Into Dakar: Inside the tourist’s frame mind

No, there are no ancient pyramids, sprawling vineyards or safari tours in Dakar. Five star resorts neither encircle the peninsula nor do tourists flock into the city to take part in the haute gastronomic culture. So why does a tourist head to Dakar?

It’s true that the capital of Senegal isn’t the cosmopolitan darling of Africa. The busy metropolis of over one million people is a growing creature, a financial powerhouse in Western Africa and a stable epicenter of trade and industry throughout the entire region. Business happens at the blink of an eye on every corner — fruit stands sell plump yellow, green and red mangoes and internet cafes turn over hundreds of clients as decrepit taxis and mini buses fly past in a blur.

Yet throughout the hubbub of daily modern activity, a deep current of culture and history flows. It’s a culture apparent in every interaction, with Wolof and French languages mixed together as friends, neighbors and strangers shake hands and communicate throughout the day. Here, French is the official language, but a mixture of regional tongues bleeds into the population, with many youth speaking three if not four or five different languages.

This culture is what the tourist of Dakar comes to find, a current of diversity, energy and fabric so strong that it teems from the flowing populous. A long-boat ride between the northern coast and Ile de Ngor full of raucous, happy children. Snapshots of a restaurant where a half dozen locals sit on the ground gathered around a deep, heavy dish of searing lamb. The eerie quiet of West Foire at night, as residents sit on cinder blocks on the street and wait for the power to return to their homes.

Tourism isn’t in a monument or a restaurant or a night club in Dakar. It’s inhaled through the air, soaked through the skin and consumed in every visceral way as you pass through the breathing streets, a powerful force just beyond physical contact. It’s an experience like no other.

Check back here for more dispatches from Dakar later in the week.