words and photos by Linda Markovina
It’s a blistering muggy Sunday along the Plateau of downtown Dakar, Senegals bustling capital hub where humid air hangs over the windy Atlantic Ocean.The shouts from the street vendors selling espresso sized shots of coffee and single cigarettes echo around the hooting evening traffic. Sept-place taxis with their varying shades of battered yellow and black dice for space and commuters with the iconically colourful Car Rapides- a symbol that has become synonymous with this West African country.
“We dress up to go somewhere, even if we are going nowhere,” is a phrase you will often hear. This is not the place to tour in your khakis and sweats. And this is never more apt if you find yourself visiting during the biannual DAK’Art festival, a cultural expense that runs for a month across venues in the city and throughout the country. Expect to see photographic exhibitions inside old crumbling buildings and restored landmarks. Sculptures can be found hidden in almost any space available and you can’t go a few paces down the corniche without bumping into a performance artist. Late nights dancing to EletraAfrique beats of top international and local DJ’s bring in swathes of crowds of the hip and chic of the continent. You want to see and be seen- it’s not a place to shrink away from the spotlight.
Senegal is said to experience more than 3,000 hours of sunlight a year, but come evening time, the city will keep you on your feet and filling your stomach till the crack of dawn. Grilled chicken and shisha pipes fill the air to the soundtrack of Akon. Always Akon. You are never far from an Akon song if you are on one of the many beaches across the city. Being one of the country's more famous international rap exports, there isn’t a chance that goes by to not hear the familiar tune of “right now (na na na) and be reminded by a beach tout hawking sunglasses that he may/may not own a house on Ngor island. Ngor is one of two larger islands, a popular short boat ride from the city center. While it’s larger counterpart, ile de Goree, doesn’t have a rap star as it’s claim to fame, it is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The island has a history of slavery and human exploitation, where the infamous House of Slaves, a symbolic place of memory and and testimony to the horrors of the slave trade, is now a sanctuary of reconciliation and education.
One could never mention Dakar without bringing up the infamous ile de Ngor. A siren song of an island for every surfer that is worth their salt, especially those chasing the endless summer. The famous Ngor right hand point break has become a cult classic, but don’t expect a rush on the waters as this city is not the kind of place that wakes up hitting the pavement running. Coffee shops open at a leisurely pace and surf spots left untouched till the first croissant has been munched down.
But come sunset and you best get out your active wear and head to the Plage du Yoff, the Mecca for the fit seekers of every age and shape. Dodge the soccer games strung between disused tyres or vie for a spot between the younger and hipper with their headphones on doing pushups in unison or work up a sweat at a large outdoor aerobics class set to pumping techno music. Whatever you do in Dakar, just don’t sit still for to long- you might miss all the fun