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Dakar: Africa’s best in the west

Tue, Aug 17, 2010

Western Africa

Dakar is one of the undiscovered pearls of West Africa, although you might know it best for the annual rally that it lends its name to. And just as the Paris-Dakar Rally is not just any conventional rally you might be used to following, Dakar is unlike any African experience you might have undertaken. Exuberant and vivacious, Dakar has burst into life ever since it cast off three centuries of French colonialism in 1960 and it is almost as if the city has been racing against time itself to make up for every lost moment it had to endure. Dakar is dragging Senegal screaming and dancing by the scruff of its neck into a brighter future.

A crucible of noise, Dakar is a swirling cacophony that’s a little bit of everything. By day, the beats of music waft over the air while mingling with the hustle bustle of the marketplace and the snarl of traffic that is virtually inescapable during peak hours, even if you answer to the name of Houdini. But also inescapable is one simple fact; the city is alive and bristling with joy. Come nightfall the city dons a brand avatar as several nightclubs vie for your attention, one better than the other, and Dakar is also home to some of the best arts & cinematic festivals you will find in all of Western Africa. A Leopard might not be able to change its spots, but Dakar keeps on changing its colors with a delightful insouciance you will be hard pressed to find in Africa.

Of course, this being Africa, you have to be on your guard for anyone trying to pull off a quick scam (at your expense, obviously), but being watchful on account of this is a small price to pay for enjoying a slice of Dakar as you invariably will if you look in the right places. Strong vestiges of its colonial influence remain though, seen most prominently in the supremely well preserved colonial buildings and the terraces that doff an invisible hat to bygone eras led by the French. Turning a new page as it meets tomorrow head on, the city is a positive medley of new world and old, best seen in the way an entire high-end lifestyle industry has sprung to life which includes world-class hotels, casinos and a delectable array of restaurants.

Situated as it is at the apex of the Cap Vert peninsula, it is also a hub for business and transport, but that doesn’t mean you can’t put your hair down and have some watery fun. Watersports abound here on the beaches, and its cosmopolitan nature is enhanced by businessmen and tourists that have come to Dakar for very different, but end up being compelled to stay on likewise. The city is an interesting palette of styles, with several Europeans strutting their stuff right alongside those dressed in what would be considered traditional Senegalese attire, and both seem equally at home. Villas dating back to the colonial times sidle up to modern buildings and the newer residential areas too mix with the older living quarters, Medina, with somewhat amazing ease. The city is an incredible mix, and an experience not to be mixed. It is a symbol of Africa reborn and the sort of city you stumble upon and smile inwardly with delight as you realize there is more to it than meets the eye.

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