Travelling Senegal by Local Transport.
When Alessandro and I were in our hotel in Lompoul, we had a chance to chat with a local who was guiding some tourists through Senegal. He was the first one we met who spoke perfect English. Meeting him changed our way of travelling throughout Senegal. At first, we used private vehicles like taxis, but he showed us a better way of moving from one city to another, one that was less expensive.
Thanks to him we learned about “Gare,” which is what they call a bus station. This was the turning point of our vacation: we started to move around Senegal using what they called “sept-places” and minibuses.
Sept-places are Peugeot 504 station wagons that officially have seven seats, but are really only comfortable for six. In some cases, drivers decide to take even more than seven passengers. Sept-places charge a set price per seat for getting from one city to another. There is an extra negotiable charge for luggage; even if you don’t have much, you’ll need to pay. The drivers get a lot more money by doing this.
The rates weren’t that low, but compared to the private services, they were undoubtedly far more convenient, also because the taxies changed really a lot to the tourists.
As an alternative to Sept-places, there were also the minibuses. They were infinitely less reliable and they could carry from 20 to 30 people. Drivers squeezed four or five or seven adults into a row meant for only three or four. Children had no seats reserved; adults were forced to keep them on their laps throughout the journey. Probably if they paid for it, they could also get a seat for their child.
All of the drivers at gares want to fill up the vehicle before departing. For this reason, we mostly opted for the Sept-Places because minibusses waited for 20 or more people before leaving, which could take hours. In both cases though, this was the main reason why a two hours trip could easily turn into six or seven hours.
The following day after breakfast, the staff of our hotel dropped us at the main street in Lompoul. From there we caught a sept-place to Lompoul beach and then went directly to Kèbèmer where the main bus station (Gare) was. Every big city had its Gare. Our destination was Saint Louis.
We reached Saint Louis by bus. Since it was a big one, we got to have seats.
That journey was our first experience with the Senegalese public transport. It really deserves a description. We arrived at the gare (or garage) of Kèbèmer quite early, after just having a brief visit at Lompoul beach (Lompoul sur mer). Upon arrival, men and children started following us and wouldn’t let us pass. We didn’t know who they were, and since we didn’t know French or Wolof it took us a while to understand what was happening. They were “hunting” people in order to fill their owner’s vehicle.
|Bus From Kèbèmer to Saint Louis
Yes, in fact, at the gares there are many types of vehicles: traditional cars, seven seats, vans, minibuses, big busses, etc. with different prices and different destinations. Each of them with its owner and porter to gather people in order to fill the seats. As I told you before, until their vehicle was completely filled up it didn’t move even if it took more than four or five hours.
Actually, I didn’t understand their method; probably those who owned a vehicle paid a kind of fixed tax to transport people from one place to another. Once they catch you, they load your luggage and they sell you the ticket immediately so that you can’t change your mind anymore. Don’t be hasty, take your time to decide.
|waiting, waiting and waiting
We had been in fact “picked” by the porter of a large bus with endless seats, seven per row. We paid our ticket 3500.00 CFA per person, bags included. What happened then was waiting, waiting, waiting, and sweating. We just stayed there inside the bus, with no air conditioning, of course, hoping that those who came closer had our same destination. We had been waiting hours and hours without food and thank God we had water and we could buy some peanuts from the children going around. Finally, at about three pm we started to move and we reached Saint Louis around five pm. It wouldn’t have been a long journey if not for those long hours of waiting.
This first experience with the Senegalese Public transportation taught us that the Sept places were the best of the choices because even if it was expensive, it was faster since it took less time to be filled. In both cases, since the sept places and the minibuses break down a lot, a short trip could easily turn longer and longer.
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