After a very quick and smooth border crossing between Senegal and Guinea-Bissau, our trip continued rather uneventfully, onto the capital, Bissau. The frequency of young kids selling cashews at speedbumps increased exponentially on our approach to the city and Bissau seemed to be an interesting mix of shiny new buildings and tin sheds.
Trying to Get From Bissau to Guinea
I’d been given information by a hotel in Bissau that I could get a car straight to Conakry for 6000CFA, around €9, so I made my way to the local garage to organise the trip. Once at the garage, a man named Bato told me there was no direct car to Conakry and that I needed to go to Gabu, a town in eastern Guinea-Bissau, and get another car from there. He helped me find the car and gave me directions for what to do when I got to Gabu, along with his phone number. He then asked for money, which I didn’t give him.
When the driver was ready to go, he told us to get in the car, but 2 passengers had walked off somewhere. That meant we were just sitting in a stuffy, hot car waiting. After a few minutes, I got back out, cause it was too hot to handle. The guys who’d wandered off, finally came back and were told off by the driver and other people in the car, so they turned to me, the only person that didn’t yell at them, and said sorry. Then we finally left. I’d been told it was 4 hours to Gabu, but it only took 2.5. Underestimated journey time? That’s a first for Africa!
Gabu seems to be a tiny little town that pretty much just consists of dirt roads lined with people selling things, taxis, a mosque and a garage. There isn’t even a bank. Once there, a guy that was in my shared taxi from Bissau tried to help me find a flag, then went to get a car to where he was going.
I found the car to Conakry. It was probably the most expensive ride yet at 12,000CFA (€18), but I’d been misinformed by my hotel in Bissau that it would be 6000CFA (€9), so that’s all I had. The bus guys, plus some others that spoke bits of English, rallied round to help and see how I could get to Conakry. They eventually decided that the driver would let me pay the other half when I could get some cash out in Guinea. Great, crisis averted.
They also advised that the trip from this region of Guinea-Bissau to Guinea could take up to 24 hours, for around 500km, due to the bad roads between there and Boké. Most of that would be spent on the first 200km as the road is good for the last 300km to Conakry. Oh well, all part of the adventure that is Africa!
Unexpected Stop In Gabu
So 4pm rocks around and we still needed another 8 people for the van to be full enough to leave Guinea-Bissau. The van guys decided that we wouldn’t be leaving today, so ‘the boss’ took me back to his place to sleep for the night and they promised me they’d find the people to fill the van in the morning.
By that time, there’d been a bit of rain, so the ground was getting a bit muddy and chickens were hiding under vehicles to shelter from it. The rain subsided for a bit, but then came back with a vengeance. It rained heavily for hours, which didn’t bode well for the next day’s trip. There was a good chance the roads would be super crappy, or even impassable. Awesome.
Oja, the boss’s son who speaks a little bit of English, came to ask me what I wanted to eat. Shortly after, the boss arrived with some lamb belly! After dinner, some girls came in and started talking to me. They didn’t know much English, but we all knew a little bit of Spanish, so that was the fall back language when we couldn’t understand each other. They were asking me about my trip and one of them, who inexplicably hated Mauritania, wanted me to take her back to Hong Kong.
They taught me some French and I taught them some Chinese, before one of them started showing me some music videos from artists in Senegal, Guinea and Guinea-Bissau. I don’t think the music was really my kind of music, but to tell the truth, most of the video clips were quite hilarious and the clothes the artist were wearing were pretty unique.
Gabu, Guinea-Bissau – Day 2
When I woke up, the boss man took me back to the station to wait for the seats in the bus to fill up. We were finally ready to go around 11am. It was then that the driver decided he wouldn’t take me cause he was scared of possible anti-government strikes near the border area. I’ll state for the record here that he didn’t give a crap about the Africans in the van, just me. There was about an hour of arguing that ensued, where half the bus tried to convince the driver it was alright, but the driver, who was acting quite irrational by that point, wasn’t having it.
