I left you last time during my struggle to find an onward assignment. Bidding on NOW positions was not great. With an impending departure and the need to know what continent I would be on in the new year, I reached out to various offices. Several stressful interviews later, in mid-October, I was offered a handshake for a domestic office working in Consular Affairs. Woohoo!
With only a few months left in Senegal (I leave in January 2021), I needed to make the most of my time. All this while still protecting myself and others from the COVID-19 pandemic. Over three delightful weekends:
I rented a sailboat with a few friends, where we spent the day sailing around Gorée Island, jumping off the boat and drinking sangria.
The next weekend, I drove to Sine Saloum National Delta, to Les Collines de Niassam, one of my favorite places in Senegal. We explored the mangroves, enjoyed the pool, and even went on a hyena-search by horse cart (and were successful at finding them!).
The weekend after that, I went up to Ecolodge de Lompoul, a desert area between Dakar and Saint Louis, which was just spectacular. We went ATVing through the dunes and over the beach, ate yummy food, and climbed the dunes. Simply magical.
Now it is Christmas in Dakar. COVID-19 cases appear to be rising again, and I am starting to try to reduce my possessions – going from a 3 bedroom gigantic apartment to an 800 square foot one in D.C. is complicated. I will be arriving in D.C. right before the inauguration, which should also make things interesting!
PCSing is never easy, but PCSing during a pandemic makes things so much worse. I am looking forward to getting back to my cats – who are having the time of their lives with my parents in Georgia. But I also need to find furniture, set up life in the U.S., and learn a new job while being nearly at 100% telework. Fortunately, I found a great apartment complex within walking distance of both work (whenever I can go back into the office again) and all the other things I want – bike paths, grocery stories, and the metro. I am sad to leave Dakar – the local staff that I worked with have been phenomenal, the food has been very good, the sea views even better.
And now, looking back on my two years in Senegal (to-the-day as of yesterday!), here is a list of my favorite places:
Les Collines de Niassam: Expensive, but worth the splurge. Situated near Palmarin, this tiny oasis instantly brings peace and tranquility. You can choose to sleep in a Baobab tree, over the water in a Lagoon hut, or in a family lodge. I have stayed in all three, and love the Lagoon hut the best. Waking up surrounded by water was wonderful. I recommend the hyena search by horse back. Even if you don’t see any hyenas, you may see monkeys, jackals or flamingos. And even if you don’t see any animals, the ride through the bush with the sun setting through the baobabs is just lovely. I also recommend the mangrove tour. Or just sitting by the pool listening to the birds and drinking a cool beverage. The food is inventive and generally pretty darn good. Think fresh seared fish with a tangy hibiscus or tamarind sauce. Yum yum.
Ecolodge de Simal: Less expensive than Les Collines, but equally tranquil. The food is more simple, yet still fresh and delicious, and usually served on delightful wooden plates. Excursions are included, as are kayaks. Bathing with (thankfully warm!) water under the stars – doesn’t get any better. I recommend trying to get the huts by the water if possible.
La Pierre de Lisse (Toubab Dialaw): I have never stayed here overnight, but I heard that the rooms are ok. I used to go to the beach next door, where we would bring our own food and drinks and camp out for the day. Then, the community formed some sort of collective that charged – while that’s a great idea in general, they become super rude about it and aggressive. And after the second trip where one of them grilled me about whether I had a husband, I looked for other options. La Pierre de Lisse is south of Toubab Dialaw. There is a lovely pool, it’s 5,000 CFA for a day pass, or about 14,000 CFA with lunch included. The beach is deserted, the lounge chairs are plentiful, and the drinks hit the spot.
The Royal Baobab (Somone): I have also never stayed here overnight – they charge 20,000 CFA for a day pass, which included a gigantic buffet and unlimited drinks, plus access to their 2 pools. This resort is situated on Somone lagoon, so you could also do some water sports if you felt like it. But I’ve mostly just spent the day relaxing and stuffing my face. I definitely recommend walking around the lush grounds to look at the lovely flowers, and also to get to the ‘adult’ pool on the far end. The ocean also tends to be fairly calm so it’s nice to take a dip in there, then head back to the pool for more drinks.
Le Lamantin: (Saly) Another day spot I’ve hit up once. I’m putting it on here because it is probably the fanciest of the beach resorts. The buffet was stellar, with the caveat that I might have picked up a bug (maybe the fresh shellfish or sushi I snarfed down). The grounds are very nice, the pool is lovely, and the beach is sparkling clean.
