The decision to visit Guinea Bissau was very spontaneous. We knew almost nothing about this country. Aware of the difficulties we may face concerning the language barrier we expected some hard times. Unlike us, a vast majority of Bissau’s citizens speak Creole. Most of them claim to know Portuguese as well. The truth is, their knowledge is limited only to basic vocabulary. It is possible to find people speaking other tribal languages, especially in villages located in the jungle far from the main road.
The Portuguese language is a vestige of the past colonization in the country. Guinea Bissau regained their independence in 1974 after bloody fights between guerrillas and the Portuguese troupes. A very interesting fact is that the Creole language was developed during the colonization by the people of Guinea Bissau in order to communicate with the colonizers. It is a simplified version of Portuguese adapted easily by the Europeans and Africans.
Owing to the fact that Guinea Bissau is one of the poorest countries in the world, the level of the education is appallingly low. A proper schooling still remains out of reach for a huge majority of the people. Sadly a little bit over a half of the population of Bissau is illiterate.
Our previous travel experiences let us believe that we are going to meet beautiful people and will not be left without help. From what we knew, the less people have, the more they are willing to share.
We ended up being the only people crossing the border from Senegal to Guinea Bissau. There were several cars coming from the opposite direction but no one who could give us a ride. Without any other solution, we decided to walk on in an enormous heat. Passing by one of the few houses on the way we spotted a family leaving their property by car, who then agreed to give us a ride to the next village. Unfortunately it wasn’t going to be any easier there. The situation was hopeless. Apparently not many people in the country own a car. Everyone seemed to travel with minibuses, the only vehicles on the road. In an act of desperation we stopped one of them begging the driver to help us. By using Spanish language, sad facial expressions and wild gestures we made him understand that we do not have money. Surprisingly he agreed to give us a ride! Later on the same situation happened to us AGAIN and we were able to reach the capital (Bissau) just before sunset. Fortune favours the bold!
Our first host, Kojo, was originally from Ghana and worked in a bank in the capital. We agreed to meet there however found only his friend, George (we were warned by Kojo it may happen). He offered to give us a ride to our hosts house. We called Kojo who promised to wait for us at his place. We parked in front of the huge villa. George mumbled something about meeting someone before going to our host and entered the building. We followed him without asking further questions. Inside we found a woman who told us that Kojo is currently in Ghana. Thus Kojo lied by telling us that he is waiting at his place! The woman’s name was Doris and she was the wife of the local pastor. We went absolutely mad. George just like Kojo lied to us and now we had no place to stay. We were shouting in disbelieve in what was actually happening in the house of a completely innocent women. Once she managed to calm us down, Doris explained us why they were hiding the truth. According to George and everyone else the way they behaved was the only reasonable one. They wanted to make sure we are safe in the pastor’s house and were afraid that we will walk away knowing Kojo is in Ghana. The church seemed to be a perfect shelter. You can hardly find this way of thinking rational or reasonable but at this very moment we had no other option. It was already dark. After cooling down we apologized to the pastor’s wife. After all the only thing she did was offering us enormous help. She was found to be the sweetest person we have met in Guinea Bissau. Till the late night we talked about our travels, families and countries. Unfortunately we couldn’t meet the pastor who was travelling at the time. Doris offered us a room and some food. Frankly speaking her house was like a paradise for us. We could sleep in a real bed, covered with fresh sheets and take a shower in a “proper” bathroom.
The next day we went to the market. Doris sent one of the members of her parish with us so he can show us foods we didn’t know. This way we could taste boiled yam, rocks (!) locals chew to help their stomach digest, fresh fruits and milk as well as dried seafood. Like in other African countries we found baobab juice and hibiscus tea sold ice cold in little plastic bags.
Staying in Doris’ house we could feel the spirit of Ghana. She told us all about their customs, clothes and food. We even had a chance to eat real Ghanaian fufu, a dough made out of plantain served with a delicious, spicy chicken boiled in ginger, chilli pepper and onion.
