Islamic Polygamy and the Holy City of Touba

During my time in Senegal with Alana, we had quite a bit planned.

Since you already know about our sightseeing day in Dakar and Goree Island; on this post I’ll tell you about the other parts of the country we visited before crossing borders to The Gambia.

The plan was to head to The Gambia in 3 day’s time, which meant we had to get a PCR test done. If you must know, I have nothing against PCR tests… as long as they are done within 2 minutes, in the comfort of your hotel room – as can be arranged in many countries.

In Senegal however, you have to line up for about 5-6 hours from the early morning to get a test done. Luckily, in Africa, there are other ways to speed things up.

If you remember my tales from Dakar, we had lucked out with our tour guide. Once again, he did not disappoint, he graciously offered to go to the test center really early to take a number for us. This simple gesture really minimized our wait time. The whole process took us less than 5 minutes.

The atmosphere outside the test center.

It was a bit ironic that we had to wait about 20 minutes after taking the test, just for our driver to come back and pick us up. Even he didn’t think we would be so quick. So yeah, our biggest wait in the process was for our ride! After the test, we had to go back to the hotel to pick up our luggage and begin the road trip to Lake Retba (Pink Lake).

Located less than an hour away from the capital by car, Lake Retba (or Lac Rose as it is known by locals) has a bit of a misleading name. It wasn’t actually pink when we visited, apparently, this was pretty normal for the season and especially since there had been a heavy rainfall the day before.

We learned that the lake’s salinity content compares to that of the Dead Sea and during the dry season it actually surpasses it. When it’s pink, it’s thanks to having a high concentration of Dunaliella salina bacteria, a type of algae that is drawn to the lake’s salt content.

Alana learning the African way

In order to absorb sunlight, the bacteria produces a red pigment, thus giving the lake its unique color. This phenomenon is especially visible during the dry season (November to June) and less during the rainy season (July-October), so we just missed the mark.

This lake is quite close to the Atlantic ocean, the only thing that separates them actually is a narrow sand dune. Even though the waters weren’t in full bloom, it was still a really nice excursion. We noticed a lot of people collecting salt, which they basically processed and sold right there.

The *not so* pink lake – 😒

After doing some sightseeing, we went to a guesthouse nearby, stopped there to grab some lunch before the quad excursion we had lined up for the afternoon.

With our bellies full, we went for the quad adventure. Spoiler alert, we had a blast. Alana had never ridden on a quad before, which made it even better. She actually doesn’t even have a regular driving license, so I was a bit scared for her at first.

Riding Quads through the Dunes du Paris

However, she made it on the quad, made some little rounds around the property and I quickly noticed she was a natural. Even though she picked it up right away, she still had a local guide ride on the back seat with her, to make sure she was ok throughout the excursion.

We drove through the sand dunes that separate Pink Lake and the Atlantic Ocean. Probably about an hour or so over the sand dunes and then raced a few kilometers on the beach along the Atlantic coast, quite a unique and beautiful setting.

Flag of Senegal: Countryside, Gold and Blood from the Senegalese dying for the French – that’s the meaning behind the colors of the flag.

After the quad excursion, we drove with our guide back to our hotel and made sure to take a bunch of pictures along the way.

Eventually, we made it to our overnight destination, the Desert of Lompoul. During this trip, we didn’t go all the way to the very north of the country, basically the Saharan part of Senegal or St. Louis. We stayed in this little desert located just next to the sea, only a couple of kilometers inland.

In Lampoul there was a nice hotel offering glamping experiences in luxury tents – Ecolodge Lompoul. We were feeling adventurous and stayed overnight. It was actually a really nice stay. The next day we were early on our way to go enjoy some desert activities.

Our desert escape

In the morning, before heading to our desert programming, we stopped by this little local village. This was a really memorable experience. We stopped by to get to know a little bit about the local culture. Our guide set us up with some locals to learn about the trials living in the desert, it was very interesting.

3 doors for 3 wives. Busy man, He only has time for himself on Sunday. Alana’s first encounter with Muslim Polygamy – she’s not really enticed by it 😉

This was also the first exposure Alana had to Islamic Polygamy. Keep in mind this was the first Islamic country she ever visited, so that was exciting. We plan to visit many more in the future, but I really enjoyed sharing this experience with her.

In the village, Abu introduced us to a man who has 4 wives already. The man was joking with Alana, letting her know he has room for one more if she’s keen. To sweeten the deal, he explained he alternates sleeping in each tent throughout the week, and Sundays he sleeps alone since it’s a rest day. Luckily, he wasn’t offended when she declined the offer.😉

There were also some kids hanging out with us. We visited a well, Alana got some fresh water from the well, all in all, it was a very neat experience. We took a lot of nice photos and eventually continued our journey through the desert to our scheduled programming.

Children by the well – simple living at its finest.

The first activity was another first for Alana, riding on a camel. This time, she had her own camel and so did I, it was really enjoyable to watch her ride, we had a lot of fun.

Alana’s first time riding a camel. 🐪🐫

Amazing day of firsts with Alana in Senegal 🇸🇳

After we also did some sandboarding. Actually, Alana managed quite well, I, on the other hand, just fell. It was a fun afternoon regardless!

Dune boarding – Another first and she was a natural.

A reminder of all the cities I want to visit again!

When it got dark, we went out to have a cocktail and there was a drum show happening. Lots of drumming and dancing along the way. We joined in the dancing part for a bit, it was pretty cool.

