Thoughts about trash

During our stay in Dakar we had been very aware of the pollution of the water. The air always had a slight smell of sewage, and on one of our walks we had seen that it was indeed true that the sewage from the city emptied directly out into the anchorage; a small river of a thick, black substance, which it was impossible to walk past without gagging. Plastic was everywhere; in the streets, on the beach and in the water. Looking through Instagram, it appears that a whole bunch of people in the west seem to think that buying hair brushes made of wood and stainless steel water bottles and posting it under hashtags like #RefuseReduceReuse and #ZeroWaste will solve the world’s problems.


The jetty and the plastic waste

But what are the people to do in Dakar? On a good day, the people “working” in the yacht club (actually hanging out, hoping that somebody needs them to help carry water or diesel to the jetty, paying them maybe 50 cents for the help) can afford to buy a coffee the size of an espresso, and that will carry them through to dinner time. And yes, the coffee comes in a small plastic cup. Which ends up on the beach. The country simply doesn’t have a way to deal with waste of any kind, like it doesn’t have a waste water treatment plants to improve the water quality in the bay. And even though the Senegalese people probably on average use much less plastic than we do in a first world country like Denmark (generally, rich countries generate more plastic waste), a lot of plastic is used, and making changes is simply not on their agenda of the people who have so many other things to worry about.

After arriving in Dakar, we soon realized that the garbage we brought to the CVD ended up in a pile and was eventually simply burned in an open fire. This releases highly toxic gases and is definitely not a great solution for the local people. So the question is, what can we do? Well, for a start we can make sure that we have as little an impact on the pollution as possible. We have for years been aware of normal things like bringing our own bags to the grocery store, but when the effect of a single plastic bag is so in your face as is the case in West Africa, we came to never accept a piece of plastic if we could help it.

In Europe and America, mesh bags for fresh produce is becoming a thing, and we do have and use some of these. But if we forget them at home, the grocery sellers in the Senegalese markets simply weigh the produce you’re buying, and it just as easily goes directly in your tote bag. No problem.


At the market

In the supermarkets we have to fight a bit more to not get the thin little plastic bags of the type that seem to be the norm outside of Europe. The employers in the supermarkets are simply not used to people bringing their own bags, and we tend to tell them with a smile and an expression of “yes, I know it’s strange, but please just bear with me”. Sometimes we have to let them know several times that we really don’t want the plastic bags, but it always works in the end.

Our mesh grocery bags are a bit more complicated to understand for the cashiers, and we have had cashiers remove the produce from our bag to a plastic bag to weigh it, after which I then put it bag in the mesh bag and give them back the plastic bag, which then goes in the bin. And yes, it feels stupid like that, but my hope is that if we can do nothing else, we can at least show the locals that we as Europeans do it differently (and yes, I know this isn’t true on the large scale at all), and that maybe somebody will stop and think about making a chance in their own country.


A grocery haul, this time we didn’t run out of mesh bags

Another little thing we do is to always bring our stainless steal bottles with water. We never ever buy bottled water. Apart from this saving a lot of plastic, it also helps us stay hydrated as we always have water in the bag.

In Morocco, we would collect some pieces of plastic each on the beach every time we went for a walk. Again, it makes no difference in the big picture, but at least we teach our kids that we care and that we have to take action, even if we can only do a little bit. And maybe, just maybe, one of the locals will see what we do and start wondering if they should do something too. Though I know, that most just think that we are plain crazy. But that’s okay. In Dakar we didn’t collect plastic on the beach, even if there was loads to get. Because there was nowhere to put it, and our best guess is that it would end up in the ocean again. I find that it’s a fine line between caring, and being condescending. Telling people that their place and their habits disgust us is definitely not the way forward – and it wouldn’t be true anyways.

So in the end, we hardly do anything. We just try to not make the world too much of a worse place.






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. Continue reading

A little oasis in a city on speed

We had heard that the anchorage in Dakar was located where the city’s sewage washed into the sea, that it could be so smelly that you wake up from it at night, and that you must wash your hands if you accidentally get any of the water on your hands, not to contract som illness or infection. And yes, the water was pretty much the filthiest we had seen so far, so we were happy that the CVD provided a ferry shuttle that would sail around the anchorage every couple of hours and pick up the people who would like to go on land. Continue reading

Visits from home on the Canaries

When I crossed the Atlantic about 15 years ago, we started the trip from San Sebastian in La Gomera, so I knew that we had to visit this little gem of an island. As we approached the marina, I finally got the cruising guide out – only to read that it’s a bad idea to just show up here without a reservation… But since we were already there, we figured we would have the best chance of getting a berth if we went into the marina. And it turned out to be no problem, they had loads of space for boats smaller than 10 meters. Continue reading

Kid boats and Christmas in the Canaries

Arriving in Gran Tarajal on Furteventura was quite the contrast from touristy Lanzarote. In this sleepy town, the streets were covered in sand and the boats in the marina seemed to have been staying there for a very long time. We enjoyed the laid back atmosphere, and soon the kids realized that the boat across from us had a Belgian boy onboard. They couldn’t really understand each other, but Mattis got a truck out and soon the language differences didn’t matter. Continue reading

Lanzarote; the island of fire and lava

The sail down to the Canaries ended up taking four days. The whole trip was done using the genoa alone, and was a pretty rough affair, with large waves and quiet strong wind. But then we were in the Canaries! Since arriving in the Mediterranean in September, we had had the feeling that we were running from the weather, and now, in early December, we were finally in the Canaries where the sun was shining and we didn’t have to bring an umbrella everywhere we went. Continue reading

Anchored in the backyard of 1000 fishermen; visiting El-Jadida

Returning to Tangier, the weather had not improved, and we spent some more days in the marina, waiting along with everybody else who also wanted to go south. And then finally a couple of days without wind showed up in the weather forecast. Most boats in the marina planned to go directly to the Canaries, but we wanted to make a stop in the fishing town El-Jadida on the way. After hurrying to check out before a huge cruise ship came over to check in, we left in pouring rain. We soon lost sight of the other boats leaving Tangier, and motored on alone. The next to days were wet and cold, with a lot of seasickness, as we entered the big Atlantic swell after almost a month in Tangier. And despite of seeing the biggest pod of dolphins on our trip so far, we were pretty happy that we were not going all the way to the Canaries at this time. Continue reading

Our Moroccan road trip, part 3: Across the High Atlas mountain range

Driving away from Merzouga, Mattis insisted we stop in one of the fossil “Museums” along the road. By coincidence we were really lucky, and walked into a shop, in which the owner took part in scientific expeditions to excavate the fossils, and who showed us articles featuring him in National Geographic. Mattis loved the place, and spent probably an hour looking around. Meanwhile, Mohammad, the owner of the shop, told us stories about the Moroccan fossils, and taught us how to test if the very fancy ones are real (see if they melt when they are burned…). In the end Mattis could only afford one type of fossil, so it was very easy for him to choose, but he was very happy. Continue reading

Our Moroccan road trip, part 2: Into the desert

The first two nights of our trip had been spent in hotels, but for the third night we had found room through airbnb in the house of a young Berber couple living in the Ziz Gorge. The drive from Meknés to our hosts took us from green and fertile meadows, across the barren Middle Atlas mountain range, where snow could be seen in some areas, and finally into the desert. What a day. We made a few stops along the way, and even saw the same species of barbary macaque monkeys which we had met in Gibraltar, but we mostly spent the day driving. Continue reading