In the land of cashews and mangoes:
Guinea-Bissau and Guinea Conakry
I had left behind me already four African countries, a few thousand kilometers, and mainly desert. It was just before the rainy season in Senegal and little green remained. According to other travelers what was ahead would be better and better, and not just because of the vegetation. I was curious!
My first impression of Guinea-Bissau: wow, how green!
I rode through a green tunnel and through forests filled with cashew trees. The harvest was underway. Only the bean, which hangs below the fruit, is harvested.
A cashew only becomes edible after the bean has been treated, roasted, and peeled. I was interested in the fruit itself. Usually it’s left on the ground for the pigs … and me. It was so juicy that I ruined the cycle shirts with it. The stains couldn’t be removed.
Some women use the fruit to make juice. I had to try it even, so the hygienic standards weren’t the best. Very tasty. A bit sour and excellent to quench thirst.
The few towns which I passed weren’t to my liking. The narrow road was crowded by a market which left a single track. Both sides were blocked but I managed to squeeze through.
Interesting what one could buy at the market. In case the front wheel which I had bought in Morocco broke down, I could get a replacement without difficulty.
In Bissau I went briefly to the Nigerian embassy because it should have been an easy way to get a visa. They didn’t want to issue me a visa and convinced me to try again in a town closer to Nigeria. I wondered if it might have to do with the unrest in the Niger Delta?
Along the route, I could stay with locals in their compounds. The women were busy all day long with the cashew harvest, cooking, doing laundry, sweeping, and if time remained, taking care of the children. The men usually just chilled. Of course, there were some who really worked hard. But it was apparent that the majority apparently didn’t have anything to do.
From a young age onward, girls learned to take care of their responsibilities.
At the wells I only saw females. Even when the small arms barely reach the rim of the bucket, it was carried away on the head. Only when I was there, did men appear at the well.
The people seemed much poorer than in Senegal but hardly anyone begged, and no kid asked for money or presents. The official administrative language is Portuguese, and they called “Blanco” after me. Usually it was a whole verse “Blanco bellele, blanco mao. Blanco bellele, blanco mao.” I wondered who taught this to the children, so it was known in the whole country.
It sounded Swabian but first I didn’t understand “Bellele”. It meant “tired”. Since Morocco people have always asked me whether I was tired. First, I took it personal but then I realized that every white person was asked that question.
There were some cyclists
Even if they still dreamt of a whole bike.
I had to teach these guys that you didn’t fix a bike by hitting it with a machete. The chain had got stuck with the back wheel. It was easy to remove the wheel with a wrench and the problem was immediately fixed.
Somewhere I had heard about a border crossing from Contabene to Boké, Guinea (Conakry). I had to go to Conakry and that would have made the route a lot shorter. The road and the border weren’t marked anywhere. I asked everywhere and was always reassured that there was a border crossing and that it’d be open for tourists.
It was surprising to see bridges everywhere in Guinea-Bissau. In The Gambia I had used many ferries to cross rivers.
Now I could admire the rapids from above.
Later on, I read that these were the Salthino Waterfalls. Never mind their name, they were pretty.
In Contabene I asked the policeman about the way to the border.
“Just ahead, take a turn”.
“There!” He took me almost there and pointed directly at it. Ah, that was the “road”. I’d have called it a track. But if he thought so – I pedaled ahead.
After a few hundred meters, there was the checkpoint for Guinea-Bissau. When the person in charge checked my passport and saw all the visa, he laughed, added his stamp, and let me go.
The border should come after nine kilometers.
Let the fun begin.
After nine kilometers, there was a sign which said that I was now in Guinea (Conakry). However, except for a village with mango trees and cows, there was nothing there.
Where was the checkpoint? I had to continue.
To my surprise I found people who spoke French, the official language of Guinea (Conakry). Another nine kilometers.
Apparently, few tourists used this border crossing. Along the twenty-kilometer stretch I only saw locals who were busy with the cashew harvest.
I had to admit that I wasn’t at ease to be in the country without knowing where I could get the entry stamp. The people of Guinea-Bissau had let me depart. But would Guinea (Conakry) let me enter? I’d find out.
After further nine kilometers there was a village. A man accompanied me to Immigration where I got my entry stamp without problems. The policemen were very friendly, even if I disturbed their sleep. Perhaps they were happy to have something to do?
I had assumed that after the border there would be a “normal” road but I was wrong. Now I understood why everyone said, how far it was to reach Boké, the first large town in Guinea. That was where the pavement started – after 116 kilometers. I had already cycled 20 kilometers, another 30, and then the “road” would improve.
There was an incredible number of palm trees. There is more and more deforestation in Guinea to make way for palm oil which is a very fast-growing market. There is hardly a product that doesn’t contain palm oil, be it dishwashing liquid or Nutella.
Here one can still find the original palm oil nuts. They were roasted for a red, spicy sauce.
Who can see the little man harvesting?
There was a village every five to ten kilometers where I could get water and spent the night.
Sometimes it was very sandy and it was a relief to see that other cyclists who weren’t so heavily laden, also struggled.
