Traveling the Pink Lakes of Senegal

Traveling the Pink Lakes of Senegal

The beach of the very salty Lake Retba, also known as Lac Rose, where locals extract salt close to Dakar.

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Why you should care

Because horse rides are not pony rides.

Thirty kilometers away from Senegal’s capital city, Dakar, sits Lac Rose, separated from the Atlantic Ocean by a few sand dunes. Colored by algae and boasting almost more salt content than, well, salt, Lac Rose has nearby stables on its farthest side, and it’s toward those stables, and the horses housed there, that we’re heading.

Hundreds of salt collectors harvesting salt from Lac Rose dot the lake’s landscape as we drive by them, almost into them, and between the hills of salt and sand. This particular location was often the finishing point of the Paris to Dakar race before the rally moved to South America due to fears of rising extremism in Senegal’s neighboring country Mauritania.

“The best way to tour the lake and explore the dunes and the ocean beaches at Lac Rose is on horseback,” everyone said. Which is how I met a horse called Oasis. I was always afraid of falling off a horse. You know that’s how Don Draper’s dad died in Mad Men. I think he fell off a horse and it kicked him in the face. That was fiction, but if you’re not properly vetting your horse? Well, these things could happen.

So, the ride starts off well enough, with the guide asking us to talk to our horses. Talk and, while talking, tell them about our dreams and inspirations. Just to get to know them a little better. When he tells me that Oasis loves cuddling, I think to myself: Me too! This is going to go well.

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A moment of deceptively peaceful riding on the beach.

Source Photo courtesy of Ciku Kimeria

Almost all nationalities get a free tourist visa on arrival in Senegal — a recent move by the Senegalese government to grow the tourism sector. For the price of $26 for three hours at Les Chevaliers du Lac, the stables, this trip is pretty affordable. The high number of stables in the area, located just one hour away from Dakar, is purportedly because salty air is great for horses’ respiration. Visitors get an option of sleeping in the various villas nearby — Hotel le Trarza at about $50 per person or Chez Salim at $30 — or traveling back to Dakar.

Heart racing during those adrenaline-filled 10 seconds, I realize Oasis will gallop until I pull the reins.

Our merry troupe of three riders sets off early in the morning: an expert rider, a first-time rider and me — a novice with some experience on horses. Calm horses. Lake Retba — as it is known by the locals — is the country’s main salt source and is increasingly becoming a major tourist attraction given its pink color when it’s at its peak during the dry season, November to June. It is currently under consideration as a world heritage site.

We start off on a leisurely trot, a trot that lasts until the guide, either from boredom or perversity, yells out “Acha!” (“Run!”) to the horses, and Oasis does what she is told like she is determined to win a race I don’t know we’re in. Heart racing during those adrenaline-filled 10 seconds, I realize Oasis will gallop until I pull the reins. I pull the reins and think about yielding to the urge to push my breasts back into the bra they escaped from long ago, but I dare not let go of the reins.

Acha!”

We’re galloping. Again. And I’m pulling on the reins again. Oasis is flying, pushing her head forward to overtake the expert rider’s horse. I pull on her reins again — she is not having any of it. I yell out in French, “Arrête! Arrête!” but she won’t stop.

As we started the journey, our guide half-jokingly said, “These horses only understand Wolof. You best learn the word for ‘stop’ in Wolof.”

I lose my balance and feel myself fall off the horse. I think of Don Draper’s father. I think of what an unlikely death this is for an African. Luckily I fall butt-first on sand. I quickly roll away, expecting Oasis to also fall. No need to worry, Oasis didn’t even look back — she went for the gold. I thought we were friends. We cuddled before the ride — surely that must mean something.

In the end? The best way to see Lac Rose is definitely still on horseback. Just make sure to vet your horse before the trip.

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