The First Few Days

June 06, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

I've been trying to take notes as we go, typing with my thumbs on my Google Pixel XL phone and can't keep up because we're just seeing and learning too much.  Let me post the following to catch everyone (or anyone) up on our travels and I'll add to it and edit whenever possible.

2 June

Our flight from Denver was uneventful, but we did spend about 30 minutes waiting and taxiing to the gate because of so much ground traffic at JFK.  When we arrived, our assigned gate for the flight to Dakar was B36, so we took the shuttle from Terminal 2 over there with the cadets and then decided to just split up, walk around and meet back at the gate before the flight was set to leave at 2205, boarding at 2110.  Becky and I got dinner in a pub-style restaurant instead of waiting to eat dinner late on the flight--a decision that paid off later. Afterwards, we walked around the terminal as our gate changed from B36 to B22.

JFK is a 60s or 70s style airport that is very crowded in the older part of the Terminal 4 international  area, with just scads of people lined up for flights and almost no space to stretch out. We were clearly in an older, less renovated area, unlike the newer, more open parts of Terminal 4.  

Later, our gate was changed to B33 and we moved down there, sitting and reading.  We helped a very nice French woman from Nice with some questions about her long-delayed flight at a gate that was expecting a flight from Amsterdam and then eaves-dropped on some conversation in French between a woman in a wheelchair and some porters.  She, too, was headed to Senegal, dressed in a deep yellow floral print. It wasn’t clear why she needed a wheelchair.

We saw her again when our gate again moved to B22, then we endured yet another set of changes to B33 and back before taking off.  It seemed that many flights coming in from Europe were late arriving and Delta was having trouble finding open gates in a timely fashion.

Meanwhile, at B22, Georgia struck up a conversation with our Senegalese friend and was learning a lot about the city.  Her new friend wanted to meet her for dinner and show her around the city and they exchanged contact info.

We finally boarded--or started to board at about 2130.  There were dozens of small children and at least five women in wheelchairs.  Boarding was a complete gaggle and we were joking with an American that lived in Dakar that it looked very French, with no one willing to respect place in line.

Becky, the cadets and I pre-boarded after all of the children and wheel-chair bound were on-board, taking advantage of the offer for active duty military to walk on with First Class.  Moments before boarding, I took my 10mg Ambien and we thought we might make it on time.

Of course, boarding took longer than usual, but we settled into the full flight and made the best of it.  I put on my eye mask, used by bluetooth headphones as earplugs and fell asleep.

I woke up at about 0015 and we hadn’t left.  It seems that someone did not board the plane as expected and they had to search the cargo hold to find his luggage--this took nearly 90 minutes.  Ultimately, this caused us to arrive almost three hours late.

During the flight, we both slept very little due to the many babies crying and a medical emergency.  One women almost directly behind us felt very ill and passed out, requiring calls for a doctor on-board--there was none.  A few minutes later we heard the automatic voice of the AED device prepping to give her a shock, if needed--it wasn’t needed.  She was, however, carried to the first row of coach, nearest the main doors so that she could be evacuated quickly upon arrival.

I woke up another time when a young boy apparently had the night terrors and couldn’t be calmed, screaming like a banshee about three rows up and across the aisle.

We landed about three hours late at 1300 and parked on the tarmac, despite what looked like an empty, new terminal with plenty of jet bridges.  No one getting off the plane required a wheel chair, but there was an ambulance waiting for the woman who had an emergency and she was taken off the plane almost immediately, despite looking none the worse for wear..

We got on the second bus and arrived at the immigration/visa processing door in time to see Georgia rushing back to the plane.  She’d been on the earlier bus but had realized that her passport had fallen out of her pocket while on board. We waited at the door, though the guys had cleared immigration and were awaiting our bags.  

Happily, she came back quickly, passport in hand and our first crisis was averted.  We three cleared immigration quickly and didn’t have to wait too long for our bags. We cleared customs inspection just as quickly and stepped into the lobby to meet our guide patiently awaiting us, sign in hand with my last name and “Tailor Made Travel.”

