The Haunting Beauty of Ile de Gorée

Just a short boat trip from Dakar is a small island festooned with tropical flowers and pretty, pastel-hued buildings. It’s a burst of colour and light in comparison with dusty, hazy downtown Dakar, and its architecture is the epitome of what guidebooks like to refer to as ‘colonial charm’. But Ile de Gorée viscerally demonstrates that there is nothing charming about colonialism: beyond those sweet candy colours lies the island’s dark past as one of the foremost slave trading posts in West Africa. Today, Ile de Gorée is an extraordinarily peaceful place. It was one of my first trips out of the city, thanks to Ibou – my new-found friend in Dakar – and the change of pace, along with the lack of industrialisation, provides some relief from the overwhelming teuss-teuss (chaos and noise, in Wolof) of Plateau. We happened to visit on the same day that a huge religious ceremony was taking place, so in the queue for the ferry, we were surrounded by hundreds of worshippers dressed in dazzling white. As we set sail, people were taking photos of each other to mark the clearly special occasion (Ibou told me it happens once a year) and a particularly jubilant group struck up a sing-song. Soon, the whole boat had joined in, and the singing didn’t falter as we disembarked and the stream of white flowed into the island. But then things grew very dark and very quiet. Ibou led me to the slave house, which has been preserved as a stark reminder of the slave trade which took place here between the 15th and 19th centuries. More than...

Ndank, Ndank: Life in Dakar’s Slow Lane

“In Dakar, you do one thing in the morning, and one thing in the afternoon”. This is the advice I received from a friend before my first ever trip to Senegal’s capital, or to anywhere in Sub-Saharan Africa, for that matter. It was the advice she’d received from a friend upon her arrival in the city, where she tried to take life at her standard pace, and failed. I have no excuse, since I’d been forewarned, but learning how to take life ndank ndank (slowly slowly) is still a work in progress for me. Dakar is a strict teacher though; there’s punishment in store if you go too fast, but when you go slow, this vast, chaotic city starts to make sense. My first lesson in living the slow life came on my very first day. I was anxious to see the city – all of it! All at once! To go here, there, and everywhere! But Iberia managed to leave my suitcase in Madrid, meaning I had nothing in Dakar apart from the clothes I’d already been wearing for the past 24 hours. So my first morning was spent in Ouakam market, haggling for skirts, t-shirts and sandals of various shapes and sizes, in the vague hope that they might sort of fit when I put them on. But that was the best training-ground possible for life in Dakar. I learned the basic rules of etiquette and haggling, in part from speaking to so many vendors, and in part from the pure, desperate fact that I didn’t have a whole lot of money to spend on clothes, and...

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,...

7 Links: My Starry-Eyed Travels so far

It’s taken me a while to get round to writing my own 7 Links list, but after being nominated by MalloryOnTravel and stirred into action by the fabulous lists appearing on travel blogs everywhere, here it is. It’s a great idea dreamed up by Tripbase, one which has allowed me the great luxury of meandering through my archives, stopping nostalgically here and there and reflecting on my still young but evolving blog. I have nominated 5 further bloggers who I hope will enjoy writing their lists as much as I did! So without further ado, here are my 7 Links. Most beautiful post La Vie Douce in the Dordogne All the posts I’ve done about France fit into the ‘beautiful’ category, with all the breathtaking landscapes, incredible cuisine and historical gorgeousness that I’ve discovered there. However, it was the Dordogne Valley above all places that truly spoiled me with endless photo opportunities and a simply beautiful way of living. I only hope I managed to capture that beauty in this post! Most popular post Preparations of a Novice Backpacker I discovered that people love it when I’m open and honest and they see a bit of the real me! Ironically, this was a post I dashed off in a frenzied state of booking and trying to organise things ahead of my trip. However, other travellers seemed to connect with the tone of panicked excitement. Despite writing more polished pieces before and since, this remains one of my most popular posts. Most controversial post Behind the Headlines: The Middle East I am passionate about Human Rights issues and while I thought hard about whether to include more...

Starry-Eyed Africa Roundup

So, the two-week Africa theme is over, and what a fabulous two weeks it has been. It sounds stupid, but even though part of the point of it was to show that this amazing and complex continent cannot be defined or described in simple terms, I thought that I might be able to show a lot more of it in two weeks. At the start, a fortnight felt like a luxurious amount of time, but before long, the days were slipping away at an alarming rate and I only managed a few feature pieces, which in no way adequately portray all that is Africa. I hope that you can accept these weaknesses and that what is here has in some way opened your eyes and has left you wanting to discover more. I am very lucky to have had a whole range of expert guest bloggers and contributors, who all approached the idea of ‘Starry-Eyed Africa‘ from a different point of view, but who provided an incredible series of articles. Maya Northen of Chimera Travel got the fortnight off to a flying start with her Close Encounter in Botswana… Jo Woods, who is just finishing her degree in African Studies, took us on a Journey Beneath an African Sun… Matt Crowcombe of SOS Africa and Dogwoof, on behalf of the film A Small Act, contributed information and photos for the feature piece: A Small Act Joanne Haw of Classic Retreats provided the finale, describing what it feels like to be Starry-Eyed in Africa. On the Facebook Page, Iain Mallory, from MalloryOnTravel and Anne from Oyster Worldwide both joined the...
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