As well as blogging on this website, I try to keep a hand-written journal. At some point in the future I will read back through it all and probably wished I wrote more. Here at least is what went in for the last two days.
DC (distance cycled: 111km)
RP (resting place: customs building: Bula – Guinea Bissau)
Almost leave (Ziguinchor) without paying. No-one is around when I’m ready to leave the auberge – 7am, nor is there any sign of anyone. But as I wheel bike out of gate I hear a yell from behind the mango trees where I was camped.
Border with Guinea Bissau comes earlier than expected. Like many African border posts it does nothing to make itself obvious. Exit stamp done with no problems – same on entering Bissau. My attempts at Wolof and Mandinka don’t get far now – most people here speak Creole – mixture of old Portuguese and local dialect. Calls of ‘toubab’ replaced by ‘blanco’. Added to latter are some more words sung in rhythm, sounding like “Blanco bay-lay-lay, blanco ba-ba”. Children in every village shout this out repeatedly when they see me. After all the toubab yells I don’t mind it – at least for now.
Roadside vegetation almost entirely dominated by cashew trees and every village I pass through smells of the fruit fermenting. Guinea Bissau’s main export? Surely. Villages appear basic – no electricity. Houses are different. Instead of a compound consisting of several separate buildings (as in Gambia and Senegal) it seems Guineans prefer to live under one big corrugated roof. I stop in one village and witness the end of some singing/dancing performance – young men holding machetes and lots of stomping to jangle the metal-wear tied around their boots. They then chant in rhythm and move in a circle (kankarans?). Someone watching alongside me speaks some English. I ask him if there is a place to eat – but only food on offer looks grim – bowl containing hunks of dark meat and in another bowl dry spaghetti Flies descend on both before a towel covers them up again. He invites me to eat with him, instead I pedal on and end up resting for few hours within a cashew plantation – falling asleep but woken by large ants crawling on me.
From the map I expect to have to take a ferry across a river – big surprise to find there’s a bridge instead – looks new. Spot rain clouds up ahead – shortly after I’m cycling into the first downpour of many I’m sure. Whilst locals run for cover I seize upon cool air and enjoy the sensation – steam rising from tarmac. Doesn’t last long, but sun now dropping and not sure where I will sleep. Luckily I meet English speaker on outskirts of small town called Bula. Joachim is a Customs inspector – find him sitting on roadside studying English from age-old text book. He shouts “how are you?” as I pass. Explain I want to pitch my tent. He talks with colleague then agrees to let me do so in spare room within customs house across road. Later we eat together – rice and fish. I ask what he is looking for in vehicles. Drugs, guns, anything he says. Insects/mosquitoes descend on light of his torch. No electricity. Retreat to sweltering hot room early – scorpion-like insects frantically running around near candle-light. Joachim says they’re not dangerous. Glad I have tent. Thermarest soon soaked in sweat. Don’t know why I pulled sleeping bag out – won’t be needing this for long time.
11/06/10 DC: 41km
Up and on bike before 7am – stopping shortly afterwards for what is basically bowl of rice and palm oil. Latter burns in my chest when I start riding. Silly idea for breakfast. Should have waited and bought bread.
Soon cycling into Bissau with more traffic than expected – mostly mini-buses and blue and white Mercedes taxis. There are even a few hills. Lots more cashew trees, but very little sign of the actual nuts! Once I’m past airport the roadside becomes more built-up. Not quite sure why I”m actually cycling into city. Don’t know anyone here, have no need to come and from what I’ve read there’s not a whole lot to see and accommodation is expensive.
Several days ago I did e-mail one of the contacts I’d received from MRC (Medical Research Council in Gambia) – she replied to tell me I could stay in hotel for 25-30,000CFA ($50-60), which is way too expensive. I then replied to say as much and inquire about a place to camp. It is a positive reply to this e-mail that I’m looking for in Internet Cafe. It’s not there and Internet keeps crashing.
A blonde woman – early thirties? enters cafe – turns out to be English. Says she’s been living on one of Bijagos islands for 2 years doing anthropological research for her Phd. I had thought of going, but boats run very sporadically. She tells me of house owned by Cape Verdean family in Bissau, which I may be able to find room at. She draws map and I later find it, half-regretting not arranging to meet up with her later. She makes some comment about Bissau being so small we’re sure to bump into each other – doesn’t happen.
I find the Cape Verdean place. The owner is a fat woman with a mean face. She wants 12,000cfa ($25) and ends up shouting whole load of words I don’t understand when I tell her I will pay a maximum of 7,000. In the end I surprisingly get my way, although for £10 the room is very basic and dirty. There is talk of it being cleaned, but this doesn’t happen until much later. The sons working here are more interested in setting up TV screen for opening World Cup game – South Africa vs Mexico. I walk out around Bissau as it kicks off – later watching it in a bar whilst sitting next to Liberian who soon asks me for money for his bus-fare home. I ignore this.
Bissau is very quiet – like Banjul. Most interesting site is Presidential Palace, which is a complete ruin – roof having fallen in during civil war here. Don’t know much about it – must research. Feels odd to see Portuguese signs everywhere. Area close to port dominated by container lorries and Portuguese buildings – most displaying some import/export sign – very decayed feel to the place.
My Portuguese doesn’t extend beyond greetings – end up talking to people in mixture of English/French. Communication not very easy here. Restaurant prices very expensive, which combined with accommodation make this capital the most expensive one I’ve been to in Africa – very ironic given how run-down it is. At least there is minimal hassle on street. Can’t afford and have little inclination to stay here longer – will head off tomorrow in search of TV screen showing England game.