On Augusto’s advice, we all got cash at ATMs near the exit doors.  With an exchange rate at about 560CFA/1USD, we decided to get 50,000 CFA for each person..

We learn that is now an hour drive from Dakar since the new international airport in Thies opened in Dec 2017.  We thought that maybe that’s why we didn’t use jet bridge--it wasn’t open yet. Augusto led us to a large 16 passenger van and we loaded up with the assistance of Idri, our driver.

We drove along smooth, new roads and bridges coming into Dakar and saw work being done on a high speed train being finished to the newly renovated downtown train station.

Augusto explains that Senegal government being moved out of downtown Dakar to nearer airport, explaining all of the construction we saw along the way.  New hotels, a basketball arena, large government offices, and commercial centers seemed to be going up everywhere. It was, however, very dusty along the way with many homes looking half-built, some goats and herders along the highway and mixed in with the homes and small compounds.

During the drive to Dakar and the Hotel de La Madrague hotel, we passed by an Atlantic beach with excellent waves and dozens of surfing riding their boards waiting for breakers that seemed to be in the six to eight foot range.

City very dirty with dust on everything.

Checked into hotel without problem--excellent view of N’Gor Beach, fishing bay, and N’Gor Island to the west.

Hotel nice and clean with bright colors. Simple decor.

Enjoyed a nice lunch at the hotel with grilled whole filet of sole, rare grilled tuna steak, etc.  We shared several plates between pairs, but made a mistake in ordering and got an extra fillet of sole which was easily devoured.  The beer was good and cold, too, and we tried both Flag and Gazelle, the two Senegalese brews. Flag is your very typical tropical climate developing world light lager comparable to Tiger Beer in Singapore and was perfect for lunch.  With drinks, we paid a total of 7000CFA each.

Depart for City tour at 1500.

Many things closed due to Sunday and Ramadan.

Went to Monument to African Renaissance.

Huge statue of family financed by North Korea and just open a few years.

Very impressive, somewhat like Mt Rushmore combined with Washington Monument and Statue of Liberty.  Very heroic, socialist style.

Augusto said that it offended some Muslims because woman is uncovered and legs bare while man is lifting baby in left arm/hand.

Walked up many stairs to base of statue but didn't pay 10€ to go up elevator top of 'crown.’

Saw cool modern art sculptures nearby, then drove past huge Mosque on the beach under renovation paid for by UAE.

Drove into centre college and past President’s residence seeing changing of the guard.

Passed many ministry offices and residences downtown and we're told again that it’s all moving out of town.

Also went by old int’l airport (Yoff) that is now operated by the military.

Abandoned ministry offices will become apartments and hotels downtown.

Went to Catholic cathedral to Mary downtown, built by French in 1930s. Closed.

Went to city overlook and saw Goree Island in the distance as well as port and downtown, then to a monument to WW1 and WW2 dead in front of city hall..

Returned via main roads lined by street sellers with markets down side roads.

Stopped at grigri booths where shamans were selling herbal cures and weird stuff like goat horns, dried lizards, chicken/turkey feet, minerals, spices, leather strips, fur, etc.

Sellers wanted me to pay for photos.  In general, people are very reticent to have their photos taken here and most women either cover their faces or turn away when I simply ask the question.

Walked down a street and saw other street sellers and small shops:. paint, food, hairdressers, tailors, auto repair, etc.

Walked past large concrete soccer/basketball area with a game going on then returned to bus and Idiot, our great driver.

Back to hotel to arrange dinner with Moussa

Moussa arrived at about 1900 to take us to dinner at his mom’s house.

V2 joined us, here with CSLIP for three weeks as sub, arrived four days earlier and had been body-surfing that day.

Moussa negotiated taxi fair (2500 CFA per car and we went in a total of three cars to his mom’s--where he also lives.

