Monday, February 25, 2013

Unrepentant Relaxation

The traditional alarm clock is not what wakes me from slumber here in Dakar.  Instead, it's the sound of trips of goats demanding their morning feed.  If this doesn't bring me to full alertness, the construction site across the "street" will come to life at 8 am to finish the job.  I do thank them for waiting until the reasonable hour of 8:30 to turn on the cement mixer. . . 
A herd of goats is called a trip.  Really.  I looked it up.
This has been in the works for over six months.  Nothing happens fast here. . . 
Breakfast is served individually and informally in the lounge.  Croissants, jam, homemade breads and yogurt, fruit and my OWN pot of coffee make for a pleasurable way to greet the day.  The relative coolness of the morning, vividness of blue sky, and friendly companionship of the fellow guests prolongs the interlude to mid morning.  

Restaurant Fatou.  Great place for an afternoon beverage or an evening meal.
I've been enjoying my time in Dakar.  Not as a tourist, as I've not done or seen one thing touristical.  Instead, it's been an excellent opportunity to just relax and enjoy my surroundings.  So often when we arrive into a new country, I wear myself ragged trying to discover restaurants, watering spots, and things to do and see.  

Here, the blue waters of the North Atlantic, the laid back way of life of the local Senegalese population, the fresh and abundant seafood, idyllic sunsets and cold Gazelle beers have successfully slowed me down to a crawl.  
Big ball of gas.  

I always feel like somebodies watching me. . . 
I like it.  If I don't do another thing while I'm here besides hit the beach or stroll through the souvenir shops at the point, I will leave with no regrets. 

I arrived in Dakar with no expectations.  No grand plan, no burning  desires to see anything in particular.  Mainly because I researched nothing before arrival.  A few locals have asked if I've been to town yet.  When I say no, they look alarmed.  But, when I ask them why I should go? They have no answer.  I've been to big, dusty African cities before.  Besides the occasional interesting photo opportunity or old mosque, they typically consist of bad roads, hectic traffic, swarms of people, livestock, and concrete block buildings.  In horrific heat.  And dust.  

This trip?  I prefer the pampered setting of our gorgeous hotel, low traffic, calling birds and constant crash of the surf to be my companions.
Evil Eye?  Voodoo magic?  Who knows.
Well, plus the goats and construction. Something needs to get me out of bed.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Miss Frugality

As anybody who knows me will tell you, I'm a frugal girl.  There are days I'm downright cheap. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy my little luxuries, but I refuse to pay retail if I can get away with less.

But, it you're like me and tend to head toward store brands or cheaper alternatives, learn from my mistakes.  When you leave the familiarity of the States (and English labels), there are certain things it just doesn't pay to scrimp on.

  • Toilet Paper. Just go with whatever is most expensive. Seriously. Man up and spend the long dollar. Even then, don't expect Charmin. Seems the US does TP better than most.
  • Juice. It's hard to read labels in foreign languages, but look for something refrigerated, expensive, with 100% somewhere on the package. Otherwise you'll be stuck with Orange (or Apple or Grape) drink or something so saturated with sugar it would be better served as syrup.  Or jam.
  • Fruits and Vegetables. Prepackaged food can be so deceiving.  So many times I've brought home a tray of veggies only to find the bottom half all moldy or bruised. Spend the money and the time to pick out your own fruit/vegetables. Worth that special trip out of your way to the "good" market.
  • Beer. Because life's too short to drink bad beer.  Ditto for wine.  Unless you are in Argentina where you can get an excellent bottle of Malbec for $5.
  • Ice Cream and/or chocolate. See above. Nothing worse than a big bowl of ice milk.
  • Garbage bags.  Having an accident while taking the garbage out to the dumpster can be extremely messy. And embarrassing.
  • Cereal. Look for Post or Kelloggs or another brand you are familiar with. Stay away from Nestle Fitness (unless it's the Yogurt one), as it tastes like sticks and dirt. With milk on top.
  • Toothpaste. Many foreign toothpastes have foreign ingredients like formaldehyde, not necessarily what I want to be putting in my mouth. I've probably put worse things in my mouth, but that's another blog post.
  • Coffee. Because nothing says bad day like a rotten cup of Joe first thing in the morning.
Otherwise, save away!  As my mother used to say (no she didn't), "canned beans is canned beans". If you're in a place with canned beans.  And you have a can opener.  But that's another story.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Sole Support

When we left home two weeks ago, I donned my trusty Puma slip-ons (they're soooo street) for the 23 hours of travel between the great Midwest and Dakar, Senegal.  I have walked hundreds of miles (literally!) in these shoes with no ill effects, so I felt comfortable I would survive the trip with my feet unscathed.

Unfortunately, I did not and developed a huge blister on my right heel.  My first purchase in Dakar was bandaids and anti-bacterial cream.  Because I'm certain there is some bacteria around here. Possibly even bacteria I've never been exposed to, although that would be a rare bacteria.  

