I cannot resist going home with skinny stalks of asparagus when I see them in the market.
Roast the asparagus for about 20 mins at 425 with olive oil, salt and pepper drizzled over the stalks. Remove and scatter the zest of half a lemon and some Parmesan. Crushed red peppercorns are a pretty addition if you have some.
Surf Camp on N'Gor Island off Senegal, West Africa
Entrance to N’Gor Island Surf Camp
Where could I go that was somewhere far away from the chatter about acquisitions of tech startups and the valuations of companies that make apps? A respite that was many miles away mentally and physically from my life in San Francisco and New York yet not an exhausting trek including countless layovers in foreign airports at odd hours of the night? I was also looking for a holiday that wouldn’t cause considerable damage to my bank account, yet a home-away-from-home that would provide a sense of comaraderie for the solo traveler keen to escape away. I did not want to stay at a soul-crushing modern hotel with no personality, one of those awful isolating experiences where one’s vacation feels like bleak drudgery.
I landed on N’Gor Island, a teensy island off of Dakar, Senegal that is home to the N’Gor Island Surf Camp.
For years I’ve been trying to get myself to Senegal where the mix of good food, music, nature reserves and beaches had been luring me. I kept reading about the country and befriending musicians who came from there such as the talented Youssoupha Sidibe who had encouraged me to go visit his homeland.
Throwing in some surf lessons and staying at a laid-back surf camp seemed the perfect holiday.
My trip started with a civilized departure time of 10 pm leaving from New York. There are a few direct flights daily from NYC to Dakar on Delta Airways. I arrived the following morning at around 9am at Dakar airport, fully rested from the overnight flight. Customs was an uneventful process but it is important to make sure that you’ve pre-applied online for the newly required Biometric Visa no matter where your passport is from. (You should do this a few days in advance).
Sunset and surf on N’Gor Island
I was picked up at the small international hub of an airport by one of the employees from the Surf Camp, the amiable Samba, and whisked away to the N’Gor Beach, merely 10 minutes away from the airport, avoiding any of the notorious chaos of the Dakar roads. From there we hurled ourselves up onto one of the small local boats that take folks back and forth between the mainland and N’Gor Island which is merely 800metres away from the mainland. A few minutes later we arrived at the island and I was quickly settled into the N’Gor Island Surf Camp. One of the most hassle free, convenient trips to reach my destination I’ve had in a long time.
Beach on N’Gor where the boat taxis from Dakar arrive.
N’Gor Surf Camp was started by Danish surfer Jesper Mouritzen, and it is now in it’s fifth year. The camp attracts surfers from all over the world and of all varying abilities from the first-timers to those who’ve been traveling the world to find the best waves in off-the-beaten path locales. For those who’ve never surfed before, there are daily workshops with a handful of local instructors who guide you through learning to get yourself up on the board with aplomb. These take place on the beach back on the mainland, a massive long stretch of sand that extends as far as the eye can see and provide a glimpse into Senegalese life. The Dakarian men have an astonishing enthusiasm for fitness, and the beach is littered with guys running, playing soccer, dropping down and doing a set of push ups and busting out the skip rope at unexpected times. Thus when you’re taking a break from surfing there is plenty of entertainment with which to amuse oneself. For those who’ve surfed before there are a handful of places to head off to each day with fellow campers so boredom will never settle in. Jesper sends out scouts to report back by phone what the surf is like leaving little room for disappointment.
The camp provides half board, and you have the option of staying in a private room with ensuite bathroom and shower or staying in the dorm
room which is a super cheery, airy room, and a great option for those keen to save some pennies. The food is simple. Breakfast is Continental and starts early given surfers tend to get up at sunrise to catch the swells before the crowds arrive. Dinner is great fun with everyone coming together around a long table to eat and share stories from their day.
During my stay there were Swedes, Israelis, Portugese, French and Danes staying at the camp making conversation lively and a maze of languages. The camp is littered with hammocks in which one can unwind, and in the late afternoon there tend to be bodies flopped about, dozing from the day’s activities. Yoga and massage can be arranged by the camp. There is no electricity on the island meaning that a wind generator is used for power in the evenings. If you’re the sort who expects all the mod-cons, a strong hot shower, and 24-7 wi-fi, you’d be more at home staying at a modern hotel on the mainland. Your loss though as you’d lose the sense of community that comes with staying at the surf camp.
N’Gor Island itself is tiny with less than 100 people living on the car-free oasis. It gained considerable notoriety in the late 60’s when the cult surf film The Endless Summer was included off of N’Gor and since then surfers have been making the pilgramage out to the island. There are a number of tiny beach restaurants and bars on the island so when you want a change of scene from the surf camp, you can head out and treat yourself to a Pastis with a view. For those days when you want a break from the surf, Dakar is but a short trip away providing many distractions from a plethora of restaurants, markets and museums. Closer than Dakar central is the swank suburb Les Alamedies which offers shopping distractions as well as good seafood restaurants on the beach.
August and September is the rainy season in Dakar so avoid planning your trip around those two months unless you want to find yourself paddling through muddy streets of chaos.
Accommodation at N’Gor Surf Camp starts at 32Euros per night or 198Euros in the dormitory. For a single room with a private bathroom it is 68 Euros per night or 398 Euros per week. For a double room with private bathroom it is 98 Euros or 598 Euros for the week. Surf school is 30 Euros per day or 150 Euros for 6 days (including a board and wetsuit, transport to the surf location, and 4 hours of surf lessons). To book go to www.gosurf.dk