About a 20 minute ride on good streets, then down sandy sidestreet to apartment complex. Upstairs in dark hallway to very simply decorated 2-3 bedroom apartment on second floor to meet his mom and aunt who were cooking in kitchen down long hallway.

TV on with African soap operas (Walf TV) and then Muslim chanting/singing announcing sunset and prayers.

Nice deck on West side facing neighborhood of upscale (relatively) and new apartment complexes that were 2-4 stories.

We could hear muezzin calling prayers.

Dinner was served first courses being finger foods that were very tasty, almost like mini-pizzas.

Served at dining room table buffet style.

We served ourselves and ate in living room, not realizing that other food was coming, so we conserved the food on the table to not wipe it all out.

Moussa wanted his mom and aunt to practice their English with us, but there wasn’t much interaction really. They just brought food out.

Next (main) course was roasted chicken with couscous and a great onion sauce that included spices and green olives. Layered on a plate with sliced baguettes.

Moussa had gone out to get bread earlier and he explained that he had taken his mom to the market earlier in the day to get all of the food they needed to prepare for the evening.

We all are well. Cadets asked Moussa questions about his flying, as did I, and experience with the CN-235 flying around Senegal.  Moussa told us that he likes flying around Senegal and that the Senegalese are planning to buy one or two more CN-235s.

We talked about Boubacar and Moussa told us that because of the T-6 stand-down due to oxygen issues he would be graduating late and probably not back to Senegal before September or October.  Boubacar is now married to an officer in the Senegalese navy that he met before he went to UPT while stationed for several months in Saint-Louis. Moussa was stationed there at the same time.

One of the few decorations on the wall was Moussa’s UPT grad certificate and USAF pilot wings.

After dinner, we stepped into balcony and saw a night football match going on in the streets.  

Cool evening breeze.

We thanked Moussa’s mom and aunt for dinner and presented them with a Colorado photo book Becky brought along.

Walked to corner to get two more taxis and then back to the hotel, exhausted.

No need for Ambien tonight as we were totally exhausted.

Went to sleep easily and slept until after 0630.

Augusto is from Guinea-Bissau and has been a guide for ten years for a variety of companies. Speaks at least five languages including French, English, Spanish, and Portuguese.

He’ll be our guide until we depart for Liberia on 11 June.

Idri (or Idrissa) is our driver and he’s from Dakar, speaking only a little English. He speaks to me in French when I’m in the front seat and is good practice for me.  

He’s an excellent driver always in control of our 16-seat mini bus, very careful and courteous.

The mini-bus is quite spacious and comfortable.  I sit in the front right seat with Becky behind Idri and Augusto beside her on the right.

4 June

I got up and met Eddie for a walk-around the area and photography.

Hazy morning light and fishermen being taken to their smaller boats from a couple of large pirogs.

Several locals in wet suits, some with scuba gear and spear guns going out to their boats.

Colorful pirogs on the shoreline littered with plastic, trash, and blobs of seaweed.

Some people running for exercise.

Many people starting their day.

Walked to point and ducked into neighborhood with very narrow passageways, unmarked, around homes packed into the area.

Some open areas with laundry drying, while there were goats and a few cats as well.

Became a little lost but knew our general direction from sunrise in the east.

Saw kids going to school and small businesses opening.

Back hotel as planned at 0815 for a quick shower and breakfast on the hotel terrace.

Good coffee and pain au chocolate, pain au raisin, crêpes, cheese, salami, and cantalope.

Met Augusto and Idri at the front gate--they’re very timely--and we departed for Goree Island.

Traffic was heavy and thee are very few traffic signals in Dakar--mostly just round-abouts and uncontrolled four ways.

Saw one traffic signal.

Parked near entrance to ferry port near train station under renovation and walked in.

Augusto was buying us tickets when several women (two names Maria) introduced themselves and insisted that we visit their shops on Goree.

Augusto gave us our tickets and we went inside to wait.

