Greg’s visits to Madrid and Dakar #40Kfaraway

Frequent Miler's 2019 40K to Far Away Challenge is done! Greg, Nick, and Stephen competed to see who could go farthest with 40,000 points and $400! Click here for contest results and next steps.

One of the hardest things about travelling the 40K to Far Away Challenge is finding time to write.  Most of the time I’ve either been on the go or too tired to think.  Or both.  But now I’m on a 27 hour train journey to Cape Town, I’ve slept well, and so I’m ready to write.  Let me catch you up on some of my journey so far…

What went before

The journey started Wednesday when I flew to West Virginia and back, toured the Library of Congress, Megabused to NYC, and flew Norwegian Air to Madrid, Spain.  I detailed the first day in this post:  Greg’s first day of #40K to Far Away adventures.

Madrid, Spain

In Madrid, I bought a one day tourist travel pass for 8.40 Euros which gave me unlimited metro (subway), bus, and train rides within Madrid and from/to the airport.  I took the metro to downtown and went into a WeWork office where I had reserved a hot desk.  This was free thanks to my Business Platinum card (which offers 1 year of WeWork for free).

At WeWork, I made the most of free drinks and food (I was lucky to be there when a local restaurant brought in sandwiches!).  My first priority was to try to find a place to sleep that night.  I logged into CouchSurfing to see if anyone had answered my last minute request for Madrid surfers needing hosts.  Not only was the answer no, but my request wasn’t there!  While CouchSurfing is awesome in many ways, their tech leaves a lot to be desired.  I quickly posted a new request and started looking up alternatives.  I searched to find the cheapest hostel and the cheapest AirBnB options.  There were some dirt cheap options, but they didn’t look pleasant.  I also looked for midnight movies.  Maybe I could find a reclining seat and a really long late night movie?  Lord of the Rings trilogy anyone?  Anyone?

I lucked out.  No, not with the movie.  My last minute CouchSurfing request was answered by a guy named José who had more references (all positive) than I’d seen in all of my searches.  He said that another fellow was staying in his guest room, but I was welcome to sleep on his sofa.  I skimmed through most of the glowing references and quickly accepted.  Score!

The bad news was that a free walking tour I had booked for that evening cancelled on me since I was the only one who had signed up (I blame you, Julian).  José came to my rescue again by detailing a 4 hour self guided walking tour.  I followed about half of it before getting too tired.  Here are a few photos from my tour:

 

Once I tuckered out, I took the metro over to Josés house where his other guest just happened to arrive at the exact same time.

My CouchSurfing host, José, prepares dinner

José whipped up a delicious Spanish meal for the three of us, and his other guest shared a bottle of wine.  I contributed in a small way by sharing treats I had grabbed in the Air France lounge at JFK.

Delicious dinner thanks to José!

I’ve never been to Madrid before, but I’ll be back.  I loved it from the get-go.  The metro was super clean and reliable, and the city itself was charming and vibrant (at least the parts of the city I visited).

I left José’s house at about 4:30 am so that I could catch an early flight.  He actually got up early to make me coffee and toast!  Unfortunately my one-day tourist card didn’t work in the morning.  Apparently it’s “calendar day” not “24 hour day”.  Oops.  I spent 5 Euros to get back to the airport.  That was OK budget-wise because my plan had been to tip exactly that much to the tour guide (remember the free tour that was cancelled?).  Normally I’d tip more than that, but hey I’m on a tight budget!

Dakar, Senegal

For my visit to Dakar, I found a CouchSurfing host well in advance.  Penelope is originally from Canada but now lives in Ngor, Dakar running a family business.

Transportation in Dakar was harder to plan than anywhere else on my itinerary.  Google Maps knows nothing about Dakar’s bus system and there are no trains or subways.  Web search results for transportation to and from the airport are sparse.  Penelope suggested that I take a bus from the airport to Yoff and then take a taxi from there to her place.

The bus ride was simple enough.  It took about an hour.  Then I found a taxi or, rather, a taxi driver found me and I negotiated a price based on Penelope’s recommendation (2,500 CFA).  Once we were on our way, things got rough.  The driver pretended that he didn’t realize how far I was going and he demanded 5,000 CFA (about $8.40).  Language was a serious barrier since I don’t speak french, but I kept saying “no! D’accord 2,500” which was my pigeon-french version of “We agreed to 2,500 and I expect you to keep to that agreement.”  He understood, but kept arguing for the rest of the drive.  When we arrived, I gave him 3,000 CFA since I didn’t have change.  He was then happy as a clam that he had scammed more than 2,500 from me.  I was miserable.  I wasn’t upset about paying 3,000.  I was upset with how confrontational the taxi ride was.

