I’ve been in Dakar, Senegal for one month now. I am on my last part of my trip with a plan of finishing off the decade here in Africa. My objective and reason for being in Africa is to learn French, therefore it will be my main focus while here as there are 21 of the 28 French speaking (as a 1st language) countries found on this continent alone!
This was also a perfect time to take a break from non stop travel (9 months on the road…10 now lol)…actually I needed that break 2 months before Africa but I pushed through. I actually arrived here pretty beat up, I didn’t really leave the house; Nor was I interested to leave, my first week because I was tired of moving around and seeing stuff…that spark I usually have to explore in me was gone; it flew away without me! I couldn’t fathom continuing. I thought about finishing the trip early and going home because why continue to see new countries, cities and things if you don’t appreciate it like you used to…just going through the motions of travel without emotions…dull.
I was really missing routine, real friends, a normal life with places I could frequent and people I could see for more then a few days…I was basically over it which is common for those who travel long term (or too quickly on a short trip). I researched to see what I could do to get the spark back because deep inside I still wanted to visit countries that interested me and finish my year of travel that I saved for since forever.
In my debate to end the trip I decided against it because I don’t know where I would go or what I would do yet so Marinating the plan Is what I felt was my only option for now. Hoping it all comes to me soon…as I know it will.
In the meantime I tried to be present in Dakar as if I was going to live there for a long time. After 2 weeks I was better but I am still not sure I want to continue traveling..so we’ll see how this next month goes as I pick up my backpack again and check out some countries nearby…plus after much debate I picked another country to go visit, practice and learn French in December…hoping the spark returns…but now I am not sure if I want to even leave Dakar…where after a month…I am used to it’s ways, have a routine, found groups and friends living here, favorite beaches, running routes, etc…but off we go…soon to be in Benin. Senegal by the way is a great option for first time travelers to Africa or West Africa…very safe, beautiful, diverse, friendly people, infrastructure is better than many, corruption lower, tourism is more set up, beaches galore and there are plenty of things to do/see.
This is my second time to Africa but first to the West. I knew after Asia arriving would be a shock to the system because it is just completely different than Asia (as is every change) but I still was excited to explore more of it since I only did a teeny tiny chunk before.
Maybe not the best place to take a break because Africa is not the easiest place to be sometimes…the infrastructure (in general) is behind (lacking or in bad conditions), transportation can be really (sometimes…reeeally, reeeally) slow, it is often dirty and things are well used, lots and lots of people around can be overwhelming, interesting smells are guaranteed, it can be very hot and humid, with plenty of bugs (animals too), more rustic looking, maybe unsanitary and more…but then again so can other countries/continents. Any way it is a challenge here, it takes time to adapt to it all, it takes patience, you must get used to giving up on your normal comforts sometimes and you have to have a very open mind to get through it.
Putting that aside What is here in Africa is Many great, beautiful and amazing surprises…drastic landscapes, amazing people, very rich culture as well as deep worldly history; human being’s history, exotic animals and bugs too, delicious foods, so much color, amazing beats, many less visited areas, amazing beaches just for you, ancient civilizations, striking mountains/hills, literally vast desert, 100s of languages, and so many more things. It is 54 diverse countries, it is not just this big place called Africa…it is a massive continent with many different and unique countries inside! From here in Dakar…the farthest western point to Benin it is 5 hours flight…that is the same time as a West Coast to East Coast flight in the US….and that doesn’t even get me halfway across…across Africa…let’s not even mention North (about another 3-4 hours) to South (maybe 7 hours)! Look at the map people…massive…very diverse!
With that said…my month was not easy, but it got easier.
I adapted to being sandy and salty daily…as Dakar is surrounded by the ocean…not a day went by that I didn’t see it (unless, of course, I stayed home) and gocked at it in awe…roads here are sandy…not all but even nice neighborhoods have sandy roads because this part of Senegal has the Sahel Desert…while it’s Southern region (where I am headed now) is actually semi tropical.
I adjusted to October being the hottest month here…and thank god the warm ocean is here to cool us all off because it was hottt (mainly due to humidity but that sun is fire). As soon as October’s page turned I literally felt the temperature and climate shifting for the better. 🙂
I adjusted to the CFA…Central African Franc – Le argent – dinero – money that is the currency in 14 different African nations ($ might change soon as the CFA is pegged to a set Euro exchange rate)…oh and it is no where near as cheap as I’d hoped….of course there are prices for every income and you must learn to negotiate (3 times is best).
Lastly I adjusted to a Francophone country…French classes paid off, truely helpful…Taking an intense month of French (2 hours – 5 days a week) was intensssse, didn’t help me wanting to stay because it was a daily struggle to try and use it but a great challenge that I could focus on and often got me staying home to study more because I was lost in it.
Over the course of the month I also took time to prepare myself for a transition to a non nomad life. It was definitely hard the first week but it was also something I had longed for the last few months. I wanted routine. I wanted to cook my own food. Having always been moving with short stays sometimes I focused on street food or local foods in each country…virtually eating my way around the world…though I wouldn’t ever change that I missed having a kitchen and having the time to buy food and cook it before moving again. There are few things you can cook if just eating for a day or two and cooking for 1 person…the investment in ingredients doesn’t make sense especially in Asia where street food or food in general (eating out) is just so cheap! It is very cheap because as a culture most eat out daily too. Not to mention carrying the extra weight in your bag is never fun.
I looked for groups to meet people, local activities to make my stay feel as much as I could as if I lived in Dakar. I only left the city once actually, instead I focused on slowly exploring stuff in or around Dakar. I focused on routine. I ran 4 days a week, went to the beach to chill at least once a week (if not more), focused on studying during the week, going out on weekends, going to the free rooftop movie showing on Tuesdays with a friend for pizza and beer, attended a local Farmers Market instead of a weekend trip (and happy I did), walked my neighborhood daily, bought fruit from the same vendor and somehow found a triathlon to participate in without a bike lol (I borrowed one but only after I swam/ran…lol).
That was pretty much why I stayed in Dakar…to get that routine I needed and feel like I was from somewhere for once…something I actually hope to achieve once the world tour is over. Well that and complete a proposed objective for the year and learn French, best done somewhere it is spoken…as I know and have learned over the years! In the end Dakar felt like home, even with it’s challenges, as I came and went it was always pleasant to return home.