About 100 people or more we just outside with crates and fruit and vegetables separated in steel 'pens’ awaiting loading and shipment of their goods.

Several large freighters in the port and a large dry dock.

Weather was nice and cool with a breeze, the sky generally clear but still hazy.

Ferry ride was about 20 mins. Two little British kids sat in front of us on upper deck, outdoor seating calling out jellyfish and 'sharks’ when they saw them--then will really none of the latter but plenty of the former, quite large with reddish tentacles extending ten or more feet behind them in the current.

Sea was calm with only a gentle roll and we could see fishing boats heading to work and more freighters on the hazy horizon.

Goree Island is a UNESCO world heritage site--one of the first so-named.

We stepped off of the ferry and met our guide IDi who lives on the island and was very proud to show us his residence card.

He spoke quickly and moved us along on a tour that only lasted about 90 minutes because we needed to catch the 1200 ferry back to Dakar.

Goree was first settled by the Portuguese and then changed hands many time (mostly in the 17thC prior to becoming French like most of West Africa.

It was a staging place for slave going to Europe and the Americas and at one time had 28 slave houses.

One remaining slave house is well-preserved and our guide showed us around all of the rooms.  There was tourist graffiti on almost all of the walls, some with sympathetic messages but mostly just names and dates.

We saw the island’s old well and an exclusive school for girls named in honor of a Senegalese female author that I’ll try to lookup.

Idi said the best girls were chosen for it and lived there Mon-Fri for school, taking the ferry back to Dakar for weekends.

The island is in two parts and is originally volcanic, kind of like a micro-Maui.  We walked up stairs to the top of the largest part of the island and saw an old (approx) pair of 10” guns that served to protect the island and strait between it and Dakar, built by the French before WW1.  

The barrels had been spiked and destroyed before WW2.

The summit also had a Goree Island monument sculpture that was dedicated to those lost at sea from Goree and Senegal.

There were several artists there and lots of hawkers selling trinkets and the cadets succombed for the first time, with Matt buying these wooden knockers used to keep rhythm (I think Charlie bought a pair, too).

IDi then took us to his old sand painting shop where he used to work and he demonstrated how it was done--then offered us bargain prices on the work.

I think only Georgia bought a small one.

We then huddled through town to get to the ferry on time, passing by a very unique sculpture garden of iron cotton plants with bills of real cotton in them.

One of the Maria's caught us we were leaving and was very persistent about selling bracelets to Becky and me.

She got on the ferry and would not leave us alone.

Her strategy worked and we bought four or five for 5000 CFA just to get some peace more than anything.

I’m wearing two of the bracelets now as a means of fending off other hawkers.

During the visit, my non-Canon OEM battery failed and I had to switch to the M5.

It worked well but I'm just not used to the controls and couldn’t get just what I wanted.

Can’t believe I forgot to get another battery as backup, so I was stuck carrying around useless gear.

We drove back across town after returning on the ferry and north the Lac Rose, almost halfway back to the airport.

Lac Rose is pretty fascinating in that it’s a supersaturated salt lake (ten times saltier than the ocean) no more than a couple of meters deep with a base under the salt water of crystallized salt about a meter thick.

Small wooden boats go out into the lake and you piles to break up the salt under the water and then baskets to collect the Chuck's if salt.  The salt is then brought into shore and piled up for grading, breaking, sorting and bagging. Huge piles of his salt and hundreds of bags are everywhere.

Of course people were selling things and I got another 'free’ bracelet that cost me 200 CFA.

After Lac Rose, we drove back into Dakar and we're told we were free for the evening, but that we would be leaving at 0800 the next morning with bags fully packed and ready.

We relaxed for a little while after returning with the cadets walking along the beach and having a couple of beers. They also enjoyed the pool and Becky read by the pool.

I worked in photos and then joined them.  They said that the security guard advised them not to go too far and Georgia was admonished by locals for walking on the beach immodestly in her bikini, so they came back to the hotel.

