0249. Crossing into the Subsahara (Senegal 01--revisit)

Rosso Travel Blog

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First, here's what my 2004 border crossing was like...

ROSSO, 2004 

South of Nouakchott, things were different... there was a smattering of homes here and there--even a few trees dotting the hillside!  I never thought I'd be so excited about seeing a tree!  The terrain, though still cruel and rugged, showed signs of being able to support life...

A Senegalese fellow traveling with me was heading to Dakar--he highly recommended that I head straight to St Louis--he said, I might even be able to make it there that same day.  We walked together from the station down to the river that separates Mauritania from Senegal... a beautiful, wide river...

The last ferry had already left, but we did manage to book ticket on a "pirot", a long boat shaped like a dugout canoe.

  I was pumped--I'm finally going to make it to Subsaharan Africa...

On the other side headed into this dingy little room where the border guard looked at me suspiciously.  "How did you get here? Did you take the pirot? Do you know that that's illegal?"  I quickly sized up the situation.  He clearly wasn't going to stamp my passport just like that...

"You should give me a little something" he brazenly asked.

"How much?" I responded

"Whatever is on your heart to give" he told my in a very gentle, fatherly tone... I almost cracked up... This is just what I imagined Africa would be like...

A very shifty looking fellow offered to exchange money for me.  Fortunately, I'd found out the exchange rate ahead of time, and knew he was trying to rip me off.

  Finally I exchanged a very small amount, just to get me to St Louis.

We got to a very well organized collective taxi station, where within minutes the car had filled up and we were on our way.  Glorious Senegalese music filled the air with layers upon layers of rythmns...

I felt like I had arrived to paradise...

BACK TO THE PRESENT...

This time I make it early to Rosso, Mauritania so I won't end up on an "illegal" pirogue again.  I've got a little time before the last ferry heads out so I scurry out to explore the town and hopefully have a park benching session... A very scruffy yet comercial feel to the town despite its small size.  I wander up and down the side streets soaking in the border town vibe.

Suddenly, a young fellow calls out to me in English--so I pause for a chat.  He says he's been taking English lessons from a Peace Corps Volunteer, and is very eager to practice his English.  He invites me to his home... figure it'll finally be the chance to see the inside of a Mauritanian home, so I agree...

The house is crowded with people--family member who look at me a bit distrustfully and what appear to be household servants... They share with me a glass of very strong Saharawi tea... Yet don't feel the rest of the family is quite as eager to host a visitor as the young fellow is... Still, glad I was at least invited into a home here in Mauritania...
Too late to do any parkbenching--I'll have to do that on my way back up... Time to go catch a ferry...

ROSSO, SENEGAL

I find a pedestrian "back entrance" to get to the ferry that is completely free of hustlers.

.. Guard says I have to pay 2000 Ougiyas for the stamp when I balk, he says he’ll bring the "price" down to 1000.  No big deal...

A friendly fellow, Mohamed, dressed in full Saharawi garb sees me taking pictures from the ferry and asks me to take his.  He said he's studying at the university down in Dakar... Interesting fellow...

Now that I know what to expect, I feel quite confident and prepared to face the mob on the Senegal side... Got myself some CFAs in Mauritania--so I should be able to just breeze through the crowd... Well, until the border guard snaps my passport out of my hands and goes back to directing traffic--waving my passport around like a flag... I wait over to the side, feeling a good bit uneasy... Finally he takes it over to office to get it stamped...

No "gift" requested this time.

..

Rosso, Senegal, actually feels downright pleasant this time.  Once I tell folks I've already got CFAs, they smile and say welcome... I make my way through the grimy, border area and down a side street. I'm psyched and ready to start parkbenching Real Africa...

Aware of the serious shortage of park benches in Africa, I at first follow the marshes along the river, hoping to take a nice clip of me playing music along the  marshes.  But whenever I get to close to the water, somebody pops up and asks me if I need a boat to "sneak" into Mauritania....

Reach the end of town to the west, head up a dusty street back into town... A couple of boys playing soccer ask if I wanted to join them--I tell them no thanks... but I will sit down an watch the game.

.. So I sit on a wooden bench in from of a shop.

A fellow, eyeing my guitar, says that he’s a musician as well--a rapper to be precise.   I'd never heard of any "rappers" on my last trips to Africa, so I figure I'll check this guy out.  I pull out my  guitar and give him a rif to work with... He doesn't do a whole lot--maybe I don't have the rythmn right... So I continue on playing a few songs of my own...

Don't get the enthusiastic response I'm used to in Morocco--but it’s still a lot of fun... and I immediately realize that, finding places to do concerts here in Africa is definitely not going to be a problem... Sure enough... as I walk around, every hundred yards or so somebody or some group of fellows asked me to pull out my guitar to play a few songs... Although, I do pick and choose only the crowds I thought I felt comfortable with.

..

I'm loving this tour already.
Now, pulling out my digital camera and handing it to someone to take a video clip, now that's a different story.  I'm hearing an awful lot of "cadeau! cadeau!" (present! Present!) and could definitely see a potential misunderstanding.  So after a very fun artistic tour of Rosso, still no video clip... Head back down to the river to the east to try my luck again... I find a quiet spot in front of a house and decide it's now or never... Sure enough, as soon as I finish my clip I get mobbed by bunch of very excited kids...

It's getting late and Rosso has definitely been parkbenched.  The bush taxi station has been moved a mile or two out of town so I follow an endless line of trucks backed up to get into Mauritania. until I reach the station and wait on into the night...

It's great to be back.

 

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Rosso
photo by: nathanphil