February 14, 2020

Senegal – Nothing breaks like a mind

Close before the Senegal border I met two French cyclists. Tomas and Thibaut cycled all the way from France to here. Their goal was to get to Dakar. You only meet nuts white people in Africa. Deepest respect to these guys. Funnily both were arguing with the very official looking nature part guard when I met them. This guide stopped me, too. In the smartphone application iOverlander people advised to not pay to the “guards” what they ask for as this is a tourist trap. It was funny to listen to them discussion in French. At the end all the three of us had to pay, haha. That’s the price you pay here in Africa as a tourist. They make money out of your missing local knowledge. People tent to charge you more if they see you are coming from elsewhere. And if it was not enough already, Ryo from Japan came around also and stepped into the same trap. Meanwhile I said bye-bye to him 3 times already but always the next day this guy was there again, haha.

All the 4 of us were really late. The Diama Border closes at 6 p.m. and we were hurrying up to get into Senegal within the same day. We all raced the last 5km of the dust track and really made it in time. BTW there are two borders you could possible take from Mauritania into the Senegal. The most corrupt boarder in West Africa called Rosse and the one in Diama. Rosso is a ferry and people screw you like crazy so that you pay a minimum of 300 Euros in the end. That’s why we went for the one in Diama. Diama is a bridge and as the people knew that we want to get into the country before border shut we had to pay here and there money for the gates which usually would have been free during day time. So the border people played out their time advantage very well. Another border agent came around. Ghoulam. I told him that Wichsenstein tried to screw me in Mauritania and that I will not pay for any service as I can get through this border by myself also for free! He was really nice and said that if I take him with home he’s doing it do it for free. Sounded fair. He was in his early 20th. Ghoulam helped me and hold his word. No money. When I left the border, I gave Tomas and Thibaut my number so we could meet up later in St Loui. Ryo and I dropped Ghoulam at his house and enter the city of Saint Louis. We didn’t know where to go so I stopped. I was trying to buy as sim card to look for a camping in the city. Straight people came and tried to sell us stuff. Within the time I was searching for a sim Ryo left as some people told him of a camping and that I will come after, which was a lie. Ryo was gone. I asked the people if they can tell me where these guys took Ryo to. They marked something on my map and asked for money in reverse. I for sure didn’t pay and was definitely fucked up buy the first 30 minutes of Saint Louis inhibiters. I started my route planning to the tag to find Ryo and it turned out that the mark was just random. Probably to have a reason to ask me for money. When recognized, it was too late already. The maps had guided me into the “favela” part of Saint Loui. And after I took a right curve, I could feel that my car started to become shaky on the rear axle. Fucking deep sand. Within seconds I was stuck in the middle of the critical area of Saint Louis. It was night and there was only some fucked up lamps. Within the next minute my car was surrounded by at least 40 teens. The panic raised in me. So, I did the only smart thing as I had no 4×4 drive. I look all doors, get the shovel, lower the tire pressure and put the feet mats under my buried back wheels to somehow get out of this situation. The problem was, that I needed people to push me out of this. My car was really deep in the sand. I asked these teens who were around my car. It worked out on the first try and I really made it out of this dilemma. When I was on asphalt again, they even brought me after my feet mats. It turned out that the panic was something really unfounded. Even in the “favelas” people want to help. I need to learn to trust more in people here in Africa.

I saw on maps that there is a beach 10 km out of the town. A very lost place. I drove there and spotted a beautiful hotel. I told to the people my story. The felt me and let me park here for free if I have breakfast in the hotel tomorrow morning. The cool thing was that I swam in the pool this night. Such a luxury.

The next day Ryo and I met for breakfast at this hotel and then went into the city. Senegal is much different than Mauritania. People doesn’t look Arabic any longer. And the like to dress everything proudful with color. Horses, cars, fisher boats. Everything is full of paintings, arty welding work and glitter. In Saint Louis you can feel the vibe of the colonial times. Old French bridges and some old French buildings like the former post office form the colonies. Ryo, Thomas, Thibaut and I met for lunch. I had to get to Dakar within 2 days as I needed a duty stamp in my Carnet de Passage (my duty document for my car). Kind of stupid to not give me this stamp at the border and even more stupid to just grant me two days for getting to Dakar. So soon I left Saint Louis already to have a stop at a place called Zebrabar. It’s a well-known place for Africa travels. A beautiful campsite at the beach with a big viewpoint from on top of a metal tower. All self-made by the swiss owners. Sadly, I had to leave this place also early due to my Dakar duty stamp problem. The streets to Dakar were okay but it took me still 4h + some discussion time with police officers about money. I didn’t pay as they tried to charge me something I haven’t done. You maybe don’t know it but since Morocco there is police controls every 40km. Officially it’s for the “safety” but actually they are more trying to earn money on the streets as the country usually doesn’t pay them or if they do than way to less. It’s really sad. They are representatives of their own country but have to screw people on the roads because they don’t receive the salary the need.

