Friday, 27 April 2007

I've done something wrong with uploading it; it should link to a fantastic website creating educational opportunities for children & teenagers in Africa in memory of KingaFreespirit

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

It's not over yet!

Having been following the events of late January & early February of the strikes & the ruthless killing by the military under the orders of President Conte, I felt helpless sitting here in Europe. I was in touch with Steve, the guy I met in the brothel in Bissau who was travelling a few days behind Gianni and I; we were in touch by SMS. Steve was in Conakry, surrounded by sporadic fighting, reckless bullets being fired and trying to help the Guineans who were looking after him.

The amount of wonderful Guineans I met who's fate I'm unaware of; currently I'm now trying to organise some sort of funding to get a vehicle & medical supplies to a village in Guinea. I would hope to go over towards the end of 2007.

Tentatively I'm going to start a blog; please read on about this project ...

Sunday, 14 January 2007

Dakar Arrival

Arriving at the airport I wondered if Gianni would be there, my Italian friend I'd met last year whilst hitching into Mauritania. I wasn't too worried I knew where we were meant to be staying; in Yoff at an auberge run by a Swiss woman, Ruth; - Auberge Keur Diame.

Clearing customs was a nightmare, they decided to investigate the contents of my backpack - most of which was childrens clothes & shoes that I was intending to take down to Guinea Bissau. After a bit of a battle with customs I saw Gianni's face outside against the window. It was great to see my travelling partner again and be back in Africa.

We walked a few hundred metres from the airport to get a taxi at a reasonable price. Quotes of 10,000 CFA were being given to us which we ignored and found one on the road out of the airport at the correct rate of 1,500CFA to Yoff.

We went up onto the roof terrace to catch up on the eight months since Gianni had passed my house with his wife Barbara. Luckily I'd bought some chorizio in Spain a few weeks before and a bottle of Rioja whilst between flights in Madrid earlier. The obligatory bottle of gin was waiting for our trip to start!

I'd done a lot of research into this trip which was to take us down to Guinea Bissau and onto Guinea. Between myself and a Czech traveller we put it all on another blog:

Dakar Station, for trains to Bamako

Decisions, decisions ......

We went to central Dakar the first morning, initially to the port to look at the prices & times of Le Wilis - the new boat to Casamance. I was keen to go by road, Gianni wasn't bothered either way but we had to consider both time & money

Looking at price of 18,500CFA for a couchette each, it made sense to get the boat down to Casamance rather than pay a variety of taxi brousse to Gambia, change currency to Dalasi and find our way out of Gambia and then back into Senegal to Ziguinchor. Added to which we would have had to pay for a night somewhere along the road, an additional expense!

We bought the ticket for the following night's boat and walked into town looking for somewhere to eat and generally milling around. We were both shocked by the amount of small shops owned by Chinese, these small outlets used to be Senegalese owned & run. Now the Chinese have bought them up and have one or two Senegalese working for them.

Boredom & itchy feet

Dakar is expensive. There's no getting away from it and money was literally falling out of our pockets. I was desperate to get going but we had over 24hrs to kill before our ferry left. The auberge was 18,000CFA for the two of us a night, 30euros - well beyond my planned budget and Gianni had an extra 11,000CFA for the night prior to my arrival. But there wasn't any getting away from it.

The following day we wandered around Yoff and walked to Camberene along the coast, not far at all but happily managed to get ourselves lost for a while to kill time.

We went to the port a bit earlier than planned and found a lot of people looking rather grim as they weren't able to get a ticket on Le Wilis. According to a French lady who lives in Zigchuinor this was a bit unusual and she couldn't work out why the boat was fully booked at this time of year. Spending a few hours in the bar with her and a few bottles of Gazelle we waited for the shuttle bus to take us down to the boat.

We boarded the shuttle bus and whilst talking I suddenly realised my little bag was smouldering. I thought initially someone had dropped a cigarette onto it, I tipped out the complete contents onto the floor of the bus to find that my rechargable batteries had made contact with an earring in there, I managed to cover my little finger in hot plastic, my first small injury!!!

Le Wilis

We left Dakar about 2hrs late.

The reason we were fully booked became apparent after we'd all boarded the boat. Suddenly several army trucks turned up and unloaded 250 Senegalese military. The boat was very full and noisy, we spent most of the evening in the bar with the French lady and another French guy who'd thoughtfully bought a lot of beer as the prices on board were astronomical. However the staff were none too thrilled that these 'toubabs' were drinking in their bar having bought the drink elsewhere!

The couchettes were comfortable, as I'd booked with Gianni I was in the mens dorm but managed to persuade someone to change their couchette with me so that I could be between the wall and Gianni. The crew were extremely friendly, to the point that Gianni told one of them that we were married; unbeknown to me. I mistakenly managed to unfortunately dispell that rumour within minutes, as I didn't realise he'd said it!!! We got away from them all and went up on deck to attack the bottle of Fanta mixed with some of the gin whilst deliberating whether we had time & money to get as far as Liberia; somewhere I'd love to see and Gianni needed an English speaker to go there ... we were keen but it never came off!

We got up at dawn to see the sun rising over the fleuve we had just entered that would lead us down river to Ziguinchor, a gorgeous sight made even better when dolphins started swimming alongside the boat!
Passing lots of small fishing villages, we finally got to Ziguichnor on time at 11am, finally I felt that we'd made progress, Gianni pointed out that we weren't doing the 'Tour of Africa' ... I was just thrilled to be away from Dakar!
Our arrival into Zig, with endless soldiers wanting to pose for the camera once they realised it was digitial and they could see the results!!!


