Week 21, Crossing Guinea Bissau by bicycle, TOTAL 8521 KM ( COUNTRY# 11 )
After the intensity of crossing Mauritania and the Casamance region of Senegal it was nice to roll through a little slice of Africa that’s biggest challenges were the physical demands of fully loaded cycling and another language barrier. Finding myself somewhat tongue twisted going from French Senegal to English speaking Gambia, followed by the crossing into Portuguese Guinea Bissau in a matter of weeks.
The tranquil border of Mpack where southern Senegal meets Guinea Bissau was one of the nicest I’ve had to date. I arrived at the crossing to be met with a handshake and rickety old plastic chair propped up against a large tree. My passport was taken from me by a man in civilian clothing and all the necessaries were sorted in a matter of minutes, no jostling and hassling at this border post as I was back on the bike and heading in the direction of the capital Bissau before I could finish my coldrink.
Bissau home to just less than half a million people feels more like a large town than a city and the population of the country at around 1.5 million has the beautiful spin off of almost zero traffic on the roads. A cyclists paradise as road surfaces in Guinea Bissau are better than some of its neighbouring West African countries and the north and central regions are reasonably flat making it a great spot for budding cyclo tourists keen to try their hand at a slightly more exotic location.
Forced to spend a few days in Bissau whilst waiting for visa’s for Guinea Conakry (30 000 CFA) & Ivory Coast (15 000 CFA) (both single entry, 1 month tourist visas). I was eager to get the Ivory Coast visa in Bissau which would give me the luxury of not having to cycle into Conakry, the capital of Guinea and afford me the option of taking a different route bypassing the congested city center and heading for the Fouta Djalon mountain range in the interior of the country.
Initially planning on taking a small boat from Bissau to Enxude (9 hours) in order to cross the river, I pulled the plug on the idea when they started loading livestock on the tiny wooden boat that was not much bigger than a canoe and wanted to sandwich my bike between a live pig and sack of rice, trying to explain that this just wasn’t going to work for me I opted for another way out of Bissau and cycled in the direction of Bafata and onwards to Gabu.
Listening to the calls of “Branco Belele, Branco Belele’’ as you make your way through the small villages of the countryside, Guinea Bissau serves up a healthy dose of hospitality as locals seem to go out there way to point you in the right direction and the youngsters jostle over the opportunity to fill your water bottles from the wells that make up the center piece of most villages.
Currently in Gabu just over a day’s ride away from Koundara which is the crossing into Guinea country number 12, waiting for the internet facility to open in order to publish the blog, unfortunately there are only two internet facilities in Gabu, one of which is permanently closed and the other closed on weekends and powered by generators between Monday and Friday.