I came closer to Dakar and missed the highway which meant I had to take the domestic road into the city. It turned out to big the biggest nightmare. To my regular way of 4,5h another 3,5h where added by standing in an African traffic jam. That was the moment when I had my first mental breakdown on this trip. As my van is air-cooled (no modern water-cooling) it really doesn’t like standing. It needs the driving wind to cool down. So, my engine overheated constantly. Furthermore, I drove myself crazy as I said that I going to start with mosquito prevention in Dakar, which is the first Malaria risk area I came in to. So, I closed my windows as I had no repellant. It became 40°C in my car and the domestic road became worse. Meanwhile there was also potholes filled up with dirty stinky water. Cars honking, scooters trying to get through and me in the middle of it facing a mental breakdown. I couldn’t understand why all this people are here and why they are not just driving instead of parking at the roads blocking everything. It became 6 p.m. which meant I missed the opening hours of the duty department. That gave me the rest. I was so close to start crying. I filmed myself to keep this moment on camera. I constantly said that I hate cities. When I finally arrived late in the evening at a calm road at the beach in Dakar I mean a restaurant owner called Maxime. He saw how I felt and offered me to take a shower in his restaurant. I bought some food and together with the ocean in the background I calmed down again. Later I watched the video I took. Jesus, what a mess I was few hours ago. After I saw this video of myself I had to confess that I need to take action asap. I remembered Bendeguz’s words: “Sometimes Africa drives you crazy!” That’s probably what I he meant. But there was also a bigger problem. Since I started, I didn’t get used to Africa. Everything stressed me. Why can’t they be reliable, why has nothing seemingly a value here (like cars and things), why are animals treated like shit, why are they doing everything half and nothing proper? … I just didn’t get the right rhythm with Africa. Today I can say that Dakar played a key role during my trip because after I saw that video of me with the mental breakdown, I said to myself: Man, ether you get the fucking rhythm or you take the airplane back home, straight! Africa will eat you and shit you out otherwise.

The next days I decided to stay in a surf hostel at Joff beach as I had my first food poisoning incl. vomiting. You really want to have a toilet at that point. The sickness came from a coffee I bought on the streets. They sometimes just warm water and don’t boil it properly, so it’s full of bacteria. After I was fit again a few days later I felt like a new person. For the first time I chilled much more and could finally enjoy my trip to the fullest. I found my inner rhythm with Africa and even saw the good in Dakar. Africa and I were one now and I’m glad that I didn’t stop the trip. I actually though about giving up this trip a bunch of times before in Morocco and Mauritania as I got so stressed by so many things. But all of them things were something I made stressful by myself. What can I say? Either deal with it man, or die! Dakar is actually quiet westernize if you only know where to search. You can find almost all European products here, even supermarkets with price tags where you know that the people don’t screw you. You can see everything in a good way.

After some days I decided to move on to Ngor beach (still Dakar) where I met Adrian. Adrian and I matched very well. So, well that we spent together 2,5 weeks on the same parking close to legendary surf spot “Ngor Right”. A powerful reef break which breaks you in two on the reef if you don’t know how to surf reef break. I didn’t know how to but survived somehow.

As Ryo doesn’t speak English, I offered him some help. Ryo wanted to end his motorbike trip in Dakar and ship his motorbike back to Japan. We contacted some companies and went into the office of Jean Pear aka JP. JP whose work is to ship things from A to B freaked out when he heard about Ryo trip. He said he is part of a motorbike club and paid deepest respect to him for the long journey without English. He wanted to take care of Ryo’s motorbike shipment and made us an offer. Later the evening he invited us for Dinner and introduced us to the club. This was where I met Eli. Eli was one of the coolest people I met in Dakar. He was super motorbike addicted and wheelie affine. We straight got a city tour by motorbike to see Dakar’s beauty. This city was really not as bad as I thought even if the air was horrible. It felt refreshing to drive with these guys on their motorbikes. I really enjoyed it.

The next day I went to the island of Goreé with Tomas and Thibaut. They took me with to a film festival there in the evening hours. It was insanely beautiful. The film beamer was projecting on white textile in between two old houses with mixed styles of Portuguese, Dutch and French building style. Everywhere tropical plants inside these houses and young stylishly dressed arty people with big glasses. High roofs, wooden floor and a guitar. I played a little. Barack Obama even visited this island in 2012. It’s a famous island with a slavery museum call House of Slavery on it. The island is full of beautiful colonial houses from any age. Some are ruins and some are in a good condition. Back in the day it was a trade hub for slaves. A dark past. It felt like a little time travel. There’s a lot of cats on the island and some really old trees. I was there another time with Ryo also. Stupidly I always saw it in the night as I we always missed the right ferry.

Almost daily I went in the water with Adrian to surf. In order to surf you need to get to the island of Ngor, or to secret but that a super crowed easily accessible spot. I prefer the empty spots. To Ngor Island I always paddled over to save the ferry costs. I get used to the paddling much better like this. It was like a good workout, the 500m on the board. Sometimes we spend hours in the waves. I got hit very badly two times where I was under water for more than 10 seconds, not really knowing if I’ll hit the reef.

