A trip to Ile de NGor

I decided to take a day trip to Ile de N’gor a tiny island just off of Dakar’s north coast. This trip can easily be done as a day trip or even a half day trip, but there are hotels on the island if you want to stay longer. I walked from my hostel to the Plage de N’Gor, which was about 1 mile. At this point, I was feeling much more comfortable getting around Dakar and felt that I had my bearings. Google maps has been a game changer traveling in this region. In other areas, it is easy to ask people on the street to get to a destination. But with everyone speaking French or Woloff, it was impossible to rely on this. I felt very comfortable walking around, and did not feel that I drew that much attention even as a solo female. Compared to other countries (India or Morocco) I have received very little to no hassling while on the street. No one is trying to get me to buy anything or take me to their shop, which makes walking around much more enjoyable. I was not exactly sure how to ultimately get to the island and ended up taking a detour (by accident) and walked through very narrow pathways to get to the beach.

Map location Ile de N’gor:

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Pathway leading from street to the beach. There are several ways to get to Plage including going through a hotel that lines the beach area:

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This was my first view of the beach in Senegal. The beaches are not the cleanest, with a decent amount of trash scattered around. You will also see many goats roaming around, which I thought was pretty funny and something I have never seen. The beaches are not what you are going to get in the Caribbean, or even Florida, and I would not rank them along with the other ‘alternative’ more exotic beach destinations such as Goa in India.

Plage de N’gor

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Where goats run wild:

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Building the pirogue:

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I walked along the water until I spotted what seemed to be the area with the boats. I as immediately approached by someone who wanted to ‘help’ me. I am always very wary and cautious of any type of help when I’m traveling abroad. This usually winds up with someone asking for money once they have offered you help (this was especially true in Morocco and they are known as faux guides). However, the Senegalese man who ended up showing me where to buy the ferry ticket was very nice and not aggressive. I think he ultimately (maybe) wanted to be my guide once I got to the island, but once I told him I was meeting friends he backed off immediately. He did not even ask for money for the help he did provide.

With the Senegalese man who helped me figure out the ferry:

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Getting a ferry ticket:

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This has happened to me several times in Senegal, where people have come up to talk to me and genuinely just wanted to say hi and welcome me to their country. I have been caught off guard by the genuine hospitality of the people here. Many of them do not speak enough English where I can hold a full conversation with them, but we are generally able to have a half conversation for a few minutes. The people who have approached me on the street have been excited that an American was visiting their country and they have even seemed a little bit timid or nervous in approaching me. I really wish I knew more French because I do feel like I am missing out on conversations with local people as a result.

I headed over to the island on a pirogue boat which seem to leave ever 45 minutes or so. You will get wet getting on to the boat and getting off, and the entire time the boat feels like it’s about to go over. Compared to other water transportation in Senegal and W.Africa, everyone is given a life jacket, so that was comforting. The boat ride is only 5 minutes and cost 1000CFA or 1.66USD.

Boarding the boat:

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En route:

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Once I got over to the other side, I decided to walk around the island. It was very quiet and not many people were walking around, and you can walk from one end to the other in about 20 minutes. Along the way there were many cool doors and small houses. There was a really cool spot on the way northern side of the island where the waves crashed into a bunch of rocks.

Most northern side of the island:

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The many cool doreways on the island:

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The island had a peaceful feel to it, until I ran into someone trying to sell me bracelets/necklaces etc. I could not shake this person so I ended up buying something just so they would leave me alone. I initially thought this was a headband, but it is definitely just a necklace. I really do not like being haggled (I know no one likes this, but I really can’t stand it and wears me down fast) so I went and spent some time laying by the beach.

This is me minutes after the haggle:

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There were a few restaurants lining the beach and a small beach front where you could swim. I was not approached at all after I sat down, which is pretty unheard of as beaches in touristy type areas are known for vendors and other people walking up and down trying to sell you stuff. So far, I would not label any area I have been to in Senegal as ‘touristy’ but there were more European travelers on this island that I have seen so far, but no where close to what you would see in other destinations. I ordered Sprite and read my current book “Building Social Business: The new kind of capitalism that serves humanity’s most pressing needs” by Muhammad Yunus – the founder of Microfinance and of Grameen Bank. I am really interested in Microfinance and lending to SME (small medium enterprises) in developing countries, but more on that in another post.