Things perked up tremendously inside Penelope’s home.  She and her two employees were delightful.  They brought in a traditional Senegalese dish which we all shared.  Penelope sat and talked for quite a while (she’s the only one of the three that speaks fluent English).  And the bedroom I stayed in was comfortable and beautiful.

That afternoon, Penelope had to do work and then go to her MBA class, so I set out on my own.  I had overly ambitious plans to go both to Ngor Island and to the African Renaissance Monument and to a scenic spot near the monument.

Ngor Island

Greg and August at August’s restaurant on Ngor Island

View of the African Renaissance Monument from Ngor Island.

Typical side-street on walk to boat to Ngor Island

I had underestimated how long I would spend on the island and I had overestimated my stamina.  By the time I got back from the island I was beat.  I returned to Penelope’s place, made a little video (click here to view), and went to sleep.  I’d have to get up at 3:30am to return to the airport.

The taxi driver on the return was even worse than the previous day’s driver.  This one tried to trick me into having him drive me all the way to the airport.  He pretended he didn’t understand that I wanted to go to the bus station.  I kept insisting and of course he knew exactly where I wanted to go and eventually dropped me there.  In this case, I paid only the negotiated rate (2,000 CFA) because I had exact change.  I had actually planned in advance to give him 3,000, but he pissed me off so I didn’t.

Overall, I’m glad I visited Dakar, but honestly I wouldn’t be interested in returning.  The taxis were the worst, but there’s also an overall chaos that doesn’t appeal to me.  And, not-surprisingly, it was uncomfortably hot.

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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Jon
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Jon

Doesn’t the train ride to Cape Town blow your budget? Or are you doing the ride in the cheap seats? Good luck!

Debit
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Debit

You owe Jose big time. Use your points stash to fly him in economy to meet your family.

CaveDweller
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CaveDweller

Good idea but Cash right there and then is the best .Everyone is happy and may help the next person there .
CHEERs

Usernamechuck
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Usernamechuck

I think this was an awesome idea, but it would have been more awesome if you had made a separate budget for lodging. Maybe the equivalent of 40k, maybe less, but otherwise you necessarily designed a contest that would reward flying long distances quickly rather than enjoyably. Obviously typ would be at a disadvantage in that Nick would at best have $500 for hotels etc, but that is a feature of a points program without a good hotel transfer partner. (I haven’t figured out how Nick is traveling (asiamiles? lifemiles?), maybe some itineraries would necessarily involve short connections anyway. It would have been an interesting point of comparison.) And of course it would have been neat to see what he could find as a fourth night free.

The only thing in favor of the current contest is that you’ll be home faster. But even there… If you were taking a more enjoyable trip, maybe so’s would want to come along. Consider it a suggestion for next time.

George
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George

I was on your side until the last paragraph. I’ll never forget hitch-hiking and taking bush taxis from Abidjan to Timbuktu which included constant haggling about luggage costs, sleeping in a brothel, and being startled when a driver spontaneously pulled out a hand gun to shoot a monkey along the side of the road so he could bring “meat” home for supper. That trip was simply wonderful! Yes – hitch-hiking across Africa would definitely given you “the win”! As would boat trips up the Senegal or Congo Rivers, or down the Niger, Nile, or Zambezi Rivers.

Sam
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Sam

Hi,
Sorry about the Taxi driver trying to get more money from you. I have lived in Dakar several time and i love it. If want to avoid the heat you should go from November to February. I would also advise you to stay at a hotel next time. You could go to Gore island, or Sally. Maybe you didn’t really explore there the right way

Jill
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Jill

You should probably cover up more when in West Africa, to be culturally appropriate.

tom
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tom

@Jill, probably a good idea to read the post. Short of wearing a Hijab not sure how more covered he could be. I am with you regarding the taxi drivers. I am fine with all sorts of local behaviors and roughing it, but get really p%$$*d if someone is trying to screw me over like those taxi drivers.