Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Picking up Poles

Around Ouakam, Dakar

We left our auberge, ViaVia, by 8am wanting to beat the rush hour traffic along the Corniche, it was surprisingly quiet but then it was 27th December and Dakar hadn't got back to work yet!  Headed directly to the Malian Embassy in Fann just a few kilometres away and waited for the gate to open. On arrival at the Embassy we came across Marius and Pietr, two young Poles who had slept on the pavement outside the Embassy.  They spoke broken English and absolutely no French and had been hitchhiking south after spending a few months in France earning cash for the trip.  The two of them had a school sized backpack each and we entered the Embassy together, I translated the form for them. I was promised my visa for 2pm so I headed off in search of Christophe outside whilst hearing the Poles might have to wait 48h!

As usual we went off in search of coffee, drove into the back streets of Ouakam and sat under a tree demolishing a few cups of coffee.  We then went up to the airport, so I could go and catch up with my 'Batswanan sister' who works at an aviation organisation next to it & Christophe could go and buy a ticket home.  The mere sight of Franki arriving into the aviation organisation's car park sent one of their guards running to me explaining that 'toubabs' couldn't just park here to visit the airport.  He then realised I had many friends in the offices and calmed down somewhat!  A wonderful but short catch-up, Christophe took a little longer being sent around in circles by airport security to be able to buy a ticket ... eventually we headed back to Ouakam for a light lunch in another Lebanese restaurant.

Marius and Pietr, Poles found camping outside the Malian Embassy
It transpired that Marius and Pietr had managed to persuade the consular officials to issue them visas that day.  They then asked me for a lift to Bamako, Christophe wasn't sure about them, neither was I, but we offered to get them out of Dakar so they could find transport further east.  Once on the road just after 2pm we heard their story.  It was more than a little shocking, having met someone in France from Mopti, Mali; they decided to go and visit his town, on a whim it seems!  They hitchhiked south and at Nouakchott headed east along the Route de l'Espoir, without visas for Mali.  They exited Mauritania and headed towards the Malian border near Nema.  The Malians refused entry, apparently they tried all they could but were refused, which meant returning to Nouakchott.

Arriving back at the Mauritanian border, the Mauritanians refused to let them back in as their single entry visa had now expired.  They were stuck in no-mans-land!  Eventually someone in the military gave them a lift back to Nouakchott and on arrival asked them to pay for the fuel, they offered 10€ each (2.5 day journey!), which apparently didn't go down too well!  They were put on a bus for Rosso, the border with Senegal and told not to return but to leave Mauritania as quickly as possible. 

After hearing this story we asked a few questions, it appears they hadn't got any vaccination, no malarial treatment as they didn't realise mosquitoes can kill!  They were very worried about AQIM asking countless times if Mali was in fact safe?!  I explained the basics to them saying that the south 'should' be safe but you never know, their reply was 'we don't have any money so they won't want us', unfortunately a little more than naive.  Their request to join me as far as Bamako I shelved, they were going to become a risk to me possibly and the worry of one of them getting sick and feeling responsible was too much!  I was going to Bamako alone!

I would be very keen to hear if anyone other travellers have come across these two ... hoping they got home safely!
Another shot of the expensive new Dakar autoroute out to the new airport
En route for Fatick after the end of the autoroute at Saly, a haven for French package holidays
We all jumped out at Saly, a town I loathe, it used to be full of French tourists on package holidays, not so much these days.  Again we wanted coffee and the boys who were living on milk and bread three times a day wanted bananas.  They wandered off to find some then raced back to ask me to help, the 10 or so bananas were pricey.  The lady had seen them coming and asked for 5€, I talked to her but she wasn't budging, she was going to get money out of these 3 toubabs ... we politely declined and walked away.  I could see these two were going to have a hard time of it, they had no idea how to negotiate and in Senegal like much of West Africa, negotiation is key to survival!

A few kilometres further on we decided to drop them in Fatick, we knew that they were far enough east to find a lift and it was a small enough town to probably find some safe accommodation.  We pressed on hoping to find somewhere to stay at Kaolack 195km from Dakar, it was Christophe's final night with Franki and I.
Hotel Adjana, Kaolack - a little out of our budget
Stunning hotel but lacked atmosphere!

We pulled into Hotel Adjana, following the signs.  The driveway was very smart and as we got closer (and told to park correctly, not at an angle) we realised we were way out of our league.  We had a look around, checked out the pool area and ordered a drink, however they weren't keen to serve us, were we looking a little tatty for them?  They didn't seem to have many, if any, clients, the atmosphere was very sombre so we were surprised that we couldn't sit an enjoy a drink by the pool. We headed back into town at dusk to find a small Lebanese owned bar on the main street, sat down to have a good look over the menu, it unfortunately wasn't up to much.  Christophe decided to go and have a look around town, after 30minutes or so he returned with a bag of goods as well as Pietr and Marius who had found Franki parked on the pavement outside.  They had decided to keep going despite our warnings about travelling when it's dark!

Eventually we left the bar and headed for the bus station, Christophe had found some great street food there.  A lovely lady served us some rice and beef in mafe (peanut) sauce.  We were surrounded by Talibes, young boys who are at a Madrasa, a Koranic school run by a Marabout who are religious teachers.  These boys are sent into the streets to beg for sugar, rice and money, I've seen them on every trip to Senegal, their situation seems to get worse, not better!  The youngest one was quite friendly, we tried to talk to him about his situation at the Madrasa. Although he spoke mainly Wolof with bits of French we had help from our lady at the food stall who helped out with translating.  The older boys soon arrived and got angry with him for talking about his life to toubabs.  This exploitation is a phenomenon that is found across a lot of Senegal in particular, including Dakar; and the abuse can be extreme with a lot of young boys suffering in silence away from their families whilst at the Madrasa.
Supper at the bus station in Kaolack
A young Talibe
Finishing supper, Christophe had already spotted somewhere to sleep.  The Saloum river had wide flat banks, we drove about 2km out of town and about 200m from the main road there were quite a few houses that had the exterior walls built.  We backed Franki up to about 5metres from a wall and Christophe hung his hammock attaching it to the steel reinforcement of the wall and Franki's ladder at the other end.  We went foraging for wood, found an enormous branch of thorns which we dragged across and lit it.  This soon attracted attention as a car from the neighbouring village probably just over a kilometre away decided to come and investigate.  It got to within 500m of us and turned around, obviously deciding we weren't causing too much trouble; again we entered this great bushcamp location on iOverlander!  Whilst he had gone shopping in town, Christophe had found a wine shop of some description with a lovely bottle of red, a French Merlot.  We sat talking for hours drinking wine, absolute silence around us and the sky ablazen with stars, eventually I retired to my bed inside Franki and Christophe to his hammock.  It had been an amazing trip with a complete stranger who had been a star; tomorrow I would be driving solo!
Best camp site ever, bushcamping on the banks of the River Saloum

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