We spent half an hour in stop… and go…and stop… as men knit themselves through traffic toting oranges, brooms, phone cards, and scraps of white linen cloth. One man walks along the highway, bright blue pieces of foam piled high and tied with string, almost twice his length rides on his head. And us toubabs have no idea what it is for.
Next…a left turn at a roundabout leaves us whizzing down a road, fast approaching a cloud of red orange dust..and a triangular yellow sign that plainly reads ! . Just ! . And the pavement ends…quickly becoming a game, weaving around potholes that I imagine are quicksand car swallowing pits…and maybe they are. Trucks, SUV’s, and cars half in a coffin, appear as if driving under the influence… weaving from one side of the road to the other, playing chicken, dakar rallying other vehicles for the small slice of pavement. It is all a choice…do you want to drive through the huge hole or the huger hole?!
Our destination: The dry stretching underbrush parts to a grassy field, the salt making lacy patterns with the shore, the water truly rose colored….Le Lac Rose.
Ro stands protectively in front of the massive green four wheeler we have decided to rent for a tour of the lake. Snapping photos of the textures, the herd of cattle prodded along the finely crumbled road, the pockets between normal and the imaginary for me. Every fifth thought is, “Am I really here?”
I let Ro drive….and the landscapes blur into watercolors, the rolling hills of salt obscure the profiles of men and women. Stopping off by the tiny cones of crystals, tin grey mounds, our guide explains the history of Lac Rose: The lake was originally formed by enclosed sea water; it was not pink and it flourished with many types of wildlife. After years of drought in the 1960’s the lake’s salt content grew so high that all of the wildlife died out. Their decomposition created bacteria in the lake which is the source of its pink color. Now, the people collect the salt off of the lake floor and sell it ….(Europe’s way of defending against snow & ice). Men push long boats with poles in the shallow water, (Africa’s Venice sans glamour and romance), shored and brought laboriously bucket by bucket, balanced on a woman’s head, a tiny baby sleeps strapped to her back in African print.
Past roasting salt marshes and roasting cabbage fields to a small village composed of huts, sticks, straw, and mud to make a home, dirty sand floors to support a life. Touring the small village for the price of a souvenir, trying to understand daily life. As we go a tiny boy looks at us in wonder. He is mesmerized by the four wheelers..shaking his hand with greetings in Wolof.
Lac Rose was once a stop on the Amazing Race …but our version consists of dune races …roaring down mountains of sand with drops that make you cringe, cushioned by the uncountable number of grains. Down the beach mixing with the roar of the waves and back to the dunes, smiling and laughing as we go faster and faster.
Finally, the last stop…swimming in Lac Rose. You can not see the bottom of the pink waters as you wade in, collapse and float easily, fall asleep on top of the water. Stand in your swimsuit on top of a small raw plank of wood over a puddle of fresh water, lined with shells and populated with small fish. Let a man throw buckets of cold water at you, washing all visible salty traces of Lac Rose from your skin.