Reporter: Rob Venn
Contact at destination: Pr. Nicolas KUAKUVI (chef de service and very nice man)
Year of visit: 2004
Institution: HŰpital Aristide le Dantec
Work / Study undertaken Two month attachment to paeds, the Dantec is a teaching hospital, so lots like being a medical student in this country. Did a short project on malnutrition. People at hospital really friendly; you could probably do as much as you feel confident at.
Description of destination Dakar is the capital of Senegal and one of the main towns in west Africa. A big town: lots of people, noise and pollution, but some nice beaches and all the comforts of Europe (France) if you want them.
Were the local people friendly? Yes, but masses of unwanted attention; itís often difficult to distinguish between genuine friendliness and another scam, and sometimes the line is blurred. There are really lovely friendly people, but when youíre travelling it can be hard to shake off some Ďguidesí, although if you donít mind paying for the odd thing this doesnít have to be too much of a problem. Depends how you feel about this, I wasnít at all keen to be guided anywhere.
Did you feel safe and if not why not? Mostly, though I was very cautious in some areas, perhaps too much so after a couple of annoying encounters in the first couple of days. There are thieves and pickpockets in Dakar, but I was never robbed and while there is much hassle in town, I donít believe there is a real threat of physical violence, although itís probably best for a white person not to walk around alone at night.
What did you do in your spare time ? Swim, wander around Dakar and local area, sit talking outside the flats in the evenings. There are bars and clubs, mainly in town, but a disadvantage of being on your own is that you may not get much chance to do these.
Is there anything that you would particularly recommend others to do? Just explore the country: the different towns and villages vary a lot in character, take some time, find some nice places and relax. Joal and Mar Lodj could be my favourites.
What was the climate like? Hot! 35įC, 85% humidity (i.e. you basically sweat all the time) and a plague of locusts. That was Aug-Oct, which is the tourist low season for that reason, though you get used to it. To some extent.
What was your accommodation like? University immeuble (really intended for staff or visitors). V. nice room, TV, balcony, fridge, gas burner, cleaner. Good but expensive (£10 a night), you could find cheaper (& with air con.) in the private sector but donít know how easy this would be.
Was it provided? Arranged by hospital.
How much did it cost? 10,000 CFA francs a night (F CFA is fixed at F655=Ä1, so F1,000~£1)
Did you enjoy your visit? Yes
Did you find it useful medically? Yes, mainly in terms of seeing lots of things and unusual pathology.
Has it improved your French? Yes Ė a great place to go if you donít want to speak English!
How has it increased your knowledge of French culture? Local culture, yes. Understanding of lifestyle and attitudes to life just from living there and talking to people. Chance to meet people from across west Africa and the francophone world. As my first visit to Africa it was like a completely different world that I knew almost nothing of beforehand. Itís good to read newspapers and magazines and learn about these countries that I at least knew little of.
If you went back would you do anything differently? Spend less time on Dakarís public transport; though it is of course an essential part of the trip, the 45-minute traffic jams are no joke: just pay the money and take taxis. Explore more of the country: after a couple of trips I wished Iíd had the time to see everywhere.
How did you get there? Flew Paris-Dakar. No direct flights from this country.
What was the approximate total cost? Flights about Ä400 from Paris. Daily living costs quite cheap, European things at appropriate prices. Accommodation the other big cost: see above.
Is there any other information that you think may be useful? Donít be put off by the hustlers and hassle, thereís a lovely country underneath it all, though it can be hard to see sometimes, especially in central Dakar. Read a little about the country and life before you go, so youíre not completely bemused by the marabouts, gris-gris and other weird features of life.
Get Lonely Planet (ďThe Gambia and SenegalĒ): itís really, really useful.
Money: lots of cash machines in Dakar. If taking cash/travellerís checks, take euros, not dollars or sterling.
They do not recognise you from the hotel/airport!
Eat lots of mangos!
Anything else you want to know, contact me at RMVenn@Yahoo.co.uk.