A few hours by bumpy transport from the Senegalese capital Dakar (320km), out on its own couple of islands, is the sleepy fishing town of Saint Louis. Interestingly Saint Louis was the capital of Senegal as a French colony from the 17th to late 19th century, and so yes, it certainly is a ‘colonial town’.
What does that really mean? Well, it’s mostly about the architecture more than anything. When I was there, a little over a decade ago now, the buildings were fading but still had a bit of a rustic charm. Some were well maintained of course, especially those catering to the higher end (relatively speaking) of the tourist market.
My room was not in a ‘higher end’ hotel, it was a bit run down. Water and electricity extremely variable. Actually, both were variable across all of St Louis – water could only be accessed at certain times of the day. Funnily enough, it wasn’t a big deal because the weather was hot and muggy, so a cold shower was fine (and it may have been buckets where I stayed) and this was before the explosion of multiple devices that needed charging. Well, still quite a few years before I travelled with them.
Senegal is probably the most visited of the French-speaking West African nations, albeit mostly by French speakers. There were a few Spanish travellers I met, and quite a few cyclists. And then there are expats as well, quite a few in St Louis and a number of French restaurants to choose from. In fact, it may have been easier to get a French-style meal in St Louis than it was an African-style meal.
I call this a ‘little place’, as the islands are very easy to walk around, but there are nearly 200,000 people living in the greater Saint Louis today. Despite that, it still seems pretty sleepy. What there are a large number of though, is fishing boats.
Dakar is one of the western most spots of the entire African continent, St Louis is a little east of Dakar. But the fishing must be good there, although as a visitor it’s hard to know really if people can eek out a reasonable living doing the most common job on a costal spot. I suspect not. I spent an afternoon chatting and practicing my rubbish French with a local fisherman whilst I was there. He asked me to buy some medicine and flour for him and his family, which I did. But you don’t ask for that if you’re living comfortably. To say the least.
But to wander the streets, smell the Atlantic Ocean, and look across it is rather special. Okay, less so the smell of fish! Nice squares and buildings in places. It’s worth a day or two of your time if you’re in Senegal. If you’re overlanding, it’s not far from the Mauritanian border and would make the perfect stop.
Thanks for reading. May the Journey Never End!