It’s no secret that we love going up to St Louis. There are two main reasons:
1) Cheikh used to live there, so it’s his Senegalese ‘home’.
2) Just about any excuse to get out of the craziness of Dakar is a good one.
This past weekend we did something new while up in St Louis. We took a guided horsecart tour of the city. Of course, much like our previous à la carte night-time boat tour, this wasn’t just a regular tour. Our tour guide was Pape Dièye, Cheikh’s Senegalese brother.
Pape is an accredited tour guide, so we got both a professional tour (complete with history lessons) and also a couple backstage passes to see St Louis off the regular tourist track.
If you read the travel websites, they’ll describe St Louis as a ‘charming’ and ‘lively’ city best-known as a former capital of West Africa, evidenced by the colonial architecture.
Then if you read on further, you’ll find out that a lot of visitors to St Louis are disappointed. The beautiful architecture is crumbling. The brightly painted buildings have faded. There’s a lot of trash, poverty and the inescapable odor of the fish market.
My advice? Hold your breath and dig a little deeper. It’s a lot easier to appreciate St Louis (as with many cities) when you know more about it. As we rode around the streets, Pape pointed out and explained the city’s many firsts:
The first Christian church in West Africa, still standing, was built in 1828 and the first Christian cemetery in 1840.
The first red brick factory opened in Bopp Thior, eliminating the need to ship bricks from Toulouse, France. (Can you imagine? A boat full of bricks.)
The first history museum of West Africa opened in St Louis in 1864.
The first West African court of justice, based on the French system… followed by a Muslim court of justice as the Senegalese did not want to be judged by another culture’s rules.
The first commercial activities including trading rubber, leather, gold, ivory and cereals as well as slaves.