OK, as you can see, I forgot about this blog over the past year. But what a year it has been! Incredibly busy yet fulfilling. Lots of travel (because that is what I do). Now that I have temporarily evacuated on Authorized Departure in the U.S. due to the COVID-19 outbreak (more on that later), I have a lot more time on my hands and figured it was time for an update. But since it is an entire year’s worth of content and photos, I will break it up over the next few days. Exciting, right?
In March 2019, shortly after my last blog post, I traveled to Cape Verde with some colleagues – the main island of Santiago to be exact. We went on a day-tour of the entire island, from Praia up to the northern beaches in Terrafal, and the spent the next day wandering an old fort in the old town. I was surprised at the stark beauty of this island nation. Jutting mountains, breathtaking beaches, delicious Portuguese food, (way cheaper than Senegal)…and incredibly clean and safe. I was entranced. Plus I discovered caipirinhas.
At the end of April, I decided to drive the 5 hours up to Saint Louis for the internationally renowned annual Jazz Festival. Saint Louis, previously the capital of Senegal until 1902, is bursting with colonial charm. I stayed in the very quaint, very atmospheric Hotel de la Poste, near the Faidherbe Bridge. The old town in Saint Louis is a narrow island surrounded by the Senegal River on the Mauritanian border. While the streets were crowded with jazz lovers and locals, with some unsavory individuals milling around, I nevertheless had a blast wandering the streets searching for jazz venues throughout the town with my friends. I even met up with some Peace Corps Volunteers, and had a very interesting experience involving getting yelled at by the owner of a Vietnamese restaurant. All in all, worth it.
At the end of May, yy parents arrived in Senegal for a two week trip, and we visited some of my favorite places in Senegal. After touring the usual places – the Phare (lighthouse) des Mamelles, Ngor Island, and the Renaissance Monument, we left Dakar for Sine Saloum Delta. On our way, we stopped at Bandia Reserve for lunch. Bandia is a 3,500 ha man-made reserve for animals; even though it is artificial, it is still a lot of fun – especially the restaurant! With unexpectedly delicious food, this shady, outdoor restaurant overlooks a watering hole where crocodiles gaze right back at you, and you can watch warthogs and antelope graze. You have to be vigilant because some very feisty and skilled Vervet monkeys love to steal food (especially pizza). I’ve found it makes for a fantastic little rest stop on the way to Saly or Sine Saloum.
Our actual southern destination was one of the best places in Senegal – Les Collines de Niassam. This place is about 3 hours south of Dakar, on the edge of Sine Saloum Delta, and a place I highly recommend. Peaceful and gorgeous, where else can you spend the night in an actual baobab tree? The rates are somewhat pricey, but they include breakfast and dinner and all the relaxation you could want. The food is…inventive, but overall very good. The pool is a delight, with birds flitting all around you and the sounds of distant cows and wind in the trees to make you feel completely at ease. And do not even get me started on the sunsets!
My parent’s trip did not end in Senegal. Obviously, I liked Cape Verde so much the first time that I decided to take my parents to the places I discovered just a couple of months prior. This time, I rented a car (such a tiny car!) and drove us around Santiago. Then we hopped on a short flight to the tiny desert island of Sal. We stayed in the all-inclusive Melia Tortuga Beach. It was very fancy, and very strange. The island itself is so barren, but then you reach these fancy resorts and you’re suddenly in Cancun. Perfectly manicured foliage, gorgeous pools, sparklingly clean beach. Transitioning from moonscape to lush tropical paradise was a little jarring.
In June, I decided to go visit my A-100 buddy and her partner, who are currently serving in Casablanca, Morocco. After meeting up with them and having a little rest, we travelled to a music festival in the coastal town Essaouira. We explored the medina and walked along the beach, eating some mouthwatering tajines along the way.
On the way back to Casablanca, my friends dropped me off in Marrakech, where I spent a couple of days on my own. I stayed in Les Jardins de la Koutoubia, an opulent hotel on the outskirts of the medina. I did it up in style, with a nice massage and more delicious tajines.
Since Marrakech turned out to be extremely hassly for a single woman just trying to walk around, I decided to explore the Atlas Mountains on a guided tour. I had a fantastic time – with two very jovial English folks and three very sulky Americans, who weren’t impressed by anything. I returned to Casablanca by train from Marrakesch, which was a great and unhassly experience – $11 for first class! I was so grateful to have such great friends who showed me such a good time!
As you can see, March to June 2019 was quite a fun and busy time! At the same time, I was also saying goodbye to my old supervisor and fellow ELO consular officer, who both transitioned to their onward posts around this time. But I was also starting to feel more settled in, with a stronger friend group to hang out with, both Embassy and non-Embassy folks. American Citizen Services was challenging, our visa season was peaking, and I had more tasks than I could finish in a day. While I knew I had a difficult summer ahead with some staffing gaps, I felt ready to take on the challenge.
On the next blog post…Fourth of July (our biggest event), new folks, and more fun outtings! Stay tuned.