Beach front at N’gor:

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Restaurant at the beach:

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Looking out to Dakar:

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I would definitely recommend checking out this small island if you are in Dakar and have some time. It was great to get out of the city and hang out for the day. Another interesting part of visiting this island is that many of the local people also make a day trip out of it. It’s always fun to explore a spot where locals consider a cool place to get away, instead of just being one of the many tourists visiting a very touristy place. It was a much different pace from the city and it was cool to see Dakar from a different viewpoint.

I was even lucky enough to catch some goats on my walk back:

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Dakar, Senegal – First looks

Hello … I arrived at the Dakar airport also known as the Leopoldo Sedar Senghor International Airport which is in a town called Yoff, just North of Dakar, at around 4pm local time. I was surprised how small the airport was and how easy it was to get through immigration. From some research, it appears that most flights get into Dakar very early in the morning (5am) or very late at night (1am) so I maybe just got lucky with my flight timing. We seemed to be the only flight coming into the airport and once I got off the plane, there were 4 immigration counters. I was able to get through immigration within 5 – 10 minutes and received my visa on arrival. The process was seamless and the only question I was asked was where I would be staying in Dakar. I was not asked for a return flight or yellow fever vaccination form.

The 3 essential next steps for me after landing: 1) get local cash 2) sim card 3) contact pickup (which I hopefully prearranged before landing). The first thing I always do when I land abroad is to take out cash at the airport. Many people may argue me on this one and claim you can get a better rate outside of the airport. Yes, probably, I am not arguing that but you are really only saving yourself a few dollars in this scenario and you could be putting yourself in a very bad situation where you are wandering around for an ATM in a country that you do not know. First ATM, decline… 2nd ATM decline … Luckily on my 3rd separate bank ATM, success. I then got a local SIM card. This cost around 7,000CFA or 11 USD for 9 GBs of data. They will ask you for your passport when purchasing local SIM cards, which I thought was a little bit strange, but turns out this is the norm (confirmed with expat later on). Also whenever I land in a new country, I generally prearrange transportation to wherever I am staying. I am usually pretty disoriented after traveling, especially on a red eye and I usually am not up for trying to figure out where I am going and being hassled by taxi drivers. Also, another important item is to make sure to contact your arranged pickup before you exit customs. I have made the mistake before of exiting customs out the door, losing wifi, and having no way to contact anyone. Overall the airport was very manageable and not intimidating, especially compared to other countries such as India where you have many people yelling at you as soon as you exit customs. This is the view when you walk out of the airport and the taxi stand is to the right, along with a bunch of small shops to buy food and water.

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My first night in Senegal, I stayed at Dakar International House which is located in a residential middle class neighborhood in Dakar that is named “Scat Urban”. Driving to the hostel, this capital city was very different than other capital cities I have been to in the past (see Delhi, Bangkok, Casablanca, Siem Riep) in that I noticed zero franchises or any other type of recognizable international brand…and not just restauants, but there was no Boots pharmacy, mostly local bank ATMs, etc. I also noticed the lack of commercial stores and no major corporations. Even the billboard ads seemed to be of local products instead of your usual suspects (CocaCola). The person from the hostel who drove me (forgetting his name) told me he had lived in Newark and worked at the Europan in Midtown, after he realized that I did not speak French, he promptly asked me what other languages I speak (because that would be absurd to only speak 1 right). Little did I know, this would be one of the more substantial conversations I would have in English over the next few days, weeks. Below is a picture I took on the trip to the hostel and its also of my favorite rogue animal – goats.

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My first night in Dakar, I passed out pretty early and found myself in and out of sleep most of the night. The hostel was pretty nice and had hot water and solid wifi, there was even a small store right across the street. For the first time, I was the only person in the 10 person female dorm. Turns out I was 1 of a total of 2 people in the hostel. Keep in mind this is the only listed hostel on hostelworld, which is the usual suspect to book hostel accommodations. I had read the few articles on traveler to W.Africa and blog posts and many comment on the noticeable absence of other travelers in this region, but it was still strange to see for myself. Below is my first basic selfie of the trip that I took on the balcony overlooking a soccer field.

