I know, I know - what does a vacation in Spain have to do with Senegal? Read on...
One of the more obnoxious things about Senegal is that airline flights are reasonably priced for arrival in Dakar, but ridiculously expensive to fly out of Dakar. For example, the Gambia - which is a country sort of tucked inside Senegal - is only a 30 minute flight from here. The advertised "promotional" price for a round-trip excursion is about $90. However, with airport departure taxes, the total cost of the trip will exceed $330!
I have also learned that airlines are completely irresponsible when it comes to pricing, because airfares from Dakar never make any sense. TAP Airlines is based out of Lisbon, Portugal. All TAP flights from Dakar to anywhere in Europe go through Lisbon for a connection. If I want to fly TAP to Madrid, it will cost $650 - with a connection in Lisbon. If I want to fly TAP to Lisbon - direct - it will cost $750.
Iberia Airlines is based out of Madrid, Spain. All Iberia flights from Dakar to anywhere in Europe go through Madrid for a connection. If I want to fly Iberia to Lisbon, it will cost $650 - with a connection in Madrid. If I want to fly Iberia to Madrid - direct - it will cost $750. Yes, you read those figures correctly. It is always $100 more to fly direct than it is to take a connection. There is no way two flights can be cheaper to operate than one flight, which is why I have absolutely no sympathy for any bankrupt airline.
Anyway, I decided to book Las Palmas in the Canary Islands (a Spanish territory) for 3 days, followed by 4 days in Madrid. Price, of course, was $750. Gran Canaria, the biggest island, is a beautiful place that is reminiscent of Puerto Rico. Las Palmas has a population of about 400,000 people and the diversity on the island ranges from volcanic cones to sandy beaches.
I came to Dakar to get away from it all. After a while, Dakar can grate on you. The sand-swept streets, the trash strewn all about town, six guys on every corner trying to sell you a pre-paid phone card, taxi drivers honking and stopping asking if you want a ride across the street. In addition, the stress of grading final exams and entering final grades, and then having to listen to students try to "negotiate" their grades as if that's part of the culture, and - well - sometimes a person needs to get away from the place where he "got away from it all."
So... I was relaxing on the beach in Las Palmas. Perfect climate (70's, slight breeze, topless women), perfect day, perfect everything. Afterward, I went to dinner at an open-air, beachside restaurant where a street musician had set up to play jazz guitar and I enjoyed a seafood risotto (that kind of tasted like Spaghetti-O's, but in a good way). It was about 10:00pm and I was just about to leave the restaurant when a man came in with an assortment of toys for sale. These were the kinds of toys that a vendor might be huckstering at any silly carnival: glow sticks, noisemakers, cheap plastic gifts, etc.
The wandering salesman was obviously pushing his favorite: a flashing, barking dog toy. He came around to each table with a big, toothy smile and said something to me in Spanish. I speak very little Spanish, but I thought I recognized the phrase.
Then, I said, "Wait a minute. Where are you from?"
"Senegal!" he replied with a big smile.
And what had he said to me in Spanish that caught my attention?...
"I give you good price."
P.S. If you are not laughing right now, you may want to read this archived classic:
Off to Madrid.
I always like the unexpected on vacation and the unexpected in Madrid came in the form of a giant street parade on a late Sunday afternoon. The Church of San Gines one of the oldest churches in Madrid, named after Saint Genesius of Arles, the patron saint of notaries and secretaries. I'm not sure I ever knew there was a patron saint for notaries and secretaries, but it seems to me that if we are going to honor notaries and secretaries, we might also designate a new patron saint for bloggers. I nominate Saint Suldog...
At first, I thought the parade was on old fashioned funeral march. New Orleans style. There were two dozen people carrying a giant statue upon their shoulders while a band played with drums and brass. People were cheering on the streets and some guy in uniform - my guess is that he was the Grand Poobah - shouted "Viva!" to a screaming crowd of thousands.
The parade went down a long block, but took over 20 minutes to complete. It ended with the giant statue being ceremoniously entered into the courtyard at the Church of San Gines. I'm not religious, but I couldn't help but be drawn in by this spectacle.
I've never really learned to read music, much less write music, much less try to figure out how to write it on the Internet, but there was something overwhelming about a band playing some variant of St. James Infirmary while the church bells roared in a pattern of:
G G#__D#_G# G
There were women crying in the streets, children celebrating, a man who nearly passed out from exhaustion from carrying the statue, and hundreds of on-lookers from the windows above representing many races and nationalities. I decided to enter the church and was treated to a show of glorious artwork from a church built in the 1600's.
As I left the church and passed the courtyard where hundreds upon hundreds of people were now exiting, I noticed a beggar with a coffee cup asking for change. All of these people celebrating the great glories and miracles; all of these people in high spirits - and not one person put a coin in his empty cup. Most wouldn't even look the man in the eye.
I thought, "Wouldn't it be ironic if this beggar was actually Jesus?"...