Hitchhiking Senegal: Part Two

Dakar to Fatick

People laugh every time we describe how we are traveling around Senegal. They insist it is not possible and then we detail how far we have already come by hitchhiking. “FROM MOROCCO? TO SENEGAL? YO BALAY?!” Yo balay (phonetically) is Wolof for free ride. We had learned the phrase for hitchhiking during our stay in St. Louis and now used it quite frequently.

Despite how difficult people told us it would be in Senegal, we really haven’t had a problem hitchhiking here. It takes a while, yes, but eventually somebody always stops and we haven’t had to wait longer than an hour or two for a ride.

Leaving Dakar, we knew, would be a challenge. The city is sprawling and the traffic is a nightmare. Even though we were staying far from the city center, it was still going to take at least an hour to get to a place we could hitchhike from. If we had begun walking to a spot from where we were staying in Patte D’Oie, it would have taken us all day to just get to the edge of the city. So we rose at the crack of dawn and decided to take public transport for 300XOF to a place where we could reasonably expect to get a ride. It was before 7am when we boarded the bus and within a few stops it was packed with commuters. The roads had been empty when we began our journey but not even a half hour later, they were already becoming congested.

We got off of the first bus and were still very much in an urban area and by this point, the streets were full of people flagging down already overcrowded buses. We watched as two then three buses passed by because there was simply no room for any other people. In Africa, this means that there is no room for you to even hang off the outside of the bus as those spots are already taken.

Being toubab (white people), we saw we were going to have a tough time securing our spaces on a bus. For starters, there were a few buses we could take, but the bus numbers are often not clearly identifiable. Then there was the issue of there being two of us, with all of our bags, trying to cram on a bus that never fully stops but instead comes to a slow roll for people to hop on and off. The situation was already every man for himself, so we knew people were not going to be pleased with us taking up the space of four potential passengers.

We saw that other people were getting rides from unofficial vehicles so we figured, why not? We started flagging down every passing car and sure enough, a big lorry truck stopped and picked us up. They said they were only going a few kilometers down the road, but any distance was meaningful for us so we hopped in. Probably twenty kilometers later, they were making a turn so they dropped us off, well outside of the city on a major highway going the direction we wanted. Score. We have realized that in Senegal, when people say they are going 3 km it usually means they are going 10. If they say they are going 10 km, it is usually more like 30, and so forth. When before we might have turned down a short distance ride, here we have learned to accept all rides because we usually end up much farther down the road than we were told.

We were soon picked up by another man in a spacious SUV. “Doma yo balay, Fatick?” He replied that he wasn’t going to Fatick but was going a hundred km or so and would be happy to take us. “Amuma halis…”, we replied. He laughed and said it was not a problem and waved for us to hop inside.

He had a box full of chocolate chip biscuits and readily shared them with us, which was great because we had already been on the road for a few hours and had not had time to eat any breakfast. He was super kind and chatted with Gabe about his job and his family and proceeded to attempt to FaceTime with his kids and show off his passengers. People often start a video chat while driving, although it is often pointless due to poor reception and not to mention dangerous. But every time, we smile and wave to the pixels on the screen anyways.

He dropped us off in the center of the rather large town of Mbour and we had to walk a few kilometers to reach the outskirts. We were making great time, however, as it was just past 9 am and we had already gone about 90 km. Fortunately, we were in a much more lush part of the world than we had been when hitching through Mauritania, so there were ample trees for us to find shade under while we waited. This is another perk to getting an early start as the shade usually disappears around mid-day and the sun can often be brutal here, especially when walking with all of your gear.

There were a few other people already attempting to flag down rides so we walked a few meters passed them in good hitchhiking etiquette. When hitchhiking in places where other people are already waiting, it is a total dick move to stand in front of them as you are now more likely to get a ride. Treating the road as a queue is just good form. However, we have noticed in Senegal, other people tend to flock towards us because we put in much more effort to get the attention of drivers and they are more likely to stop for us. So they will hang out by us and then every time a car stops, they rush the driver asking for rides. They are usually paying customers as well, so we often have less of a chance of getting these rides. It can be frustrating but we are looking for free rides and have all day to get to our destination (it really isn’t that big of a deal if we don’t make it either). So we let the Senegalese take these rides and just continue walking farther up the road until we get our own space.

Eventually we catch a ride with another lorry truck, which is passing through Fatick so they agree to take us all the way. It is barely 10 am so we reckoned, even going at the slower pace lorries travel at, we would make it by noon. These truck drivers were no different than the ones we had encountered outside of Dakar (and ultimately would encounter all over the country) and worked insane hours, every day, 11 months out of the year. 11 months on, 1 month off.

The men drop us off in Fatick and we were stunned at how quick and painless the journey had been. Around 4 hours to get about 140 km. We had chosen Fatick as our destination because a) we found a Couchsurfing host there and b) we assumed it would take us a lot longer to get there. For all of the doubt people had aroused in us about the level of success we would have hitchhiking, at least this leg of the journey was a walk in the park! According to the map, this journey should have taken us around 2 hours to complete. We always add a few hours to our estimate to account for the time it takes to get rides and any detours we might unexpectedly take (like getting invited for lunch with an amazing family in Morocco). In Senegal, we have had to tack on more than a few hours in our estimation because it takes us a lot longer to get rides. So to make it 140 km in 4 hours, the first hour of which was getting out of a heavily congested city, was a big accomplishment!

We could have continued on because we had so much daylight left, but we had already lined up accommodation in Fatick and it ended up being a great experience. Fatick seems like the kind of town that does not get a lot of tourist traffic, which is exactly the kind of town we like. We both ended up experiencing our first trip sickness here, which limited our adventure time, but we did make an amazing day trip to the oldest tree in Senegal! But that is a different story…

Concise Advice:

  • Get up early to leave Dakar. If you are staying in the city center, you truly cannot get up early enough. We made it to Rufisque before 8 am and we were still too late to beat the traffic.
  • If you choose to take the bus, take the 66 bus to Rufisque. From there, there is another bus you can take (the 68), but we managed to hitchhike by flagging down a lorry truck so it is possible to hitch from there.
  • Doma yo balay LOCATION, amuma halis. If you learn no other phrase in Wolof, this one is worth committing to memory if you are hitchhiking.
  • The area around and south of Fatick is really cool and worth exploring if you have the time. If you are cutting through The Gambia, it is definitely worth checking out as you’ll likely take that road anyways.

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