It was Thursday and time to bid Saly farewell and head up north. Saint Louis, the former capital of Senegal was calling. I called Mamadou* and by the time I had checked out of my room, while settling down to the quick brekkie which Dominique had fixed for me, Mamadou showed up. With breakfast over, and we were on our way to Réserve de Bandia – an impromptu decision I made that morning after we couldn’t access it the previous day. Thankfully, it was a wise decision.
By midday, we were done and Mamadou dropped me off at la gare routière where I boarded a sept-place to Saint-Louis, via Thies. Saly had been so wonderful and I felt a tinge of sadness as I left. I sat next to a beautiful Senegalese, but we couldn’t say much because she didn’t speak much English. She had a lovely smile and seemed eager to help me. I remember when I needed to get airtime and she had to patiently wait to understand what I wanted through gestures and then explain to the vendor.
We were in Thies in about two hours and I felt sad to see her alight from the vehicle. Anyway, we moved on and didn’t get to Saint Louis until it was past 16:00hrs. I had called Diallo after buying airtime to ask if he had a contact in Saint Louis I could look out for. He had promised to get back to me, but his call had not come through by the time we got to the final stop in Saint Louis. I tried his number and it was not going through.
Stranded, I dragged my luggage to a nearby fuel station and met a woman there – she seemed liked the manager and thankfully, she spoke English. Diallo had recommended a place to me and I had also searched one out while in Saly, so I asked the woman how I could get to either of the places. She got a cab to take me to the one closest, which was on Saint Louis Island. Before I left, she gave me a piece of paper where she had scribbled her number so I could call her if I had any issue. Interestingly, her name was Mrs. Diallo.
We spent about 45mins in traffic on Pont Faidherbe as we crossed from the mainland to the island. The cab dropped me at the hotel which was situated by the banks of River Senegal, however I didn’t like the available room so I had to move on.
I got another cab and headed on to Hotel Djamarek on the peninsula. There was traffic again after the link bridge connecting island to peninsula on Rue Hydrobase. A lot of fish business is done in the area and several ice trucks were packed along the road, which already had bad portions probably damaged by frequent usage by those heavy-duty vehicles. Then the inevitable calèches who moved at their own pace.
I liked the ambience once I arrived, flanked by the Atlantic Ocean on one side and River Senegal on the other. I checked in and made my first friend in Saint Louis, Eumeuh who checked me in at the reception.
Pretty tired at this point, didn’t know what to do, so I tried Diallo’s number again. He picked and sent me the contact he promised, a guy called Adama. I called Adama to come over, so I could explore the night, but he made excuses and we rescheduled for the next day.
As February approaches earnestly, reminding me that a couple of important occasions are celebrated in the month, I can’t help but long for Saly. Oh sweet Saly, how I have missed thee.
So who is Saly? Actually it’s a place. Located in the Thiès Region and part of M’Bour department, about 80km from Dakar, Saly is a popular beach resort and one of the most alluring tourist spots in Senegal.
Saly is not just a major tourist destination in the country, it is regarded as the top tourist destination in all West Africa. Known in full as Saly Portudal, it was originally a Portuguese trading post named Porto de Ale.
Although Saly is still a developing community (you can see construction work going on at different places), yet it is at once both rustic and urban in a sense, offering you a refreshing world of fun and excitement.
I suggest a good knowledge of French because, trust me, it can be pretty difficult getting by, except you have a guide who understands English. Wolof and French are the main languages in the country. But well, I survived – no, I enjoyed my time in Saly.
There are several hotels and places to stay offering varying services from cheap to boutique and luxury.
Night life in Saly is vibrant and it starts pretty late from about 23:30hrs and it don’t stop ’till the break of dawn.
La Place des Bougainvillées is the heartbeat of Saly where the bars, lounges, discotheques, nightclubs, and restaurants are clustered. Banks, supermarkets, pharmacies, shops and ATMs are within also that axis, and taxis are there all day, all night to take you where you want to go.
Golf de Saly is there for you, if you want to play golf. About 20km away is the Réserve de Bandia where you can enjoy a safari. No lions, elephants or leopards, but it’s a great experience all the same.
The people are pretty warm and friendly, and Saly is safe enough for a late night stroll, but you don’t have to take chances.
