Guinea-Bissau and The Gambia
Surprisingly once across the border, Guinea-Bissau doesn’t look a whole lot different than Guinea.
The villages were identical, the people just as friendly and the roads were just the same. The only way you would know you were in a different country was that the flag was different and the signs were Portuguese rather than French. The picture below is the road from the border.
We managed to drive halfway across the country on the first afternoon, eventually stopping at Saltinho Falls on the Rio Corubal.
The falls were more cascades and not that spectacular but what was good, were the numerous deep clear pools above and below the falls where I spent a morning in the water.
Six hours after the river we arrived in the capital Bissau, which is easily the quietest West African city so far. At 4pm on Monday afternoon there was barely a car on the road.
OK, I’ve just realised its Easter Monday… Who knew!
After two days in Bissau I have to say its the best West African city I’ve visited. There’s no escaping the rubbish but there’s less of it than other African cities. The entire centre of the city is full of colourful colonial Portuguese buildings that are certainly tired looking but not in the same atrocious rundown state as those in Monrovia or Freetown for example.
The people are very friendly, the restruants are good and plentiful, the people are more affluent and there’s a very relaxed and laid back atmosphere about the place. It wouldn’t take much at all to make the city a World class tourist destination but something tells me it’ll never happen.
Transparency International describes Guinea Bissau as having corruption on a grand scale and with abject poverty, a partially collapsed state, unmonitored borders and unpoliced airfields it has become a haven for Columbian drug lords and the major cocain route into Europe from South America. The UN considers Guinea-Bissau the World’s only “narco-state” and the US DEA said that up to 1000kg of coke were being flown into the country from South America every night!
My final stop in G-B was the bakery at the Imperial Hotel which has a wicked selection of pastries, which I stocked up on for the day’s drive to the border.
From Bissau the trip north was a combination of mangroves, mudflats and two large rivers with several tributaries. The higher areas were dedicated to Cashew plantations and numerous small villages.
Below: Cashew plantation and harvested cashews.
THE GAMBIA – African country No. 40.
Like Guinea-Bissau, The Gambia is tiny. It’s mainland Africa”s smallest country, long and thin and less than 50km wide.
Unlike other West African nations The Gambia has a significant tourism industry.
The Gambia is another one of those weirdly shaped African countries which illustrates the absurdity of national borders drawn by colonial powers in the 1800’s, which is a common theme throughout Africa.
It’s 300km long and averages just 35km wide. Basically, it’s a line/border drawn around a river following every twist and turn. I’ve heard stories that the border was drawn by a British gunship sailing up the river and firing cannon balls from the river as far as possible and where the balls landed the border was drawn. The area out of reach of the British cannon fire became French Senegal.
After crossing the border I stopped at the bustling town of Brikama and did some shopping before continuing onto the river side lodge at Bintang Bolong, which sounds more Indonesian than African.
We were entertained that night by local Kora player Jali Hammay as we sat around the restruant over the water until late.
Bintang was relaxing but after two days we jumped in a local taxi and headed over to Tandaba Lodge on the shores of the Gambia River.
A jeep safari through the local national park was uneventful as the entire park had been burnt a couple of weeks ago and we only saw Warthog, mangoose and Guinea Baboons, which are the local West African species of baboon.
The first night we organised a boat trip to start at 10pm to search for Pel’s Fishing Owl. Unfortunately just before we were about to start the lodge staff told us the boat skipper wouldn’t go because he was scared of the dark. We assumed he was scared of the owl because the locals believe owls are evil spirits.
Plan B. The following night we found a boat driver that was keener and we were set to go, until a storm blew up and there were one meter high waves on the river. Our boat was a large canoe, so things weren’t looking good.
At 10pm we climbed into our pirogue and bounced our way across the river to a protected creek. We travelled 20m down the creek and there sitting on a branch above the river was a magnificent Pel’s Fishing Owl, one of Africans most iconic and incredible birds.
We arrived back at camp at 1am and had a celebratory beer at the lodge bar.
After just a few days in The Gambia we drove onto the ferry, crossed the river and was once again in Senegal.
I could have spent more time in The Gambia visiting the coast and some of its beaches but they’re full of pestering beach boys and from what I’ve seen the main source of tourism is middle aged British and European women who wander around with young local guys on their arms. Not my scene, so I continued my northward journey to Dakar.
Bye for now…