Toubab Transit

Thursday, January 13

The worst thing about traveling in West Africa, as we’ve experienced it, is the difficulty of getting around.  Although train service once existed between Dakar and St. Louis and Dakar and Bamako (the capital of Mali), it no longer operates. We’ve seen only a few big American-style buses (we just passed them on the road to Dakar, from where I’m writing this), but they stop at every village. I’ve described the drawbacks of the sept-place bush taxis — and we never tried the even cheaper and more impoverished minibuses.

But now I’ve finally figured out how the sensible Toubab travels: you hire a private car.  We asked at our hotel in St. Louis about this and thus secured a ride in a clean, well-maintained vehicle (not a single crack in any of the windows! Perfect seat belts!)  This is costing us $100, versus the $35 it would have cost to ride in a bush taxi with (at least) 5 other passengers, plus the regular taxis to and from the gare routiere.  It looks like we’ll make this trip in just 4 hours, enjoying a MUCH higher level of comfort. 

The problem with the private cars is negotiating a good price. The owner of our B&B in Dakar wanted to charge us $200 for this very same trip.  I know it’s possible to hire a clean, air-conditioned vehicle to drive you all around Senegal for 11 days for about $600. Laura and her dad did that. But Laura arranged it, and she’s a bargaining genius. When S and I asked the very same driver how much he would charge to pick us up at the Gambian border and drive us to St. Louis (a one-day gig) he demanded $300 — and wouldn’t consider any counter offers.

As pleasant as this current transport is, I also don’t regret any of our sept-place trips; constant comfort has never been our top priority in traveling. When we want to be really comfortable and surrounded by familiar things, we go home.

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