Saga Pearl II blog - Captains' blogs
19th January, 2018
Another dusty African sunrise found us approaching the slightly more industrial looking port of Dakar in Senegal. A busting port which handles plenty of cargo ships, we were berthed behind a Chinese bulk carrier offloading thousands of tons of rice in a rather traditional and haphazard method, involving hundreds of stevedores literally throwing the bags onto awaiting lorries once they had been craned off in loosely tied bunches.
As we berthed the local stall-owners immediately sensed an opportunity, and started setting up their little stalls and laying out rugs with wooden carvings on them next to the ship. I had already made my local craft purchases yesterday in the form of hippopotami, and was determined to avoid more vendors promising very good prices…
Everyone was excited to get off and see the sights today, but if you didn’t fancy taking a wander into the immediate suburbs, then Saga had put on a super array of trips for passengers to enjoy. Culture themed tours, city sightseeing, art workshops and even a trip to the famous Pink Lake at Retba was offered. I was later informed by those on the tour that this lake did not disappoint, and it was actually pink. Apparently this is caused by a chemical reaction of some sort (a chemistry expert I was not destined to be, ever since being thrown out of one of my first school classes after accidentally burning a large hole in my wooden desk).
In an effort to avoid the aforementioned eager vendors, and because it sounded fun, I decided today to tag along on the Saga tour visiting Goree Island, a UNESCO heritage site lying off the coast of Dakar. The small island apparently was ‘discovered’ by a Portuguese gentleman by the name of Dinis Diaz in 1444. I have my doubts about this since it's situated only a few miles from the coast and my instincts told me that the native Africans were quite possibly well aware of its existence well before old Dinis arrived on his boat from afar. Anyway, since then it has changed hands several times and of course the Brits had it for their share of time too, but it now looks very French and colonial indeed.
After a half hour ferry trip out there, I dutifully followed the local guide and our small group through its narrow alleyways learning about the history of the slave trade and the island’s role, which was indeed fascinating. We also visited a few nice little grassy knolls with viewpoints over towards the mainland and out to sea. At some later stage of the tour, I became briefly distracted by a delightful smell of cooking emanating from a nearby restaurant, and broke away from the group to wander over and peruse the menu. As I was trying to interpret French African seafood, a seemingly kind old gentleman approached and enquired as to whether I might be interested in viewing his wooden carvings which were just around the corner. I initially hesitated, but then agreed that no harm could be done by having a quick butchers and so off we went.
Arriving at the gentleman’s stall, where there were indeed a fine amount of carvings on offer, my eyes fell upon a particular hippopotamus which seemed to be staring right at me. I didn’t need another hippo - or even one in the first place - but … well he was a nice looking chap. The traditional haggling commenced, and after a while I ended up walking away with several kilos of shiny wooden hippopotamus at a 'very good price'. Pleased with my purchase, I wandered off towards a local seafront bar to admire the view and consider a celebratory beverage. It was about this time that I noticed the ferry departing, with my tour group aboard.
The group had a local guide and an escort, so they were in safe hands, and indeed I had already told them to carry on if I were not there. So I sat down and pondered, over a small beer and a jolly good seafood platter, as to how I would explain to my tour participants that I had missed the ferry as a result of haggling for a hippo…
Back on the quayside next to Saga Pearl II, and just before the gangway, my eyes were drawn to a large beautiful wooden sculpture in the form of a turtle. The proprietor noted my interested glance and within seconds was offering me another ‘very good price.’ Well … why not?
With everyone back on board and just before supper, there was time for a local show of energetic dancing to drums before we set sail into the dusty sunset. Is it my imagination, or does the ship seem a little heavier in the water after our visit to west Africa and all these wooden sculpture markets…?
Captain Kim Tanner
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