Categories: Africa, Food Travel

Why West Africa?

Tomorrow we leave for three weeks in Senegal and Sierra Leone.

The vaccines have been given, the bags (almost) packed, the subletter for our New York apartment is in place. We should already be there—we pushed back our trip partly to avoid Senegal’s protest-riddled presidential election on February 26, only to have it go into a runoff election happening smack-dab in the middle of our visit there (March 25). Hopefully we’ll be in the area during a positive historic moment, when peace and democracy win the day. According to friends in the area, that is what should happen.

In recent weeks we’ve been asked “why there?” a few times, either in the context of “how do you choose where you want to travel next” or “you have a food website; why Africa?” The truth is, we’ve wanted to visit Africa for a long time now (only Scott has been to the continent before, and just to Morocco). We considered South Africa, for the fact of having friends of friends there, and it’s a more obvious choice from the local-food angle. The great safari opportunities are in the south and the east, but those parks and luxury tents aren’t going anywhere—we’ll do that trip when we’re older (and perhaps a bit wealthier).

We like the idea of visiting a more adventurous, comparatively less tourist-catered corner of Africa. Before we started the website, we had our sights on Uganda and Rwanda, on the recommendation of a good friend who’s done work there. But post-EYW we knew that anywhere we go should have some distinct culinary flair, so we shelved the idea for now. After a brief flirtation with Ethiopia, we heard rave reports from friends who’d visited Senegal, Mali, and Ghana a few years ago. Of course! We’d had delicious, interesting Senegalese food in New York before. We already loved the music. We’d seen its Endless Summer beaches. Suddenly, West Africa was it.

Unfortunately, once we booked the flights, Mali started having a little problem called
Al Qaeda and Ghana, we decided, was too pricey to fly to from Dakar. We cast around for an idea and landed on it via the same friends: Sierra Leone. Here is a little country best known for Blood Diamond and rebel boy soldiers fighting a dreadful decade-long civil war, which ended in 2002. Though ravaged by war, beset by a lack of infrastructure, and consistently ranking at the bottom of the U.N.’s Human Development Index—number 180 of 187 in 2011—Sierra Leone boasts a freely elected government and relatively low crime rates. Which is to say nothing of its incredible Caribbean-like coastline, by-all-accounts welcoming people, diverse wildlife, and relaxed vibe. (Of course there will be local food, which we’ll document, but that’s beside the point here. We will be working extra hard in Senegal, particularly in Dakar’s many restaurants and street stands, on the food front.)

Please note that you may experience some delay in getting your uploaded photos and stories approved while we’re away. Don’t be discouraged; we’ll get to it as soon as we can. There will also be a slowdown in new Destinations content until we return—please bear with us. We do intend to update the EYW Blog from the road, however. Watch this space, as well as our Twitter feed and Facebook page, for live updates from Senegal and Sierra Leone.

With any luck, we’ll soon be hearing, Why not West Africa?

Published On: March 9, 2012

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