Matt and I walked to the South to a point and talked quite a bit. Several ladies selling things approached us but we didn’t buy anything.

Back at the hotel, we made arrangements for dinner with Moussa.

Initially, Moussa implied that dinner with Boubacar’s dad, Gen Ousmane Kane, should only include Becky and me.  I told the cadets and they started to make other plans, including contacting Georgia's friend from the flight.

Just as quickly, Moussa texted back and said that the general expected ALL of us for dinner and that we’d leave at about 1900.

I asked about attire and he told us to wear a little nicer clothes.

We all piled into Moussa’s car and another taxi and arrived shortly after 1930 to his apartment.

Gen Kane greeted us at the door in a flowing white boubou and cap and was very warm and friendly. He invited us in and explained that since he was fully retired he lived in his large apartment complex with his nephew and niece taking most of the house. He also rented out part of the apartment to an American couple who allowed him to use the downstairs area for events like this.

In an undecorated room with chairs and a sofa, the main table was laid out in a buffet with fruit, vegetables, and canned tuna--salad with tomatoes and delicious mango chunks. Also, more sliced baguettes, which the cadets love.

We talked a lot about Senegal, the general’s time in the Air Force and compared National War College stories since I’m class of 2000 and he’s 2007.

Becky spoke of working with spouses of international officers at ACSC and at NWC.

We were introduced to his nephew and niece but they didn’t join us for dinner.

The nephew brought in a large platter of grilled lamb with onions and potatoes which was delicious and falling off the bone.

We had tea as well as soft drinks, juice, and water.

We concluded the evening by presenting him with a book of Colorado photos again and taking pictures--a great evening with a genuinely warm person who couldn’t stop expressing his thanks to us for all we’ve done to help Boubacar and all of the African cadets we’ve sponsored.

We left and took another taxi ride back to the hotel and on the way, in the dark, noticed many people out for an evening run--clearly recreational because they had earbuds in plus they were wearing upscale running shoes.

Back at the hotel, the cadets played cards for a while and then we all went to sleep--or tried to do so.  Neither Becky nor I, nor, apparently Matt and a few others slept well.

5 June

We agreed to be ready to leave at 0800 the next morning and, after breakfast, everyone was set and ready to go--this is a very timely group and I appreciate that.  Breakfast at the hotel was quite good with excellent crepes, patisseries, cantalope, etc. Moreover, Augusto and Idri are very prudent with our time and theirs, so we ended up leaving actually at 0750.

After taking some time to get out of Dakar due to morning traffic, we drove by the towns bordering Lac Rose before heading north only a few kilometers from the coast towards Lompoul and ultimately Saint-Louis.  Each of the little towns looks alike with the same markets, speed bumps, horse carriages, shops, etc.

We went through different agricultural zones in which Augusto and Idri explained that the water table is no more than five meters below ground, so tons of green beans, squash, cauliflower, potatoes, and onions are produced.  Senegal also produces lots of chicken, but I presume it’s all small-time because we didn’t see any large poultry farms along the way. Idri mentioned that Senegal imports zero chicken from Europe or other countries--seemingly due to equal parts concern for health/hygiene and national pride.  Food for chickens and other animals is provided by SEDIMA, the Senegalese equivalent of Purina.

Every village has many, many goats of different sizes, presumably used for meat and milk and we saw herds of large-horned, white African cattle in many places along the way, many time crossing the roads.

We stopped once for water and a bathroom break, buying some snacks instead of having a formal lunch which seems to be the pattern we’ve fallen into, buying big jugs of water, some Pringles, local small roasted peanuts, and other items.  Idri doesn’t eat because he’s Muslim, while Augusto has no issues with that.

Augusto hasn’t told us his religious beliefs but just that in Guinea-Bissau about 50% of the people are animist while 40% are Christian and about 10% are Muslim.  We’re learning a lot about Guinea-Bissau on the trip as Augusto tells us about his life there.

 

 


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