09 March 2014


On Sunday, we were finally able to coordinate our schedule with the ferry times at Dakar's Gare Mariniere and visit L'Île de Gorée, a must-see in Senegal. For centuries, the island was the last stop for many slaves on their way from West Africa to the Americas. While it actually processed only a few hundred slaves a year of the millions that were taken, the island now stands as a symbol to this tragic chapter of history.

It's also just a beautiful little place that's charming but totally overcome by tourists. Laurie says it's gotten significantly more touristy even in the two years since she'd last visited.

After a long wait at the port, we finally boarded a ferry full of young French families and elderly tourists in large groups.

Adult bras?!

The boat pulled up to an island covered in palm trees and brightly-colored, terracotta-roofed buildings.

Right off the boat, we hired a guide to show us the island. He'd grown up on Gorée, which has about 1,200 inhabitants.

The colorful buildings and flowering vines lining narrow pedestrian streets are reminiscent of scenes you'd find on a Mediterranean island, like maybe southern Italy or Greece. I know I was reminded of stopovers at tiny hilly islands while sailing in Turkey four summers ago.

The old village well, from before undersea pipes carried fresh water to the island from Dakar.

This is the most elite girls' high school in the country. The top students from all across the country move to Dakar and commute by ferry to attend, usually boarding during the week.

About 1/3 of the islanders are Catholics, and attend this church.

Blogspot sometimes messes with the brightness of photos it thinks are too dark; this was a prettier photo before I uploaded it.

After our little walk around the island and an overview of its history, we headed towards the slave house to learn a bit more about the lives of captured West Africans who passed through.

Different prison-like cells separated fit men, young men who needed to bulk up, women, young women, and kids.


The place was absolutely mobbed with tourists.

Upstairs, where the masters lived, is now a small exhibit on the history.


And then of course there's the famous "Door of No Return," where a bridge led out to waiting ships and the ocean. It's said that the area also used to be popular with sharks, who feasted on any unfit or misbehaving slaves.

The calm before the storm.
It was hard to squeeze in a contemplative moment as the huge group listening to the French guide broke, and suddenly dozens of camera-wielding Europeans were barreling towards us, shouting for us to get out of their photos.

After leaving the slave house, we stopped at a workshop to see the process of making traditional sand paintings.

Each color of sand comes from a different part of West Africa: Gorée, the Lac Rose, the Lompoul, parts of Mauritania...


Of course, like any respectable semi-culturally-authentic tourist trap, they then tried to sell us things. Tamar and I agreed that we wish they'd offered a little workshop or class where you make your own simple sand painting. We'd have paid up for that.

Next was a walk up Castel Hill, to the highest point on the island. The path was lined with artists and craftsmen, some with really interesting work.

And baobabs, of course.

This (hideously ugly, if you ask me) sailboat monument to the memory of the slaves was enacted by African Americans, for whom Gorée is a pilgrimage destination.

The cannon was installed during World War II.

This part of the island, with its rocky cliffs, was the filming location of a famous movie, whose title I'm of course forgetting.

It also offers a view of the Dakar skyline.

We took a back route down the hill, through an area where many of the villagers actually live. Again, it looks strikingly Mediterranean. And just incredibly beautiful.

But it did smell like farm animals.

The roof of the mosque.

Raising oxen on the island.


Another door to nowhere?

Venturing into more of the locals' area of the island, we walked towards the public elementary school. For high school, island children have to go to Dakar.

As the island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, buildings can't be constructed or torn down, only fixed up.

These next three photos are a series:

A toubab gets separated from his pack.

Spotting a salmon-colored t-shirt and sensing vulnerability, the predator targets his prey. Necklaces at the ready and prices determined, he pounces.

Happy toubab is unaware that he may be about to fall victim to a purple-robed seller.  Sorry, I can't tell you how this saga ends.

Photobombed by another seller, with these gourd-and-string little maraca things that were a popular souvenir for sale.

And that's all for Gorée. We didn't have much time before our car to St. Louis, though we did make a N'Ice Cream pit stop as we drove home.

People in Dakar LOVE to exercise. In the evening there are huge groups running and doing plyometrics on the beach, or using public, open-air gym equipment in parks.

The largest mosque in Dakar.

Looking out over Mamelles.

We tried to take family photos before I left; they're not the most artistic but they're a good memory.


And then Tamar and I were back on the road to St. Louis, ready to face another week of microfinance and cold showers.

But we'll be back in Dakar soon enough - we leave St. Louis on Friday! Time flies, and I'm starting to get to that jittery phase of "Did I make the most of my time here? Did I do and see everything I could? Am I going to regret not doing more?"

I know I did, and I tried, and I won't.

x, m

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