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Day 34: Dakar

Dakar, Senegal 
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Pre-Tabaski sheep fattening grips Dakar.
Michael Palin - SaharaIt's not only sheep they're selling. Every traffic jam is a retail opportunity in Dakar. Salesmen come tapping at the glass, offering up a formidable array of carved heads, sunglasses, hi-fi equipment, shirts, cutlery sets and carving knives (presumably for doing the deed on Tabaski morning). So slow is our progress that at one point salesman's enthusiasm successfully coincides with occupant's boredom, and Peter, our camera assistant, purchases some irresistible electronic bargain. The goods are handed over and Peter is sifting uncertainly through his CFAs when the lights change and we move unexpectedly rapidly across a busy intersection. The salesman plunges into the traffic and races suicidally after us. Just as he catches up, another bottleneck clears and we accelerate down a main road. All of us inside are now rooting for the waving figure behind, who, with total disregard for personal safety, leaps, vaults, twists and turns his way through the traffic to reach us just as the lights flick to green. Like a relay runner stretching for the baton, he grasps the money, and a great cheer goes up as we pull away.

Evening at our hotel overlooking the sea. Yellow weaver birds are busy in the trees, which swing and bend in a pushy westerly breeze. A couple of miles offshore is the low rocky outline of Goree Island, dark as its history. Goree was a trading depot for the rich produce of the African interior, gold, skins, gum arabic, but above all the several million slaves bought from Arab and African traders and shipped to the plantations of America by Portuguese, English, Dutch and French. Not that it was a business for which Westerners were originally responsible, for it had been going on long before they arrived. It's estimated that between ten and fourteen million slaves were transported across the desert between 650 and 1900. Goree has become the symbol of this most cruel of all Saharan trades, and is now a World Heritage Site, with many black Americans coming over to remember ancestors for whom Goree Island had been their last view of Africa.

I order a Gazelle beer and open up my map. I'm at the most westerly point of the African continent. However, there is a train that leaves this city twice a week for Bamako, the capital of Mali. It will take us back into the interior and to within striking distance of Timbuktu. That, I remind myself, is why we are here.
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  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 34
  • Country/sea: Senegal
  • Place: Dakar
  • Book page no: 111

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