Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Down to Guinea-Bissau

First thing in the morning at the Guinea-Bissau consulate, I’m experiencing one of the nicer visa applications ever. “No, you needn’t stand at the window. Sit down and relax over there, and I’ll bring the paperwork to you!” Not only that, but I hear an old-fashioned typewriter in the background. Ten minutes—I’m done.

I go out to the Gare Routiere, which is where all the taxis and mini-buses leave for everywhere. I’m in a bush taxi called a sept-place, or a Pegeot that holds a maximum of seven passengers, well more if you don’t count children. The road to Bissau is pretty good, and the ride is actually pleasant, once the wind tamps down the humidity. About every half hour or so, I have to get out for passport stamps, passport scrutiny, and seemingly for no reason at all.

Guinea-Bissau is quite a country! A failed state some people call it. Like other African colonies Portugal made a mess of (try Angola and Mozambique), years of a violent and bloody independence movement, civil war, assassinations, failed Marxism, more civil war, military coups, more assassinations, and just when everyone is exhausted, another civil war, coups, and another assassination or two. You get the idea. And one thing I didn’t know, South American drug lords have overrun Guinea-Bissau, since this is the main entry point of hard drugs coming from the Americas to Europe. The legitimate export is cashews. On the up side, the Bijagos Archipelago just off the coast is supposed to be stunning, but it’s very expensive to get out there.

You would think that having lived for decades in such turmoil, the people would be surly and unfriendly. Not at all. They’re extremely nice and helpful, and the touts are not nearly as aggressive as the Senegalese ones on the other side of the river. Most of Bissau is pretty run down and weathered and with garbage all over the place, and you can see totally trashed buildings—such as the presidential palace, but there’s some new construction going up and nice houses here and there, so perhaps there’s hope.

I settle into my overpriced hotel room (everything is overpriced here), and it doesn’t take long for the electricity to cut. Perhaps plugging in my laptop overloaded the grid. The humidity here is insane. I stand in the shower and sweat at the same time.

The shell of the former presidential palace

The hotel starts its generator and my Mac fires up.

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