Anyway, February is here and it’s my church’s anniversary month on the first. I’m getting ready for the Blessing Pact on the seventh, Valentine Day follows a week after, and of course my birthday, a day before. Perhaps, I need to see Saly again this February and enjoy some teranga hospitality.
After a couple of days in Dakar, Senegal, I headed on to Saly to meet with my Senegalese friend Diallo. I had booked a one-night stay at the Baobab Belge, a B&B via Booking.com, anticipating that if it falls short of standard, I’ll move elsewhere. I didn’t have to. The Baobab Belge turned out the perfect place – nice, cozy and cost effective.
Saly, a major tourist hub is a beach resort town, about 70km east of Dakar, lying on the Petite Côte, and classified under the M’Bour Department in the Thies Region.
Saly is divided into three areas, or like Fatmata, my Gambian friend puts it, “…there are three Salys.”Saly Portudal, Saly Niakhniakhal, and Saly Nord. The heartbeat of the town is La Place des Bougainvillées which is in the Saly Portudal area. That’s where you’ll find the clubs, bars, casinos, restaurants, banks, shops, discos, ATMs, taxi rank, etc. The Baobab Belge was further down in Saly Niakhniakhal, about a 5mins drive away.
I arrived Saly around 15:00hrs, disembarking at the fuel station along the main road from the Sept-Place I boarded from Dakar. Once I got down, I called Diallo and he told me where and how to find him. I got a cab which took me to La Place des Bougainvillées where Diallo was waiting with his warm teranga smile. We were meeting for the first time, but we’d been communicating via emails.
Being pretty tired, I declined Diallo’s offer to grab a bite first, opting to get to my accommodation instead and settle in. I assured him we would explore the night together, later. A cab got us to the Baobab Belge in about 5mins, where Dominique, the Belgian owner of the accommodation gave us a warm welcome. Diallo left shortly after, promising to return later for our nocturnal rendezvous.
Dominique manages Baobab Belge with her Senegalese husband. She had actually taken time to call me before I left Dakar to confirm my arrival and I was impressed by the fact that she offered to pick me up on arrival, but I told her I was meeting someone, Diallo. She showed me around the place and made me my first meal of thieboudienne (rice and fish) in Saly, after I had settled in.
Located just about two minutes from the beach (Plage de Saly), the Baobab Belge is a cute little B&B cottage with about five rooms in a garden-like space. These rooms of varying sizes are named after local musical instruments and they include: two Koras, one Balafon and one Tam Tam – I stayed in the Balafon. A two-storey building is close by where Dominique stays with her husband, and I learnt there were available rooms there too.
There are a couple of raffia shades, hammocks, and a cute little Jacuzzi-like tub in the garden. There’s a sitting area in front of the kitchen. The rooms have all the necessary convenience – bathroom with shower and toilet. Each room has a flat screen TV, mosquito nets and fans, as well as air conditioning. The environment is neat, welcoming and quite relaxing.
Dominique mentioned that she and her husband play with a band most evening at of the spot at La Place des Bougainvillées, but I never got to go see them before I left. They also organise activities like quad-biking and water sports for guests, and even take people on tours to places like Reserve de Bandia, La Somone, and other interesting places close by.
Staying at the Baobab Belge felt much like home, because I had the keys to the main entrance, so I could stay as late as I wanted. The people are was very peaceful and I remember walking with Diallo back to a La Place des Bougainvillées around 12 midnight, after he brought some items I asked him to get for me. He had to get back M’Bour and he could only get a taxi at La Place des Bougainvillées. Of course I took a taxi back myself, but it was not because I was afraid. It was because it was dark and not too sure about the route.
My time in Saly was running out. I needed to get down to M’Bour and meet with Diallo, so I can see some of the major attractions within the axis before I head up north to Saint Louis, the former capital of Senegal. I had called Diallo and asked if would come and pick me up, but he told me he was engaged at the moment, that I’ll have to come over. He assured me getting to M’Bour was no biggie and I would find him with relative ease. All I needed to do was pick a cab.
The problem was getting the cab. One, I spoke no French beyond “bonjour” and everyone here speaks that or Wolof. The other snag was that I was practically lodged on the beach. Baobab Belge, the B&B I was staying was a mere two-minute stroll from the waters, and there was no taxi rank around. The only way you get a cab was either you call one – the cabs are usually stationed at Place des Bougainvillées, which was like the city centre, and not more than a 10mins drive away, mind you.