It healed, but there was a bit of gimping, whining and complaining going on.  But, being the tough cookie I am, I overcame.  

During our palatial stay at the Dead Club Med, I was traipsing around the grounds, stepped on something sharp and punctured the bottom of my right foot.  After performing DIY surgery, I thought I had retracted all things foreign, but two days later this injury reared it's ugly head again and it was back to the pharmacy for rubbing alcohol and a razor blade for surgery aux duex. It's still a little sore, but I'll live.  I hope.

Sunday, I pulled on my reliable Footjoy golf shoes for our round of golf.  Again, shoes that have seen thousands of holes of golf and never felt the need to bite back.  Within the first three holes I had a bona-fide blister of mammoth proportions.  On my LEFT heel.

I'm such a delicate little flower.

Yesterday, FM and I went to the beach for a little R&R.  I played and splashed in the surf, and of course acquired sand in every crevice.  After we returned home and were beautifying ourselves for our nightly meal I noticed my newest blister looked. . . well. . . green!

Upon further investigation I found the blister sac (?for lack of a better explanation?) must have had a small hole in it, which then filled with sand.  Not being in the mood for another round of surgery last night, I left it till this morning.  

Traveling with a man who goes to work everyday doesn't give me many people to share such things with, so you, oh great and powerful internet, get to see this!

It's now been flushed with alcohol, rubbed with anti-bacterial cream and covered with bandaids.  My attentions can now be returned to avoiding malaria and severe sunburns.

But if you see someone gimping around Almadies, it's probably me.

This post was in no way sponsored by Puma or Footjoy, much to their great relief.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Tourist or Traveler? Who Cares.

I've been known to read a travel blog or two in my life.  Recently, I tripped over an online debate about classifying yourself as a tourist or a traveler. 

Admittedly, I prefer the word traveler, but I am a tourist by definition.  It's not always so much about the sights and meals as it is about the people and the experience.  But sometimes, it IS about the sights, whether you're at the Great Wall of China or the Grand Canyon.  You need to see it if you happen to be in the neighborhood.  

Call yourself a tourist or a traveler, it really doesn't matter much.  There are as many different types of travelers as people.  Some refuse to leave their comfort zones while others embrace the less traveled path.  Others eat and drink their way through a new country while some stick only to the known (globalization makes this entirely too possible and reminds me of the Bubba Gump's in Depensar, Bali and the Applebee's on the Nile in Cairo - ugh).  

Still others research every option and meal for the perfect itinerary while some prefer to fly by the seat of their pants. Some people walk, some ride. Some want the beach, others prefer the mountains.  Some want to chill, others want to see everything possible.  Some are in search of inexpensive options while others enjoy posh hotels and trendy restaurants.  Some leave home for a month with a backpack and others need an entire bag just for shoes.

Because FM and I rarely get to choose our destinations, and our travel usually extends beyond the normal time allotted to just one city, we tend to be a mishmash of many different travel personalities, without even addressing our personal differences.  And, after thirteen years on the road even those preferences have changed, progressed, digressed and mutated into a convoluted crush of different methods.

Point being, there is no right or wrong way to travel, or any special classification that makes you any less of a visitor or more of an expert.  The important thing is to actually leave home once in a while and experience something new, whether it's the next county, city, country or continent.  

Because in the end we're all just visiting.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Fore! the Love of the Game

Fortunately for us, golf in the US and especially were we live, has become quite an affordable endeavor over the last 20 years.  For the most part, it is no longer viewed as a rich man's sport. Which is good, as FM is not a rich man.

But out in the world?  Golf is still an elite pastime. And we've had the opportunity to play some great courses in some "striking" locations,  including Madiera Island, directly below the pyramids in Cairo, just outside of Phnom Penh, Bandar Seri Begawan in Dry Brunei, Rangoon, the Dominican Republic and on the Sinai Peninsula. FM can add Saudi Arabia and Morocco.  

The one (and probably only) thing all these courses have in common is they are expensive. And by American standards?  Not so nice. Forget the lush fairways and meticulously trimmed greens you envision and instead picture low scrub and sand with some patches of actual grass thrown in for effect.  

Regardless, we like to play and can usually justify scraping together the cost of admission once or twice a trip, when possible.  

Today we paid $157 US for the two of us to walk 18 holes in Dakar.  This included two bags of incredibly mismatched clubs, two caddies, and ten experienced golf balls.  We set off at the reasonable hour of 10:30 and proceeded out on our Senegalese golfing adventure.  It's really a 9 hole course you play twice, so do plan to experience a little deja vu on the back.

And, although my tried and true golf shoes of 2 years gave me my first blister, I had no longer irons than a 6 in my bag, my left hand became so swollen and sore I could no longer properly grip a club by hole 16 and I lost 6 of our 10 golf balls in various hazards, it was honestly worth every dime.  

