Most of you have probably never felt the restrictions of travel while on the road, even in areas of heightened tensions. You probably have never been walking on the ground in a country and been told, “Sorry you can’t do that, or that, or really anything here, because you aren’t allowed to go anywhere by yourself and although I’m your travel buddy, I don’t feel like doing anything.” After experiencing such a situation I have decided that I am not the biggest fan of work travel, unless I get to go with someone adventurous and fun, someone who is willing to see the world with me.

Regardless, there I was, heading back to Africa, less than three months after my Tanzania trip to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, this time to the West side, to Dakar Senegal.

Dakar SenegalSierra Leone and Liberia, just South, is where the ebola threat came out of.

The trip occurred in April but I spent so much time traveling that month, I’m still catching up!

As I said above, for our trip to Dakar, a 2 person buddy rule was required, and I would be going with a civilian (retired chief) on the trip. For these purposes we’ll refer to him as F.

The trip started out terrible. How so you ask? Our flight plan went like this, Naples –> Munich, Munich –> Belgium, Belgium –> Dakar Senegal.

We made it to Munich just fine, and F was all about running from gate to gate, which got increasingly frustrating over the course of the trip. I travel ALOT. Which is why I told him that I would meet him at the next gate, that I wanted to get some water and use the restroom. When I arrived they were calling final boarding call. Holy shit, the flight had already boarded. I immediately went through the gate and was the last one to board the flight.

In Belgium I stood outside and I waited and I waited for him to get off the plane, which he never did. At this point I only had an hour to get through customs and board for Dakar, so I went through to the gate and then called him on my Skype phone. Turns out he missed the flight to Belgium.

And he completely blamed me for it! Someone, who has been traveling frequently over the past 3 years, that doesn’t want to even stop to look back and see if I’m even with him, blamed me for his missed flight. haha. You kind of have to laugh at that. I know I did.

Which involved us having to arrange a transport for me from the airport to the hotel. He would be stuck in Belgium all night and fly the following day on the same flight, meeting up with me. This also involved canceling our meetings for the first day and rescheduling. All on my first official work travel trip.

Dakar SenegalWhich is how I ended up here, sitting at this infinity pool at the Radisson Blu, drinking beers, enjoying fancy dinners, meeting people on business from all around the world. It was really nice the first day, the second day, the third day, I came up with some project ideas while sitting here, got pretty sunburned, switched from beers to mojitos and back, but honestly I went completely stir crazy. Even in this nice of a hotel!

I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere without my buddy, and after he arrived angry at having missed his flight, I could kiss all my exploration ideas goodbye.

Dakar Senegal 3On the plus side, I did put in some work of my own at the hotel. Replied to emails, finished blog posts, got yelled at over a blog post (and rightfully so), but I did go a little stir crazy.

IMG_0795During my second tour in Japan, my Senior Chief onboard my ship was from Dakar Senegal. I could not stop thinking about this the entire time I was visiting. Mostly because I hold him in such high esteem, because he is a great leader and motivator and he gets shit done. I feel privileged to have visited Dakar Sengal, where he was born and raised until he moved to America, gained citizenship, and joined the Navy.

Because of him, it was my mission to learn about Dakar and where he grew up. Dakar Senegal is a mixture of Christians & Muslims who live in harmony, and they are very proud of this fact. Everyone I talked to while we were conducting business, spoke very highly of the way people get along here.

At the end of WWII and in 1946, Senegal joined the French union. French citizenship was then extended to all Senegalese. In 1958 they joined the Sudanese Republic (former French Sudan and now Mali) Federation, becoming independent in 1960.

Since Senegal’s independence, there have been 4 president’s, including the current one. The first was a Christian elected by Muslims, Leopold Sedar Senghor, who has held high political influence since 1946 acting as a political advisor since that time. He was re-elected two more times after coming into power in 1960, once in 1968, and again in 1973.

In 1981 Abdou Diouf became Senegal’s second president, well known for abolishing government limits on the number of political parties (previously there had only been 4 allowed). He was re-elected in 1988 and 1993.

In 2000, Abdoulaye Wade of the Senegalese Democratic Party defeated Diouf, ending nearly 40 years of Socialist rule in Senegal. In 2001 a new constitution was adopted and rules were established limiting a president’s term to 5 years. He was re-elected in 2007.

In 2012, Macky Sall, Wade’s Prime Minister was elected over Wade, and he has been in rule since.

IMG_0796But what I was most interested in seeing was Goree Island.

Goree IslandAs you can see, it’s an island off the coast of Dakar about a short 20 minute ferry ride which you can buy the tickets at the ferry terminal once you are there.

No, I did not get to go. I could see it from the port where I was working and heard some fascinating and somber facts about the island while we were there, so I would like to tell you about it.

From the 15th to the 19th Centuries, Goree island was the largest slave trading center on the african coast and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The House of Slaves was built in 1776 by the Dutch, the last surviving slave house in Gorée. Cells, each 2.60 m by 2.60 m, were reserved for men and contained up to 15 to 20 people, seated with their backs against the wall, chained around the neck and arms. In the middle of the chain, there was a big iron ball which the slave had to carry between his two hands and two legs. They were released only once a day to satisfy their needs, generally within this house. The hygienic conditions were so revolting that the first pest epidemic which ravaged the island in 1779 originated here.