I was enamoured with Zig, generally a friendly town, very laid back in comparison with Dakar. We were immediately picked up by every taxi driver in town but kept walking out of the port area as we weren't sure where to stay and desperately needed a coffee.

Refreshed, we left a cafe and headed for an auberge mentioned in the Italian Lonely Planet, Keur N'dame (? I think). Arriving there we immediately decided against it, filthy and without showers. We hoped to find something a little better at CasaAfrique. Trudging through town with taxi drivers stopping to offer us a lift at ridiculous prices we arrived at CasaAfrique and found a great room having already been enchanted by it's garden coverered in hibiscus.

For 8,000CFA between the two of us it was a great choice. The owner offered us a better rate of 650CFA -1Euro as opposed to 640 in Dakar. As it was a Saturday we were going to have to stay until at least Monday morning so as to organise our Guinea-Bissau visas at the consulate in Zig.

We wandered around town for the rest of the day, got annoyed by touts and made friends with a jewellery selling tout determined to sell us something; we finally had the last laugh as I tried to sell him some of the jewellery I had on ...

Sitting in a cafe wandering where to eat as there didn't seem to be much open, we heard a lot of noise from outside ... a wedding procession.

Unfortunately the light wasn't good, so the pictures are very unclear ...

Killing time in Zig

There isn't too much to do in Zig without getting in a vehicle and exploring the surrounding area which is meant to be beautiful. Being a tightfisted pair, we wandered on foot around town prefering to save money that we might need later on during the trip.

Late afternoon we went off in a different direction towards the church and came across some pigs with their young foraging in the grass beside the road. Gianni noticed them first and as I had the camera out already and took a photo or two ... BAD MOVE.

Suddenly someone came up to us and started yelling at me that he was the pig's owner and demanded 2,000CFA for the photos. I looked at him and asked if he was really the owner, he insisted and wanted the money. I suggested that all 3 of us go to the gendarmerie and discuss it there. He wandered off still protesting that he was entitled to money ... we continued walking chuckling to ourselves ... but the story didn't end there!

Being a Sunday there was a lot of the centre of town shut but we bumped into Antoni, Scicilian working as an architect in Switzerland that Gianni had travelled with from Mauritania to St. Louis a few weeks earlier. Antoni was with 3 others, an Aussie, Korean & Parisien. They knew an excellent restaurant on the other side of town that they'd been to the night before so we all walked over to have the most amazing meal with a waitress that definately hadn't been to 'smile school' who managed to drop a plate of fish ends in my lap!!!

Jacques, the Parisien, was telling us about the drama that had happened 4 days earlier. He was concerned for our safety as we were due to cross to Guinea Bissau the following day once we'd got our visas in the morning. Apparently a German priest's car was ambushed on the road near the border (known for problems) and everything was stolen, to the point that the priest had to strip and walked back to Zig in his underpants; funny, but not so funny!

We left the restaurant and headed back to our hotels, to discover the 4 of them were staying in the place opposite CasaAfrique. They had an early start to get to Tambacounda, we had to be at the Consulate for 9am or so, we weren't sure of the opening times ...

Visas & Borders ...

Arriving back at CasaAfrique I went to bed. Gianni came into the room to tell me that there was a rat in the bathroom. Knowing I am petrified of rats I thought he was winding me up, but then he started hopping around the room and I laughed and said it must be a kangaroo that's managed to get to Africa!!! Eventually I worked out that he didn't know the word for 'frog' in French and it was a frog in the bathroom hopping around!!!

We got up earlier than normal to pack and get ready for the Guinea Bissau Consulate & the drive south.

Arriving at the Consulate just before 9am, we were thrilled to find it open already and met Luiz the consul who'd cut off the top of his thumb in an accident. Amazingly he had the visa's ready in 10mins for the cost of 10,000CFA compared to the 20,000CFA normally paid in Dakar. I asked him what he knew about a village called Varela on the coast just the other side of the border from Cap Skirring (Senegal). He knew it and knew the owner of 'Chez Helene' a lady called Fatima and said it would be a great place to see.

We set off immediately for the gare routiere to find a taxi. We got a 7 seater Peugeot for 1,900CFA to Sao Domingos and then had a massive argument about the price of our luggage. He wanted 2,000CFA a piece, I was prepared to pay 250CFA and whilst the baggage guy and Gianni were arguing I pulled both our packs off the roof and started walking. The driver of the car was upset and asked me what I was doing, I told him that the price was ridiculous and I was off to find another vehicle. He told me that he'd accept 500CFA and I agreed to it; Gianni was still mid-argument when I told him and then an argument ensued between the driver and baggage guy. We got into the vehicle whilst they were sorting out their money!

The 19km to the Senegalese border at M'Pack was quick and on a good road. The Senegalese police were remarkably restrained in not asking for any money and we got back into the car which then failed to start. We were pushed by some workmen (who were paid for their small effort) and continued on about 2km to the Guinea Bissau border post. Whilst talking to the police I noticed our packs being moved and realised that we were changing cars too. Leaving the border we drove the final 8km at high speed; I was subsquently told that that piece of road was the most dangerous for ambushes.