After our travels around Senegal, we stayed in Gambia for a while and took trips up and down the river Gambia both on the motorbike and with the truck.
And as we did, we encountered the one constant we have become accustomed to in this part of the world, Police stops, which are relentless and boring, especially when they ask what is in the truck and want us to open up to see inside which means pulling off the road, stopping the truck, pulling out the stairs and allowing access before doing all the same in reverse, just so the officers can stand at the door way and nod their heads and say “okay, that’s fine.” Not really good fun in 35+ Degrees and humidity levels to make you cry.
Usually, a small gift of Tea or sugar helps pave the way, but it’s something we don’t agree with, but admittedly have adopted in some cases, just to make life easier. That all said, we didn’t expect, what we were asked when stopped near the border to Senegal. During a routine Police stop the policeman hauled himself up on the steps of the truck to be at eye level with us and then asked – “Do you have any money, food or water. I have no food to feed my family” This is something new and shocking. We obliged with a little help and were soon on our way, but highlight there must be a real problem that we don’t understand?
These relentless stops started to make us question our legality and integrity, and so the habit developed that whoever was co-pilot would often pass time checking and checking again our papers as we started to disbelieve our own position.
After some time in Gambia, we headed for Guinea Bissau via Senegal where we got our visas to enter Guinea Bissau. The visas were issued by the smallest Consulate building we had ever seen and no bigger than a small house, but our visas were prepared in a flash.
Flushed with success we thought we would chance our arm (no pun intended) and we moved on to the local hospital to enquire about Covid jabs and emerged from the grim unkempt hospital premises with stiff arms and our first Covid certificate all logged in a paper journal in the hospital for future reference? Not a computer in sight.
The validity of these vaccinations for the UK though is more than questionable, as we heard from a friend recently who had a Vaccination in Wales and the second in England, and had to stand her corner to get the Welsh jab recognized, so an AstraZeneca jab from Senegal, I don’t think so.
I have to say though, it was seamless and took around 15 minutes from enquiry to stiff arm syndrome.
So, all set, the transfer from Senegal to the Guinea Bissau border took a couple of hours and once in Guinea Bissau we turned a straight right and headed west as we had been told of a super beach resort 50km west but the road might be a bit challenging!
After approximately 20km, we called it a day and turned around. We had lost a roof rail, pulled off by low hanging tree branches, as well as totally destroyed the wiring for the solar panels, similarly ripped out by low hanging trees.
Low trees and completely unmade and deeply potholed roads made passing impossible and so we decided to head for Bissau, the capital city of Guinea Bissau and only real significant town in the country.
Bissau lays approximately 150km south of the border and we set off midafternoon and made plans to wild camp when we saw a good spot.
The Flora of Guinea Bissau is such that the only break in swamp land and densely populated tree and shrub land is for settlements or villages, and as time drew on we didn’t want to ask at a village for a safe stopping area, as the light was already failing and it would probably be a struggle to make our request understood, so we pushed on.
There appeared to be no suitable stopping opportunities until we chanced upon a commercial garage where we stopped (the first real building we had seen since entering the country) and enquired about possibly parking for the night. The night watchmen (there appeared to be one with several friends)? agreed on a price of 5000 CFA or around 6 quid for a place to park and overnight security.
The following morning the group of watchmen awakened us at 06.00 hrs.
This then gave us an easy run of around 120km down to Bissau city and plenty of time that day to find a suitable base to continue our exploration of Guinea Bissau.
We traveled the main road in the whole country of Guinea Bissau known as the N1. This road was mainly dirt track and deeply scared dirt track at that, and the 120km took us around 8 hours to complete, with again, little chance of wild camping as it was mainly swamp or Mangrove with no open space to pull off the road.
The N1 was just about the only road in Guinea Bissau with any tarmac at all. A phenomenon we had never encountered before and quite astounding.
Guinea Bissau is still under Portuguese influence, with Portuguese as the main spoken language, and Portuguese beer being sold in numerous “hole in the wall” type bars all over Bissau. Far more bars than anywhere else we had seen in Western Africa so far and despite being a strong Muslim population of around 45% against 22% Christians, they love to drink beer it would appear.
Signs for Sagres, Super Bock and Cristal beers advertised everywhere once we reached Bissau town.
Music was also a major factor with many bars, no matter how small or dingy, advertising live music. A factor we took advantage of during our stay!
