My Air France flight from L.A. to Paris was an hour early-- and there's an adequate lounge at De Gaulle with free computer use (Macs, no less)-- but... what lady luck giveth... So, the flight to Dakar was delayed by 4 hours or so. Traveling on a flight-- in this case two-- with a flat bed makes a tremendous difference. I slept a lot on both flights. Still, I arrived in Dakar around 1 AM and the airport was a typical confusion. No need to rush through customs since it took an hour for my bag to come trundling down the conveyor belt.
Luckily for me I noticed on the plane that a young family was split up because of my seat so I offered to trade. I said luckily because my new seat was next to a Montreal guy who's been living in Dakar for a decade. Not only did he offer a wealth of valuable information, his wife and friend picked him (and me) up at the airport. It makes a big differance-- especially in a strange unfamiliar country at 2AM.
I'm staying at a chic boutique hotel, Sokhamon, on the sea in a posh part of town that seems to be a government quarter. There are upscale highrises and gated villas all around and up the street is the National Assembly. The town seems pretty cosmopolitan at first glance and not inordinately foreign for anyone used to Third World cities. It's my first day in Sub-Saharan Africa ever but I feel pretty much at home. It also feels quite safe.
The weather is warm but not hot and if not for the need to sleep with the blanket over my head as protection from at least one persistent mosquito-- who buzzed in my ear all night, eager, no doubt, to give me malaria-- the room would have been quite pleasant.
When I woke up, at 3 in the afternoon, the malarial mosquitos had taken off and I haven't noticed any of the dengue fever (AKA, bonebrake fever) mosquitos on patrol. The malaria guys only do evenings and nights. I wish I had brought some bug spray. I did bring Purell and when I unpacked I noticed it had spilled all over my pack.
The hotel is tranquil and artsy and a little on the posh side, at least attitude-wise. It's around 100 bucks a night, same as the 5 star hotels like gigantic Le Meridien. I tend to prefer smaller more personable, relaxed places. This place has a buiness center with a computer and free Internet access; what more could anyone ask for?
I spent the afternoon and early evening walking around with a friend of a friend from The Gambia. We've been corresponding online for a month or so and it was kind of like meeting a long lost friend. He showed me around town and helped me get a hang for directions and stuff. Tonight I'm going to a live music club called Just For You.
UPDATE: ORCHESTRA BAOBAB
Incredible band, great music; good food. And I met 6 awesome Dutch women driving 3 jeeps across Africa. All during the night, different local musical luminaries got up onstage and performed as guests of Orchestra Baobab. There were some magical moments and it felt very special.
UPDATE: NY Times Goes To Listen To The Pulse Of Dakar
December 6, 2009- I missed Thiossane when I was in Dakar last year but today's NY Times has the lowdown on Youssou N'Dour's nightclub. They point out, correctly, that Dakar is one the most dynamic and "most musically vibrant cities in Africa," only lightly touched by music tourism but rich with its own musical heritage, like mbalax, and "distinct takes on hip-hop, salsa, reggae and jazz." And when N'Dour hits the stage "an ecstatic roar explodes, and soon several hundred bodies are dancing madly. With its fast-driving, interweaving traditional sabar drummers-- rounded out by guitar, bass, keyboards and a rock drum kit-- the opening number, “Less Wakhoul,” is pure mbalax, the propulsive, percussive, melodic pop music that Mr. N’Dour popularized starting in the 1970s and that remains the dominant sound emitted from Senegalese radios."