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Day 33: St-Louis

St-Louis, Senegal 
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Fishwives in St-Louis. The fires burn all day long at this massive smokery on the banks of the River Sénégal.
Michael Palin - SaharaMermoz-mania still grips the hotel. Paintings of the planes and the epic route they covered are spread across the walls and even on the ceiling of the restaurant. In reception there are framed press clippings and evocative posters, and in a mural halfway up the stairs the head and shoulders of Mermoz rise from the cold grey waters of the Atlantic, as if gasping for one last breath.

Before flying he always stayed at the Hôtel de la Poste, and always in room 219, on the corner, with the river on one side and the Art Deco post office on the other. It's the room I'm in now.

Today I venture out of this tempting haven and take a longer look at St-Louis. No sooner have I stepped out into the street than a score of voices compete for my attention, crutches and wheelchairs race towards me and arms beckon me towards the pony and traps that wait listlessly by. I hire one for the morning and we set out across Faidherbe's bridge, which clangs and rumbles beneath a constant stream of foot, car, bicycle and hoof traffic.

One book I'm reading describes its builder as 'a visionary', a man who more than anyone embodied the ideal of a West African empire built upon the virtues of French culture and the French way of life. Faidherbe believed unquestioningly that la mission civilisatrice, if decisively and compassionately applied, would benefit the indigenous people, enabling them to set aside their ancient superstitions and divisive tribal loyalties and share in the Gallic enlightenment. They would become les évolués, the evolved.
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  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 33
  • Country/sea: Senegal
  • Place: St-Louis
  • Book page no: 107

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