Bissau

Trip Start Sep 13, 2006
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Trip End Ongoing


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Flag of Guinea-Bissau  ,
Friday, December 15, 2006

After two weeks in the Casamance region of Senegal it was time to move further south. Waking up to an alarm heralded a traveling day with an aim to get from Zigunchor to Bissau began, which meant crossing the border into the Portuguese speaking country of Guinea-Bissau.

Having traveled for a fantastic month in Senegal with Ghalied it wasn't easy saying good bye as he was heading up the Casamance coast direction Dakar to take a sail boat to the Cap Vert islands. Thomas, the hairy Swede, and I left the hotel and arrived at the local bush taxi stand early and found ourselves again in a station wagon squeezed into a custom made seat in the boot with another Guinean.

Before we knew it, we had arrived at the border which we crossed without any problem having previously brought visas. Nearly all of this country is made up of low lands, rivers, estuaries, islands and swamps and doesn't every get higher then 300 meters above sea level. As a result our taxi went over quite a few bridges but had to stop at Sao Vincent to cross a large river with a barge. Luck was not on our side as a pile of large trucks preceded us, so we sat around watching the other passengers watching us for 3 hours. I then started to notice that the locals here had a tendency of starting at us, which I assumed was because we were white. As soon as you say "Hello" then the regard softens but unlike the Senegalese gaze the unknown Bissau stare is stoic.

This small country of 1.3 million people is incredibly poor and doesn't really have any resources apart from sustenance agriculture made possible because of the high amount of rainfall. Because of the lack of resources, the harsh Portuguese in 1915 made everyone who wasn't Portuguese go to the fields to plant groundnuts, which later became cashews, as a result it's about the only thing that Guinea-Bissau is famous for.
1961 saw an African party being formed to fight the Portuguese for independence joining the wave of West African countries that shedding the shackles of colonization. Yet this began one of the longest colonial wars, lasting until 1970, when some of the liberated portions of the country had elections. African governance tried hard to rectify the enormous economic problems faced by this country, starting with a large serving of Marxism in 1980 then withdrawing the idea allowing multiparty governance in 1991.

The military coup arrived in 1998 led by Mr Mane who was involved in supplying weapons to the Casamance rebels and Guinea-Bissau slid into civil war. Senegal and Guinea-Conakry sent in troops from both sides to support the old government, but the rebels retained power and held elections in 1999. Mr Mane got killed in a gunfight and after a bit of governmental hustling some dude called Yala got elected and promised to do lots of good stuff, but he went kinda nuts and became paranoid, thinking that people were out to get him. He also kept postponing elections and for no good reason at all decided to move the capital 200 km south of where it had always been. Yala got removed in 2003 and elections weren't held until 2006 during which a military government called the shots.

All this means that as far as infrastructure for tourists here, there isn't all that much cos it was all blown up or pulled apart during the war. So what is left in the way of hotels isn't up to much and costs heaps.

After our river crossing and another 3 police and military checkpoints we arrived at the capital Bissau and got a taxi to a cheap hotel in a sort of ghetto area with authentic open sewers. Having gotten use to dirty rat filled hotels, this one at first seemed just a bit worse then my lowest standards. But not having electricity, running water, a key for the lock and brown dirt halfway up all the walls with a stinking toilet made this as the worst hotels I've ever been to. But it got even worse as when we came back after a walk around and a dinner of spaghettis and beer (2 euros) there was pumping music and candles lit the way to the rooms on each side of ours being used as brothels, while ladies of the night looked out with sheepish eyes. I did manage to get some sleep and the next morning we got out as fast as possible, only pausing long enough to take photos of the dirtiest toilet in the world and a heap of condoms in the adjacent room.

For an additional 2 euros a night we found a nice place run by an old Portuguese lady in the center of the town. White sheets and large spacious rooms on the second story, over looking the town. We set up base here when we found out we had missed the last boat out to the islands and had a weekend to kill. I required my Guinean visa for onward travel which meant we couldn't move much until Monday.

Sightseeing here doesn't take long after you have walked up to the ancient presidential palace that has its roof bombed and mortar and bullet holed façade, then down to the Port and it's tired Portuguese houses. So instead we compared egg sandwiches from different street sellers and ate large watermelons and papayas. The Sunday turned out to be the same routine but we managed to catch a concert of local women having a sort of singing and dancing competition, after which we were buzzed by thousands of bats. Each night we returned to the same restaurant in the ghetto and had a plate load of spaghetti with a beer and started to get to know some of the locals.

This is my first country in Africa where I couldn't just rock on up to anyone and start babbling away in French. I had previously thought that I would be able to get by better then what I in fact could, on the assumption that this small country was surrounded by francophone countries so should have plenty of French speakers. Big mistake!
It was Thomas, with his little Spanish that could make himself understood. So again for the thousand's time I told myself I must learn Spanish.

Monday saw my Passport sporting a brand new Visa and again we had spaghetti that night. However this time with Portuguese wine which at first sip was absolutely horrible but improved considerably towards the bottom of the bottle.
Sitting on a dirty dirt street outside a shipping container converted into restaurant I looked over my left shoulder and found myself closed in by a smiling Guinean who proceeded to tell me that I shouldn't try to speak to him in anything but Portuguese cos he wouldn't understand. As he was reasonably drunk or high or something, this suited me fine. It was only when he started presenting us with a 40 year old pregnant ladies whom he called his cousins and being a bit obscene that I realized he was a pimp and we were targeted. This continued till our increasing protestation to stop silenced him till he went under and the tambourine man came a visiting.
What is interesting here, is that this is the first capital city I've been two that doesn't have street lighting and electricity and water is more often off then on, walking around the streets here is quite safe. Although the locals here don't have anything to rub together, we got next to no hassles and people were all very polite. Both Thomas and I decided that the people here were somewhat more genuine then their Senegalese equivalent who had a tendency to drop any scruple in the hope of making money. Here when I didn't understand a women selling bananas when she told me the price, I just handed over my wallet and let her take what she wanted.

Tuesday came about and another traveling day dawned. This time we were to go inland towards Gabu and then on towards the Guinean border and then to Saréboido. The bush taxi seemed in good conditions and we were treated like royalty by being given the better seats. Inland we crossed very lush forests with Baobab trees and squirrels. Every so often we would come across clearings and watch the women plant rice in wet mud. The road deteriorated the closer we came to Guinea and we spent more time off it then on it. Around 5 in the evening we arrived after a dusty journey at the border checkpoint. We piled out of the car and stiffly walked up to the guard for approval to enter his country.
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Comments

pinkbus
pinkbus on

Nice Story
Enjoyed reading your stuff,Thanks.

atesta
atesta on

Bissau
Salut,
Je souhaitais me rendre à Bissau pendant une semaine à 10 jours. Est-ce un pays sûr? Que conseilles-tu pendant une semaine? Connais-tu des guides sur la Guinée-Bissau? Parlant portugais et habitant Lisbonne, au moins, je n'aurai pas le problème de la langue...
Merci
Alex

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