Sunday, 1 June 2014

'Early Morning Run in... Dakar'

First light: 0640 hrs
Time start: 0615 hrs
Time finish: 0651 hrs
Weather: 22C
Humidity: 73%
Circumstances: Saturday morning, early in Dakar

Senegal. First time visit. A 75 minute flight north from Freetown. A world apart. Like coming to Paris, relatively speaking. Two things to quickly clear up...

First, one of my favourite lines when seeing someone extravagantly attired is, 'dressed like a Senegalese lottery winner'. You may remember an earlier post referencing my divas. Friday in Freetown is African Day. Means national dress. Essentially outfits complete with volume control. Eagle, aka Baldylocks, came in last Friday dressed as a strawberry cornetto. Here in Dakar everyday is Africa Day. People dress loud, proud,and bright. They look good.

Second, the world famous Paris-Dakar Rally? It no longer finishes in Dakar. Hasn't since being cancelled in 2008, due to security issues in neighbouring Mauritania. From 2009 the rally has been held in South America. The Paris-Santiago Rally doesn't sound right? Although 6 years since finishing in Dakar many local drivers are still auditioning. Including my local taxi driver, Tala. Scares the living daylights out of me every morning, afternoon and evening. We zig-zag through Dakar's streets listening to Edith Piaf CDs (Edith, the original French diva - SL divas, take note. Non je ne regrette rien). Tala's working hard on my French. I'd prefer him concentrating hard on the road. He tells me each morning, tapping his chest, he's a wolf. Certainly has me howling on occasions. In fact, he's a Wolof - largest tribe in Senegal. He's proud.

He mentioned yesterday he had 3 wives. I replied I've only one. More than ample. He was amused to hear that in Yemen you can say three times, "I divorce thee"; that's it, you're done and dusted. Moving swiftly along, time and tide...

Tremendous climate here. Wonderful breeze. Cooler than Freetown with less humidity. No rain. I depart Ibis Hotel heading east. Into the rising African sun. Never fails to lift the spirits. Streets are deserted. The impressive Central Bank of West Africa on my right. The French Embassy behind. Jog down to the Corniche Est. Turn right and head south. Port and docks to my left side. A sea of cranes, warehouses, containers and flatbed lorries. Drivers beginning to stir and huddle together. One shouts, 'C'est Bon'. I'm running this morning at Africa's most westerly point.

The corniche. An elevated road. Atlantic Ocean down below, drop of about 30 metres. Isn't it one of life's simple pleasures, running along a coastline? Still gets me every time. Some nice looking restaurants and hotels in this area. Lagon Un (Twitter for photos: @roadrunnertns) is a unique bar & restaurant. Definitely worth a visit. Several other joggers this morning. Some expats. Some Senegalese. A few local coffee trolleys opening, people out collecting fresh bread. Funny how some French legacies endure. Few motorbikes here. Mostly scooters. The French thing...

...reminds me. There were 2 cats. An English cat; named one-two-three. A French cat; he was called un-deux-trois. They decided to race across a canal. Naturally the English cat, one-two-three came first. The French cat, un-deux-trois, ...quatre cinq. Couldn't get through without a French joke.

Extremely pleasant running along the corniche. Slightly undulating, a few climbs to push up and over. Small coves below. Some rocky, some sandy. Senegal is light years ahead of Sierra Leone in development terms. Stability being a key factor. There have been over 45 successful putsches and unconstitutional changes of government in the 15 member states of ECOWAS since 1960. Sierra Leone is near the top of this league. Only Senegal, and one other country, have been spared this experience in the region. Bonus point for the other.

Nearly 20 mins done. Time to cut off the corniche. I head north up into the Embassy sector. Avenue Pasteur. British Embassy to my right. Next door the Ambassador's residence. Looks a nice set-up.
Lovely tree-lined boulevards. Henry, you've complained you've never received a namecheck. Well, you're in. Navigating these pavements with the trees and roots playing havoc reminds me of pushing you around Florence in a push-chair. You were cute and had Italian ladies kissing your feet and making a fuss of you. Ha, nobody would want to go near your pieds these days.

Head into a large roundabout. Nice buildings all round. The National Assembly. The African Art Museum. Take a right exit onto Rue Mandela. Tree lined again. All the way along to the main hospital in Dakar. L'Hopital Principal. Close by is the city morgue. I'm now in the dead centre of Dakar.

North, onto the most prestige road in the city. Avenue Leopold Senghor. The first president at independence in 1960. He ruled for 20 years. Known as the founding father of Senegal he lived until he was 95 years old. This before the modern trend where African Presidents knock a few years off and magically become younger. Senegal has recent experience of this. African footballers is another prime area for age reduction. This is a spectacular road. The beautifully appointed Presidential Palace on my right complete with ceremonial guards outside the gates. Pick up the pace now. In the distance I can start to see Place De L'Independence.

The centre point of old Dakar. Faded glory, but I can imagine this square back in the day. Must be nearly 300 m long in the shape of a large oblong. I do 2 laps taking in the early morning beat as the city awakes. Taxis everywhere. Nut sellers setting up. Newspapers being pegged up in the battered kiosks. People in local kaftans and red fezes. Could be a Tommy Cooper convention. Big international brands dominate the skyline - banks, insurance companies, airlines. There's the Pullman Hotel. Looks inviting. Was the Sofitel. One more lap and head out of the square east along Avenue Hassan II back to the Ibis.

As I warm down I reflect fondly on my time in Senegal (5 days). A city of contrasts. Brand new roads, expensive 4x4 vehicles, bridges, tunnels, shopping centres, sky scrapers, hotels, cranes, construction...then a horse and cart appears, some sheep run across the road. Plenty of shanty and poverty mixed in too, as you leave the centre. The result a compelling mix of modern and traditional. Although overwhelmingly (95%) Islamic few Senegalese women are veiled. This seems a comfortable country, one at ease, at least on first impressions.

Vous revoir bientot.

Other one for the bonus... Cape Verde.