Ahead of my trip to Senegal, there were very few things I actually knew about it. The House of Slaves on Gorée Island was one and Lac Rose the other. It was one of the things I was most looking forward to experiencing upon arrival, so I naturally spent a ridiculous amount of time looking up photos of the it on Pinterest.
How cool would it be to swim in an actual lake that is naturally? A lake literally the shade of pepto bismol? Pretty damn cool.
After now gone and seen it in person, I've come to the realization that like everything else on the internet, you have to take it all with a grain of salt.
Don't get me wrong, the experience was, for a lack of better term, magical. But the reality is, the richness and shade of pink heavily depends on the weather and the season you visit. Since its pink color is created from a combination of the high amount of salt in the water paired with an algae that produces a red pigment, natural light will significantly impact if you're lucky to get a full on pink lake or a dark brown lake with rich hints of red and pink.
In spite of me having to reconcile my expectations vs. it's reality, the experience here remained a special one. Because as with the case in most travel situations, spending time with the people and learning about their process left a lasting impression on me.
When you arrive, you'll notice that the lake is surrounded by men, women, and young boys who work to harvest the salt.
Before getting in, everyone involved uses shea butter to coat and protect their skin from the potent amount of salt. The men and young boys then take pirogues (canoes), or similar shafts into the middle of the lake, then dive under the water and use shovels to break the salt forms at the bottom of the lake. Once back on land, the women wade into the water with empty plastic buckets to carry the salt back to shore; dumping it into piles massive hills that then turn stark white as they dry in the sun. It's not until much later that the salt is then processed, distributed, and sold throughout surrounding West African regions.
Pretty fascinating, right?
Another pleasant surprise during my day trip was that not only can you experience the lake in various ways (via camel back, ATV, or boat), you also have the option to swim and float in the lake. Thanks to the lake's high amount of salt content, the water becomes buoyant, giving you the same effect that floating in the Dead Sea would have.
Something else I noticed is that there were several hotels surrounding the area. And while I would not sway you against staying and exploring the area for as long as you'd like, I would recommend you visit just for the day. The lake is only about an hour outside of Dakar, and finding taxis to take you for the day are pretty easy to find.
Depending on how much you look like a foreigner you, you may also get ambushed by several women in the area that sell artisanal goods to visitors. Be warned that they will likely offer you a "gift" - something as simple as a shell keychain - to get you to stop and pay attention to the rest of their goods. While these gifts are as hardly ever truly free (they will follow up by insisting you buy something since they gave you a free gift), try not to be frustrated. Why not buy something? At the end of the day, they're just trying to make a living like the rest of us.
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