I have just returned from the most amazing vacation in Senegal with my three wonderful children. The package I booked was with the Prince of Hola Pola, a travel organisation specialised in tours designed to please both parents and children alike. After all, if the kids are having fun, the parents are having fun too.
If you’re going to read the entire story of our adventures in Senegal, you might find that I will repetitively say how amazing the vacation was, and how riveted I am about the travel organisation. But bare with me, when you experience something this extraordinary, you really do want to share the word.
Organising the adventure tour with kids
I had to do absolutely nothing. I just booked the holiday, and Bob’s your uncle. Everything was taken care of by our local travel guide. We just had to turn up on time. Originally I had contacted Hola Pola for a trip to Peru. As you all know, my soul has a secret calling to visit the land of the Inca’s. However, the team at Hola Pola told me immediately that the baby being only 16 months was too young to be taken to such heights. Instead they offered me to try the trip to Senegal. Never regretted saying “yes” to this opportunity.
- International passport for me and kiddos. I requested these 8 weeks in advance, as sometimes passports can take some time to deliver. Ours were ready in 2 weeks.
- No visa required for Senegal.
- Vaccinations by the doctors at the Tropical Institute against yellow fever, hepatitis, polio, tetanus and all other nasties you don’t want to contract.
- Preventive medication against malaria, to be taken from one day before departure and up till seven days after arriving back home.
What I packed in my suitcase
I am usually quite laid back about packing for a holiday. Yet this time packing for Africa I started getting my suitcases ready one week beforehand. I managed to fill four cases, by the way.
- Medication: pills against diarrhea (used twice), against dehydration (never used), against stomach ache (used three times), sterilising tablets for the baby’s bottles (used daily), and of course the malaria pills (taken daily religiously at approximatively the same time).
- Sun cream factor 50, after sun cream, sun hats, sun glasses.
- Mosquito repellant spray, roll-on and bracelets.
- Detol to disinfect hands before eating, and disinfecting wet-wipes.
- Bottles of water. Why oh why did I pack that? The travel organisation had a stack of water available on our tour bus. We just had to ask whenever we were thirsty.
- Soya milk for the baby.
- Nappies: I provided for 7 nappies per day and had way too many, thank goodness.
- Baby carrier: this proved to be totally useless. It was too hot and too uncomfortable to use. Baby is now almost 11 kilos. I left the baby carrier in Senegal.
- Mountainbuggy: this little pushchair is a life saver. Light and easy to fold, easy for jumping on and off a bus.
- Jumpers: totally and utterly useless. They never came out of the suitcase.
- Long sleeved blouses and long trousers: also useless, though my son liked to dress up at night with a nice shirt.
- Socks: yes, especially if you’re going to be doing some adventurous stuff.
- Skirts, shorts, t-shirts, nice dresses for the evening. Senegal might be a muslim country, I found that the people there live in complete harmony with their christian neighbours. No need to cover up. There was no sexual harrassment or religious shaming in Senegal. Thumbs up, Europe has a thing or two to learn.
- Flashlights and headlights: totally useless, only used once for an unexpected nightly escapade (more about that later).
- Bathing costumes and swimming trunks. Floating swimsuit and life jacket for the baby. You still can’t leave the baby unattended, but it helps when the little one falls over in the water.
- Money can be extracted from ATM machines, but most shops accept Euros. You won’t need much either. I spent a total of 250,- EUR in one week, and we bought a lot of stuff and didn’t look at our consumption at all.
The journey from Brussels to Dakar
We had a very smooth journey. I had booked our car into a car hotel the day before. A shuttle bus took us from the car park to the airport on a ten minute drive. We arrived 3 hours in advance at Brussels airport. Was a little worried about hanging around the airport for hours with 3 littles, but my worry proved ungrounded. By the time we had queued for check-in, gone through security and customs, and then made our way all the way to the other side of the airport, we were just half an hour early. Just enough time for the kids to play around a bit before boarding the plane.
I had reserved 3 seats in the same row, more to the front of the plane. The baby traveled on my lap. It was a 6 hour flight from Brussels to Dakar. The time went quite well between meals, snacks and a few films on our monitor. The baby played around a bit on my lap with the little table, the couple of toys I had packed for him. For the rest of the time, he slept on me very comfortably.
Once we arrived in Dakar, the heat was tremendous. It was gone 16h local time and the moment we got of the plane, I realized that jeans and long sleeves were too much. Getting through customs in Dakar was no laughing matter. Long queues in a sweltering hot airport. I was dead worried about the kids touching stuff. Malaria seemed to be lurking around every corner. I loosened up about that pretty quickly.
At customs in Dakar airport, passports were thoroughly checked, an eye-scan photo was taken and my finger prints. We were also asked for an address where we would be staying. Luckily I had my travel itinerary at hand in my purse, so I informed the guard at which hotel we would be staying. The unlucky mother of two at the booth besides me didn’t have a clue where she was heading, just that she was going to be picked up by her tour operator. This was not a valid answer and the unfortunate mother and her children were required to stand aside and search for an answer. So be prepared: know where you’re going.
Leaving the airport, our luggage had to scanned by security. Some local men from the airport offered to help with my luggage. At first I said “no” as I was feeling overwhelmed with the heat, the dirt and the malaria threat, but after have gotten some local CFA currency from the machine, I decided to give in and accept help. The man got all of our stuff through security. I just had to stand by with my kids and let him do the work. He then trolleyed our luggage out of the airport, where we were welcomed by Justin, one of our travel guides. He was very welcoming and had a reassuring voice. He put our luggage in the tour bus, and offered us champagne which was a joke for water. Smiles all around.
We were swiftly shuttled to our hotel, the Djoloff where we met with the other families joining in on our adventures. A shower was my first priority. We then made our way up to the terrace where we enjoyed drinks and great food. Hunger is the best sauce. I drank schweppes and gin ‘n tonic for the entire holiday, and lots of water of course. The kinine in tonic is supposed to do wonders against malaria. As I was sure this bug was lurking all around, I drank loads of it and kept urging my kids to do the same.
They call me stress mom. Not fair!