This weekend we took a bush taxi up to the northern city of St Louis. I had never taken a bush taxi, but fortunately Cheikh is a big expert, having made the trip many times.

The Gare Pompiers station, photo by PJ Parmar

Alarm at 5.30am, quick breakfast and brushing of teeth, out the door and headed to the station by 6am. (I’m amazed I was even coherent enough at that hour to remember any of it.) The Gare Pompiers “station” is a huge, sandy, dusty parking lot filled with poorly parked old station wagons waiting to fill their seven available passenger seats (hence their name ‘7 places’ in French). Once they have seven passengers for their destination, they pull out and hit the road.

We found the hand-painted sign for cars going up to St Louis and were passengers number 4 and 5. Two more to go.

As we waited, we were offered a whole slew of items from vendors walking around pre-dawn selling cashews, phone cards, pocket tissues, oranges, flashlights, plastic toys, bananas, and just about everything under the sun. (Well, under the moon at that hour.)

Another passenger came and then finally a seventh. As he climbed into the third row of seats with us, Cheikh whispered in my ear, “Sit big, Khady. Sit big!” Expert that he is, he knew that if you don’t claim your space, you’ll wind up crunched the whole trip. So I sat as big as I could – shoulders back, elbows out and feet straddling the backpack.

We were soon clanking our way down the road. About every five minutes Cheikh would lean over and ask, “Are you okay? Do you need more leg room? Are you comfortable? Do you want me to ask them to roll up/down the window? How are you doing? Is this okay?” It was really sweet.

Dakar up to St Louis

Four and half hours, one potty-by-the-road-side break, two stops to buy fruit later… we arrived at the bush taxi station in the city of St Louis, where Cheikh had lived for 13 months with the Dieye family. He was so excited he was humming as we walked. It was awesome.

From the station we took a local taxi (not nearly as nice as Dakar taxis, which are usually not nearly as nice as anything you’d see on the road in the US) across the bridge over to the peninsula market. We were there, oh, two seconds, before seeing someone Cheikh recognized. He is a klando (illegal taxi) driver who has been doing the same route for at least five years now. With his help, we managed to buy a big bag of rice to take to Cheikh’s family in the village, loaded it up into his car and slooowly made our way down to the end of the Hydrobase area on the St Louis peninsula.

Cheikh, his klando driver friend... and his car. Kind of.