The cashew nut should be the national emblem of Guinea Bissau. They, or rather the trees, cover this small former Portuguese colony. The nuts are surely the country’s biggest export, although drugs reputably bring in more money.

The capital, Bissau, is a sorry reminder of a country that has seen better days. From the President’s palace that has no roof to the pot-holed streets, bordered up shop-fronts and fact that there is no running water or electricity, Guinea Bissau isn’t one of Africa’s success stories.

They still watch the football though – they being the men of course. If you can afford the £0.15 entry fee what better way to forget your plight than watch the World Cup? Take a noisy generator, a dark room lined with hard wooden benches and preferably a TV, then throw in anything between a dozen and several hundred male black bodies and you have a scene which is surely being repeated in hundreds of villages, towns and cites throughout this continent.

Argentina were outplaying Nigeria when I popped my head into the first of these TV halls. The idea had been to escape the afternoon heat. Instead it was like entering a sauna with a very distinctive smell. I’m trying to think how best to describe the nose-sensation of one hundred African men perspiring in a crowded airless room. It’s not pleasant. Just as walking into the men’s Squash club changing room back home wouldn’t be for the first timer. One gets used to it perhaps.

Watching the football

I emerged soaked in sweat to continue cycling through this land of cashew trees, hoping that a less tortuous cell would be screening England thrashing the USA later that day. My wishes were answered. Not with the score-line, but the fact that I got to watch it outside.

One of the legacies of the civil war in Guinea Bissau is that many people fled the country – crossing to Senegal and The Gambia. Baboucar might have once been a bumpster on the beaches south of Banjul, except he didn’t have dreadlocks and actually finished school. The residents in the small town of Nhacra called him “Gambiano”. It was his Mother’s funeral that had brought him back to the country. But that didn’t dampen his mood. He was about to take a bus to Bissau until I arrived and asked where I could watch the football and pitch my tent. “You will do so in my compound.”

He later showed me a bed in a windowless room. I could hardly breath under the humidity and heat. “You can sleep here”, he said pointing to his bedand if you don’t mind I will sleep next to you”. After some persuasion that mosquitoes, ants, rats, scorpions, snakes, bats and any other wild creatures wouldn’t come inside my tent, I explained that it was preferable if I pitched my tent on the veranda outside.

Camping in Nharca


The road leading east to the border with Guinea is the only real road in the entire country. Given how dysfunctional most of the infrastructure is in this country I was surprised to find it paved. Spaced several hundred metres apart concrete posts rose above the canopy of cashew trees at the roadside. At some point in the past there was electricity linking the towns. Now wires hung lose in the air. People living nearby in thatched huts did so like they’ve always done, oblivious to these foreign intrusions.

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Bafata is Guinea Bissau’s second city and another ghostly reminder of the past. Rising up fom the banks of the River Geba the Portuguese created a sizeable and impressive urban settlement here. Now it is crumbling and neglected. In fact I almost missed this part of the town. My tent was pitched on the veranda of another Gambiano’s house, who like most of the residents of Bafata, was living away from the river. Like Baboucar in Nhacra, I met Abdu on the roadside and asked where I could pitch my tent. He seemed only to happy to host me and bemoan the sorry state of the country.

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If there ever happens to be a stable government and inclination to preserve something from the past, this river-side town could re-create something of the charm it once had. For the moment it looks continued to decay as vehicles lie rusting at the roadside and people live within half-ruinous corrugated shells. For all it’s decrepitude I quite liked the place.

Sinking dug-outs

The road began to deteriorate as I pushed on east towards the border, but a badly pot-holed road is not nearly as bad to pedal over as it would be driving a 4-wheeled vehicle. One can happily pick a course and weave between the dips and bumps.

Both of my Gambiano friends expressed a little concern when I explained where I was heading. Guinea currently has no functioning government and is preparing for elections. In fact it is probably the worst time to be entering a country whose former military leader was shot in the head by one of his army last year. Dark clouds ahead it seems. At least there was the football to quell the politics. I was hoping England would fair better in their next game.

Road warriors

Water girls

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