Monday, May 7, 2012

So What's the Attraction?

It's time to visit Saint-Louis - the former colonial capital of Senegal and one of the northern-most cities in the country, built along the Senegal river and ocean - just a few kilometers from the border with Mauritania

Yet again, we go through the exercise of securing a new driver - one that could take us on some local excursions around the area. On the second day we were at Zebrabar and took a walk to the little village of Mouit - we saw a taxi driver with some of Zebrabar clients in it heading towards the encampment. Upon his return we flagged him down and talked to him about being our 'on-call' transport the next few days. He gladly accepted. Much of our decision making about these drivers in these regional places we visit have less to do with the condition of the taxi (what choice do we really have?) - then negotiating a reasonable rate and knowing that they know their way around the area - parks, hotels and attractions. And their ability to drive on and off road sans 4x4 

So here's our guy. Our communication with him was a hoot - not sure if it was because his Wolof surpassed his French - or if his missing front teeth added to the challenge. However, when he showed up the next morning - he tried to negotiate a price increase, at which point he asked Manning if Manning was "Abdulaye Wade" (a person with money) at which Manning then asked if he was "Macky Sall" - take take, give give. After a lot of chuckling of course and us being firm with the agreed upon price, we get in. We did manage to "talk" with him along the way and as with nearly every diver we've had - he really was a congenial man.

A little History from Wikipedia - Saint-Louis was established in 1659 by French traders on an uninhabited island called Ndar. It was baptized Saint-Louis-du-Fort in homage to the French king Louis XIV. It was the first permanent French settlement in Senegal. The fortified factory commanded trade along the Senegal River. Slaves, hides, beeswax, ambergris and, later, gum arabic were exported. During the Seven Years War it was captured by British forces in 1758, but was later returned to France. In the late 18th century, Saint-Louis had about 5,000 inhabitants, not counting an indeterminate number of slaves in transit. "Saint-Louis became the leading urban centre in sub-Saharan Africa”.

Between 1659 and 1779, nine chartered companies succeeded one another in administering Saint-Louis.  A Franco-African Creole, or Metis (mixed-race), merchant community characterized by the famous "signares", or bourgeois women entrepreneurs, grew up in Saint Louis during the 17th and 18th centuries. The Metis were important to the economic, social, cultural and political life of the city. They created a distinctive urban culture characterized by public displays of elegance, refined entertainment and popular festivities. They controlled most of the up-country river trade and they financed the principal Catholic institutions. A Metis mayor was first designated by the Governor in 1778. Civic franchise was further consolidated in 1872, when Saint-Louis became a French "commune". Louis Faidherbe, who became the Governor of the Colony of Senegal in 1854, contributed greatly to the development and modernization of Saint-Louis. His large-scale projects included the building of bridges, provisioning of fresh drinking water, and the construction of an overland telegraph line to Dakar.  Saint-Louis became capital of the federation of French West African colonies in 1895, but relinquished this role to Dakar in 1902.

Our visit:  
The morning started off with two cranky 10 year olds.  Bah-Humbug. Manning and I tried to ignore their cries and instead focused on just  crossing the Pont Faidherbe bridge. There seems to be a lot of myths about this bridge, it's designer, fabrication and construction - so I'll just say by not relying on any source - that in general all bridges are rather amazing and this was no exception.  The city itself straddles part of the the Langue de Babarie Peninsula, the Island and the Mainland. 


While the boy's crankiness continued, we reached the other side and were 'greeted'  by goats, vendors and guides wanting to take us around the island only adding to our already challenging circumstance.  

We shooed them all off (not the goats though as they do that on their own) and decided we would just wander around 'sans guide'. Or try to at least - and it's not easy when 1/2 the team is not cooperating.  Our goal at this point was to walk further along the quai, and through some random narrow streets to reach the other side of the island. Make it kind of a game. You know "to see what we could see."

And what we discovered was the one bridge according to our map we thought existed - actually "n'existe pas" - but for 25 CFA - you could board a pirogue to get to the other side.

We watch for a bit - and then an attitude change by Parker and Addison - and guess what we're going to do!!

As we worked our way through the market - passing pens and pens of moutons on the side by the water - and on our right, small vendors selling anything and everything else you can think of.  And no matter where we go sadly enough there's always a collection of trash and plastic strewn everywhere. One thing new however, a guy selling bags of Cafe Touba. Stop. We'll take a 1/2 kilo. We're not necessarily fans of Cafe Touba, but it is coffee and he seemed to be the only independent coffee seller we've come across since we arrived in Senegal.  Since he was there and we were there - why not?  At this point we've reached the 2nd bridge to cross back over to the island in the river and discover a sea of lively fishing priogues that dot the shoreline as far as the eye can see - kind of neat actually. 

Super Vivid Camera Setting
From there we meet up with  a statue of the first governor of Saint-Louis - Governor Faidherbe inside the Place Faidherbe  and a welcoming sight of a patch of open space after seriously feeling like we had just time warped back to Dakar.  We caught a glimpse of a few more buildings and honestly decided we'd absorbed enough - even with the twins emotional recovery.

Old Governor's Palace

Little boy who followed us for quite some time

Consecrated in 1828, it was the first church in West Africa.

Lonely Planet describes Saint Louis with it's "impressive colonial architecture, unique setting and relaxed atmosphere, most visitors find St-Louis one of the most congenial towns in Senegal".  While rich in history, what we felt like we experienced throughout the streets to us is what I'm calling Dakaresque "light". Yes there was some architectural flair and a reduced volume of taxis, people, shops, street venders and guides and while perhaps more tame - still to us a bit of the same.   

Without the energy to look around for a reasonably tasty menu we found ourselves at a small cafe that served up cold drinks, hot dogs and semi-warm pizza.  We left on neutral ground regarding our feelings towards the city. We contacted "Macky Sall" to pick us up and called it a day.

Maybe this city deserves a second chance but we already know with time no longer on our side and other places still unseen - Saint-Louis, we bid you "adieu".

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