In the evening I was told about a river crossing which was eight kilometers away. That couldn’t scare me.
In the evening I was told about a river crossing which was eight kilometers away. That couldn’t scare me.
The first view of the wide river was very impressive and I saw another cyclist crossing. If he managed, so could I! It was much easier than expected even so there were slippery rocks.
Showed me the way. The rocks were more difficult than the water.
I continued on red soil which reminded me a lot of Australia.
This house of many patterns could have been made by Aborigines.
It looked as if the Schwalbe Mondial had got sunburned.
Slash-and-burn which was practiced by the Aborigines also existed here.
It didn’t find it funny that the kids played in the smoke. They understood immediately when I explained them that it wasn’t good for their health.
The road improved after Dabiss.
That meant that cars and scooters could pass at high speed and kick up a lot of dust.
The nicest time was before 9:00 am.
when it was still quiet. It rained the last morning that I spend on this road. I was very lucky that the rain hadn’t started earlier. I managed to cycle the last few kilometers in the rain.
In Boké I could exchange money and shop. And I could get a SIM card. Since I left Ziguinchor a week ago, I didn’t have internet which had been fine.
Once again, I stayed with a family which was sometimes very noisy. They had a very different daily rhythm than me. They had a hard time to understand that I’d like to withdraw to my tent by 8:00 or latest 9:00 pm and sleep. Until midnight there was shouting which was a normal way to communicate.
I’d miss these overnights because Conakry was up next.
There was no way to skip the capital of the country. I had sent my new credit card to the German embassy. And I needed visa, at least for Côte d’Ivoire which I thought would be the next country.
I first called the German embassy but there was no sign of my credit card. Oh dear, it should already have arrived.
First, I could stay with Caroline, a young French woman, who worked for a consulting company. She was very nice and liked to cycle. Even in Conakry she commuted to work by bike.
It was Thursday. I couldn’t apply for a visa before the credit card had arrived because I needed to know the day of arrival. For that I needed to know when I could leave here.
In the beginning I didn’t like Conakry at all. The traffic wasn’t as bad as Dakar but it was so dirty. This is the beach
If one wants to swim, one goes to the nearby islands which are quite pretty.
Thanks to Caroline and later on Come, I quickly felt at home. I enjoyed doing different things, for example make mango jam.
The credit card still hadn’t arrived at the beginning of the week and I went to the embassy of Côte d’Ivoire to find out what I needed for the visa.
First, I met with a woman. She almost fell asleep as she explained to me that I couldn’t travel by bike because it would be too exhausting. It was like a slap stick comedy and if the matter hadn’t been serious for me, I’d have laughed out loud. I’d need to fly, and once again her eyes closed.
After that came a much more awake man. He was nice even so what he told me, wasn’t so. All border crossings between Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire had been closed because of the Ebola pandemic. The same applied to Sierra Leone and Liberia. The only way would be to fly or travel to Mali. I didn’t want to return to Mali but flying was also out of the question.
Caroline was off for a few days. Her original holiday plans fell through and she contemplated to go on her first solo bike tour. I offered to accompany her out of Conakry.
We went together. She had no difficulties with traffic but her bike wasn’t up to the challenge. After 20 kilometers we found a very competent bike mechanic who even found a new bottom bracket.
It got really pretty after 50 kilometers but I had to return to the horrors of Conakry. Caroline continued on her own through the green and hilly landscape.
In Conakry I moved in with my second host, Comê, from WarmShowers. Still no credit card. I gave up, had this card canceled, and order a new one to be send by DHL Express to …?
Diversion was called for during the weekend but first there was a deluge.
Comê took me fishing
Around the islands. This was the first time that I could swim in the ocean.
On Monday I went back to the embassy of Côte d’Ivoire. There was a chance I could get a “laissez passé” for the border. But no luck, it wasn’t approved.
And if I got a visa and entered from Mali? That would save me the way to the Malian capital, Bamako.
“If they saw at the border that the visa had been issued in Guinea, you might have problems”.
“But they would also see that I had a visa for Guinea. Then what”?
He shrugged his shoulders and Côte d’Ivoire was no longer an option.
Other countries have borders with Mali, for example Ghana. I had no luck at the embassy of Ghana. The woman informed me that I could only get a visa if I was a resident of Guinea and I needed an invitation, and a few other things. So that was out of the question for the moment.
I had no problems to get a visa for Mali. I had the feeling they were rather happy that a tourist wanted to visit. When he saw that I had been to Mauretania, he said I could have gone to Mali from there. I told him, I didn’t think that was very advisable and he responded, I was probably correct. After four hours, I had my visa.
I had arranged with my bank that they would send my credit card to the DHL office in Bamako.
I had spent almost two weeks in Conakry and I left on a Wednesday. Without a credit card and only with a visa for Mali. How I’d continue from there, I’d find out in Bamako.
I passed by heaps of garbage on my way out of the city.
To get ready for the rainy season, the garbage that had collected during the dry season was being removed from the canals. It’d be interesting to know what happened next. They probably burned the rubbish.
