Île de Gorée; visiting the slave island

Sailing in to the anchorage in Dakar, we passed close by the Île de Gorée, where two forts can be seen along with old and colorful colonial houses in different states of repair. This island is the place where the slaves used to be collected before they were shipped off towards the other side of the Atlantic. Now it’s a UNESCO world heritage site.

We ventured out on the sleepy and sandy street outside the CVD and hailed a taxi to take us to the Île de Gorée ferry. After some discussion we even managed to get the price down to only somewhat overpriced. At the small ferry terminal we stopped at a stand with a smiling young women who sold us some local ground nuts and oranges from the Casamance in southern Senegal. And then on towards the ferry tickets. Very cheap for Senegaleseans, a bit more expensive for Africans in general and 10 times the price for everybody else. Wonder what would happen if this system was implemented in Denmark… Anyways, we suddenly realized that the ferry was about to leave, so we, and a man with a goat on a leach, raced to the boat. We just made it, though the goat wasn’t impressed that it had to leave land behind.

Soon, dust covered the big city, and we sailed on in blindness until the island appeared in front of us. Upon reaching land again we were immediately swarmed by people wanting to sell us souvenirs, but we wanted to take a walk in the small and narrow streets, and soon we were alone again. There seems to be only houses from the slave era on the island, they are of course very run down, but apparently all still have people living in them. And between them, flowers of many colors grow on the otherwise very dry and sandy island. A very quiet place once you’re clear of the salespeople. We went to see the old French museum showcasing a mix of the island’s and Senegal’s history. Once again, a very run down and dusty place, where it seemed that the only exhibition that had been added since the French left the country was that of islam. But considering our general lack of knowledge of the country we were visiting, it was nevertheless very interesting, introducing the different tribes of Senegal, and telling the story of the many wars between them, mixed with the muslim invaders from the north and the European colonization. But what made the biggest impression on the kids was the slave ship shackles that were on exhibition, and drawings of how the captured people had been stored in the ships, lying side by side, tied down without and possibility of moving around.

We moved on to the House of the Slaves, an iconic house where the captured people were kept and sold in the 1800. Here, we saw the different rooms, one for men, one for women, one for boys and one for girls. This again made a big impression on the kids, imagining what it would have been like to first have been taken as slave, and then to be separated from your family. It led to long conversations about the conditions that these people were living under once they had reached the land on the other side. In reality, it appears that the house was build after the slave trade became illegal, and has in reality been used for the ground nut trade. But I guess that doesn’t fit as well in the narrative of the island, so this is something you learn elsewhere. A shame really, the true story is horrifying enough in itself, and doesn’t need made up stories to make an impression on the visitors.

The island has a small bay where the ferry landed. We had considered sailing there with Chip-Chip, but decided against it in the end because we didn’t know if the place was actually suitable for a sailboat and because the wind was blowing directly into the bay while we were in Dakar. But with a stern anchor out we think it would have been fine to spent a couple of nights there, and it would probably have been a lot nicer once all the day tourists (us) had left.

We of course had to visit the city center of Dakar at least once. And if we thought that our part of the city was chaotic, it was taken to a whole different level once we were in the center. Here, people were everywhere, wanting to sell us all sorts of things. A whole street was dedicated to African fabric, and one man especially took it upon him to let us know where the Senegalese part was located, and that we shouldn’t shop in the “fake” places from other African countries. We, of course, had already bought African clothes from the seamstress in CVD and didn’t actually find that we had room in Chip-Chip to shop for fabric. A shame maybe. But we did have room for coffee and found a nice Arab place selling both bread and good coffee – this is the kind of souvenir we go for. Most street vendors were very nice, and accepted a  “no thank you” and a smile, but after a couple of hours we needed a break from the constant attention and were happy when we returned to “our” part of the city again and could settle with a communal plate of food on the corner of the street.

Before moving on towards the Gambia, we needed to do some grocery shopping, and found that we could walk a couple of kilometers through the city to the nearest supermarket. Our trip took us across the new railway, which was still in the process of being build, but since nobody else seemed to be bothered by this, we also just walked across. We found that the best fruit and vegetables were sold from stands outside the supermarket, and we bought some bags of ground nuts from an old man on the street. But for milk powder, spaghetti etc. it was nice to have the small supermarket. After a nice morning, talking to many people on our hike to the supermarket, we had stoked up on food and were ready to move on. We had spent a week in Dakar, and would actually have liked to stay a bit longer, and visit the country, but ended up not being able to arrange such a trip locally. A shame and a bit strange. Our next stop was the Gambia, a 24 hour sail away.


To see Chip-Chip’s most current position, click here.

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