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Sunny Senegal – Part 2 & Glorious Guinea Bissau

So the last blog finished with us departing Tumani Tenda the ecovillage and heading back into Senegal again.

We had a long drive day through verdant, palm tree scenery before arriving at the gem which is Cap Skirring. It’s a little peace of paradise on the coast of the Casamance region of Senegal and is eye wateringly beautiful.

We rocked up and drove down narrow, sandy tracks to a beachfront campsite where there was a fight for upgrades. Nicole and I stood back as we didn’t fancy the basic rooms and let other people fight it out…in the meantime we had sourced a guesthouse down the road…4 doors down which was called Chez Sophie and was run by a stunning, Amazonian warrior-esque lady who looked like Grace Jones.

She cut us a deal on 4 rooms so Richard and Rhona and Grant & Nicola took one and then Nicole and I had our own which was a nice change!

We settled in and then wandered back to take a stroll along the beach.

We decided not to indulge in the camp dinner that night and wandered down to a fancy restaurant called La Paillote which was amazing…we had a 3 course meal for £17 which included a lovely steak.

Afterwards we wandered back down the beach past the reggae beach bar which had booming Bob Marley going on! We headed back to our respective rooms and tried to sleep through the loud reggae coming from across the road.

Sunday we had a lie in and then walked up to town to grab some cash and look at the shops. We found ourselves back at La Paillote for lunch!!!

Such a beautiful beach…..

We sat using the semi decent WiFi and drinking ice cold drinks and fine dining, it’s such a hard life!!

The evening involved…….yes you have guessed it….La Paillote….it wasn’t planned, however, others were going after dinner for dessert and drinks so I bowed under peer pressure and joined Rhona and Richard, Don and Young Brian, Nicola and Grant and Old Brian.

Monday saw us rise early and after a 6.30am breakfast we headed out of Cap Skirring to Ziguinchor to apply for Guinea Bissau visas. We had to wait a couple of hours for them so we all had free time to mooch about town.

I needed to do cook group shopping so Nicole, Grant & Nicola came with me. The town was pretty desolate and there initially appeared to be no sign of food of any description! On the shopping list was chicken, Coca Cola and whatever vegetables I could get to pack dinner out!

We started at a butchers shop where, using exceptional French, I asked if they had any chicken. They replied with a resounding ‘no’ and pointed me down the road….we asked a local a bit further down and he pointed in the same direction, so off we trot….we located a painted sign depicting a chicken alongside the French word ‘poulet’.

I jokingly said ‘I bet they are live and you have to pick your chickens’ before venturing up a small concrete alleyway between shops and homes and randomly saying ‘poulet’ to anyone in the vicinity. A local lady took us around a labyrinth of narrow alleys and out into a vegetable patch with a chicken run at the end. She then opened the door, proudly displaying hundred of chickens and asked me how many! Christ!

I am a terrible meat eater and enjoy a good piece of chicken or steak but don’t want to process that a cute creature has died in the process! So I couldn’t bear to pick 3 chickens who would then be instantly killed and handed to me to carry around for 2 hours…or indeed given to me alive to swing around by their feet for 2 hours and then I am expected to give them the chop!!

It became clear, after asking, that she had no ready prepared chickens so we moved on and 3 chickens lived to see another day!

We then meandered about Ziguinchor asking everyone if there were any vegetables anywhere! Wasn’t looking likely! We stumbled across a petrol station with an exceptional shop alongside which had frozen meat of all variety, drinks, snacks and canned green beans. So after rummaging in the freezer amongst frozen bits of animal we located 6 packs of chicken breasts and grabbed some beans.

Nicole and Grant then joined the rest of the group in the restaurant next door (which appeared to be the only one in Ziguinchor!) whilst Nicola and I walked down to the market and found a couple of angry ladies selling mediocre vegetables. We bought some peppers and courgettes and were then good to go.

We then all headed back to the truck where we were handed back our passports containing the fresh Guinea Bissau visa and off we headed to the border.

It’s at this point the day descends into such chaos it has now been renamed as ‘The Carnival of Ineptitude’. Firstly upon leaving Ziguinchor the truck got pulled over by police and Jono fined for not wearing a seatbelt. This led to him and Nienke having to dash off in a taxi to the nearest police station to pay the fine whilst we sat roasting in the truck, which was parked up on the side of the road!

About 45 minutes later they reappeared and off we went again!

The border crossing was fine and soon we had entered Guinea Bissau and were on the look out for a decent bush camp.

Around 4.30pm Jono and Nienke pulled over to assess a possible bushcamp site, we looked on believing we were pulling up on the dry mud section alongside the road only to realise when too late that Jono was driving us further away from the road into what we could clear see was a wet and muddy field!

Let’s guess what happened next….lol and behold the truck sinks into the wet mud and gets stuck!

So we all have to pile out in the mud and proceed to try and push the truck out which inevitably was to no avail!

By this point a load of locals had rocked up and were regarding us curiously, I would imagine what a truck load of white people were doing in Guinea Bissau, in their village specifically and why they had chosen such a terrible place to park!!!

Anyway the locals and our group got stuck in with pick axes, shovels and spades trying to dig down so we could pack out underneath the tyres with timber and sand mats.

It’s was properly hilarious…even the UN swung by asking why we had driven there and tried to tow us out.

Eventually we conceded that it wasn’t going to budge on its own so a local volunteered to get a guy and a truck.