After a week of living on the parking, we knew everyone. Some of the guys were drunken all day long, some were trying to sell us girls or cocaine like Rose (a funny and same time annoying man), some were super kind people but almost everyone asked us for money at some point. I guess the more you come into a city environment, the more people will ask you for money. Village people never asked me.

I was having breakfast in my car when I heard that someone punched his car door into the side of my van. This was one time to much! Like you probably know, no one takes care of this here. Cars don’t have the same value than in Europe. No one cares about dents and scratches. So, I freaked out und went over to this idiot to sad loudly that this van is GERMAN, NOT AFRICAN! Be fucking careful dude! I’m not proud how I reacted as this is Africa and I have to follow their rules not the other way around. The person in the car who had just opened his door was now focusing on popping out a pimple in his rare mirror. When he heard me complaining he answered in German: Entschuldigen sie mal bitte?! This means as much as “Sorry but why so mad at bruh?”. Within the next moment I was in a funny German convo with Ab. I said sorry for freaking out and added that this was not nice of me. He replied no problem it was his fault. He spoke such a funny German. Ab wanted to go to Germany some years ago, so he started learning German. But Germany rejected him because he didn’t speak German good enough. He took it with humor and said okay Germany, but now I don’t have any more money to pay the German courses. The next day he gave me a useful German travel guide about Senegal Gambia and Guinea-Bissau for free. Such a nice dude.

Christmas was about to come. I spent one Christmas without my family already and 2017 and Dakar was about to become the second year without my fam. In Dakar you only barley feel the Christmas vibe. It’s warm and there is almost no Christmas decoration in the street. The Christmas gift Adrian and I got was that Oakam, Dakars best surf sport, run. It only runs 20 days a year with is not much. It was not perfect but good enough to surf. Oakam is a super shallow reef break. When you fall, you’ll basically land on the reef and kiss the urchins. Only 60cm deep water and outcoming rock make it a pro spot. Sometimes you need to surf around those obstacles in order to not crash your board. Even if I didn’t surf it (I’m not nuts) it was such a nice feeling to be in this emerald green water on Christmas day. It felt like a life goal came true. My first Christmas in the ocean. The pictures I shot are something I’m really proud of. I looked a lot at them later. The Christmas evening Adrian an me went into good restaurant where everyone had Christmas heats on. The food was awesome and vegan. Perfect Christmas I’d say even if I was not at home.

Soon after Christmas I said bye-bye to all my friends. Eli, JP, Ryo, Adrian and also Rose the cocaine and girl’s dealer on the parking. He said “Bye-bye, give two thousand!”. He will never stop to ask for money, I guess. On the day I wanted to leave for Gambia, my car didn’t start. A broken magnet switch was the reason. The person who took care of me in this fucked up moment as Ab. Ab ordered a mechanic who couldn’t fix it. So, we drove to Ab’s friend. An even better mechanic. He has a “Company” Ab said. My car was still drivable but people needed to push it so I could put in first gear and start it rolling.

When we arrived at Hassan’s “company” I couldn’t see any company. No building or anything, just on the road in the dust. Hassan even had an apprentice ship guy in his so called “company”. His name was Mohammed. He was 11 years old. For me it was really strange to see a young boy working with heavy and dangerous gear. Nevertheless, Mohamed loves his assistance function in Hassan’s garage. He was born with a navel fracture, but his family has had no money for the correcting surgery so far. In rich countries this isn’t a problem at all, and it gets fixed right after birth. But this circumstance doesn’t stop him from being funny. Mohamed and I are friends now. I gave him a polaroid shot of himself and he offered me to sit next to him. What was most stunning about all this was, that Hassan found the spare part for my starter. I said to the guys that it’s impossible to fine parts here. I will order one in Germany so that a friend can bring it with to Gambia. The part was a magnet relais of a VW T2 which was produced by VW in the 1970. Ab kept saying don’t worry my man, this is Africa. Within 15 minutes he really found a used one. I was perplexed. I haven’t seen a single T2 in whole Africa so far and these guys can find a part like this in like a second? WTF?!

Hassan lent my tools and my head lamp to fix my car as it got dark. Around 10 he was ready. Everything worked, Hassan was super proud and Ab super proud of his friend Hassan. I never expected that I’ll be able to keep my schedule to get off in time to Gambia after the problem was identified.

Unbelievable but the next day I went off to Gambia with a planned one-night stay in a small local village. That was where I saw mangroves for the first time in my life. I slept beside them and was woken up by monkeys that played on top of my van. I decided to stay another day after I met Lamin a passionate bird watched, Senegal/Gambia guide and small souvenir shop owner. The next morning, he took me with into the mangroves on a small fisher boat they call pirogue here. Lamin is a really nice guy. He gave me 60L of drink water and some tips for Gambia when I left.


Only 10 more km to The Gambia, where I’ll met Laura and her Family. But that’s another story. Stay tuned.


These last lines are deliciated to Ab as I only rarely got to know such a selfless human. You drove me the whole day through the city with your car because you wanted to help me. It was the 1st Christmas day and you postponed the meeting with your girlfriend. I really appreciate what you did to me and it feels very sad to not even have your email address or telephone number. Thanks man! You’re a hero, you’re my hero. Senegal need more people like you.