Agadez – Sweating in A Not So Sleepy Desert Town

After only ten minutes in Agadez, we were ready to leave. We had just gotten off an eight-hour journey in a steaming bus, chock-full of people with “interesting” body odors. Outside, the scorching desert air hit us like a hot wall, so we quickly checked into the only hotel still open to tourists. But when we turned the faucet to take a refreshing bath, there was a hissing sound, but not a single drop. No water? Panic! This place was not only hot as hell, this was hell.

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But there was air-conditioning in our room in the ancient mud-made hotel, and it’s incredible what a difference a drop in temperature can make. After cooling down, and bathing with water from a bucket, things didn’t seem so bad. So we stayed.

Agadez used to be the main tourist destination in Niger. People would arrive by truckloads (and direct flights from France) to visit the Teneré Desert, the Aïr Mountains, and to see the male beauty contest during the annual Cure Salée festival in nearby In-Gall. But in the last three years, the Tuareg rebellion has put a stop to that. And although the Nigerien authorities have opened up Agadez to tourists again, most Western countries advise their citizens against travelling to Northern Niger.

However, visiting Agadez itself is still worthwhile. Walking through the old town with traditional Hausa and Tuareg mud-brick architecture takes you back hundreds of years. The inhabitants still live in dire poverty without running water and electricity, with a sewer system that consists of a pipe leading into a back alley. But it’s nonetheless an intriguing place, where behind every corner you discover something interesting, like an old man reading the Koran out loud, or teenage mother with a baby tied to her back doing laundry by the village pump, or a group of boys playing football with a ball made of dirty rags.

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The center point of Agadez is a tall, mud-structure mosque, decorated with wooden beams sticking out on the sides, much like a cactus. For a “small dash”, the caretaker opens the gate and you can climb to the top via a narrow staircase. I crept through a small opening into total darkness. A swishing sound of wings just above my head made me stop. Then I heard the screeches. Birds? I ducked and climbed higher, slowly. As the light seeped in from above, I started making out the shapes of what seemed to be millions of tiny flying things. Bats!
“Eduardo!” I screamed. But he was still taking photos below.. Crouched down, and with my heart beating at super-speed, I ran all the way up, with Eduardo, now following me closely at my heels, was panting with fear, but laughing.
We made it to the top, unbitten, to enjoy the 360 degree view of the dusty town. And stayed for a while, knowing what awaited us on the descent.

The caretaker chuckled contently when we returned back down. We had not paid him enough for him to warn us about the bats.

While Agadez may not be the most pleasant place in the Universe, a visit is definitely doable by exploring the town in the early hours of morning and late afternoons, and resting during the hottest hours of the day. And we ended up loving Agadez!

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Dakar – Paris a L’Africaine

It might not be as charming, beautiful or romantic as Paris, but you can’t help but draw a sigh of relief when entering Dakar from the Sahel. Civilization at last! There are normal restaurants, pubs, grocery stores and even shopping malls. The high end stores are really expensive (way out of our budget) and the luxury hotels actually live up to international five-star standards. In its white-washed gown it is perhaps more like Lima, Peru than anywhere in Europe, still Dakar is organized, modern, pretty clean and just plain nice.

On the beaches in Northern Dakar, young men strut their stuff and show their strength by wrestling, covered in white sand. The girls, fully dressed of course, walk flirtily along the beach in flowing African dresses. People play football, beach volleyball, jog and swim – the Senegalese are way more healthy and fit than any of their West African neighbors. And to silence a grumbling stomach; there are plenty of beach side stalls that sell freshly grilled seafood for only a few dollars. Life here can feel pretty darn good!

But just as you sit down to eat a nice grilled fish, or lay down to sleep in your air-conditioned room, the electricity goes. And it doesn’t come back. For hours and hours.

Dakar’s biggest flaw is definitely the electricity shortage. Everyone blames it on corruption, but nobody really knows. So, sooner rather than later, you will feel the need to flee “civilization”. Luckily there are plenty of small towns along the coast in which to coop up, where electricity matters less due to fresh winds and dependable light from kerosene lanterns.

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