I woke up around 10am on Sunday morning and watched Zlatan Ibahrimovic’s documentary on Netflix. The checkout time at Le Flamboyant Hotel was at noon and I maximized my stay there as much as possible. At noon, I went to eat at my usual go to place in Ziguinchor. It was a small restaurant/bakery that had kebabs, grilled chicken, and some local daily specials. I wanted the Yassa Poulet for my last meal in Senegal, but they did not have it on that Sunday and I was stuck with hamburger or omelette. I went for the omelette.
I got a mototaxi to take me to the bus station for 250F and walked to the “sept place” rank. It looked quite busy with 6 or 7 men yelling at each other. I found the “sept place” to Bissau and I was so happy to see a minivan, instead of the Peugeot wagon. If you have been reading my other blogs, the “sept place” was an old rundown Peugeot wagon that had seven passenger seats (one next to the driver, three on the 1st row and three more on the last row). This one was a wagon type sept place and it was spacious. I was relieved to see that.
I paid 4000F for my ticket and waited for my bag to be hurled into the trunk. The trunk looked very full with the other passengers carrying rice and all sorts of other things. The baggage guy comes to me and asks for 3000F. I smiled and ignored him. He then tells me 2000F and I tell him 500F. He started shaking his index finger and I just ignored him again. The key to these negotiation is not to take part too much and ignoring when possible. When the bus is about to leave, they usually lower the price.
We waited for about another 30 minutes and I talked to some of the other passengers in Portuguese. There were a few ladies that were heading to Bissau and I noticed there were a good seven people. I did not understand why the van was not leaving. Then, I realized that the bus was not for seven passengers, but for ten! They were squishing four people in one row and two at the front. I could not believe this was happening to me again. I did not get the front row and ended up getting the second row in between a healthy lady and a skinny Puff Daddy wanna be looking guy. My buttox was ¼ on the seat and a ¼ on the bunk seat (the seat that folds up so that the passengers can get out). Not cool. I sat on this squashed seat for about 30 minutes to the border and my back was in pain since I did not have a back rest and the seat was uneven.
The immigration process at both ends were easy and hassle free. The Senegalese officer stamped my passport and then we walked to the Guinean side. The officer checked my visa and stamped the passport without a problem. Welcome to UN country 153!
As I waited for the other passengers, I told the driver and the lady that my back was in pain and that I cannot sit in the second row. I prefer getting off at the next bus stop and taking another van. The bus driver asked the skinny and short Guinean to move to the second row and I got upgraded to the front row seat next to the driver. That was so nice of the Guinean dude. That is what you call hospitality. It honestly felt really great getting the upgrade and I offered to pay the poor kid a few dollars for switching seats, but he declined. I gave him a bar of chocolate. Just to remind you, the front seat next to the driver and the healthy lady was not comfortable by all means. I had barely no leg space and my left thigh was right next to the clutch. Though, this seat was better for my back and it also had a head rest. I put my airplane style seat belt on and I talked with the driver and the lady as we drove along Guinea-Bissau.
We were in Guinea-Bissau for about one hour and the roads were really bad. Imagine driving around a mountainous road with potholes everywhere. We were speeding at around 50km an hour at most. That day, it was raining very hard and the visibility from the car was bad too.
Despite being uncomfortable, I managed to fall asleep. I somehow always fall asleep wherever I am…The next moment, I woke up to the car skidding right, skidding left, and then we did a full turn skid to the right and for sure we were going to skid off the road. We did. This was in a matter of five seconds and the van did a 360- degree flip. I remember flipping but I did not pop out of the seat since I had my seat belt on. The windows shattered, but we magically landed on top again, not sideways or upside down. Thank God! The lady got out and I got out of the car. The van was a mess with all the goods out of the trunk. It was raining really hard and we were all shocked. I picked up my big backpack and walked towards a house to get cover from the rain. I asked if everyone was ok and luckily, nobody was injured. This could have been a serious nightmare and we could have hit a tree as well. I noticed for the first time that we had 10 adult passengers, one baby and two children. That was too many people in one car.
We took cover under a bungalow and waited for the police and a few others to arrive. My neck and shoulder area were in pain, but I did not need immediate hospital assistance.
