Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Day in Dakar: Part One

I'd just gotten to where people were recognizing me in the cafe and striking up conversations when it was time to leave Saint-Louis. I had to get to Dakar to get a visa for Gambia, or maybe I didn't. Seems I could just get something at the border. Or maybe not. I'd prefer to show up with my papers in order, though.

I haven't heard particularly good things about Dakar, and hotels aren't cheap there. I decided to go early, to try to stay only one night. And I scoured hotel websites and the guidebooks. There were some in the fifty dollar range. Okay, that one. It's got a restaurant that serves hummus. Good enough reason to shoot for a place.

In the end, I didn't go early after all. The electricity in the hotel was off, and when it came on at 7:30, I raced through some work. Late start.

The ride in the sept-place was fairly smooth until I got to the outskirts of Dakar. Then the traffic slowed, snarled, and the Peugeot went off-roading to get around the clogged roadways.

At the gare routiere of Dakar, I was directed into a local taxi, one of the most decrepit taxis I'd ever seen. The windshield was broken in little spidery impact lines, the passenger side window smashed to bits. But you should see the other guy.

I was again completely overcharged on the fare, and so was my baggage. Again, I didn't argue, and was feeling kind of lame and intimidated about it. Senegal was proving to be expensive. I'd done pretty well up to this point, but Senegal wasn't winning any popularity contests with me.

In the end, I had to direct the taxi driver to my hotel, using a page torn out of a tourism magazine that I'd picked up in Saint-Louis. The editor had just introduced himself to me this morning in the Hotel du Palais coffee shop. I made a note to e-mail him my thanks for the map (it bounced back).

As soon as I'd checked in, I raced to the hotel restaurant, downed some falafel, then ran around the corner to the ATM and then to the Gambian embassy.

The guard waved me in and pointed me up a flight of stairs, where a woman sat in a cubicle behind a pane of glass. She looked up from reading Barack Obama's autobiography.

"Hello, I would like to apply for a visa."

The Gambian receptionist glanced at the time. "Fill this out. Do you have two photos?"


"No, I'm sorry. I forgot them at the hotel. I'll run and get them."

"We close in twenty minutes."

"Here, fill out the form first, then leave it with your passport and the payment. Then go get the photos."

I did as instructed. When converted, my fee was $53. At home, this was $100. Bargain.

I was back at the embassy within ten minutes. As I entered, a well-dressed man with a briefcase left. I missed the visa officer, I thought.

But the Gambian woman was smiling.

"You have the photos?"

I handed them over.

"Here. He was just leaving and he signed it. You were lucky."

Now I could afford a little small talk.

"How is that book?" I pointed at her Obama book.

She smiled.

"Great. He is…wonderful."

And with that, she handed me my passport. I was going to Gambia tomorrow.

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