In the city (I use the term lightly) of Bissau, there were the usual array of street vendors and a smattering of western type shops as well as a number of guys on the street with wheel barrows. The barrows all neat and marked with a number. It transpired that the guys worked for a master and were around to transport goods, of any type and size, from A to B around the city.
With the cost of a taxi so low, it wasn’t worth paying, I wonder what these poor guys were getting paid to push a barrow around?
Another observation was that on virtually every street corner were piles of clothing. Mainly just piled up in heaps, these clothes were all second-hand western clothes and after investigation, we found out they were the excess clothes from the clothing banks we all use all over the developed world. The deal being, the charity shops can’t sell all we give so they sell to merchants, who sort the excess and bundle it and sell it on to third world countries to wear as well as selling some as rags etc.
At least it gets used and the charity shops get an income and the locals get a chance to wear western quality clothing.
Our entry into Guinea Bissau was at the start of July and the start of the rainy season and true to form, the rain came and lots of it. Not constant and not every day, but when it came, it really came.
Flash floods appeared and roads where too deep to walk or even drive in some cases.
The temperature went up as did the humidity- A lot!
Walking just 100 meters became a challenge.
The mosquitos grew to twice the size overnight and an array of flying insects of assorted colors, shapes and sizes also joined the party.
If they were viewed from behind glass, they would have been fascinating but up close and personnel. Not so sure.
Antihistamine became a regular with our morning coffee.
Despite having mosquito nets on all windows and doors, they still found a way into the truck.
Western Africa also has numerous redundant Termite mounds all over the countryside, which we had seen constantly during our travels. But the mounds are treated immediately to eradicate the Termites as all local homes are built from wood and the Termites eat the wood, so they are not tolerated. Despite this they still swarm during the rainy season as they hatch en masse and then fly en masse like unmanned aircraft, landing where the wind takes them and then drop their wings and start to look to build more mounds.
So, when we had a swarm land on the truck, it wasn’t the most pleasant of experiences and as we had our roof hatch open with the mosquito net on, we had a swarm of Termites flying and losing their wings directly above us.
As the net was on and sealed by Velcro, the Termites couldn’t get in to the truck, but we couldn’t open the net to shut the hatch either? So, we had no option other than to try and sleep with the creatures buzzing around above our heads……...
I have attached a small video of the night time and a photograph of the carnage the next day, when they had all met their end ,as we spent the night burning Mosquito coils and spraying the net from the inside, as well as sealing around the Mosquito net with Electrical tape to ensure the Velcro didn’t giveaway.
This had to be one of the most revolting experiences of my life.
We were able to deal with the aftermath the next day and I was glad to see the back of them.
We continued our journey and whilst driving through Bissau we were diverted by the local police onto a back road and despite our protests as the road was small and our truck is big! We obliged only to snag an electric cable on our broken roof rail.
Having stopped all the traffic, I have to admit having a minor panic, as what to do to free ourselves from the cable as reversing wasn’t working. The cable had become trapped and as we tried to work out a way forward, two locals shimmied up our truck in a flash, and so I felt obliged to follow them despite my nervousness.
When I got on the roof, the locals had a hold on this live electricity cable, and despite telling them it wasn’t safe, they released the cable and told me it was okay as they had gloves on?
The cable hung like a sagging clothes line, making it hard for even cars to pass under, as we had pulled it even further out of shape.
Guinea Bissau was as far south we could get due to all borders further south being closed for you know what!
After a lot of soul searching, we went back to Gambia where we have parked our truck in secure parking before heading back to Europe to travel through Eastern Europe (Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania, Serbia etc.)
The plan is to travel back to Blighty for my daughter’s wedding late October and then head to Gambia early November, drive south if borders are open or ship to South Africa and continue from there.
It was a hard decision and although we are still following our will to travel the world, we desperately miss our truck.
I write this from a rented apartment in North Macedonia with a lovely city view, but Africa gets into your blood, and we both miss the chaos we have left behind.
Roll on November, we want to go back to our home.
Oh, and we also filmed for series 2 of Million Pound Mega Motorhomes for channel 5 TV in The Gambia. This will be broadcast on British TV next year I would imagine.
I may take a short rest from writing dependent on our travels, and resume again when we continue our travels in November.
Thank you for reading my blog