Sunday, 14 January 2007

Christmas Day - never to be forgotten!

I was awake a lot of the night, for a change I didn't have Gianni's snoring or Steve's sleeptalking to contend with, but rats in the attic and baby Saly in the room adjoining who'd coughed & cried all night. But it was the rats that ran around all night that made me petrified and unable to sleep, stupid really!

By 6am I'd had enough and attempted to get out of bed; I could hear a few of the wives outside the bedroom and smelt that a fire had been lit. As my feet almost touched the ground, I felt something squidgy and being a complete fool pulled my foot back into bed. A few minutes later a grinning Mamadou sat up at my side of the bed. I had had no idea he was in the room too and laughed, waking Gianni - yet again my rat fears had got the better of me!!!

I went outside the room leaving the guys talking; one of the wives offered me a bucket of water and I went out to the bathroom enclosure; a rush fence with two sheets of corrugated iron as a door. There was an incredible morning mist enveloping Bambadinca ...

The previous evening, little Moussa had been watching my every move, fascinated by my camera I think. As I was showering & changing, I realised he was just outside the bathroom wrapped up in a towel; watching me again .. he was so sweet!

We got our stuff together and with Mamadou started to say our goodbyes .. it was sad to leave but we had agreed that we'd find a good hotel for Christmas day and take the day off from travel .. sit back and relax; we were still aiming for Xitole or a hotel near the Saltinho Falls.

It took us a while to leave, they all wanted to say goodbye, some of them weren't up and around yet; the parents were praying ..
We headed back into town and got picked up by the driver who'd driven us the night before. He took us all for breakfast where we met a radio journalist from Bafata who was thrilled to have some foreigners to talk to. Mamadou found a van going to Quebo, so we all set off again from Bambadinca market at 10am or so, Gianni & I for a hotel above the Saltinho Falls and Mamadou for his Quebo chickens.
The minibus dropped us off at the hotel. We walked up the drive to be greeted by an enthusiastic guardian, shame his employers didn't feel the same way. We waited almost an hour for someone to open a door to the hotel, the whole place was completely locked up. A woman stuck her head out and grumpily asked what we wanted and then told us it was 30,000CFA for the night. With little chance of anything at this place - they didn't have coffee for starters; we turned her down and walked down to the bridge over the falls wondering if the hotel on an island nearby would be better.Standing at the end of the bridge, we got the guides back out and talked to a few people passing from the nearby village. We then realised to our horror that the hotel on the island was 4km downstream and judging by the last hotel, it could also be closed. We were now in the middle of nowhere in blazing sun with nowhere to go and it was Christmas Day!!!
Gianni doesn't like walking but I suggested we at least walk up to the village, it wasn't far at all ... and better than hanging around on the bridge in the vain hope that a taxi would pass. We started walking up to the village and realised how small it was and really didn't know what to do next. The village, Sintcha Sambel was small and we were greeted by the whole village who were astonished to see two foreigners walk in. One of them spoke French to a degree and helped us - by telling us that our best option was to go onto Quebo the border town, and stay there.

We waited over an hour in the village for some transport with a spare seat, durng this time we were offered drinks, food & met most of the village ... including Mamie, the grandmother of all grandmothers who we were told was 100 years old. She was delighted to see us ... came up and kissed us both and was an incredible lady if she was 100!

As usual my camera caused a stir with all the children desperate to be in a photo that they could see on the screen! Eventually we heard an engine of another minibus, one of the villagers flagged it down for us and after a bit of negoiation by the elders with the driver, we got in and waved goodbye!Our minibus got us to Quebo and we were 'pounced' on by the police who'd been playing checkers. They wanted our passports before we disappeared anywhere in the village and to know what we were doing there. We explained that we were looking for somewhere to stay ... Gianni went off with one of the policeman's friends whilst I went through a few questions, they came back and I was told that there wasn't a hotel in the village, just a few rooms off a cafe run by a woman who clearly didn't want foreigners staying there. We were really stuck now!
We asked if anyone knew of the Guinean Consul who's name I'd been given in Bissau. Again, Gianni went off searching to find that he'd left for Bissau the day before. Our next idea was to cross the border. No chance we were told, all the transport for the border had already left. We were doomed & it was Christmas Day!

I went off to find lunch whilst Gianni studied his big map of West Africa with my smaller one of Guinea outside the police & immigration post. Weirdly, I found a Mauritanian owned shop directly opposite who had our supplies of sardines, la vache qui rit & coke .. outside was some fresh bread and we started lunch whilst talking to the female immigration officer. She shed some new light on our predicament; there was a truck leaving at 4pm for the border. In the situation we were in and the fact it should reach Boke in Guinea before midnight, we agreed to get our passports stamped with an exit visa and waited!

