The Unexpected Delights of Mbour and Somone

Mbour happened by accident. Not the city itself; I’m sure that was planned, at least to some extent (not that you’d know it from the mesmerizing chaos of the fish market), but our visit to it. It was a late-night phone call to my boyfriend Gez, him in Sheffield, me in Dakar, in which we excitedly discussed plans for his 10-day visit, which involved half the country by the time we’d hung up. It was only when doing some more practical planning that I began to think that perhaps getting to the Casamance and back, as well as exploring the entirety of Dakar and its surrounding islands was a tad ambitious. (Having just returned from a solo trip to the Casamance, I can verify this!) After a bit more random Googling and poring over maps of Senegal, we agreed upon Mbour as the location for our Senegalese getaway. It wasn’t too far from Dakar, there were some hotels with swimming pools – after a hot, dusty month tramping around Dakar, Saint-Louis and Thies, I was practically hallucinating swimming pools – and it seemed that there were a few bits of nature around. For us, that ticked all the boxes, and those were the limits of our expectations. The dazzling contrasts in Mbour. Well, from the moment we arrived, Mbour knocked our socks off. First was the hotel. We’d chosen one specifically in Mbour and not in neighbouring Saly, known as the tourist capital of Senegal, precisely because we had no great desire to be in the tourist capital. Instead of the sterile developments of ‘California-style’ hotels we drove past in Saly, we found...

Tickled Pink at Senegal’s Lac Rose

When I was about five or six, I went skipping down the road with my Grandma singing ‘Lily the Pink’. It’s a special kind of skipping dance you have to do to that song, to accompany the rather raucous lyrics: “Aaaaand we’ll drink a drink a drink to Lily the Pink the pink the pink, the saviour of the human ra-a-ace, for she invented medicinal compound, most effacious in every case”. Recently, it was all I could do to stop myself skipping with the all the abandon of a five-year-old who has no idea what effacious means but likes singing the word all the same, when I found myself at Lac Rose, Senegal’s naturally pink lake, where loquacious vendors flog fleur de sel harvested from the lake, spinning promises of its medicinal properties into their sales pitches. There’s always a chance of disappointment when it comes to natural wonders, especially in this age of Instagram filters. Those multicoloured mountains might turn out to be varying shades of beige, while waterfalls which are supposed to shimmer with rainbows and quite possibly fairy-dust, may turn out to be grey chutes of water, disappearing into a fog, rather than a delicate mist. So I was keeping my expectations of a pink lake in check. Perhaps, I thought, Lac Rose might have a hint of some unusual colour about it, but I wasn’t holding my breath. After a bumpy, two-hour journey from Dakar, via the boisterous town of Keur Massar, we arrived at Lac Rose (you can do the journey in about 40 minutes on a private tour, but it costs about twenty times as much,...

Destination West Africa: Travel Plans for 2016

These are the soporific, lazy days between Christmas and New Year when the leftovers seem never-ending; piles of chocolates and mince pies still adorn every surface; and everyone is in a slightly boozy state of relaxation. It seems like a good time to start thinking about the year ahead, as 2015 ambles to an unseasonably warm close. For me, it’s all about destination West Africa, as I prepare for two months based in Dakar, Senegal. Africa is a continent which has been calling me for a long time. I’ve worked as a film reviewer of African cinema, I’ve hosted an African series on this blog, I’ve completed a Masters in African film, and I’ve lived vicariously through friends’ experiences. But I’ve yet to really get to know any of the cultures or places first-hand. 2016 will change all of that, as I head to Dakar for a while. I’m planning to continue with education and research there, with classes in Wolof (the main language in Senegal besides French), meetings at the university, and lots of time watching films and researching cinema. But of course, plenty of travel will be involved as well. I’ll navigate the journey to Guinea-Bissau, one of the world’s least visited countries, perhaps via the Gambia, and I’ll spend some time in the Senegalese city of Saint-Louis, a UNESCO World Heritage site. I’m leaving on the last day of February, arriving in Dakar on the first day of March, with everything, except flights, to sort out before then. But I have always been a last minute sort of a traveller. As with all my big adventures,...

Thailand Tribulations: Mosquitoes, Monkeys & Motorbikes

Today’s post comes from Delia, a dear friend I met while judging an English competition in deepest, darkest Surrey, as you do. She has a wicked sense of humour and a fear of anything remotely rural (so the Surrey countryside was rather a challenge). Her latest adventures in Thailand make for a hysterical read. Enjoy! Last year I spent three weeks in Bangkok and got bitten by mosquitoes seventy times. Somehow, I still didn’t get Dengue Fever. It was with some reluctance then that I returned to Bangkok this year. I’d seen the film Final Destination and I knew how these things worked. I was pretty sure that there was a Dengue-riddled mosquito waiting for me at the airport. A mosquito that knew I should have been infected last year and was determined not to let me escape twice. However much I covered up, it would hone in on that tiny part of me that wasn’t soaked in DEET. As it turned, hiding from mosquitoes would be the least of my worries. Motorbike taxis are an everyday part of life for many in Bangkok. Women ride side saddle, often clutching bags of shopping and small children, without a care in the world. So when my friend assured me that it would only be a short trip down a few quiet sois (streets) to a café that would make it all worthwhile, I agreed, albeit with a huge amount of trepidation. My friend, a Bangkok resident, bounded onto his bike with all the enthusiasm of a toddler riding their first tricycle, while I boarded mine with the wariness of a...
© 2011-2016 Starry-Eyed Travels