Words and pictures by Sheelah Turner
Reader Trip Report: Podor, Senegal
When a man took down his fence so that we could drive into his back yard to camp, we realized what an unusual and special place Podor was. But our visit to Podor, Senegal, had really started a few days earlier in St Louis. We had taken a few days to rest after driving through Mauritania and crossing the border, and had used the time to chat to other travellers in the campsite about places worth visiting in Senegal. Since some travellers – and our trusty little guide book – mentioned Podor, we thought it would be worth a visit.
Podor is probably the northernmost town in Senegal. It lies some 200 kilometres east of St Louis, on the banks of the Senegal River, and across the water from Mauritania. The people of Podor are very proud of their up-andcoming tourist town; they value tourists and welcome them with open arms. We meandered our way to the two hotels on the tiny quay – both renovated warehouses of the French colonial era.
Our arrival in the afternoon coincided perfectly with the Senegalese equivalent of “siesta time” – all was quiet. Finally, we roused the hotel managers, but unfortunately neither was happy for us to park and flip open our rooftop tent. A young chap had been hanging around during this time, watching and listening. Our search for a campsite had not fallen on deaf ears – he told us that there was indeed camping in Podor! We were sceptical, but followed him as he directed us to La Terrasse, a restaurant which offered simple rooms and camping.
It didn’t look promising when we arrived – no real camping to speak of, and the same siesta activities seemed to prevail. But then Kaz appeared, all smiles. Of course, he was keen for us to take a room – and proudly showed us his basic offering. However, we were keen to sleep in our own bed after a long day on the road. It took some explaining – in French, naturally – that we had our own “maison” (house) with the “chambre” (bedroom) on the roof, before he understood: we needed to move our vehicle into his backyard. ‘No problem,’ he declared when we pointed out that there was no gate. He merely took down a section of his fence so that we could negotiate our way between the tree and the standing tap into the back of the property, and park. At this stage, the whole extended family, and everyone else passing by, was waiting to see Viking Explorer flip open the tent to reveal our “chambre;” after which I proudly opened the tailgate to show where my “cuisine” (kitchen) was. Much head shaking, open mouths and laughter followed!
Kaz was an interesting man. He spoke a little English – and was keen to practise – so the conversation was carried on in broken English, punctuated by French. One of his sisters lives in Germany and is a professor of sociology. His other sister lives next door, and works at a hotel south of Dakar. He commented particularly on the European style of marriage being more of a partnership than the Senegalese style – I believe an element of polygamy is still practised in the latter. He certainly seemed more worldly than either of us had really expected an inhabitant of a tiny, tucked-away African town to be. Stereotypes are just too lazy, sometimes.