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16 April 2014

Pink strawberry lake in Senegal





Less than an hour away from Dakar Lake Retba (or Lac Rose as it is known locally) is separated only by some narrow dunes from the Atlantic Ocean and, as expected, its salt content is very high. 


Its salinity content compares to that of the Dead Sea and during the dry season it exceeds it.






Aerial photo




Its distinct pink colour is caused by the Dunaliella salina bacteria, which is attracted by the lake’s salt content. The bacteria produces a red pigment in order to absorb the sunlight. Its colour is especially visible during the dry season and less during the rainy season. When we were there it was still very pink despite being the wet season.



The lake is the main source of income for the salt collectors who spend their days draining the salt from the water and letting it dry in piles of collected salt on the shore. This salt is extracted by locals from the bottom of the lake using their hands, then placed into baskets and transported to all parts of th country where it is used mainly to preserve fish. In order to protect themselves from the salty water the locals cover their body with shea butter from the shea nuts.


If you speak French, talking to the salt collectors is an interesting insight into local life.
 
You may also see salt and sand paintings being sold around the area. Talk to the artists and get them to show you how they make the grains stick to the canvas, it is quite interesting! 

Sand and salt painting

If you are brave enough, jump in the lake! The bacteria is harmless so swimming is possible although probably not very pleasant unless you are looking to float like in the Dead Sea. The salinity is actually almost 1.5 times the one at the Red Sea making it the saltiest body of water. And do remember the salt contents of the water will mean that any open wound will burn.

As a side note, Lac Retba's call to fame was being the nding stop in the Paris-Dakar rally and that is why it became famous. If you are in Dakar, vsiting should be a 90min car ride. As there isn't much more to see in the area it is best seen as a half day trip from the capital. 

And because Senegal's summer is really hot it is better to go in the drier months of Nov-Apr when it will also be a bit cooler. Temperatures are always tropical, between 25-33 every day with plenty of hours of sun even in the rainy season