Eventually, earlier than planned; the immigration lady took us down the street to the truck and told us it was 4,000CFA to Boke, a 75km journey. On the map it looked 'straightforward' piste along the border and then crossing the border just west of Sansale (Guinea) before heading up to Boke.

We climbed on board with about 20 Guineans all heading home. A mixed bunch, we had a 7-month old baby, a few toddlers, an 8 year old boy with his two chickens in a box (that didn't survive the journey!) and quite a few interesting adults. We set off from Quebo, Gianni later pointed out that the immigration lady gave a rather interesting smile, like she knew what kind of a journey we were in for! We were elated to be moving towards a hotel, I sat back and now knew that I'd be able to call home tonight.

We got to a village after about an hour, everyone got off and for some reason we had our passports checked again although this was still apparently Guinea Bissau. Quite a few others joined us here and extra sacks of nuts were added to our small load. We were no longer sitting on the floor of the truck but a 'sack high' and it was a little more cramped than the previous hour!We continued on and the bush got thicker, more like rain forest with endless palms, it was stunningly beautiful in it's own way. The added complication was the amount of branches that were now hitting the truck causing us all to keep our heads down. Then we turned onto a rougher piste and were being jolted around, I didn't like the way the truck was swaying due to the difficult terrain. Looking through the cracks in the side of the truck we got to what looked like another small village beside a river. The truck traversed the river with some difficulty and we continued on with shouts in Soso of 'wowoya' which were cries of attention to the ever descending branches, complete with bugs that flew off onto us.

Just before 7pm we reached the Guinean border, a small village of huts. A few soldiers came out to meet us and Gianni got off the truck with our passports. Whilst he was dealing with immigration, the customs officer came out. A little man, very officious started demanding money from us all. I ignored him until he turned on me and suddenly the Guineans heard me speaking English; I refused to answer him in French. One of the other men came to assist him and told me to get off the truck. I almost did as I was asked before realising that I wasn't meant to be able to understand. The first officer then started shouting 'Money'; I shrugged my shoulders and told him that I didn't have any. Eventually we moved off again.

Not much further on we stopped; in the middle of the bush, the driver came to the back and let us all out. He told me that we had to get off and walk, for two reasons; this area of the border was prone to ambushes and the piste was due to get worse so there was a risk of the truck going over. Gianni wasn't too happy about it and wasn't keen to leave the truck; eventually we agreed to and paid our 4,000CFA fare and getting 24,000Franc Guinean change before heading down the track with the others.

We walked about a kilometre in fading light; the track was rough and then we got to a small river which was very swamp-like with a few logs in place to cross it. Luckily I had my torch and could see what I was doing admist the most incredible noises coming from the bush around us. We got to the other side and found a clearing where everyone was waiting for the truck, behind us was a village which was apparently a military post. The truck appeared with one of the guys sitting on the cabin roof with a torch as the lights obviously didn't work!

We carried on for another hour in the dark inside the truck. Finally we reached a village, it was about 9pm and it was clear we weren't going any further tonight. There was a river ahead that we would have to cross by pirogue, so the decision was made that we'd spend the night here. I had been given the baby earlier by it's mother who had been passing him around. He was fast asleep on my shoulder, my 'new' friend N'Sira got off and I asked her where the mother was, she didn't know but one of the men motioned for me to pass the baby over the side of the truck to him. I climbed off and joined Gianni outside a small hut. This was Christmas night and we discovered that we had about 2L of water left, some bread from lunch together with 'la vache qui rit' and like magic, Gianni discovered one more chorizio sausage at the bottom of his pack!

N'Sira came over to us explaining that she'd organised some accomodation for us. We were given a hut in the village. The young guy whom it belonged asked N'Sira quietly for payment, Gianni overheard a figure of 2,000 being mentioned but wasn't sure if it was CFA or Franc Guineen; it turned out to be Franc Guineen. We tried to pay N'Sira back, but she wasn't having any of it; typically Guinean, she was very hospitable and told us we were her guests in her country. The guy disappeared off into the dark to stay with neighbours. Everyone finally settled down for the night.


Mehalia said...

This is great info to know.

U. W. BALDE said...

This is so great, Brings back some memories and I just saw some familiar faces! That Truck has been running from Quebo to Boke since I was a little kid in early 1990s. The last time I went to Boke was in june 1997, took the same road and it was rainig heavily. I wanted to take it again when I whent home in 2008 but I didn't get the chance to go from Bissau to Boke (Guinea)because my grandma who I wanted to visit in Quebo came to meet me in Bissau.

Thank you for this blog, great job to share this your experience.

U. W. BALDE said...

O.M.G, I miss the bridge of Saltinho!