But, don't take that as a recommendation.  FM and I might just be sick in the head.  Or maybe it was FM's chip in from the green side bunker on 18.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Dead Club Med

Did you ever wonder what happens to a luxury hotel after fifty years?  Yesterday, FM and I had the opportunity to experience just that.  In the late 60's, Club Med (remember Club Med??) opened what had to be one of the most exotic and foreign destinations.  Per the locals, this peninsula we're living on consisted of nothing but brush and the Club Med.  With the airport only about 10 minutes away, I'm sure guests were flown in, hustled into first class transportation, and driven to this spot of paradise on the most western point of Africa.

Club Med gave up on the property about seven years ago.  Much foreign interest pulled out of the area about the same time, and many hotels were sold to local investors.  Currently, it appears some French company in conjunction with a Senegalese business are trying to revamp this huge complex into a combination hotel/apartment/condo type property.  

They have a long way to go and their work cut out for them.  

Long story short, we accidentally checked out of our hotel a day early and ended up homeless for about fifteen minutes.  FM's local contact scrambled to find us a place to stay for the night, and against her better judgement put us up at what is now the Hotel Almadies.  Unlike say, the Raffles Hotel in Phnom Penh, she is not a well aged grand dame.  She shows everyone of her fifty years.  In fact, I'd bet some of the furnishings are original.  

But the land it sits upon?  Is unarguably the most breathtaking of the peninsula.

Southern side of the peninsula

Looking across the bay back toward town

Which way should we go?  Marker for the most Western Point in Africa

Cross currents slamming together.  Sunken boat and lighthouse in the far distance
BEACH!  Only beach on the peninsula

Looks good from a distance

Breathtakingly beautiful.  Those chairs?  Backbreakingly unsittable.

But damn

It's my kind of setting, and five degrees cooler

To the north is a bunch of restaurants we frequent and some dudes getting ready to fish
Another fisherman

Not sure what these guys are, but they make noises like monkeys
Not sure where they were headed, but a parade of gals went by  late in the day
Sunset at the end of the world.

I spent the day walking the beach and enjoying the pool.  I could close my eyes and pretend I was somewhere other than Dakar.  I was a princess of Marrakech or a colonial African settler of days past.  

In truth, I was a person who got an ice cold shower at 430 pm, swatted mosquitoes the entire time we were anywhere but on the beach, slept on a mattress that was probably older than me in a room smaller than some walk-in closets with an air conditioner unit that kept the room either hot or deep-freeze (I slept with three blankets on!) with NO WI-FI (the HORROR!) and an odor somewhere between kerosene and paint stripper.  

But it sure was purdy.  Really purdy.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

No Man Is an Island

Just outside our fancy (HA) three star hotel is a sandy cut through leading to the beach road.  For the last week, this man has been camped out on this log.  I'm assuming he's been there a lot longer than a week.  

Day or night he is there, no protection from the elements outside of the multiple layers of clothing and his gnarly hair and beard.  No shoes, not even flip flops.  No visible signs of sustenance (although obviously a lot of empty bottles???).  He's always seated.  Always facing away from the road and water.  Usually he has nothing in his hands and is still.

A curious mind and a lot of down time have allowed for much surmising about his circumstances.   First, I assumed he was a homeless man (which he clearly is, to some extent).  However, he does not beg and I haven't seen any other similar characters around the peninsula.  He does smell horrendously and mutters to himself quite a bit, lending to the hypothesis he is likely mentally ill.  

But despite his situation, he appears to be in some form of decent health.  He must be consuming water to a life sustaining degree and he does not appear to be starving, or even hungry.  The other night he was smoking.  

So my empathy has waned.  Now I'm imagining he's someone on the peninsula's husband/grandfather/uncle who has been shunned from the family household for some salacious reason.  I'm uncertain lucid conversation is possible with him, but an interpreter would be interesting. Although I bet most the neighborhood knows his story.  I need to find more English speaking peeps, as my French is nonexistent, Merci.

Regardless of how he got there or why this log is now his home, it's interesting he's allowed to stay there and that all his basic needs are being met.  

He's also a great marker for our turn to the hotel, as there are no street signs or lights out there!  

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Here We Go Again

I know you're jealous.  I'm off to northwest Africa. The one thing we will enjoy is not wading through a foot of snow, although snow has been a fleeting thing around here of late.

I feel I owe the internetal universe an explanation for my lack of blogging in the last 2.5 years, and I look forward to puking my guts up all over these pages to fill you in.  I think it will be cathartic.  Just to keep you interested, it involves anxiety (gasp!), panic (EEK!), abnormal craziness (as opposed to my normal craziness),  and some hormonal imbalances.  So, STAY TUNED!  LOL

But, if that's not your cup of tea, I promise to intersperse these details with some fun facts from Dakar, Senegal.  Once I finish jamming three months of clothes for a one month trip into a suitcase that seems to have shrunk to the size of a carry-on since sitting in the basement for the last six months.

In other words, I think (fingers crossed) things are back to normal!