Everyone has their favorite seashore: perhaps it is the one with the wildest waves, the clearest water, probably the most golden sands… However I’ve actually discovered the proper one. And it isn’t in Mustique or Formentera or Tulum. In actual fact, the essence of its perfectness is that you would be able to solely discover it after a full day’s climbing by means of rural villages, rice fields and swampy mangroves – and with all of your belongings piled into a giant, lumpy, uncomfortable rucksack. However then there it’s: Pointe Saint-Georges, the one seashore (I feel) which has cows, goats and pigs all grazing bizarrely alongside the shore, cobalt-blue crabs scrambling in between their hooves, and never a soul in sight.
Lily James mentioned just lately that after filming wrapped on Cinderella, she wanted to go off the grid. Months of relentless publicity had taken their toll, so she headed to southeast Asia for an old style backpackers’ vacation, full with finances youth hostels and requisite smattering of cockroaches. I hadn’t simply completed a high-grossing box-office movie, however I had simply damaged up with a boyfriend. And so regardless of a grown-up job and restricted vacation time, that very same impulse to bury myself in an unfamiliar tradition – moderately than recline passively on a solar lounger – positively appealed.
Given I had solely 10 days, this wasn’t going to be a grown-up hole 12 months. However free from unwieldy baggage and panic-packed magnificence baggage, I reckoned I may cowl sufficient floor for a suitably energising expertise. As for my journey companion, I made a decision upon considered one of my greatest associates from college – not a option to be taken flippantly. A backpacking compadre have to be sensible sufficient to remind you to take your malaria tablets, empathetic sufficient to use Anthisan to your derrière, and affected person sufficient to buffer your damaged French on the pharmacy if you’re satisfied you have contracted a tropical illness.
After a couple of imprecise conversations over espresso, we determined upon Senegal. Mentioning the forthcoming journey to associates, the identical query popped up – why there? Actually, I am nonetheless probably not positive. Maybe that was a part of the attract – the adrenaline rush of pointing to a random spot on the map, packing up our issues and leaping on a airplane to a spot we knew little about. My solely analysis was geographical: it is on the western coast of Africa, bordered by Mauritania, Mali, Guinea and Guinea-Bissau, and lower in half by the sliver of the Gambia, which juts in from the coast. Every other info had been gleaned a few years in the past from French textbooks: I keep in mind studying vox pops of smiling Parisian teenagers speaking about their tropical vacances au Sénégal. It is a former French colony, and loads of in-the-know households nonetheless apparently jump over on direct flights from Charles de Gaulle.
I tracked down a buddy who had labored at an NGO there and subsequent sought journey recommendation – notably on sartorial customs, as it is a primarily Muslim nation. Apparently above-the-knee skirts had been OK, however naked stomachs are a cultural no-no. In relation to nightclubs, all is honest sport – “the shorter, tighter and blingier the higher”, she emailed again. So into my rucksack I stuffed loose-fitting jumpsuits, tea attire, cotton shirts and loads of sports activities bras – wired undergarments haven’t any place on the highway. Sneakers had been edited right down to flip-flops, beaten-up Converse, much more beaten-up Nikes, and probably the most feather-light heels I may discover, for balmy nights of Senegalese mbalax (an exuberant mixture of conventional drumming and membership tracks). Make-up was restricted to the emergency rations I preserve in my desk drawer, whereas travel-size wash bag provides had been shared out between us.
We each agreed to go away our iPhones at house – no Instagramming each view, no Tweeting each expertise. Armed solely with disposable cameras and pay-as-you-go bricks, the one hassle with the happy-go-lucky perspective got here when my outdated system packed in by the second day. If we needed to discover individually, we would have to fulfill again at public spots at particular occasions. On a tip from the NGO buddy, if we bought any undesirable male consideration, we would say we had been “ready for our husbands”.
When it got here to the logistics of packing, we appeared to Marie Kondo ranges of precision: roll, by no means fold, and pack the heaviest gadgets on prime – it is extra snug on the again and frees house by squashing issues under. Convey extra books than you assume (except you’ve gotten a Kindle – however battered books are a lot extra romantic) and dispense them alongside your journey. To the individual presently racing by means of my worn copy of The Woman on the Prepare in that café under the Gambian border: you are welcome.