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The next morning I met the other sole traveler at the hostel, a named Shahid who is from Dubai and owns a guesthouse in the city. We walked around the neighborhood desperately in search of coffee. I was also in desperate need of an plug adapter – something I can usually find very quickly in most countries upon arrival. After an hour of walking we had no coffee, no adapter and there were zero ATMs in sight. Upon further research, the hostel was located in a residential section of the city which accounted for the lack of tourist type stores and goods. Another interesting part of Dakar is that it is covered in sand, which I was not expecting. There is literally sand everywhere. It is an odd sight at first because the streets are paved, but then covered in sand and then there are also green palm trees. See below:

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Another interesting part of Dakar is that both cars and animals share the road:

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This was my first glimpse of a country that did not have a built in tourism infrastructure – especially in its capital city. But in a way I really liked how real and authentic this place already felt, while at the same time could see why it does not make it a destination for all travelers.

West Africa … Hello

Hello – Today I left NYC and headed to West Africa with a one way ticket to Dakar, Senegal. I flew from NYC to Casablanca (6.5 hours, Royal Air Maroc) and then from Casablanca to Dakar (4.5 hours, Royal Air Maroc). My only experience in Africa so far was in Morocco during May 2016 and I really loved my trip there – the varied terrain, the other travelers, the food and even my initial nervousness/apprehension about the country, and while many people argue that Morocco is not really Africa, I became more interested in the continent. During my initial planning phases, I knew I wanted to do the majority of the trip overland and I wanted to visit countries and places that I most likely would not visit from the States as a one-off trip (for example, I could see myself making a trip out of just South Africa, but I may not travel this distance just to go to Malawi or Mozambique – nothing against these countries, more just the reality of work and days off in the States). So I decided to make the route from Cape Town to Addis Ababa, but was feeling less excited about this route when the trip became closer – as this would take at least 3-4 months (almost my total travel time) and I had a nagging feeling that many pieces of this trip would be better later in life, especially the safari possibilities and other cool lodging, activities that are catered more to vacationers than solo travelers  – so it didn’t seem like the best backpacker route for me at the time. Below a map of Africa which I spent many days of my last few months staring at (will challenge anyone to a map competition of Africa). I really love mapping different routes and figuring out how to get place to place.

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So I don’t have an inspirational reason for why I felt strongly about traveling to West Africa, but I did feel a strong motivation to explore this region and I was not just choosing the region completely at random (some travelers like to claim “throw the dart mentality”…cringe). To give a few of my thoughts/reasons behind this decision – the lack of information available online, and the lack of other travel blogs and sites referencing backpacking in West Africa was very intriguing and appealing to me. You can basically almost virtually travel to other countries with the amount of information and blog posts you can find online – looking @ Thailand, all of SE Asia really, even India is on a lot of backpackers radars these days (but jk, you should still actually go to all these places, not just read from smug backpackers). Also, the difficulty in traveling this region made me feel as if I was almost being challenged to travel it, which was much more exciting to me than the well worn, play by play guides you could use in other countries and regions. And to be v introspective, I have had the best experiences in countries where I went in nervous, really pushing my comfort zone – this goes for Morocco in 2016 and India 2015. My interpretation and understanding of those countries pre and post trip are very different. When I say different I do not necessarily mean to go along with the cliche “but it’s so different when you actually travel there” what I mean is a greater understanding of the culture, people and how the country operates based on my own experience. While I had positive trips to both these countries, there definitely could be the case where you go in nervous and still leave nervous, or with a bad / not so great trip. But I really value seeing countries for myself and it’s really exciting to slowly build more knowledge about a place as you travel.

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So another reason I felt motivated to travel to West Africa was because it scared me a lil bit. When I thought about flying into Cape Town, I could almost imagine exactly how the scenario would play out, a lot of other westerners, relatively easy immigration, taxi easy, show up at hostel, hostel has list of all activities you could do with sign in sheets and exact instructions for onward to journey to any surrounding country. But when I thought about landing in Dakar, I was not so sure about how things would go down, and I kind of liked that. I do not speak the first language of the country (French) or even the other primary language (Woloff), there was only 1 obvious hostel listed in the entire country of Senegal, multiple changes to visa requirements meant I wasn’t even exactly sure what would happen at immigration, there were not even many pre-packaged tours I could glimpse at to at least get a sense of the region and the main highlights.  To add to this rogue allure, whenever I mentioned West Africa – even to other traveler friends, no one had been (humble brag) and the reactions of most people I told seemed skeptical and unsure about the ability for anyone to travel to this area, let alone solo and as a female. This also played into my motivation for wanting to see the country and to understand what it was really like.

So off to Africa… My plan is to travel to Senegal, The Gambia, Ghana, Togo and Benin over the next few weeks. Below is a very helpful map of key travel routes that I like to reference when thinking about new trips.

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