Through the Casamance to Guinea-Bissau (November-December 2013)


The rest of our time in Sukuta was spent with organizing a lot of little things including finding a new rooftop tent mattress, getting a t-piece welded out of a brake line to replace our broken magnetic fuel valve, stocking up on smoked cheese and polony imported from England, installing 12V fans inside the vehicle and rooftop tent and finally fixing our water filter.

When everything was done and settled we were relieved to be on the road again – this time towards Kartong, which is the southernmost coastal village in the Gambia.

On the way we stopped in Gunjur and had a little stroll around. Gunjur is one of the Gambia’s main fishing ports but everything is still done with wooden pirogues and by hand so the place has a very relaxed feel about it.

Kartong itself was known to us before we were even thinking about traveling to Africa because of Jasmine’s old school. Kartong’s St. Martin School has had a partnership for many years with several schools in the Alingsas district in Sweden. Before Christmas these schools organized bazars to collect money for the pupils in Kartong through selling of jewellery made by them.

Obviously we wanted to see the school for ourselves and were promptly welcomed by Philip the librarian. Philip gave us a little tour and we got to know that St. Martins School has about 800-900 students from which around 750 are able to get education because of Swedish sponsorships. After our visit we were invited to attend the chorus practice in the local church the following evening.

So we settled into a little lodge close to the beach with a huge tree to cast shade on our camping spot. We were almost the only guests as the season had not started yet and could enjoy a completely deserted beach.

The chorus practice the day after fascinated us a lot as everybody was putting so much soul into it. Our favourite was a song that mixed Jola, Wolof, French and Swahili supported by Djembe drums and got stuck in our heads for hours afterwards.

And then it was time to leave the Gambia behind and re-enter Senegal. The border crossing was a walk in the park with chicken running around the few officials and no demands of any payment. Not for the first time we had to explain how to fill out a carnet de passage though.

Back in French speaking territory the people were friendly and relaxed, the vegetation lush and plentiful and our mood in best shape. The bicycle is one of the favourite means of transport in the Casamance and people were transporting huge loads of charcoal and firewood on them. The goal for the day was to reach Kafountine where we wanted to catch up with Sigi, who we had met in Gambia before, at Stef’s beautiful campement. A suicidal chicken slowed us down a little bit but we hope somebody had a nice dinner of it that evening.

Kafountine itself is quite a busy place with some good restaurants, bars and lodges. All in all it did not feel too touristic though and we enjoyed a couple of days there. One of two excursions was a bicycle trip to the nearby village Abene where we spent some time with cold beer on yet another empty beach. Afterwards we visited the impressive new carpenter’s workshop ( of Swiss guy Kurt Koch. He brought all the machinery from Switzerland to be able to produce high quality carpentry and educate locals on a European level. If you are in the area it is definitely worth a visit and Kurt is always happy to show people around. Two days later we went out on a half day fishing trip by boat in the bolongs. After several hours of little success Joseph (Senegalese who lives half of the year in Germany) got himself a nice barracuda and not much later Jasmine caught an even bigger one which was going to be our dinner. After we grilled the barracuda we had to admit though that we should have invited at least another 6 people. The 4 of us got our protein shocks and the dogs were having a feast the next morning.

In Ziguinchor we got some help by a soldier finding the Guinea-Bissau consulate which had been moved. Getting the visas took about 10 minutes of waiting and we were off to Cap Skiring crossing wonderfully green landscapes with huge Kapok trees, large rice fields and overgrown villages. We found a little track down to the empty beach where we put up our camp for three days. The only people around was some French anglers from time to time and chatty locals on their way home from work. Unfortunately we could not take the huge turtle back with us that we found on the beach as it was just too bulky and heavy. The deserted beach was perfect for a run in the morning followed by a cooling skinny dip. Cap Skiring itself is a bit of a heaven concerning 40series Land Cruisers as we saw 6 in total – the highest density we have encountered so far. The little village Djembering north of it made for a welcome stroll around with friendly locals and always a couple of little children on our hands.

After more than a month in Senegal in total it was about time for our next country. The border crossing to Guinea-Bissau was easy enough though we arrived in the first country where not even our little bit of French was to any use as Portuguese is the official language but Kreol the most spoken one. The officials were cheerful and happy to see us though and we did not have to pay any road tax. 2000CFA (3€) was the only thing we had to pay for registering the car and driver license. One of the officials was very happy to tease Jasmine with the results of the game Sweden against Portugal for the world cup qualification though as Ronaldo shot three goals for Portugal and Ibrahimovic only two for Sweden. 🙂

The first checkpoint tried to convince us that our registration ran out now that we entered Guinea-Bissau and bargained himself down from 1000, over 500 to 200CFA to turn a blind eye but had to content with a friendly handshake.

It was already close to sunset and the road though tarred boasted with quite some potholes. So we tried to get to Bissau as fast as we could driving through high grass and the occasional wetland. The police stops on the way always tried to extract 1000CFA and were mostly too lazy to even come up with a bogus reason. A bit of patience always worked though dusk descended on us too quickly. The last stretch of road was quite exhausting dodging potholes that were barely visible due to the headlights stuck on full beam of oncoming vehicles. Eventually we made it to a German run restaurant and campement about a kilometre from the Bissau airport.

Bissau does not really make you feel like you are in a capital of any kind. It is more comparable to a relaxed medium sized Senegalese town and does not have an electricity grid or reliable water supply so you can hear generators humming away everywhere. The rundown centre is a pleasant enough place to explore though without any hassle.

On Monday we headed to the embassy of Nigeria as we heard that they give out visas without much fuss. The embassy itself was stormed and put to the torch a few months ago and moved into a new building just around the corner from where we stayed. The ambassador was a very friendly guy and after showing him our intended route and what we wanted to see he did not care about contacts in the country anymore and told us to come back at 15:00 to collect the visas. We paid 40.000CFA per person and got the visas post-dated to our desired date of entry. All in all it was one of the easiest visa processes so far with no special documentary needed. During the wait we explored Bissau and Fabian had some tasty brochettes (meat skewers) for 100CFA (0,15€) a piece. 🙂

The following day we headed into Bissau again to apply for the Guinea Conakry visa. The process was just as easy but when we were told the price for the 3 month visa we got shocked – 90.000CFA per person (137€). We settled for a 2 month multiple entry one for 60.000CFA per person (91€) and were told to come back at 14:00. After that shock we were ready for a drink and headed to a local bar where we enjoyed a few too many Caipirinhas which lifted our spirits a little bit. 🙂

The enquiry about the ferry to the island Bubaque resulted in the information that the ferry was broken – déjà vu from Gambia. Tomorrow we are heading back to the agency to find out if it leaves on Friday again as we do not really want to make the 5 hour crossing in one of the overloaded pirogues without any life vests that sink with a certain regularity. Call us chicken but in this case we rather play safe. 😉

If the ferry still does not run tomorrow we will head on to see some chimpanzees in the south of Guinea-Bissau before entering Guinea Conakry.

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