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999 Days Around Africa: The Road Chose Me
For my first night I make my way to the coast, aiming to stay at a hotel/restaurant run by an Italian that was aiming to sail around the world. When he arrived in Guinea-Bissau he loved it so much he decided to stay instead, and has been here ever since. Unfortunately it’s all closed up for the rainy season, and the owner is in Europe, though luckily the kind caretaker lets me camp on the grounds for free – darkness is falling and I have no other option.
In the morning I decide to drive right across the country, aiming to visit some Chimpanzees near Quebo, in the far South-East corner near the border with Guinea. This part of the country is extremely wild jungle, and elephants even live here. I’m told the chances of seeing one are extremely close to zero, though that does not diminish the grin on my face when I see a sign announcing elephants in the area.
The main highways are extremely good – without even potholes, though every hundred or so kilometres I pass through a police checkpoint where the bribery game is repeated. The police here are very keen to get money out of me, though they are not very imaginative, usually asking for the same mundane things (insurance, fire extinguisher, safety triangle, wipers and functional wiper water jets) and getting disappointed when everything is in order. A couple of times they hold onto my stack of paperwork looking as if they won’t give it back until I give them money, so I just grab a cold drink and sit in the shade until they give in – always less than five minutes later.
As I turn off the highways and delve into the jungle the roads deteriorate until I’m on a single-lane dirt track riddled with water and mud filled potholes. More than a few surprise me with the depth, though none come over the hood of the Jeep. I pass through tiny villages that are nothing more than a collection of mud huts with straw roofs, friendly kids always waiving and chasing the Jeep.
After 14 hours driving in the intense heat I have covered about 150 miles and I am now in in low range first gear, driving on an extremely rutted, overgrown muddy track, branches scraping both sides of the Jeep. In one mud pit a log kicks up and slams into the undercarriage hard enough I feet it through my feet. After a careful inspection lying in the mud I see nothing out of place.
I’m exhausted, and as is common for this time of day I am starting to question if I have made the right choice.
Should I find somewhere to camp on the side of the track? – Is that safe enough?
Should I push on, even if the light fades?
Should I turn back?
Finally, the decision is made for me. After crawling down a steep rutted hill I come to a muddy river crossing where locals have thrown an enormous number of logs and branches into the water in an attempt to find traction. I’m certain the Jeep would make it across, though I’m less certain about how many logs would kick up into the undercarriage, and what that might do. After having a really good look I execute a 25 point turn on the tiny track and slowly retrace my steps, hours and hours back on the narrow tracks. Right at sunset I find a great hotel that lets me camp on the grounds right next to a huge waterfall. Swimming below the waterfall is a great way to unwind.
I move on and spend a couple of nights relaxing at a great hotel that allows camping right on the edge of the capital of Bissau while waiting for a visa to enter the next country. I am planning to cross an extremely remote border in the height of the rainy season, so I load up on food and water and fill both gas tanks to the brim before setting out towards country number six.