As to our itinerary, we did comparatively little planning, in line with the Into the Wild-inspired spirit of teenage travels. When it got here to lodging, we booked a studio for the primary few nights to assemble our bearings – Airbnb exists in probably the most unlikely locations – then after that went by way of native recommendations. Our hosts met us off the airplane within the capital, Dakar: the spouse was a French former ballet dancer, the husband a Senegalese chef who ran the kitchen of their restaurant under. Over the subsequent few days, as we explored town – stuffed with unique meals stalls, ambling cattle and chaotic site visitors – we would typically pop down for freshly grilled thiof in yassa sauce (regional fish cooked in a onion-garlic-mustard-paprika marinade, with a number of peanut oil).
Nonetheless, I quickly realised my well-meaning black, brown and navy linens had been fully misplaced. As Duro Olowu and rising labels like Tiffany Amber, Madison Knight and Lanre Da Silva Ajayi all present, African vogue is awash with among the most vibrant prints on earth. Each man and girl – whether or not a road vendor, pupil or authorities official – was dressed to the nines in tightly tailor-made outfits of dazzling batik-dyed materials. Particularly on Fridays, when individuals congregate for prayers on the mosque: assume three-piece fits of robe, tunic and trousers for the lads, and lengthy peplum skirts with matching head-ties and purses for the ladies.
Thus the journey wardrobe grew exponentially. For the remainder of our journey, we went to Senegal’s largest cloth market and had a skirt, gown and pair of trousers made to measure for a thrifty £12. By day 4 I would purchased a mesmerising tie-dye T-shirt from a roadside stall.
Over aperitifs in damaged Franglais, our Airbnb hosts set us up with sufficient suggestions to final the size of our keep. From there we spent every evening in a brand new house, travelling by automotive, bus and brightly painted fishing boat up and down the nation, haggling for each taxi journey. Every night, we unfurled the mosquito internet, tucked it beneath each nook with hospital-bed precision, and awakened riddled with bites anyway. We bobbed alongside the salty pink waters of Lac Rose – extra saline than the Lifeless Sea – cross-legged like mini Buddhas, and watched conventional Senegalese wrestling with good-looking Italian Médecins Sans Frontières docs (a sure-fire remedy for heartbreak).
Regardless of the comparatively quick time overseas, we managed to pack in sufficient anecdotes to final till the subsequent journey. Leaping off a ship within the Casamance River totally clothed to chase, in useless, after a faculty of dolphins; stumbling upon an Animist village plastered in posters praising the regional king. In actual fact the one crunch factors with my fellow traveller got here at moments of irrational starvation: travelling between distant cities in sweaty sept locations (battered outdated seven-seater Peugeots, the primary mode of public transport), with no concept what number of stops the driving force will make, or how far-off dinner is, will push a lady to the brink (if you wish to stay associates, journey with snacks).
Now recalling all of it from my gray London desk, what did I treasure probably the most? A full 10 days spent with my greatest buddy in probably the most secluded, unspoilt spots I would ever encountered, speaking about every thing and nothing over shisha and beers: the throwing apart of on a regular basis habits, the sensation of freedom that comes with travelling mild, the trepidation of what your subsequent mattress would possibly appear like. It is true, you’ll be able to’t out-run your issues – nevertheless it’s definitely enjoyable to attempt.
Suggestions for the highway:
- Weigh your backpack on the toilet scales earlier than you go. Follow properly under a 3rd of your body weight.
- If travelling with a buddy, share wash bag necessities – hand sanitiser, moist wipes, insect repellent, suncream, aftersun and so forth – between your baggage.
- Make-up kits ought to be no larger than the stash you retain in your health club bag. Slip in a single lipstick for a splash of glamour in an unlikely spot.
- Pack no less than one light-weight “night-out” outfit – you by no means know when it is going to come in useful.
- Depart your iPhone at house; you’ll solely be tempted to Instagram each spot, and lots of will not have reception anyway.
- A few of the greatest sightseeing occurs on public transport: you won’t discover any kind of official timetable, so do not be afraid to ask locals for route recommendation.