Day 20: 6th January – Finally….Dakar!

Gorée island with Dakar in the background

We arrived late last night in Dakar, edging past Ile de Gorée, an old slave station just offshore, and docking as darkness fell. Dozens of port workers gathered on the dock and swarmed on board as soon as the ramp was down.

I guess we are on the clock.

We were told this morning that we could go ashore until midnight, which was a relief as I didn’t fancy our chances of a quick dash into town. Given we had so much time, I decided to take Lauren to visit Gorée, and we invited the Germans to join us as well.

Getting in and out of the port was a little confusing but of course confusion is our natural environment and all was well.

It was good to be back on the continent.  All day we experienced nothing but kindness and interest. A wholly positive day. Everyone talked to Lauren. OK we got some soft-sell from the “official guides” and art/tourist tat sellers on Gorée but nothing like what I remember from when I was here before.

Once we emerged from the port we walked along potholed roads to the ferry to Gorée. They wouldn’t let the Germans in as they didn’t have their ID with them so while they trekked back to get their ID we went for a coffee and went to buy credit for the phone.

None of the guys at the shacks we found had cards to sell credit, but one of them kindly took my phone and sent me credit from his phone then bought internet with it on my phone. In the meantime of course we had to have a looooong conversation about our lives, our journey and the future of Senegal….. All the guys standing around nattering joined in and we provided the Saturday morning entertainment.

Eventually we made out way back to the ferry terminal and were soon joined by the Germans. We boarded the ferry (named Beer) for the 20 minute hop across to Gorée, passing the majestic looking Grande Amburgo who towered above us. That big G on the top, visible from miles away, is beginning to feel like home.

A boat named Beer….

Gorée island

We wandered up the cobbled streets to the memorial on top of the hill, dodging guys selling beads and paintings.

Gorée memorial

We also investigated a massive cannon we found on the top of the hill. No explanations….

We then wandered back down to the Maison des Esclaves or slave house. This is one of the old slave houses that has been maintained as a museum. It’s a grim place but does really bring home the reality of slavery back then – the spacious and airy living quarters of the family above, the small and dank separate dungeons for men, women, young girls and children below.

These dungeons included low-ceilinged ones too small to lie down in for punishment and a door of no return that leads directly out to the sea or of course in those days to an awaiting slave boat that would pack as many as possible in and take 12 weeks to make the crossing to the Americas.

It was a sobering visit but I don’t believe in shying away from difficult issues and Lauren will be doing a “school” project on slavery in the next few days as well as reading 12 Years a Slave with me.

The door of no return.

I think what stuck us all more than anything was the juxtaposition of a beautiful airy and spacious family villa above and the grim rooms below. It seems to show a complete lack of awareness of the evil of slavery and complete acceptance that slaves were not human. If slavers had felt guilt or shame at all about their activities they would hardly have lived above them with their families!

Despite the grim history, Gorée is beautiful and we enjoyed strolling around the quiet streets before returning to the dusty chaos in town.

By 1pm we were all starving, having got used to eating our main daily meal at 11am, so we jumped back on Beer and made our way through the centre to a restaurant highly recommended for Senegalese cuisine. We had 3 different chicken dishes between the 4 of us and it was wonderful to eat some tasty, flavourful food.

After that, we had shopping to do.

Top of our list was a birthday cake for Lauren. Those of you who have been paying attention will know I secretly brought one and have secreted it away in a corner of the cold room. But I have no idea how good it’ll be after 2 and a half weeks and Lauren wanted one big enough to share with all the crew so I agreed we’d get one in Dakar. I think we found the fanciest patisserie in all of Senegal, with prices to match.

They didn’t listen when we told them how to spell Lauren but I quite like the French way…. she chose it herself and is delighted with it. I’m just grateful to have made it all the way back to the ship and through the chaos of the port with it intact.

Look what was loaded while we were away….. not sure what it is but it’s cool. 

Ok, it’s over and out from us for a while as we stop hugging the coast and strike out South West across the equator towards our next stop, Vitoria in Brazil.

I hope everyone had a good start to the year.