25 March 2014

palmarin/dakar: our senegalese send-off

the days after leaving saint-louis ended up being the perfect way to end a challenging but formative experience. 

we based ourselves at the cousins' house in dakar then went to palmarin, a tiny village in the desert but on the beach, for two nights, saturday through monday. actually, we were going to stay a third, but then it was more isolated than we realized and we love dakar... and also we didn't have enough cash to pay for the third night.

c'est la vie of a teenage traveler.

anyway: even the ride from our st. louis to dakar was beautiful, as tamar and i had time and space to reflect on and discuss every aspect of our time in this country. with tamar and individually, i was finally pulling together my reactions to the experience to realize how much i've grown and learned. some of what we talked about went into my "thoughts on leaving" post, though i don't think i could ever sum up all my feelings about this place and this period in any piece of writing. at least tamar and i got to talk it all out.

we've come full circle.

the gas station restaurant where i ate my first meal in senegal. full circle.

it was an amazing feeling to arrive at laurie and bush's house and dakar, feeling almost like we belonged there and like dakar had become a home too. being welcomed into their house really made senegal a special place to be and made this last week possible.

we got up early on saturday to make pancakes to thank them.

then we were off to palmarin.

tamar falls asleep in the sun on the ride there.

the ride south to senegal's petite côte was supposed to take two and a half hours; it ended up taking over four.

when we first got there, we saw the extent of our isolation and the extent to which we had brought zero food. so we ventured tentatively into town, though, like a mirage, the seemingly close-by village took thirty minutes of trekking across the desert to reach. in the meantime, we got harassed by some little boys who seemed to have just received the senegalese-village version of sex ed; they thought it was hilarious to tell us all about it.

we found a little "epicerie" (small grocery) and realized that the only stock was a whole wall of liquor, two boxes of packaged cookies, some bottled water, and an incomplete six-pack of coca-cola. we went for the coca-cola, and each downed a 1.25 liter bottle in one afternoon. i would be disgusted, but i needed it.

not to mention that the shopkeeper had to run in to help us from outside where all he was doing was drinking beer with friends all day; he took the opportunity of coming inside to pour a shot of vodka as well. seeing all the open alcohol drinking was different for us; this is a small enclave of catholicism in the majority-muslim (and therefore non-drinking) country.

but the chilling was nothing new. they do nothing everywhere.

anyway, then the drunkish epicerie owner directed us to the only town restaurant, where we ordered an omelet with onions and then had to wait while the woman, toting a baby slung on her back, went to buy the eggs, onions, and bread.

walking back to the guesthouse.

another thing we hadn't seen before in senegal: pigs, because muslims don't eat pork.

we had to shoot a coke ad in the middle of this ridiculously desolate vastness; you know how sometimes coca-cola becomes an emblem of hope in a desperate moment? well, it does.

our feet were already smeared with dirt. or animal poop? who knows.

in the morning, we kayaked through mangrove forests in the protected reserve. 

the guide even surprised us with a treat: coffee break inside a baobab. the trees' trunks are hollow, and this one had grown a narrow door.

there'a a bat up there.

climbing out.

monkey bread, the fruit of the baobab. you can eat those dry white pieces.

then back on the water. we saw massive varon lizards, various birds and fish, and oysters and clams, which are a local industry.

to get to and from the kayaking place, we took a charette - horse-drawn wagon. it was a blast.

leopold's butt.

it was a sunday morning, so the whole village was at catholic mass. but it was also a holiday - journée caritas, though we never got a good explanation of what the day celebrates - and we went into town in late morning to join the fête.

the whole village was already drunk on la gazelle biere and over-fermented palm wine (so sour it smelled like rotten eggs). the men were outside, chatting. 

the bar.

the women quickly moved inside to dance, and we were cajoled into joining.

we also pulled some of the curious kids onto the "dance floor." 

we left after a couple hours, but over the water and sand we heard the party continuing all day and all night.

after buying another absurdly large soda, we just collapsed onto the steps of the shop; the heat was too oppressive to allow us to move. it was dragging down, sucking all motivation to do anything... no wonder people just chill here.

our bungalow.

relaxing on the beautiful, empty, mostly clean beach was pretty great.

and the shells were beautiful, all tones of blue-gray and orange-gold that reminded me of a palette you'd see in j.crew.

i read a whole book in two days: the glass castle by jeannette walls. it was awesome, and it's interesting how your interpretation of or reaction to a book gets inextricably tied up in the context in which you read it.

"starry night" shell.

lucky us, we got an offer of free horseback rides, an adventure we never could have afforded otherwise.

a barefoot, sunset horseback ride on a lonely beach: a perfect moment.

the horse owner - whose name i forget - painted his charette himself.

riding through the village's surprisingly narrow, windy streets on the charette.

the last day was just a beach day. we collected a bunch of shells - so many caught our eye.

and then we packed up and heading through the knobby trees and shiny mosques back to the comfy bed and high-speed wifi that awaited in dakar.

thought the car might fall apart before we arrived.

most of our last couple days in dakar were spent hanging with family, packing, enjoying the neighborhood. we made a last trip to the market for last-minute gifts and to spend the rest of our money.

Tamar with our last ten-thousand note (the equivalent of a $20).

the rings we bought with that 20,000cfa! each is emblematic of senegal in its own way.

of course, ice cream.

for our final evening on tuesday, we hiked up to the mamelles lighthouse, on one of the two hills right by the house. at sunset, it was a fabulous view of dakar. we weren't alone, but we were alone as tourists: dozens of locals were running and exercising on the steep road circling the hill.

sharing a brioche for the road.

fighting some serious wind.

the restaurant is long gone; the menu remains.

what's for dinner?

we left on wednesday late at night; by thursday morning i was home, hugging family and dumping clothes into the laundry machine and writing a packing list for my imminent trip to france.

i do miss senegal already, but i know i got all that i could out of it. i only have great things to look forward to. onwards and upwards.