Bodies carved from ebony

Trip Start Oct 18, 2007
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Trip End Nov 20, 2007


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Flag of Senegal  ,
Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Day 21.   7 November 2007 (Dakar, Senegal)
 
We're having breakfast when we're told the ship has been cleared.  We're warned that the dock is covered in oil and dirt so we should be careful and be prepared for our shoes to get dirty today. 
 
We get to the meeting point for our ship excursion at 8:20.  Our bus left about 20 min late.  We are a convoy of five buses with a police escort at either end to clear the traffic!  We're told by the guide that you can take photos of people unless they indicate not to (although the ship lecturer told us we should always ask permission).  We head off in a mostly full bus.  While driving we take a few discrete photos, but no close ups of people.  It's quite a sight : women beautifully dressed in amazing coloured clothes and head-dresses.  Traffic nightmare - probably worse than Morocco - even more donkeys and rubbish.  We're told that they now can't import cars older than 5yrs because only cars that run on unleaded petrol can be sold so the place is strewn with old cars and piles of car parts.  The public transport is on little buses packed like sardine-cans - we're told they're called "don't care buses" because they do whatever they want. 
 
People must be taking photos as we slow in the traffic because many people wave their fingers no (to the cameras they see).  We've put our cameras out of site and only snap a few buildings as we get further out.  The small children smile and wave to everyone but some of the more rebellious teenagers give the buses the finger. Taxis were Peugeots and Renaults (80's models).  We're told they have no rubbish collection - obvious by the sides of the streets.  The buildings thinned out, but there wasn't a lot of nothing.  Weird estates of boxes sticking out of the ground.  We're told that this is the power for each new housing site.  Look like giant bee boxes. 
 
Mamadou our terrific guide explained to us that the Pink Lake is where the Dakar Rally ends each year.  It is a huge thing for Senegal and has put the country on the map as a tourist destination although it is definitely visually at the bottom end of third world despite the occasional fancy car and the high rise buildings in the city. The Pink Lake (Retba) appeared out of nowhere (and yes, it is Pink, but only if the sky is blue).
 
We pulled into a resort and boarded big old four wheel drive trucks with seats on the back.  Resort was quite beautiful - lots of little huts that reminded me of Thailand and a big pool area.  They also must run a quad bike equivalent of our truck 'safari' that would be heaps of fun.  Lots of semi-sarcastic comments about the air-conditioning.  What were these people expecting?
 
We headed off towards the lake.  Incredibly windy and quite an unusual smell in the air that was obviously a combination of the high salt content and whatever was in the lake to cause it to go pink.  As we went along the lake edge we could see lots of small boats out in the lake with a single man using a pole like on the Avon in Christchurch - the lake is very shallow.  As we got closer you could see the bodies these guys had!  AMAZING!  Upper bodies like you wouldn't believe - huge shoulders, chests sculpted by nothing other than extremely hard work, tiny waists, body fat content of zero, and all wearing baggy wet shorts or what looked like underwear.  Was very hard to concentrate on what Mamadou was telling us.  Then there was the added complication of trying to get the local (?) people trying to sell sand paintings and dolls to leave us alone.  They were persistent and the experience boarded on harrowing.  How many times can you politely say no?
 
Back in the truck and it was like driving towards the eye of a hurricane.  Hats kept getting blown off and trucks would stop so that they could be retrieved.  Then we arrived at a local village where we would be allowed to wander and take pictures of the people.  Although we were told we could take photos of anyone and anything it was quite obvious that some of the villagers did not appreciate/enjoy/want the intrusion and who would blame them?  We were also told that we were not to give the children anything (money, lollies) under any circumstances but within minutes there were children with US notes in their hands.  This was to avoid a beggar mentally being instilled in the children.
 
I better explain the photo thing.  The Senegalese, the Morrocans, and from what I can work out African people in general do not like having their photo taken unless they first give permission.  They do this for two reasons.  One is that they believe every photo takes a little bit of their soul so that hypothetically they could disappear.  The second is that they perceive that every photo taken of them could be turned into a postcard or put in a book and that the photographer could make money from their image while they would get nothing.  Therefore it is polite to either ask in their language, or French (a large part of Africa, Spanish most of South America, Portuguese in Brazil etc) or point to your camera and have at least a dollar in your hand.  They'll either smile and/or nod or shake their head and/or finger to indicate whether they will allow you take their picture or not.  It's that simple, well to considerate people at least.    
 
Back to the village.  It was for both of us the most moving and unforgettable experience of our holiday so far.  This village is literally in a desert environment.  The ground is either sand or a combination of sand and small rocks, but mainly sand. The people live in small huts, some made out of a rendered mud with a thatched roof, others out of blocks that look like Besser bricks.  There were goats tied to little sticks that they use for milk and I'm guessing meat, some very out of place ducks, a few straggly trees and all around the outskirts of the village vegetable gardens being watered with hoses and huge watering cans.  It was surreal.  The village itself had two wells that they use for drinking water but the vege gardens were watered from numerous wells dug around the edge of the lake that drew fresh water; amazing considering the proximity to the lake.
 
The people were beautiful.  Although some had no problems with us being there and did not object to their photos being taken it was obvious that some allowed it only begrudgingly.  By letting us into the village they received cold hard cash that allowed them to maintain the well and provide other necessities to the people who lived their.  Occasionally one of the nosier passengers would wander away from the group but they were quickly told where they could and couldn't go.
 
