Flying into Dakar is like watching a pirate’s treasure map form above. The plane followed the coast of Africa south from Lisbon passed long stretches of desert in Morocco and Mauritania into Senegal. It’s the end of dry season. The rains could start any day. (I’m nothing if not an off-season tourist.) But for now it’s hot and dry. The dust builds up on the shriveled shrubs and everything looks brown and dead.
The flight wasn’t even half full so I let Megan and Chris have their own row and moved back next to a Senegalese woman who hid her phone under her tray table to video chat with someone for nearly the whole flight. There was no WiFi offered on the flight so I know she just took her phone off airplane mode to do what she wanted.
Other people were laying across three seats doing our 40 or so minute delay on the runway before takeoff. Finally we were cleared from Lisbon and the flight attendants went from row to row urging people to sit up and put on their seat belts, “Just for take off.” A mob of children ran up and down the aisle chasing each other and playing. I could feel we were entering a place of lawlessness, where the rules are mere suggestions but really it’s each for their own.
The flight crew gave up and served us fish with potatoes and “oatmeal salad with chicken,” a new one for me, for lunch. It was incredible to touch down. After 6 months of planning, 3 flights and nearly 24 hours in transit, we had arrived.
Customs was painless. We went up as a trio and Megan, the French teacher, did the talking. The agent asked where we were from and switched to English when she said America. We showed him our itinerary, digitally recorded our fingerprints for the government and got free entry stamps in our passports. All 3 of our bags arrived on the carousel safe and intact. The ATM worked and we got a SIM card for remote internet on our phones for the next 12 days. The SIM wouldn’t take in Chris’ phone but did in mine so I’ll hotspot Chris and Megan on my WIFI when they need to check in or look something up.
Chris has messaged with Sobo Bade, the artist colony resort we had booked and asked that we be picked up at noon. It was two and no one had shown up holding a sign with out names. Megan called on the new SIM and it turns out they thought we were coming at night even though they asked Chris, “AM or PM?” And he had (correctly) responded PM. They sent another driver. We putted around in the airport while we waited. Megan and Chris taught me some survival French. And two Senegalese men asked to take a photo with me. I’m going to be so famous all over Instagram in West Africa.
Finally, our driver arrived in a beat up old station wagon with astroturf floors and no seatbelts, but we were in fact off to Toubab Dialaw is a small coastal town 30km south of Dakar and only a 12km drive from the new Blaise Diagne International Airport.