Let me start by saying Dakar is a very metropolitan city. It's about as 3rd World as Storrow Drive in Boston or the Eastern Promenade in Portland. Sure, you can find a penniless man sleeping next to a bridge, but that bridge is next to an expensive home over looking the water and the man is probably just looking for a quiet night's sleep.
But, that's not the Africa anyone wants to see. I wanted something a bit more dangerous! I wanted to go on a safari! I wanted to see "The Big 5"! And thus far the only five dangerous, wild animals I had seen in Dakar were:
1.) The Stray Cat
2.) The Very Fast Lizard
3.) The Annoying Little Chirpy Bird outside my window
4.) The Mob of Cretins waiting for me at the airport and...
5.) The very large woman with dreadlocks who moved here from the U.S. 10 years ago and now gives tours of Dakar
So, today it was off to the Bandia Nature Reserve - a game park located about an hour outside of Dakar. To describe Bandia is pretty simple: It's like Busch Gardens in Tampa without the roller coaster, tram ride and childrens' petting zoo. These are trained tourist animals who pose and smile when they see a camera. In fact, except for the monkeys and a certain species of antelope, all the critters in the place were imported from somewhere else in Africa.
Four of us arrived in the Suffolk University 4WD campus cruiser. In case anyone from Suffolk is reading, this was obviously a business trip. Once we arrived, we had to hire an expert tour guide for 4,000 CFA Francs (about 8 bucks U.S.). When you consider $8 is all the guy is going to earn for the day, it was worth renting him just for his expert knowledge of how to navigate the mud and ruts in the road. But I digress...
The real story here is that the guide needs to sit in the front seat to tell the driver where to go. Which means someone from our party of four had the pleasure of riding in that "third row SUV seat" for about 2 hours. You know that seat. There's no open window or air conditioning vent. It has all the legroom and comfort that you'd expect to find in the bathroom of an economy class flight. And it's usually folded down so you can fit smelly soccer gear in the back, so who knows what condition it will be in when turned upright.
We did the fair thing and - after a rousing game of "rock, paper, scissors" the loser was... our 70-year old department chairman. Hey, fair is fair. Besides, he's seen the Nature Reserve before and I didn't come halfway across the globe to kiss his butt or try to get a promotion. I wanted to see wild animals!
Indeed, I saw a mama giraffe with her newborn (seven days old!), water buffaloes, warthogs and a herd of impalas. I saw monkeys, hyenas and plenty of colorful birds. I even saw crocodiles and giant lizards. But, the most dangerous and wild animal anyone ever has seen is a 70-year old man climbing out of the third seat of an SUV after two hours of bouncing around on dirt roads.
I did get to see the cities of Rufisque and Thies; viewed the coastal towns of Mbour and Saly; and rode through small villages at points in between. I saw hundreds of baobob trees (some estimated to be 1,000 years old!!!). I saw a main street that was once a proud French outpost turned into a slum, thriving market places where you could buy one blue platform-heeled shoe (right foot) as well as various other unmatched pairs, mucky streets impassable by car being expertly navigated by horse and wagon, children playing soccer on gravel fields and even a sign for a junkyard that read, "Paradise Auto Pieces" written in perfect English. But, that's the Africa the non-profits want you to see so you'll send more money.
Now back to my search for the real Africa... where did we leave the old guy, anyway?