The flight to Senegal had about 98% Africans, all traveling with, what seemed to be, way too much baggage. Then again, it seemed they knew what they were doing, as the MeridianaFly lady who was checking carry on luggage at the gate, didn't pick out anyone I noticed.
The Meridiana flight to Dakar leaves at the ungodly time of six in the morning. My eticket didn't mention it, but checking the carrier's website, specifically this flight was said to have its check in desks closed no later than 75 minutes before departure.
I had planned to take an airport shuttle in the middle in the night, going to bed early and catching some sleep. But as I still wasn't snoozing at 12 midnight, I figured, hell, why not take an earlier shuttle and hang out at the airport. At least there, if I'd fall into a deep sleep, I would probably still not miss my flight.
Getting on the shuttle bus, leaving at 1230 from the central train station, felt like getting on local bus transport in Africa. Way too many people were trying to get on, all pushing and shoving at the entrance. A good thing the conductor gave preference to those already having purchased a ticket. I got on, but many didn't. Though I suspect Malpensa shuttle chartered a second bus from somewhere later on.
At Malpensa airport, wifi was expensive, though I accidentally bumped in to an open network which. While charging my devices, downloading torrents and watching House, three Tunisian Frenchies came up to me, asking if I could pull up a YouTube video from a mate of theirs, from their banlieu in Paris.
A bit of a challenge, everyone left happily a few minutes later. "Thank you, Apple man!"
Flying MeridianaFly was my first intercontinental budget flight. Food was limited to the type of Sandwich regular airlines serve on short hauls, but legroom was fine. On another up, they also do a Freetown - Banjul (The Gambia) return for 250 USD. If we fail to make it to Morocco for Christmas, for reasonable money, then perhaps...
The Gambian renaissance
Flying into Dakar, the one major landmark, the Renaissance Monument, is easily spotted, having been built right next to the airport. Celebrating African independence (from their colonial overlords), it was built by North Koreans for no less than 30 million USD. And to show what the new Africa is about, the country's president requires a third of the proceeds to go into his pocket because of him claiming to own intellectual property rights.
Not that any proceeds are yet being taken. A guard at the site told me the monument won't actually open until December, when visitors will be able to take an escalator to the top of the creation, which is higher than the Statue of Liberty.
I did get a glimpse of the insides. I was puffing away, in the shade, next to the entrance, when, what was later claimed to be the 'owner' (though he was white and seemed to be Spanish), went in to show some peeps around. What I assumed was a North Korean was guarding the door on the inside.
Oddly, the flags in front of the monument have all been ripped to shreds. And why is it pointed almost, if not exactly, due west?
Besides the monument, there really isn't very much to see in Dakar. It's just another African city. Though more interesting than some. The layout and style are more similar to other African coastal cities like Maputo or Dar, more interesting than out of the way places like Lusaka or Gabarone.
And, surprisingly, there's quite a bit of public art in and around the city, the culmination of this of course being the African Renaissance monument.
In the city, the downtown area being very active, the few main streets have plenty of more proper shops, including nice enough restaurants, bakeries, cafes and clothing and shoe stores. It seemed that many, if not all, of the more upmarket ones, were ran by either Frenchies or, perhaps, north Africans.
Unfortunately, due to Ramadan just having started, many of the eateries have adjusted their opening times.
After visiting the monument, I hobbled over to the the African continent's western cape. The tip of this peninsula is actually occupied by a Club Med, meaning that you can only see the tip, not go there, having to settle for nearly the western tip of the African continent. True, the southern tip also isn't very inspiring, but at least you can check it out. Without being harassed by local traders who play the pity card.
Originally expecting these two visits to cost me the better part of the day, still early, I headed into the downtown area, where, after walking around for a bit, I ended up sipping beers at the Savana hotel, near the southern tip of the Dakar peninsula. Afterwards, I discovered that most of the tip is occupied by one of the many urban ruins in town, a former, but still quite impressive, army barracks.
Zigzagging through town, I ended up at yet another remnant of the horrible colonial past. Though Senegal's government, that is, its president, feel it proper to spend 30 million USD on a piece of painted and cemented bronze, the art nouveau facade of the Dakar train station is still standing, yet the rail link with Mali was discontinued over thirty years ago. Of course, the TAZARA's only reason it still exists is because of China's economic interest. The SA to Mozambique rail link suffered the same fate as the Mali - Senegal connection. And then there are the defunct or nearly defunct SA - Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe - Zambia and Kenya - Tanzania connections. And the Sierra Leone railways also defaulted over thirty years ago.
Perhaps these people simply enjoy being packed like sardines in crappy busses to travel along potholed roads. Ah, the mysteries of Africa.
Another touristy site is the Lac Rose, or Pink Lake, quite a bit out of town. Because of certain algae deposits, the lake has turned an odd shape of pink. I had wanted to go, but after realising the distance from town as well as checking out some of the photographs, I'm not as impressed.
Once were slaves
Which leaves a visit to the island of Goree. The Dutchies might catch it, indeed, named after the Dutch island of Goeree, after the Netherlands took over the island from the Portuguese, some 400 years back.
The island, some 2k from the Dakar shore, was a very minor slave trading outpost and is a UNESCO world heritage site. A pity the island's main buildings are all in ruins.
On the boat over, two locals tried to curry my favor for business. One woman selling jewelry, one gentleman wanting to be my guide. However, the island is so small, guides aren't really necessary. Plus, overhearing one guide to a few of his tourists, it sounded like he was significantly overstating the slave trading history of the island.
It's generally more fun to explore on your own anyway, though that also typically means you get to fend off more gold diggers.
It's intriguing that Dakar's main cultural sights are all remnants of a past that's not pur sang Senegalese. The renaissance monument was built by Koreans, the western cape has been appropriated by Club Med, the island of Goree is a dilapidated colonial outpost and much of downtown was built by the French.
That's not to say the Senegalese are not building. In fact, much of Dakar seems to be one huge construction site, plenty of private construction going on, as well as a few government funded creations.
Some sources claim that Dakar has 300.000 street kids. An awful lot, as the population is estimated as between 1 and 2 million. However, there are quite a few about. These, as well as plenty of others, make a point of talking to anyone who's considered to be a walking wallet, so I've already heard a number of times that Senegal and Iran have a great connection.
I'm not too well versed in the political links between Senegal and Iran but, for one, many of the taxis are actually, surprisingly enough, Iranian.
And what's with the horses and horse carts? Not something I've seen in other African countries.
After obtaining an M. Sc in maths, Babak Fakhamzadeh started with an office job at a major blue chip company but soon realised he'd do better on his own. Babak is a traveling web guru with a penchant for doing good and a love for visual and experimental art. Together with Eduardo Cachucho, he won the World Summit Award in the m-Tourism and Culture category in 2012 for Dérive app. With Ismail Farouk, he won the Highway Africa new media award in 2007 for Soweto Uprisings . com. Check out Babak's CV.