Dawn was breaking as we drove out of Abene.
We were heading on an adventure and I was excited, especially following the previous days flight as described here. Then this happened. Oh well, it wouldn’t be an African road trip without some problem.
The driver, Jedabaye, had it fixed in minutes and off we went again. We’d stopped in Ziguinchor for cash and supplies and were now headed another 20km to the Bissau border. There was the usual kerfuffle and an added twist. Chris, Sue and Paul had purchased their visas on the brand spanking shiny new Guinea Bissau visa website. News of this hadn’t appeared to trickle through to this border (probably the second biggest entry point after the international airport) and they demanded a receipt to prove payment. This despite the fact the visas were only issued after payment was accepted and there was no receipt. The solution – for there always is one – was for one of the border guys to come with us to a police station in Buba, a couple of hours down the road. He was a young guy, but rather unpleasant. I was travelling in the pick up truck with Jedabaye. The customs guy, ordered me out of the front seat and took prime position. Then he put the seat back as far as he could, squashing me into the back. If we didn’t have his fate in his hands I’d have been a bit more assertive. Come to think of it, he looked like a young Yayah Jammeh, who began his career as a poor lowly soldier and has spent the last few weeks making everyone suffer knowing they are all trying to keep him happy. But bullies generally get their come-uppence one day.
Issue solved, our small convoy continued south and then took a sharp turn east about 20 km before the capital of Bissau. We were heading towards Gabu, but we’d been slowed down and probably weren’t going to make it all the way. The scenery was lovely. Mile after mile of cashew trees interspersed with rustic thatched round house villages. Here are some scenes from along the road:
As we reached a roundabout, the enterprise – which was in front – pulled over. I could see a police check point there. I assumed they’d been flagged down, but apparently not. They decided to stop in the wrong place, which meant police were sauntering our way with hungry smiles. After much banter, they were demanding 10,000 cfa (I’ve been through so many checkpoints since then, I forget the details of this one) and Chris demonstrated his anti-corruption techniques. He reappeared from the enterprise with an old fashioned British bobbies police helmet and indicated he wanted to swap it for a Bissau police hat. Chris travels with police hats that he’s collected from around the world and I saw with my own eyes that it worked. The police started laughing and within seconds were in hysterics, laughing at this crazy English guy jumping around in a stupid hat. Gotta get me some hats!
The sun was setting and they told us there was a hotel. The rather vague wiggle of a hand meant that we drove off in the wrong direction, asked about 5 people, none of whom seemed really sure, but eventually were told of a place. “But it’s apartments, not a hotel.”
We arrived and the proprietor greeted us, telling us it was apartments. Well, there were rooms with a bathroom. It was basic but clean and cost 5000 cfa (about 8 euro). So that was fine.
We sat outside the enterprise and Sue passed g&t’s out of the cockpit. Another fine sunset and then we headed into the town – Mansao – thinking there should be somewhere we could get some food. The streets were quite busy and there was a lot of street food activity. We found a place barbecuing some goat and then a dingy dive where a guy was frying spaghetti with beans and a sauce. We plonked the goat on top and got stuck in. The adjective “delicious” would be exaggeration, but it filled a hole and the goat gave our jaws a work out.
Another early start, and we continued through the pretty countryside. This time I was in the enterprise, high up getting a birds eye view of the surrounding fields. At times, when palm trees weren’t visible, it looked like classic English countryside. By mid-morning we’d arrived in Gabu, a thriving colourful market town and found a hotel.
The plan was to survey the area, look for a flying site and then retire back to the hotel before heading to the other Guinea (the Republic of Guinea or Guinea Conakry as it’s known locally). We carried on past Gabu, across a bridge and onto a dirt track, through paddy fields. Paul was using a map on his ipad to see surrounding tracks and found an area which seemingly had some open space along with tracks for the support vehicles to recover the balloon. We left the enterprise in a shady forest glen on the side of the road to prepare lunch, then Paul, Jedabaye and I took off to explore potential sites.
We meandered through tiny villages that hadn’t seen much change in centuries (aside from lads checking their facebook status on their mobiles) and along potholed rocky dirt tracks through the forest. We figured that there was flying potential and returned for a picnic at the enterprise.
Later on, we went out to the paddies, drove out of sight and launched a test balloon to check wind speed. It wasn’t long before a couple of spectators arrived, demanding what we were doing. No problems – they looked interested and were friendly.
We went through the launch process again and then Chris and Paul were off, once again soaring across the plains, in a completely different direction that the test balloon went. Well, I guess if it was that easy it wouldn’t be so fun.
Sue and I jumped in the back of the pick up and started across the field before realising it was massively rutted and one of our spectators was shouting something about a river. Sue walked ahead and slowly but surely we pushed forward through head height grass, across ruts and paddies.
When we arrived at the balloon, Paul was surrounded but unperturbed.
For twenty minutes or more, we were packing up the gear and fighting off the kids that were doing their best to grab and rip it.
Then, some of the strongest helped us lug it all back to the pick up and we were off. But we couldn’t go too fast and still Chris had to fend people off.
Note: many of these photos are Paul and Sue’s.