nursery where the baby turtles—some no bigger than the palm of my hand—were munching on tiny chunks of green beans. With their minuscule shells and miniature bodies, they were the cutest of all of the critters we saw at the village.
Our circuit complete, we got back into the taxi and drove a short distance to Lac Rose, or Pink Lake. The lake is called Lac Rose because in direct sunlight it turns a beautiful pink color.
When we arrived, the lake was orange. Strange. We took off our sunglasses to get a better look, and the lake promptly turned brown. A local explained to us that because of the high winds that day, the lake would not be pink. So much for that. We put our sunglasses back on and settled for an orange lake instead.
Wading our way through souvenir stalls and extremely persistent touts selling everything from pirogue rides to ATV tours, we went through a small clearing to the beachfront restaurant of the Palal Hotel. There we tucked into a meal of Poulet Yassa, which we can’t get enough of. We decided we need to learn how to cook it when we get back to London.
After lunch we walked around a bit more before getting back in the taxi for the two hour drive to Palmarin. The seaside town is located on the Petite Cote, which runs from Dakar in the north to The Gambia in the south.
While we won’t be back in Dakar again except to catch our flight back to Nairobi, I can’t help but wish we had had a little bit more time to get to know the Senegalese capital. Maybe my morning of relaxing by the pool on Monday wasn’t the best use of my time. Or maybe I’ll just treat it as an excuse to plan another trip to Dakar.