Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Going with the Flow.

Being in Africa over these past four months has really taught me one crucial point in life and that is to go with the flow. This was recently thrown in my face while traveling to and from Dakar. What should be a short 10 hour excursion from Kedougou took, due to some mishaps, bargaining, and consumerism, 15 hours. Truly it wasn't that bad but to try and explain this journey I must first try to paint a picture of what travel is in Senegal.

At the very basic levels there are what we call Alhums and taxis. Taxis are basic four door beaters that look to be dug out of a junk yard and welded together. In fact, most are just this having to be pushed started and not stop inorder to continously run. These are used to travel in the current city you're in and most trips around the entire city run a wooping five hundred cfa (equivalent to about a dollar). I know what you thinking, I'm paying good money for a taxi I deserve the best but be reassured most taxi drivers are nice and their cars get you to your destination most of the time.

The next most common and even cheaper form of travel is the Alhum (short for alhumdullilah "Praise be with Allah" ). These 30-60 seater vans, depending on how many people are sitting on the roof or hanging off the sides and back, travel to and from villages for an average fair of roughly 200 cfa depending of course on the distance traveled. If your lucky you'll get the bonus of sitting next to a large Senegalese man or woman who will proceed to sleep on you through out the trip before wanting to frantically depart the van at her stop. Their departure obviously is dependent on how fast you get out of their way and into another persons lap before they pick up to much momentum and squash you. Fortunately, there isn't much room for them to run so you usually have enough time to get out of the way. Never the less the Alhum is a good ride for the price if you are travelling a short distance between cities.

Next there is the ever popular sept-plus (named after the amount of people it is legally allowed to drive at one time)(note that this does not include babies). Sept-pluses are usually taken from major city to major city due to their cost, ability to carry baggage, and speed. However, these cars again are beaters and due to the drivers want to get to his destination as fast as possible, the sept-plus often breaks down or has some sort of delay during travels. Sept-pluses are often avoided because of the new buses that are cheaper, run the same routes and are less troublesome.

Now, to begin traveling in Senegal one either knows a driver, as was in my 15 hour case, or has to travel into the garage. Upon arriving at the garage one must know the price of where he or she wants to travel to avoid the inevitable opportunity of being ripped off. After establishing a price one must discuss baggage price. This is often the most troublesome problem because there is no set pricing for baggage and the drivers and garage men see it as an opporunity to fatten their pockets. Again, this can usually be avoided by calling a driver or renting out a whole sept-plus, though these techniques are not full-proof.

My trip began at 7 in the morning when our driver arrived at the regional house to pick us up and take us to Tamba, our first stop before Dakar. We had seven people and there fore rented out the entire car. Of course the driver asked fro baggage fees but we brushed him off and away we went with a decent car and a good price. Unfortunately about 2 hours into a 3-4 hour journey we had our first flat. No big a quick change of tires and we were off again in roughly 20 minutes only to be brought down by the same tire 20 minutes later. Now, we were almost 2 hours into the trip and stranded on the side of the road waiting for another car to help or transport us to where we wanted to go. After waiting another hour, I napped under a tree, our driver was kind enough to put us into a Alhum and paid our way. Our Alhum trip lasted 45 minutes before they decided we needed to get back into a sept-plus and continue on to Tamba. 5 hours for what should have been a 3 hour journey sounds terrible but really I got to take a nice nap (which I needed) and we arrived safely. Things could've been much worse.

The only bad thing that happened was our numerous delays put us into the Tamba garage at lunch time (11-3) and we ended up having to wait for everyone to come back to work before beginning to travel again. We ended up needing the extra time to bargain the price of the trip and our baggage fairs. Again it sounds terrible but fortunately this bargaining can be done by one person while the other, i.e. me, go off to find delicious meat sandwiches. Just going with the flow. After chatting it up with some local people for a few hours we were on our way to Dakar and with a General.

The trip to Dakar was nice due to our friend the General who made the numerous check points easy to pass with a simple wave of his hand. Usually these check points are to check the driver's papers and to sometimes withdrawl a briber for an infraction. Unforunately the General liked to stop and buy things so, we probably made just as many stops as we would've even with out the General in the car because he wanted bananas, a soda, peanuts, and the list goes on. I'm not going to lie so did I and I enjoyed to little butt stretching breaks that the General's stops gave us.

Long story short we arrived in Dakar about 8.5 hours later. But the moral of the story is that life will throw small and big curves the point of them is to find the good and push through. Somethings will go perectly as planned but most won't and for me those that don't usually end up being alot more fun and rewarding. I'd like to wish everyone a Happy New Year and wish that atleast once this year you explore and enjoy the unplanned, unexpected, and just go with the flow.