We had another night in this dessert, and for that, I had planned a romantic hike below the stars. Quite far out into the deep desert, almost 500 meters away from our base and then back. I won’t bore you with details, but we had a fantastic last night out in the desert.

Ecolodge Lompoul sunset

Onwards to the Holy City of Touba

Early next morning, we continue our journey to Touba, a city in central Senegal. With a population of half a million people, it’s the second most populated Senegalese city after Daka and the holy city of Mouridism.

FYI:The Mouride brotherhood is a large Sufi order which was founded in 1883 in Senegal by Amadou Bamba. The order’s presence is most prominent in Senegal and The Gambia.

If you don’t already know, Sufi Islam is characterized by particular values, ritual practices, doctrines, and institutions rooted in spirituality. It is variously defined as Islamic mysticism, the mystical expression of the Islamic faith, the inward dimension of Islam, and the phenomenon of mysticism within Islam.

Today, the Mouride make up around 40 percent of the total population of Senegal, and their influence over everyday life can be seen throughout the country; particularly in Touba, the holy city for the order.

Donkey Taxi for 4 coming up.

Street market on another level.

Personally, I found the town quite interesting, it’s like the Vatican State for Sufi Islam. Touba is completely autonomous; it has its own government, own taxes laws, own infrastructure, and financing.

The whole place runs solely on donations. For instance, there are a lot of Senegalese nationals living in the US and other parts of the world who contribute a lot of money to the state. There are also a lot of people moving there to set up shop and train employees from there since there’s no VAT and no taxes at all.

We noticed that life in this city revolves around The Great Mosque of Touba. It was founded by Amadou Bamba in 1887 and completed in 1963. Bamba died in 1927 and his remains rest inside the mosque. Since his death, mosque operations are being managed by his family.

The Holy Mosque of the Mouride Brotherhood – the largest in West Africa. It’s an extraterritorial area of Senegal – similar to Vatican. Residents don’t pay taxes at all!

The mosque is the largest mosque in West Africa and it’s quite inclusive, even with women. You can always find people singing at the mosque, really seeing and feeling the influence of Sufism there. It was really nice to visit and be part of it.

We took lots of nice photos. We actually visited at the most perfect time, right before Friday prayer started. We got there at around quarter past eleven, so we had 45 minutes to visit while having the place pretty much to ourselves.

The normal rules applied, going in barefoot and Alana had to wear a scarf to be able to enter. This was quite interesting for her, especially since it was her first visit to a Mosque. Other than however, we found it pretty relaxed, women could be everywhere.

The whole place was quite impressive, nice to see from the outside; and also quite beautiful on the inside with lots of artwork and mosaics. That’s where we learned a bit about the history of the Mouride Brotherhood, which as you know, is still very prominent and influential in Senegal.

The last hurrah before crossing to The Gambia: Toubakuta

After the mosque we got on the road right away, we had a lot of driving ahead of us towards Toubakuta.

Side Note: Actually, before getting on the road to Toubakuta, we needed to get cash, we were running out of cash, and Senegal runs pretty much on cash. This turned out to be a mission.

You see, a big issue I had during this whole trip was getting cash. I had some problems with other credit cards earlier in the year, so by the time this trip rolled around, I only had one working credit card. Sadly, this card was broken, it would work on some ATMs and others not.

That day specifically, we had to drive about 50 kilometers to finally find an ATM that allowed my card. After a [eventually] successful mission, we continued our long drive to Toubakuta. A small town located on the main road between Kaolack and The Gambia.

Street market in Kaolack

Poised on the Saloum River near the coast of Senegal. The Saloum River rises about 105 kilometers east of Kaolack and flows into the Atlantic Ocean. The main attraction of the area is the mangrove forests, which occupy a 5-kilometer belt on either side of the river almost 70 kilometers upstream. The area is considered the perfect place to explore wildlife, particularly birds.

We booked a nice hotel in town for one night – Les Paletuviers. I was actually very surprised, it was right near the river, nestled among the mangroves. There were a bunch of bungalows, a Baobab treehouse, and a big bungalow at the top of a hill with great views. From there, we could see all around, and it was a beautiful day to be out on the river.

Sleeping in a Baobab tree house tonight 🏡

So, after checking in we took a small afternoon nap and then head straight out to tour the mangrove channels by boat. We navigated the Saloum River, which flows into the Atlantic Ocean. For this reason, sometimes you can see dolphins in the river, that time we didn’t see anything other than kids playing in the water.

Mangroves of Senegal

We stopped by Shell Island and visited a beach full of clamshells, which are also used in local architecture and crafts, basically, everything is made of shells.

We visited this little hill with great views of the Saloum river. As we were headed back to the boat, it started to rain, which was ok because the sun was still shining through, which evoked a truly beautiful rainbow. It was super clear, with a full and complete arch. You could see both sides, one coming up from the river and the other from the mangroves. We stopped to marvel and take some pictures.

Rainbow over the Saloum Delta

After getting back on the boat, we continued along the Saloum river to do some birdwatching. As mentioned above the area is famous for its wildlife, and we got to see a large variety of birds perched on trees and flying around. It was a nice way to end the tour before returning to our hotel for the night.

We had a quiet night planed since the next morning we would be crossing borders over to The Gambia. That, however, is a story for another time so stay tuned my friends.