I remember waking up in our hotel room at the Djoloff Hotel, for which was to be our first day in Senegal. We had slept with the airco on and the room was a refreshing temperature. I had covered myself and kiddos religiously in mosquito repellent and had been extremely careful to brush our teeth with bottled water only. The adventure was about to start. I was something like 80% excited and 20% scared of the unknown.
Before any kids would wake I got up quickly and stepped out onto the balcony to get some morning air. I looked down out onto the streets to get a taste of life in Africa. There were people walking down below me in the street, men and women and children. In fact they looked just like anybody would during summer time in Europe. Only more colourful and with a slightly more relaxed attitude.
Managed to get three kids and myself dressed and covered in sun cream factor 50. After which we made our way to the rooftop terrace where breakfast was being served. The view over Dakar was spectacular and the heat hit us head on. This was only morning and temperatures would continue rising throughout the day. How on earth was I going to survive with my viking genes? What happened to my vacation idea to visit the Nordic Fjords?
Breakfast was continental and very satisfying. We all took our Malarone tablets in prevention of Malaria. How to get a baby to take his Malarone tablet: enrobe it in chocolate paste and then drown it down with water. In any case, it looked like the baby had swallowed it.
I settled our bill for the drinks we had had the previous evening upon our arrival. The bill amounted to peanuts of course. Loaded our suitcases on top of our mini-bus. Met the other families who would be traveling with us on this adventure. And by 9:30 we were off on the road towards our first stop: Slave Island.
We were getting an idea what Africa is all about as our guide explained and commented on buildings and people we passed on the street. We shortly arrived at “embarcadère de Dakar” where we would be taking a ferry to the Island of Gorea. When travelling in Senegal, I carried our passports with me at all times in my backpack. This was partly a safety precaution, but it also proved to be necessary as travel documents were regularly requested. At the embarkment port for Slave Island, we were required to produce valid identification documents. However the military guard saw me struggle with my backpack as the baby clung to me, and he just waved me through. No ID required for the blonde little lady with three blonde children hanging on to her skirts. Smiles.
We waited in a terminal hall which was cooled by rotating fans only. The security check was a joke. We all had to show the contents of our bags, but again, the blonde little lady with the baby in her arms was just waved through. I mean come on, I could have been a kamikaze terrorist after all.
We crossed over to Slave Island on a ferry ride which lasted no more than twenty minutes. By the time we had arrived, the temperature outside was more than I was comfortable with. My kids had made friends with the other kids travelling in our party. The baby started to weigh in my arms with his full 10 and a half kilos. But he would not for the life of him be carried by anyone else and he refused to walk. Mommy’s arms were his best refuge. How could I refuse?
Our first stop was the Slave House where former slaves had been assembled before being shipped out to the Americas. The architecture and the atmosphere of this building were impressive. The memory of how much the African people had suffered was tangible. We saw the rooms where the male slaves were first weighed and assessed, then the cells where they were to sleep. The women were kept seperately in yet another cell. And finally, there were tiny cells the size of a small corridor, where the children slept naked and alone on the floor. The smallest child to have passed through this slave house had been only two years old. Something like my own little Willem. It bought tears to my eyes to imagine the atrocities humans are capable of inflicting on others.
After Slave House we walked all over the island. This was a huge ordeal for me. It was hot. The baby was heavy. The island was slanted upwards. I was not used to this heat. My backpack was heavy. The group was moving too fast. I was desperately trying to keep in the shade for fear of my melanoma cancer. I wasn’t enjoying this one bit. Then our guide took over my backpack and as the weight lifted off my shoulders, my mood lightened too and I marvelled at the beauty of the island.
Being European and thus obviously a foreigner, you have to put up with being sold to at a continuous pace. Wherever you go, whatever you do, you’ll always find somebody shoving something under your nose and trying to get you to buy. No thank you and look the other way. Not an easy thing to do at first.
After our tour of the island by an expertly well French speaking guide, we were dropped off by the beach on an improvised terrace under some umbrellas. We ordered drinks. I wanted beer. I don’t usually drink beer. I actually hate the taste of beer. But there out in this tropical weather my entire body was just screaming for a refreshing taste of lovely divine beer. I wanted it and drank it with as much enjoyment as my conviction that I actually wanted this beverage. Strange, I thought.
The kids put on their swimming outfits in what I later on discovered to be the most disgusting public toilets I had ever seen. Thank god I was traveling with Dettol in my bag. Hands and kids needed constant disinfection. The baby was having the time of his life crawling around in the sand. Then he started eating sand. My travel company looked at me in horror. This child was bound to get very ill this holiday. I just smiled. Willem has been eating sand ever since I first took him to the beach and so far he’s been fine. Of course, this was African sand, full of malaria and other horrible bacteria which we don’t have in our civilized contries. Oh horror, just then I saw a man crawl by on hands and knees. He had very clearly suffered from polio and was paralyzed in one leg. So the sand contained polio too. We had been vaccinated once again for polio before coming to Senegal. I was hoping that the second vaccination would work. And the Malarone pills. And the Dettol.
We ate sandwiches which were sealed in little individual bags. That reassured the health conscious Europeans which we obviously were. Around 14h we made our way back to the mainland on the ferry, boarded our airconditioned bus again and were escorted to our next location: Lamantin Beach hotel. Wow, paradise, I thought. So much better than the Djoloff Hotel. With a swimming pool. A big swimming pool. This was my idea of vacation. It was one of those commercial resorts where I like spending my holidays with the kids. Commercially clean and exotic looking. Not quite the real thing, but oh so comfortable.
That evening we enjoyed gin tonic by the bar. The kids danced to the music. We ate wonderful food. And I must have been very tired, because I took my three littles off to bed and slept soundly. We had all had an amazing day, discovering this gorgeous continent. Nobody had been burned thanks to an overly protective mama who kept rubbing in more cream on protesting kids. We had drunk loads and loads of water which just poored back out of us in the form of sweat. We had mosquito repellent bracelets and spray. We were Africa-enabled. Yeah! We slept soundly, as you might imagine.
The Malarone pills give weird dreams and funny perceptions. Yet I must say that we had an exclusive taste of Senegal throughout our entire stay. We explored so many different corners of Senegal, which we wouldn’t have done by ourselves without the aide of local guides. Each day we felt more and more inspired by what we had seen and learned. We took part in so many activities… What can I say? The Prince of Hola Pola is awesome in organizing adventurous trips for families with kids!