I asked a guy who spoke a little bit of English and had been helping me all day, if there had been any strikes that hit any vehicles and he said no. He added that the problem was that the driver had probably not gone to school and therefore had irrational fears about going to jail if something happened to a foreigner in his car. Well, okay then.
The next van to Conakry was due to leave the next day. The driver from that bus who was a lot less irrational than the previous driver, came over and said he would take me, no problem. When I stated that I’d already waited a day and my friends would be worried about me, (because by this point, I hadn’t been in contact with the outside world in almost 2 days), all the guys around guaranteed it would leave that day. I didn’t really believe them, but what other choice did I have?
After waiting many hours, there were still 8 vacant seats, so leaving that day was looking more and more unlikely. The boss man took me to get some eggs and a random guy in the shop bought me another 2 when I’d finished the first 2, even though we couldn’t have a conversation because we shared no common languages. You can tell a lot about people by what they do for strangers.
By 16:30 there were still about 5 vacant seats and it was obvious we wouldn’t be leaving that day. The boss man took me back to his place again and I was really starting to wonder if I’d ever get out Gabu.
Back at the boss’s place, another family member that I hadn’t met the night before, started talking to me. He’s one of the few people in the town that has finished school and is interested in studying further. He’s actually quite passionate about it, but he can’t do it in Bissau because he said the universities aren’t good enough. He wants to study overseas, but said it’s very difficult to get into and pay for an overseas education when you’re from a developing country. It’s sad that a higher education isn’t available to someone so eager to learn.
Gabu, Guinea-Bissau to Conakry, Guinea
The next morning, the van was finally full and ready to go, so I made my way back to the garage and after a few goodbyes, I breathed a huge sigh of relief when we actually started moving.
After a few hours driving on pretty crappy roads, we stopped in town little town called Pitche for Guinea-Bissau immigration clearance, then we turned onto a dirt road, which was actually in much better condition than the ‘sealed’ road we’d been travelling on from Gabu. About 20 minutes down the road from there was a small river, which also happened to be the border between Guinea-Bissau and Guinea.
A small ferry crossing was required, but the ferry was on the other side of the river, with no operator in sight. Some of the guys from our van, plus the driver, just stood near the river bank and keep yelling until someone came and started moving the ferry to our side of the river. The whole process took a little while, so we had to wait a bit.
The ferry was basically just a floating platform that moved along a kind of zipline across the river. Some idiot on the ferry tried to grab my phone from me because he thought I’d taken a photo of him. The thing is, I was just holding the phone and the screen wasn’t even on. Mind you, they’d been trying to take pictures of me when they thought I wasn’t looking, then tried to deny it, so whatever. After about 5 minutes of the ferry guys pulling the cable to move us through the water, we were across the small river.
In a few words – dirt roads and boars
Language – Portuguese
Currency – West African Franc (CFA)
WiFi availability – 📶📶📶
There are some big hotels that have pretty decent WiFi and will generally let you into their compound to use it if you say you need it to contact people.
Transport – 🚗🚗
🚘 Guinea-Bissau saw the return of the squeezy shared taxis like the ones in northern Senegal, but for a higher price.
🚐 Less squeezy 4WD vans were available for longer trips where the roads were less than great.
Roads – 🛣🛣
While there were sealed roads on major routes from the Senegal border to Bissau, they didn’t seem to be very well maintained until you got closer to the capital. After leaving the capital, there were a lot more dirt roads and they were often better to drive on than some of the sealed roads.
Scenery – 🌳🏞🏖🌳🏞
Guinea-Bissau was almost completely green, aside from a few beaches in the central areas of towns and cities.
Prices, – 💰💰
It was a little more expensive than the countries proceeding it, but still good for a budget conscious traveller. Roadside snacks cost around 700 CFA (€1) and meals at restaurants could be found for around 3000 CFA (€4.6)
Checkpoints – I did not encounter any checkpoints in Guinea-Bissau.
Border efficiency – 🛃🛃🛃🛃
The borders I passed through were small and easy to navigate without signage. I probably spent less than 5 minutes at each one.
Corruption level – No corruption was evident.
Overall – 👍👍👍