We are very grateful for all the help we received from Doris and her parish. We really owe her a great deal for all she has done for us during our stay. The beautiful memories and a the real desire to visit Ghana still remains in our hearts!
Guinea Bissau is a green and pristine land with hardly no influence of people in its nature. Bissau- the capital is sadly one of the poorest big cities we have ever seen. Most of the districts would be called slums in any other place, but in this city are considered relatively good neighbourhoods. You can find only a few modern buildings towering over small huts and houses. The city centre, although small, is quite a nice and pleasant place to be. Little green squares, monuments and the surrounding neighbourhoods make it cosy and pretty. The port and all the close-by buildings show signs of the past colonialism. At the early morning you can buy there fish, clams and all the other kinds of the seafood freshly caught by the fishermen. This place certainly has its own charm and a special atmosphere.
Walking through the countryside we found ourselves many times in cashew forests. These trees, as well as mangoes, are the most popular trees in the country. Cashews (as well as peanuts) are a source of a great income for private farmers as well as for the government (6th biggest world exporter). We were surprised to find out that not only nuts but also the fruits of those trees can be used by people. We had the chance to taste a delicious cashew fruit marmalade. The cashew wine next to the palm wine (which is absolutely disgusting) is an alcoholic beverage most commonly chosen by the people of Bissau to get buzzed.
The alcohol is a serious issue in Guinea Bissau. Availability nearly everywhere and at any time as well as low cost prizes seem to make the firewater an indispensable product on daily shopping lists. Wine is also eagerly used by pagan citizens during their religious rituals. Gathered around numerous shrines, they dance and drink together to achieve a sort of a trance and a stupor in order to get closer to their gods. During our stay we were lucky to see some of those places of worship. Primitive and simple shrines are easy to find next to almost every household on the countryside. People who enshrine trees, water or even termite nests account over 30 percent of the whole society.
On our way to Guinea Bissau many people told us that wild rats and monkeys are regularly eaten by its inhabitants. We were extremely curious about it and tried to find places where this extraordinary cuisine is served. Unfortunately, when we asked if we could taste monkey meat at the market, people became suspicious and chased us away furiously.Later on we were explained that they were afraid and thought we work for the government. Because of the Ebola threat it is forbidden to sell monkey meat.
Apart from visiting Bissau and its surroundings we also had the chance to see the Casheu (/Cashew) region. Extremely green and located by a lake this places seemed like a forgotten paradise to us. Without electricity and hardly no cars, people live calm and slow lives. It was great to relax in peace and quietness without being bothered, stared at or called names. This was another huge advantage of Guinea Bissau. Right after crossing the border a magical thing has happened. Nobody chased after us, wanted to touch us, become our friend or even seemed surprised by seeing us. What a relief! Once again we were just regular people and it felt great!
The predominant form of musical expression in the country is the sensuous gumbe dance, played on the tina water drum. The music in Guinea Bissau resembles a bit the Portuguese music. Here’s a little taste of the local sounds.
Leaving Bissau was the beginning of the hardest part of our African trip. In order to travel to Cape Verde we had to get back to Dakar avoiding crossing to the Gambia again and paying for another visa. Everyday we tried to cover the longest distance possible and asked for shelter in mosques and churches. On the first night we were rescued by a imam (Muslim equivalent of a priest) who let us stay in his family house. His wife prepared for us a huge bowl of sweet rice cooked with milk. We ate up everything, which was far too much, but weakened by a long day on the road it was the only way to carbo-load our batteries.
The next night we spent with catholic priests. Two young guys, originally from Guinea Conakry let us stay over in their living room, put big bottles of beer in our hands and fed us with unbelievable amounts of meat. After one evening together, one of the priests became a proud member of couchsurfing community and we still keep in touch!
Heading to Dakar we returned to Thies and once again had a lovely time. Ben even made some friends! Unexpectedly on the last days in Senegal we had a lot of fun and met some great people. We enjoyed it much more than our first visit. about the country which was now rather positive!
At the airport, together with fifteen other people we took a seat in what seemed to us the smallest plane in the world and flew towards Cape Verde and new adventures.