Then came the prettiest area of Guinea, Fouta Djallon.
that meant I had to climb and it was the first mountains since Morocco.
I spent the first night on the veranda of the police station
under the “Our Father in heaven” in English which was being taught at Sunday school. It was a Christian community in a predominately Muslim country. No problems here.
I continued to live off mangoes.
The peel was for the geese.
The temperature got more and more pleasant as I gained altitude. Especially at night it was pleasantly cool and I slept well in the tent.
Every evening I felt like a clown or a magician when I pitched my tent in front of the amazed kids.
Unbelievable what was on the road. Sometimes one couldn’t see the vehicle because of the cargo and the exhaust fumes.
I had just climbed a mountain, when I met these women.
When they saw me, they started to sing, dance, and clap. They were on their way to a wedding and were very happy. Ramadan was beginning the following week, and everyone wanted to get married before then. I wondered why?
Apart from the pretty view
in Fouta Djallon, I enjoyed the evening sky. I had rarely seen such sunsets
and lightening. The lightning strikes didn’t stop.
So far, I had been spared the rain and it had only rained at night. I almost got caught near Dabola. I was in the middle of the mountains when suddenly it got very dark. The next town was only seven kilometers away. Who would reach there first, the thunderstorm or me?
I had the advantage of a downhill. With the first gusts but before the raindrops, I reached the first houses and took shelter on a veranda. The owner advised that I should bring in the bike as well.
He knew what it’d look like after a short time.
The area in front of the house had turned into a lake.
Suddenly I saw a toddler in the floods. Startled I called out, pointed to the child which was tumbling into the water. The man replied calmly that it wasn’t his. I didn’t get it. The mother quickly appeared from the neighboring house, got hold of the toddler, and smacked it on the bottom. That was still allowed here.
Then Ramadan started and it looked like this
Apparently, the market was open from 5 until 7 am during Ramadan. I was awake at that time but not at the market.
I was glad to come across a few rebels who sold mango along the road during the day.
I learned more later one. In some villages market continued as usual and even women were out selling homemade peanut butter. What a joy! For a few pennies I could fill up my jar.
I went outside the town to eat or drink. But if I had bought something to drink and I was thirsty, I asked if it was okay if I drank. Independent if the person was Muslim or not, they always said yes. I admit that by now I no longer ask because more and more people don’t fast.
After Dabola it was less hilly and the pavement ended.
The road was being rehabilitated and as usual, they had put barricades on the almost new road. For cyclists it was easy to ride around or under the obstacles.
I didn’t want to cycle to Kankan, and after Kouroussa took a dirt road. That was probably the best track in Guinea.
The road was very rideable and there was hardly any traffic. Then a tanker truck approached. Usually they would use the horn and the gas paddle at the same time but he slowed down. Not enough consideration, he even stopped and gave me five bags of water with 2.5 liters. I was completely surprised because I had never encountered such behavior. He advised that I shouldn’t drink the water along this route because it wasn’t good. Many thanks!
I assumed very few tourists passed by here. When I came to a market, I caused a party with singing and dancing.
People live in typical round huts
And I enjoyed to once again camp wild.
The track ran parallel to Niger, a very fertile land, and especially after the first rains everything was of a brilliant light green color. I hardly saw the river.
When the track joined the national road, there was a larger village. Neglected children played in the garbage.
They didn’t speak French, the official language, which was taught in school. I asked a youngster who spoke good French why those children didn’t go to school. They should learn French. “Those are just refugee kids”! I don’t know how many schools were built with help from Germany.
They didn’t speak French, the official language, which was taught in school. I asked a youngster who spoke good French why those children didn’t go to school. They should learn French. “Those are just refugee kids”!
I don’t know how many schools were built with help from Germany.
I wondered if school happened there. Rather seldom in remote areas.
School construction only solves one problem.
Are the kids allowed to attend school? That might be questionable for refugees. So many children have to work at home or sell small things by the roadside.
If they don’t want to, I think they don’t need secondary western style education. They’ve skills which we forgot a long time ago, and which are much more useful for survival than the knowledge how to conjugate verbs. We should rather learn from them.
But everyone should have basic education, especially know the local language, read and write.
After the dirt track, I was back on the national road which continued along the Niger and now I finally saw the river.
There was much activity. Bodies and laundry were being washed, dishes were done, water fetched. The usual.
Until I reached Siguiri traffic was very light. In town traffic and chaos suddenly started. It was so bad that I didn’t want to enter the city. It didn’t get much better afterwards and I didn’t find a good place for wild camping. There was also no hotel. The rescue came in form of the catholic mission, Don Bosco.
I got a room in the building for the sisters and was well accommodated when a strong thunderstorm hit.
The heavy traffic continued for about 60 kilometers until the next town.
Is there is a refugee camp? Then I remembered that this is also an area where they search for gold. Not a pleasant place.
I quickly continued and after exactly six weeks, I was once again at the border with Mali with mixed emotions. I didn’t like the idea that there was no border between Boko Haram and me. But I had been reassured that the South is peaceful.
To be continued….