Off to one side of the main area a lady was doing her washing. I wandered towards her at the same time another of the group did.  I was still a way off when he pointed his camera at her.  The lady shook her finger to indicate no picture but the stupid ignoramus just took his picture in any case.  The lady got very angry and as he started to walk away I told him she had said no and he said "I know, bit I took it anyway."  She stood up and I think we were very close to being told to leave due to the insensitivity and ignorance of I'm sorry to say a stupid old American.  Sounded like he was from Texas.  Need I say more?
 
Luckily disaster was avoided but more on that d*ck later.  We wandered the village for quite a while.  I just wanted to throw money at these people but in the proper way, by spending at the shop, not stuffing it in the kids' hands like we were told not to.  So we spent, just on jewellery and a couple of little animal carvings.  You couldn't help but love these people. 
 
The four wheel drive safari part really started after we left the village.  Was heaps of fun.  Up and down the dunes.  Couple of times I thought we could easily roll this thing.  Then we crested a dune and the Atlantic Ocean was in front of us.  It was fantastic.  We raced along this virtually deserted beach for maybe a couple of miles then headed back to the resort.  Although there were some people who were obviously guests I can't imagine the few resorts we saw doing much trade except around Dakar Rally time. 
 
Headed back in to Dakar.  While we were at the village I think they changed the tyre of our truck because it was flat but I found out today that one of them also caught fire so we did ok.
 
I was sat behind the d*ck from earlier.  Told you I'd get back to this moron.  Anyway, there he is photo taking away.  Obviously too blind or too stupid to use the screen on his Kodak digital camera so he used the viewfinder and that made his picture taking even more obvious.  People kept indicating no but he kept shooting.  We eventually got back in to the chaos that is Dakar and even our police escort had little impact on our ability to progress at any more than a snails pace.  At some stage we end up next to two trucks full of new army recruits, all with automatic rifles in their hands.  So what does d*ckwad do?  He aims his camera at one of the trucks.  A few fingers are raised and shaken but he still has that camera viewfinder to his eye until one of the recruits raises his gun.  I though if they shoot him I'll reach out through the shattered glass and shake the hand of whoever has rid the world of this fool.  Oh, and his good ol' wife was just as stoopid!  
 
Unfortunately we made it back to the ship will all passengers accounted for.  We had arranged to meet Cindy to go into the city and while we were going back up the gangway Cindy called out from down on the dock so we turned around and went back off.  I'd decided while we were on the bus that I would not be able to cope with going in to the city - I'm a big boy but I was (sadly) scared by this place - and that if Al wanted to go it would just be Cindy and him.
 
All along the dock local vendors had set up a craft market.  There were literally dozens of stalls that sold timber carvings, bags, clothes, batik (yep, very odd) clothes and napiery, t-shirts, some brass stuff, silver jewellery, paintings and then wandering around were people who'd open a folder and then show you pictures that made from butterfly wings (I kid you not)
 
Immediately we got pounced on by someone who wanted to sell us a taxi ride into town or wherever we wanted to go.  We'd already explained to Cindy that I wasn't prepared to leave the dock and this was reinforced when two crew members told us of their harrowing trip out past the dock area gates.  Once they walked off, the taxi guy was back.  $40 became $20 to take us to the markets or wherever we wanted to be taken and he would wait for us wherever we went.  We'd been told by Ian the Aussie port lecturer that it was a $3 ride into the city centre so at the time $20 seemed excessive.  I think if I'd gone straight back on board Al and Cindy would have headed in to town but they ummed and ahhed and we all decided to just do a bit of shopping on the dock.
 
I am without doubt the worst bargainer in the world.  I chose a shirt, a mu mu thing, a large piece of painted cloth and a t-shirt and the first price offered to me was $200!!!  Even the t-shirt was $30!  Crazy.  So instead of just getting up and walking away - I was sat down in the middle of his stall - or at the very least offering $50 I say $100.  There was lots of animated discussion between my ebony skinned and singlet clad salesman and a man he said was his father.  It was most likely along the lines of "this guys a complete idiot, we got him good".  Anyway, I got it for $100 that was most likely about three times as a much as a hard nose bargainer would have paid but in truth better $100 into the Senagalese economy than the coffers of Carnival Corporation (the owners of HAL).
 
I've had enough so find Cindy and Al and say I'm heading back on board.  Cindy has got a couple of paintings - she is a great bargainer - but is til looking for some butterfly pictures.  Amazingly it is the guy who had offered us the cab ride who eventually has the pictures Cindy was after.  Back on the ship and phew!  I feel really pathetic that I couldn't bring myself to head out into Dakar but that's the way it is.  Also disappointed that neither Al nor Cindy ended up heading out into the city.
 
So that was Dakar.  We had our lunch on this island of peace and cool that is the Rotterdam while being surrounded by this amazing place that felt like it was alive. I eventually plucked up the courage to go back out on the dock and buy a little piece of local silver jewellery and before scurrying back on board.
 
We'd arranged for Edith and Irene to come and have a drink in the cabin while we sailed out of Dakar.  Finished off the peach wine that Edith quite liked then opened the other bottle of Maltese wine and it was horrid.  Really horrid!  Ah well, so much for aged at the family winery.   Only one continent of the three to go - South America in four days!
 
As we sail from Dakar the ship is surrounded with millions of butterflies/moths.  It is an amazing experience but quite eerie as well.  Even Ian the port lecturer mentions it is as we sail out past Goree.
 
Watched another show tonight - Love Songs of Broadway with costumes by Mackie.  Not sure about any of the name as they weren't all love songs and we have no idea who Mackie was but the show was pretty good.  We've enjoyed the shows since walking out on the horrible hats thing we saw. Ha!  
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