Safari Village (Saly): I have stayed overnight here – rented a small villa with some friends for a great game weekend. This is a protected private neighborhood type resort where a lot of French people own winter homes. They rent them out part of the year. Located on one of the better beaches in Senegal, it also has a few pools and a restaurant attached. A fantastic place to watch the sunset! You can typically rent one of these units through booking.com or other website. Some of them have their own pools.
Ocean et Savane (Near Saint Louis): This place was a delight and I have heard it is even better now that they’re hooking up to actual electricity. There’s a tiny mini golf course, a cute pool, and it is situated across from the Langue de Barbarie.
This Villa (Somone): I went for a day and it was a spectacular place. There are so many lovely places on AirBnB or VRBO.
Other Delightful Places to Visit:
Saint Louis: The old capital of Senegal, this place oozes crumbling charm. Hire a horse carriage to tour the city without breaking a sweat (and avoiding enthusiastic vendors), stop for a crepe, or just stroll the streets in the early morning to feel like you’ve gone back in time. Pre COVID-19, there was an annual jazz festival. I was fortunate enough to go my first year and it was a lot of fun. Hotel La Residence is probably the nicest place in St. Louis to stay, but if you want more unique rustic charm, Hotel de la Poste with its fun memorabilia, isn’t a bad choice. For some delicious bites, I recommend La Kora Chez Peggy, Hotel La Residence, or the mechoui at Patisserie Darou Salam. Or, if you are feeling brave, head up to the north of the island for Restaurant La Saigonnaise for Vietnamese (the food is good, the owner is a little crazy).
Lac Rose: The pink lake, located about 45 minutes from Dakar, is quite the unique location. You can do anything from ATV to ride a camel to take a boat out (or float out!). The lake is pink due to algae, and it is highly salinated. The vendors are aggressive to the max, and hard to avoid, but if you can tune that out, it’s worth the visit. Definitely stop for lunch at Bonaba Cafe.
Gorée Island: This place is very historic and makes for a great day trip, though I recommend trying to get the first or second ferry out to avoid the crowds (and less aggressive vendors). Hike up the hillside for 360 views of the ocean and city. Explore the small alleyways. A visit to the slave museum is sad but important.
Ngor Island: A smaller, less hectic island than Gorée and very close – a 5 minute pirogue trip will get you there. I haven’t found any spectacular restaurants there, so I would recommend eating at La Cabane de Pecheur on Ngor Beach – excellent people watching spot and delicious fresh seafood.
There are so many restaurants in Dakar – you can get a surprising amount of international food here – from Japanese to Thai to Mexican. It’s hard to choose which ones are the best since they are all so different and good. But here are some of my top go-to places.
Sharky’s: This is where I take newbies or guests as it’s a nice easy entrée into food in Senegal. It was also the first restaurant I ate at in Dakar when I first arrived. There are dozens of restaurants on Beach Road aka the Petite Corniche, but this one is solid for views, comfort and food.
La Plage: Their platters and their drinks are delicious. I love the seafood platter and the passion fruit mojito!
Le Carre: They have couches basically hanging over the ocean, which makes me happy. Food and drinks are solid.
Chez Fatou: 2 for 1 Happy Hours make this place a nice choice. It’s been around for awhile – love the Moscow Mules!
Caliente: Real Mexican food in Dakar, right when I am about to leave. Love their fire salsa and carnitas burritos. There are rumors a food truck is coming.
Chez Loutcha: Downtown and a great place for a variety of Senegalese or other West African food.
Restaurant La Pointe des Almadies: The paella here is deeelicious. That’s all I’ve had here, but it’s worth a mention!
DakySushi: I get the Chef’s Platter and split it with friends. Surprisingly good sushi!
Mawa’s: If you need a taste of home, or some genuinely good pancakes, Mawa’s is your place!
Le Coste: Kind of strange to have a restaurant in a basement, but the food is genuinely yummy, especially the prawns.
Chez Farid: Delicious Lebanese food. They have a mezze menu where they just keep bringing you more delicious food. You can try a little bit of everything.
La Crêpe Bretonne: Some of the best crepes I’ve ever had – nutella and bananas all the way!
Ko Tao: Delicious coffee, to-die for desserts, and an amazing bo bun bowl I’ve eaten many many times. It recently expanded. I’ve been impressed at their freshness and continued quality products.
Well, that’s all for now! Maybe I will do a Part 2 if I think of more fun things to do or things to eat. Bon appetite!