A couple of the people took another minivan towards Bissau immediately, so I ended up doing so after 30 minutes of waiting. While I was waiting, the people from the village were around and were asking if we needed help. So kind of them! I was ok but the women with their kids needed moral support. Another minivan came and I hopped in. I was really scared of what had happened and I was clinging onto the side handles as we drove towards Bissau. The ride was only 40 minutes and we got there safely. All this time, it was raining heavily. I got onto a taxi and made my way to Pension Creola. What a day! Thank God that I am alive and nothing bad happened to any one of us.
It was a Sunday evening, so there was only one restaurant that was open for dinner. I went to the Hotel Restaurante Kalliste for dinner and it was rather poor. I ordered a chicken churassco (grilled chicken), but the food that showed up was 4 pieces of chicken in some kind of sauce. I asked the waitress if it was churassco, and she nodded yes. How strange? I have eaten churassco numerous times, but never seen it drenched in sauce. I ate my mediocre chicken dish and went back to the pension to get some sleep.
The next morning, I woke up to a terrible back ache. The mattress was horrible in that half my body sunk into it while I was sleeping, especially the middle part of the bed. I waited for Aliou to show up, a friend of Fabien that I met in Cabo Verde. Fabien got me in contact with Aliou, a journalist, but studied and lived most of his time in Senegal. He had just gotten back to Bissau about three years ago and was working as a freelance journalist.
He took me around Bissau and showed me the main points of interest. There were not that many and it only took around three hours of walking.
Here is a list:
· Presidential Palace
· Mercado Central (Main Market)
· Igreja Catolica da Bissau
· National Museum
We had local lunch at a very busy spot next to the government finance building. We ordered a dish called Caldo Blanco, which was fish with vegetables topped over rice.
It tasted very good and I enjoyed this dish so much that I ordered another helping. I went there the next day again, to try the Mankara dish, but this one was pretty interesting. It was a peanut sauce based dish with tripe in it. I was surprised to see tripe, but I have eaten tripe soup in the past in Asia, so it was not a problem for me. I do prefer the Caldo Blanco over Mankara. I wish I could write the name of the place, but there was no name and it was across the basketball court next to the finance building. They have a little supermarket inside the restaurant and has two floors with the television playing Guinean pop songs. Not sure if that helped, but do look for this place if you go to Bissau.
On one evening, I played football with the kids at the soccer field next to the pension. There were loads of people playing and I was invited to play with them. The kids were very skillful and fast and it was fun playing with them. I noticed that I need to brush up on my skills and start running more often to stay fit.
Bissau was a boring city in my perspective (mainly because I did not know anyone there and was there on a week day) and there was very little to do. Most of the stores and restaurants closed early and the center was like a dead city in the dark.
Next time, I would love to visit the islands or Varela or the interior of the country. I heard from many people that the islands were quite interesting.
If you plan on going to the airport from the city center, the cheap method is to take a shared van that goes all the way to the airport for around 300 CFA. The other method is to take a taxi directly there for around 1000 CFA during the day or 1500 at night. There is a restaurant on the 2nd floor of the airport which has close to Western prices, but the airconditioning is great and they have free wifi.
There you go, that was my trip to Bissau and that ends my West Africa trip. I have stopped my trip at 153 countries and will start visiting again when I commence work at some point.
· Currency – West African CFA Franc
· Money Exchange – There were several money exchanges around the business district and ATM machines.
· Internet was available, but very slow.
· Language – Portuguese is the official language, but a lot of people speak their local dialects.
Where to stay
I stayed at Pensao Creola, based on reviews from TripAdvisor and heard a lot of foreigners stay there. While I was there, there was not a single person during my 3 nights. The price was 21 Euros for a single room with shared bathroom. They had wifi there and the owner was friendly.
I did not find any hostels in Bissau, but there were several mid-sized hotels. It all seemed like it was pretty run down. I saw a new Spanish hotel being constructed on the main street. This one looked modern, but should be ready in a couple of years.
Where to eat
There were not that many restaurants in town. I struggled to get food on a Sunday evening, but luckily, the hotels were open for food. Unless you go to a local restaurant, you will be paying between 10 to 15 Euros for places that are frequented by foreigners.
- Don’t plan on staying in Bissau too long. One night will be sufficient in Bissau.
- When leaving Bissau from the airport, there is a restaurant on the second floor and they have free wifi and very good air-conditioning.
- If you can, you need to book a trip to the islands.
- The interior of the country is supposedly beautiful.
- After the heinous accident I had, I will never take public transportation again. You are risking your life being on one of those, since the vehicles are very old and they are rarely monitored. I recommend hiring a private taxi.
- Always negotiate before entering a taxi.
I visited in August 2017.