A small house contained between 150 and 200 slaves, who had to wait for very long periods – up to three months – before being carried away on board the ship. Their departure to the Americas also depended on the buyers, and family separation was total. There were special cells where children were stored and in these the mortality rate was obviously the highest in the house. The young girls were separated from the women because they were more expensive. All the houses situated on the edge of Gorée – even the actual presbytery – were former slave houses.

Some slave traders had sexual relations with the young slave girls and when they got pregnant they were released in Gorée or in Saint-Louis. It was thus in the young girls’ interest to give themselves to the slave traders in order to gain freedom.

There was a cell where they kept the temporarily unfit, because a man’s value was based on his weight: the minimum weight for men was fixed at 60 kg. If they weighed less than this these men were placed in cells to be fattened with locally grown beans, very starchy, known in Senegal as niebe.

This sloping corridor is today known as the gate of ‘the trip from which no one returned’, because once the slaves left through this gate leading into the sea, it was their farewell to Africa. Just outside this gate, there was a wharf of palm wood, which served as a loading dock, and some of the slaves obviously awaited the loading to try to escape by plunging into the sea.

They could not go far as they were either shot by the guards or devoured by the sharks, attracted because the sick and injured were thrown into the sea. Leaning over the balcony on this staircase, the buyers and the European slave traders were able to observe the slaves and to discuss the muscular value of each, because each African ethnic group had its quoted value and specialization. The upper part of the building served as a residence for European traders. 

Instead of heading to Goree Island for a tour I did stop at the African Renaissance monument. Its hard to miss as it sits high up on Collines des Mamelles hill, and is quite large.

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African Renaissance Monument

The statue itself was built by North Korea and was made in honor of the 50 year independence from France. From what I heard there are mixed feelings with regards to this statue.

They began building in 2008 but did not finish the statue until 2010. The formal dedication was done on 04 April 2010 which is now known as National Day. It is the tallest statue in Africa. I suppose this means I’ve climbed the tallest mountain and seen the tallest statue in Africa. 🙂

Dakar Senegal 12

Dakar Senegal 11

Dakar Senegal 13 Dakar Senegal African Renaissance Monument IMG_0793My work was done at the port, for the USNS Spearhead’s visit. We had to make sure everything was set up for their arrival.

Dakar Senegal 13 Dakar Senegal 14 Dakar Senegal 15 Dakar Senegal 16The good news is everything with the ship went very well, and we had things in proper order for their arrival.

Dakar Senegal 5

The bad news? Oh yeah, there is plenty of that. For one, I did get the African Bacterial infection most people will get when they aren’t used to the bacteria of the area. The even worse news. Our flight out that night was cancelled due to a plane issue. Dakar’s airport was not prepared for this and neither was Brussels Airlines.

Which resulted in over 300 stampeding people acting as if they are all privileged and deserving, running about. The worst part? When we were leaving there were only turnstiles to get out of the airport the way we had come. Which was a fucking free for all. People with their carry on luggage jamming up the area, it was complete shit. Not to mention all of F’s reactions.

I decided to stay back and help the woman with the baby and 2 bags get through the turnstiles and calm her down before she panicked whereas F was easy to run ahead and think only of himself. You learn a lot about a person on the traveling road, I’ll tell you that much.

We were then bus’d to a nearby hotel where they told us to eat some food and they would get rooms ready. Another free for all. The airlines didn’t even give the hotel a heads up on exactly how many people would be arriving.

That’s precisely how I ended up sitting on the floor in the hotel lobby at 0200, closest to the nearest restroom, patiently awaiting a room. Its a good thing I love to read because I was too enthralled with my book to really give a shit what everyone else was screaming and yelling about.

Dakar Senegal

Listening to people screaming and yelling in French, German, and English all around me.

Eventually I did get a room and right before they brought a bus to send people to another hotel.

The next morning I met a girl at breakfast named  Janine and she is German, from Stuttgart, who speaks French, German, and English fluently. We walked along the beach, talked about our lives and shared our opinions about various topics, sat by the pool, enjoyed drinks under a cabana, ate lunch. It was so much fun. Made even more awesome by the fact that she was able to translate between the languages and we could laugh about what people were saying when they didn’t think we understood them.

Which ended in us being stopped by a group of flight attendants from Emirate Airways who were convinced we were flight attendants from Brussels Airways and who continually begged us to come hang out with them. We joked with them for a minute but politely excused ourselves to run up and get our bags to head to the airport.

The final kicker was that F decided to change his flight tickets for when we arrived in Belgium and leave me at the airport to catch different flights back. He left me high and dry in the Belgium airport on an 8 hour layover without so much as an explanation. What a dick.

I guess that’s what happens when you act like a total noob from the get go.

Don’t worry I’m always in a forgiving mood, and it helped to have the guys in my office backing me up. Yeah, I might not have gotten to do much in Dakar, but I still learned about the area, and that’s what counts.

UPDATE: Less then 3 weeks later I found myself SIQ (Sick in Quarters) for the second time in my naval career (first time was PRK, eye surgery) because the bug bites I got all over my legs became infected and I had to take steroids to make sure to get the infection out of my system. Yeah, that happened. So when coming back from Africa just don’t be stupid like me and if you think you have inflamed bug bites on your legs, don’t wait to get them checked out.

This article appeared first on The Cassey Excursion.