colonial capital

Three hours through the heat of senegal crammed into the preferred mode of transport (a peugeot 504) lies the old french colonial capital of west africa. Crucial for expanding a somewhat brutal french influence and defeating the jihads of mythical figures like Omar Tall, St. Louis seems like a forgotten city just coming to life.

It sits on a tiny island in the middle of the senegal river. Beyond it, is a thin sandy bar that runs for almost 40 kms in one thin strip of fishing villages and holiday camp/hotels along the sea. St. Louis borders Mauritania to the north, and has a hint of the sahara desert which lies just beyond.

You are immediately seduced by the consistently decrepit and glorious buildings that choke the island. There's a touch of Havana magic here -- nothing's been touched since power switched to Dakar. Horse-drawn buggys are whipped along the dusty streets, yellow and black taxis buzz around the corners, filthly kids scramble in gutters and leap up to chase you.

Frozen in time, St. Louis is now just beginning to suffer the growing pangs of tourism. It feels like an awkward marriage -- poverty mixed with tourism is a somewhat brutal relationship in Senegal. There's a constant demand for money from kids, and more elaborate ruses by elders. You have to inoculate yourself against everyone, or else it's simply too exhausting, and that breeds cyniscm on both sides. But with a few days here, you can discover a community quite different to Dakar -- welcoming, generous, and deeply religious.