The other option was to spot a cab driving by, perhaps after dropping off someone at one of the hotels along the beach road. Aside that, your feet remain your only carriage. Anyway, I remembered Yahya, the young cabbie who dropped me off around 03:30hrs earlier when I finally left one of the clubs at Place des Bougainvillées. I had gone out the previous night with Diallo to explore the nightlife, and he had to leave me there, after finding Yahya and instructing him to look out for me and drop me off whenever I exit the club.
How I got up by 09:00hrs, I really can’t tell, but I guess the fact that I was on an official duty and not on a vacation did the trick. I took a stroll down the beach, just to see the area before returning to my room to freshen up and meet up with Diallo. It was past 11:00hrs, and although Yahya picked the call, I couldn’t understand a word of what he was saying. Too bad Yahya, never spoke English. I also suspect I may have woken him up, seeing that he worked late driving his cab.
Anyway, I stepped out of the gate of Baobab Belge, my phone pinned to my ear while I tried to explain to Yahya that I want him to come and pick me up. A white 4WD drove past and I didn’t really pay it any attention as I moved along, getting frustrated with my futile attempt to communicate with Yahya. I may just end up walking all the way to Place des Bougainvillées and then get a cab to M’Bour from there – if I don’t lose my way. Give or take, I doubt that. I may just take longer than necessary.
I dropped the call and noticed the 4WD had stopped. It reversed and the driver beckoned. He said something in a language I assumed must be Wolof – could have been French. I shook my head and asked “Parlé vous anglaise?” – Okay, I guess I know a bit more than bonjour.
“Where are you going?”
Hallelujah! English! I told him I was going to Saly. Technically the whole area is Saly, but he understood I meant Place des Bougainvillées which was in Saly Portudal. The Baobab Belge was in Saly Niakhniakhal while there is also Saly Nord. He opened the door and I got in. I realized he could just drop me off at M’Bour, so I told him. He turned around and we drove off, via another route.
There were no spider senses tingling. Obviously, I didn’t need to get to Place des Bougainvillées first before getting to M’Bour.
He told me his name was Mamadou as we drove along a dust path with the inevitable calèches going past us. There was not much to see along the way except a primary school which he pointed out to me. He pulled up suddenly in front of a house, got down and asked me to come. I didn’t feel any sense of danger, so I did. It was his house. He introduced me to his small family and showed me around his home. About 5mins later we were back in the car and on the way to M’Bour.
When we got to M’Bour, I called Diallo and I gave the phone to Mamadou to describe where we were so Diallo could find us. I took Mamadou’s number and he left when Diallo arrived.
After I left Diallo, I returned to the Baobab Belge and Dominique – that’s my host and owner – told me about Reserve de Bandia. It was past 15:00hrs, so I called Mamadou. He arrived and we were off. We got to the reserve and found out they were closing for the day. I was gutted. I was leaving the next day, so no safari for me. Mamadou told me not to worry, that he’ll take me somewhere else. Yes, I thought about the money spent to get down to Bandia as well. Mamadou, said I should worry that I don’t need to pay him again.
We left Bandia and he took me to La Somone. Pretty much like Saly, La Somone is also a beach resort area but smaller. Still not sure what there was to do, I let Mamadou lead the way. Soon we were on a pirogue sailing on Lagune Somone. It was such a calming experience on the lagoon watching the sunset, the fishermen, and the birds of the reserve fly about. Like Saly, La Somone lies on the Petite Cote with the sea on one side, but it has the lagoon.
We returned to shore and drove back to Saly as dusk set in. Mamadou even bought me dinner at Place des Bougainvillées before dropping me off at Baobab Belge.
The next day, after packing my stuff, I recalled Dominique saying mornings and late afternoons were the most ideal for safaris, so I made an impromptu decision. After breakfast, I called Mamadou and he came over. He knew I was leaving Saly and figured I wanted him to drop me off at la gare routière. We ended up at Réserve de Bandia and I had my first safari experience after all.
After, Mamadou took me to the bus park, where I took a sept-place to Saint Louis via Thiès. I asked him if he would drive me to Saint Louis. He told me it was too far and he’ll have to charge me double – that is a return trip fare. I understood the situation. It would be meaningless for him to get to Saint Louis without a guaranteed passenger to pay for the return journey, because he ran a charter service. I long to visit Saly soon again and look out for my Wolof friend, Mamadou!