Saint-Louis, Senegal

AKA my favorite city in West Africa.

Why?

For the muted colors of sky, sand, and water that make the brightly painted pirogues pop.

For the colonial architecture on the small island that comprises the old town. The buildings are muted and worn down in perfect harmony with the surrounding environment.

For the Sahelian architecture that is just as stunning.

For the artistic spirit of the city, from the beautiful Museum of Photography (whose owner is in the process of renovating several other buildings to create new museums and guesthouses), to the documentary film festival that happened to be on while I was in town this past December, to the metal artist, Meissa Fall, whose studio was right next door to my hotel.

For the spirit of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, writer of my favorite book, The Little Prince. He and Jean Mermoz would stay at Hotel de la Poste when flying their Aeropostale route from Buenos Aires to Saint-Louis and back. Both men disappeared at sea during ill-fated flights — Mermoz in 1936 on an air mail mission and Saint-Exupéry in 1944 on a French war mission. Mermoz apparently always stayed in the hotel’s corner room, and it remains a shrine to his memory. I could not get a clear answer whether the room dedicated to Saint-Exupéry was definitely one he actually stayed in, but it still felt special. (The hotel manager graciously showed me around both rooms.) I got chills when I looked out over the balcony to the courtyard and realized that the person who wrote the most meaningful words on the planet to me often shared that same view.

For Au Fil Du Fleuve, the gorgeous guesthouse where I stayed. It is hosted by a dynamic woman who did a beautiful job renovating the space and does an even more beautiful job running it. The breakfast spread looked like a Caravaggio still life, only with Senegalese fruits and spices and homemade yogurt — and even lakh! — which is huge if you’re gluten intolerant and sad that you never get enough carbs from hotel breakfasts.

For the iconic bridge, designed by Gustave Eiffel, that links the island to the mainland. It’s a beaut.

And for so many other intangible things that defy easy photography, because their energy needs to be felt rather than seen. Like the four men drumming their way down the corniche one day, or the crowds of uniformed kids taking over the roads when school lets out, or the no-frills luncheonette that serves the same reliably delicious couple of dishes every day, or the sunset hum of activity as men fill the mosques…

It’s painful posting these pictures, because I was supposed to go back to Saint-Louis this past June and again this coming December for work, but obviously, those trips got cancelled.

I don’t miss travel per se — I think I stored up enough of that over the past few years to last me through this COVID-era hibernation — but I do miss certain places quite a bit. Saint-Louis is one of them.

3 thoughts on “Saint-Louis, Senegal

  1. Salut, Ruth! I have been following your blog for just over a year. Love your photos, your adventurous spirit, and your passion for language. This post truly touched me (and my husband) as he is Saint-Louis born and bred—I lived there for four years in the 70’s as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Thank you for sharing, and I hope you will be able to return when the world rights itself. Djamb ak djamb. Elinor

    • Awww, jerejef, Elinor! 🙂 That means a lot to me. When I was in the Saint-Louis area the first time, in 2016, it was actually to visit and document a Peace Corps volunteer-facilitated project to install lights in a health clinic. The village was closer to Richard Toll than to Saint-Louis, but that’s where we stayed, and I was very charmed by my brief visit. So glad I got a chance to return, and I am hopeful I will get back there again one day soon enough. And hoping the same for you and your husband!

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