Trespassers walk

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Africa » Guinea-Bissau
April 14th 2011
Published: May 9th 2011
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Former Presidential Palace - past the first doorFormer Presidential Palace - past the first doorFormer Presidential Palace - past the first door

You can walk around the remains of a real African military coup in the capital Bissau
I was sitting next to possibly the best cleavage I have ever sat next to from Senegal to Guinea-Bissau. 3.5 hours and I couldn’t get a look in. I was cooped up in the back seat with her but it was not what you are thinking. It’s the back row in the trunk of a station wagon and I am too tall for the elevated seating. I try my darndest to get a look through the corner of my eye. But I am forced to lean forward to my knees because the roof is too short. Gosh travelling Africa can make the world seem a cruel, cruel world.

I started to think of my continuous travelling of this scrunched up nature and thought. ‘You know locals don’t travel this hard on a bi-daily basis’ People and including me have said “And to think that they have to do it everyday.” Well, no they don’t generally its every few days or twice a week. Backpackers do it nearly ever other day. And when you hit 9 months in the continent and the weather starting to heat up. It’s mentally as well as physically draining. Fortunately the cities are dull so when you only have the energy to do a 1 hour walk in the late afternoon you don’t miss out on much.

The capital of Guinea-Bissau called Bissau is one of those “What is that it?” type moments. It, as well as the country, doesn’t have many sights for the tourist. Instead it’s more of a people type experience than anything else mainly because there is nothing much else. It is up there with the record of shortest city tours. There’s no need for the sightseeing buses here. There are a few old buildings from colonial times but that’s about it.

I spoke to the owner of my accommodation and he said about 20% of his pensao accommodation is backpackers the rest are Europeans on business. And there are quiet a few white skinned people roaming the streets. Either NGO’s or people on business.

There are the Bijagos islands to go to (the only deltaic archipelago on the Atlantic Ocean) but I decided not to go because they were too expensive. There is a public ferry that leaves late on Friday and returns on Sunday but I thought two days travel for one day beach on an island, not worth it. So instead I took a taxi, which is cheap enough and headed to Quinhamel.

Not much going on really but just a chance to see another part of the country and see what village life is like. It cost $20 for a return trip 30kms away. Normally I wouldn’t do something like this but places like Bissau you need to find something to kill the day.

Most of the country is made up of mud houses and the landscape is very lush with trees. Just out of town my driver was pulled over by the police. It took a while for the formalities to conclude. I didn’t understand what was going on but eventually a very well looked after taxi was fined 3 million CFA about $6. He re-enters the car “Tres mil… Tres mil!” That is a lot of money and this is typical of nearly every country in Africa. This guy is trying to earn a living hits pay dirt of a few extra dollars through me and it basically goes towards the officers at the junction to Quinhamel. This is daily life in Africa.

I noticed the officer was a female, which was more prominent in both Guineas. In the few countries that do have female officers they are known as real bitches. But they are doing what the men officers are doing so its just sour grapes that a female is screwing them over. But whenever you hear some female say “You know the world would be different if females had more authority and higher ranking roles” Just inform of this little piece of info. They probably don’t have a choice to keep their job but still they are doing just the same.

At Quinhamel I walked around the town where people looked at me like stunned mullets. I went to a tapestry place and watched them work and bought a few souvenirs. I thought heck I’ve come all this way I might as well buy something. The work is quite details and very good quality. The work is sold only in Guinea-Bissau and was pretty cheap. Some of the big works take 3 days to make.

The driver was really nice and when we headed back I told him he can pick up other passengers to try and make up some of the fine he got so that’s what we did. We picked up University students for a bit and dropped them off at this small looking building and that was the uni.

Communication was in Creole a form of Portuguese… Well actually I was speaking shitty Spanish and hoped for the best. Guinea Bissau was a Portuguese colony until 1974. And it seemed that now it is one of the least influenced by its old colonial power. There is not much of Portugal here apart from the declining state of the old town and the imported beer.

Since Independence there has been little progress and walking around it’s hard to really get a feeling for the place. In fact Bissau is one of those few world capital cities that have streetlights but don’t put them on at night to save money.
Military Coups seem to dominate history in the country since independence. A cocaine trade is going better then the countries economy. The National Budget has 80% of it from foreign aid. And in March 2009 the 2005 elected President was assassinated as a revenge act for the murder of his chief of staff. That is all words really until you come here and see for yourself the evidence of the problems. And that is at the top of the main road where the bombed out roof of the former presidential palace lies.

I couldn’t find the old Presidential Palace the first day but found it when I returned from Quinhamel. Not in use anymore it’s there full of shrapnel remains on its neo classic façade. It is a sensitive issue and I was told off by a passerby when I took a photo from the main square. “Why take this photo? It’s not good!” There were no police around and when that guy left I walked to the main entrance from the square.

Normally these things are barricaded and heavily guarded but not here for some reason especially considering the state it’s in. It really shows how poor this country is and it’s a strong symbol of the seriousness of what has happened.

I walked up the stairs nervously waiting for someone to put shit on me. Either of authority or someone using it as a place to bum about or pass out only to be woken up by me and then rob me. But there was no one. Just a blown out torched building with every piece bar some of the foundations ripped out.

I saw a side passage after observing the bullet holes and other fragments scattered on the walls. I crunched my way through the broken tiles on the floor towards the main foyer. I looked to the ceiling and thought I saw frills like you see from curtain drapes. I wanted to centralise my photo I was about to take so I walked in a bit closer and the frills came to life.

Bats flew from everywhere a sure sign that I am now inside for anyone outside caring to listen or see. I could have left then but this was so unique and possibly the only place in the world to see something like this in real life I had to continue.

The room out the back led to a staircase to the 2nd floor. There use to be 2 handrails down the middle creating three lanes to walk up. They had been ripped out completely, bolts were taken as well. It was such a trespassers feeling I swear I was going to get caught. I was concerned the foundations were going to collapse too so I made it a brief visit - About 5-10 mins.

When I reached the top floor I strategically switched my memory cards and took a few photos of the building with my second memory card just in case I walked out and a guard saw me. In these situations you normally have to delete your photos if you get caught. (Sneaky sneaky.) The switch of memory card was worth it even if I didn’t get caught. When I departed the palace it was a long walk back to my hotel down the main road and to my hotel. I immediately put the photos onto my laptop. This sight alone was worth my trip to Guinea-Bissau.

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8th July 2011

Guinea - Bissau
So why did you choose GB to travel to?
9th July 2011

Why I chose to travel there
Because when you discover there is a country you never knew existed and its on the way to a place you want to go to. How can you say no. I can't see tourism picking up there any time soon. I did that with the guinea's in South America too. I enjoyed them more so than here.

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