In the meantime we had put our tent up (on the dry part!) and I was attempting to cook dinner for 29 people in the middle of a bog whilst this calamity was going on.

I had help to chop all the vegetables and Nicola cooked the vegetarian option for me but other than that I was left to cook Coca Cola Chicken and Rice for everyone singlehandedly in the dark, with solely a meagre head torch for light.

Dinner was a great success, thankfully and most people took 10 minutes out of their truck removal operation to chow down a bowl of food.

I was then left to try and wash up all the pots and pans and put everything away whilst the locals truck is attempting to winch the truck out in the pitch dark whilst loads of our group and locals mill about at risk of death if the cable was to snap!

Eventually they had to admit defeat when the recovery truck got stuck and failed to pull ours out.

The following morning we awoke early to assess the damage and saw that the truck had sunk further into the mud which was now up to the bottom of the door. I was tasked with making breakfast which ended up being unnecessarily difficult because I couldn’t get access to the tap from the trucks water tank to obtain any water for porridge or tea and coffee. Jono had to syphon water from the tanks and we had to decent into all manner of receptacles so that I could commence preparing breakfast!

The whole carnival continued again with people digging out the truck further and the rest of us collecting gravel from the side of the road in huge buckets and straightening out the now ‘u’ shaped sand mats.

We packed out the rugs under the wheels with gravel and awaited the village tractor!

Eventually the man and the tractor arrived along with a winch and serious looking chain! Thankfully this time the mission was successful and the truck was dragged back out of the mud!

So we had a mad dash to pack up everything and for the muddy people to wash down and then we hopped in the battered truck and headed for The capital, Bissau.

Team Upgrade had already sorted a decent hotel so after being dropped off we headed there in taxis and settled in for a hot shower and some food and drink. Below was after showering once! See it’s not all rosey and fancy hotels!

Wednesday we headed off to the Ivory Coast consulate to apply for our visas, which was relatively straightforward and required us going back the next day to collect. Easy!

Nicole and I then mooched about town and grabbed some lunch at a cool little place called ‘O Bistrot’ which is the number one spot in Bissau apparently.

We then spent the afternoon chilling round the pool and reading. Gotta take the rough with the smooth!!

Thursday was pretty much the same…collected visa, wandered town, O Bistrot and pool.

The following day we were up early for a day trip to the stunning Bijagos Islands. We were picked up in trucks and driven to a misty lakeside spot to pick up a speedboat.

We then proceeded to sail for hours and hours in choppy waters, crossing the Atlantic before sailing up shallow, sandy channels between the islands.

We finally made it to the island of Orango and headed to the far side for an hours trek to see Saltwater Hippos.

The trek involved jumping out of the boat into the shallow, warm sea and wading up the beach before trekking through fields, forest and 7ft high elephant grass for an hour to locate the hippos.

We then sat in a wooden, stilted hut for 20 minutes watching them laze about in the thick, stinky mud.

We then did the walk in reverse, which was tough going…not only was it 3pm by this point but we hadn’t yet had lunch or much to drink and it was hugely humid and in the mid to high 30s!

We then waded back out to the boat and sailed 30 minutes back to the restaurant for a late lunch of fish and rice before heading back (much later than planned) to Bissau.

The journey back was a long and painful one, we weren’t supposed to be sailing in the dark as our small wooden boat had no lights but as the 2 hour journey was realistically a 4 hour journey it had put us behind all day and then left us with the unimaginable task of navigating the waters of the Atlantic in darkness!

Thankfully the water was calmer on the way back and the sky was beautiful

I have to say I was properly impressed with the captains ability to sail in the darkness without incident and bring us straight into the small cove where we had picked the boat up that morning.

Thankfully there was a full moon so that aided him and his mate was sat at the front of the boat as a look out giving minimal hand signals when he needed to go slightly left or right! Very impressive that they know the seas and waterways that well. They must have been late 20s early 30s at most.

The Bijagos were the highlight of Guinea Bissau, such beautiful and remote islands that wouldn’t look out of place in a desert island film.

Saturday saw us check out of our hotel in Bissau and head off towards the Guinea border, we had slight drama first thing with Grant and Nicola unable to pay their hotel bill because the card machine didn’t work. They didn’t have enough money to pay in local currency and then had to communicate to the Portuguese speaking staff that they would have to follow us to an ATM so they could get their money.

They weren’t quite understanding the situation so we had to argue with them to leave the complex and security were almost called! We took a taxi down to where the truck was waiting for everyone and Grant ran off to the cash machine which proceeded to swallow both his cards! Nicola lost her shit and it all kicked off!

They ended up having to borrow the asked amount from people on the truck to get rid of the hotel, then they had to leave the truck and wait outside the bank for the guard to materialise so he could instigate getting their cards back.

We in the meantime had hurtled off in the vague direction of the Guinea border. We stopped in a small town for lunch at which point Grant & Nicola caught us up having done their own personal Guinea Bissau rally in a taxi….had visions of them hurtling along with the ‘wacky races’ song ‘catch the pigeon’ playing!

Reunited as one we trundled onwards and ended up bush camping that night alongside a village football pitch, the village agreed we could stay and seemed somewhat bemused at the evenings visitors.

The three newbies were on cook group that night so I helped knock up a red Thai curry.

We all headed to our respective tents early as we knew we had an early start in the morning as we had to cross the border into Guinea and head up into the mountains.

That’s the next instalment of my African adventures which I will aim to have written in the next few days.

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