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Sahara

Day 31: Nouakchott to St-Louis

St-Louis, Senegal 
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At the end of the island on which St-Louis, first French foothold in Africa, was founded, a museum and cultural centre rises beside the waters of the Sénégal. A school visit is in progress.
Michael Palin - SaharaAnother long wait. Buses and trucks squeeze out of the narrow car park. Currency changers move amongst the recently arrived, offering deals on the Mauritanian ouguiya, which, on account of the foreign aid propping up Mauritania, is stronger than the CFA franc used by Senegal.

A tall man in a white robe wanders around calling out 'Me bank!' and waving a wad of notes.

To begin with, the roads this side of the border are much rougher. Tarred but severely pot-holed, they ensure a jolting, punishing ride towards St-Louis. Then, quite suddenly, we appear to have time-travelled to provincial France. The road surface becomes smooth and white-lined. Every village leading into St-Louis has speed restrictions and signs warning us to belt up, back and front. And there are cyclists everywhere, turning out of leafy lanes and emerging from the university campus on drop-handlebar bikes, wearing Tour de France T-shirts. I can't remember seeing bicycles at all in Mauritania. Basil agrees.

'Beat-up old cars and donkey carts and nothing in between.'

Shortly before six we cross a wide estuary onto a narrow island with a cathedral and cinemas and draw up beside the clipped hedges, shady balconies and colourful awnings of the Hôtel De La Poste, where a long line of Monsieur Hulots is waiting to sign in ahead of us. I can even use my mobile to phone home. This is more than culture shock. It's cultural convulsion.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 31
  • Country/sea: Senegal
  • Place: St-Louis
  • Book page no: 105

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