So here’s the tale of a day which I won’t forget, and don’t want to remember, though words can’t convey the true exasperation…
It begins normally, travelling by transporte misto (minibus/converted van) with ‘USA vegetable oil vitamin A fortified’ tins used as additional central seating with a young guy who has taken me under his wing as he is also heading to Guinea.
The road beyond the Guinea-Bissau frontier is officially closed during the wet season as it is now; and I wasn’t sure it would be possible to travel it at all. Realistically its not! The road is not a road but a complex BMX track with muddy rises, sharp turns, and deeply tracked puddles all done on the back of a motorbike.
We drive through a still, clear, fish-inhabited “small lagoon” according to my bike driver, which plunges my feet to the ankles. Arriving at a “checkpoint” Guinean officials/bandits demand money from me to pass through. Its clearly the usual thing here, as everyone in the loose convoy of bikes pays up quietly hoping not to get shouted at and move on as quickly as possible. There’s is little I can do but pay (the first time I’ve ever even been asked), and the first bit of blatant corruption I’ve witnessed.
Another checkpoint – but this official is friendly enough, and actually gives my passport an entry stamp. I’m beginning to understand this is the real post and everywhere else is just hooliganism. I pass one final post some time later, when I am again forced to pay up (with everyone else).
The track now expands to the width of a road, but is otherwise no better for it. Reaching a river crossing, we crouch painfully in canoes as our bikes are balanced and taken across in another. The river was very pictureque and beautiful, but I was already fed up with the day by then, and had realised remembering the map I still had a long way to go.
I finally reached Boke at 6pm, having started out at 8am. I looked a wreck. My legs were splattered with dried mud. My shoes visibly dripped and were now a dark reddy brown all over. My face had a thick layer of red dust clumping under my eyes where they had streamed from the wind on the road and the violence of the bumps. This was the African everyone thinks of, the Africa I hadn’t yet experienced.
My faith in humanity was restored a little by the friendly arm waves of welcome and a fantastic spicy marinated fish. It had additional spicy dip that was 90 percent pure chilli and I could barely handle. Then I slept, for a long time.