I arrived Brikama moments later, I spent some 10 minutes at the park before getting a shared taxi to the border. The 35-minute ride to the Senegalese-Gambia border costed only 50 Dalasis ($1). Immigration stamping into Senegal was no problem for me at all. Even thought I was asked to pay, I made it clear to them I was a ‘journalist’ and that I was on my way to Guinea Bissau on a ‘mission’. Each time they hear this (the immigration officers), they ‘cooperate’ and let me go.
May I also say that if you intend to travel from The Gambia to Senegal, it is a very wise idea to change your money – Gambian Dalasi to CFA before arriving Senegal. Note that Guinea Bissau (GB) and Senegal use the CFA. I was supposed to change some but I did not like the rate I was offered in Brikama. This was going to be a problem when I got to Bissau later that evening. From the border, I got a 2500 CFA ($5) shared taxi to Ziguinchor. The journey was almost 2 hours and was cool. The road was good and quiet. I noticed different domestic animals grazing and the road. Cows walked freely on the road and the driver will normally slow down for them to cross the road.
I got to Ziguinchor in Casamança region of Senegal around 7pm that evening and was still determined to continue my journey to Guinea Bissau. Passing a night in Senegal was not an option. Meanwhile, at the park, all the vehicles going to Bissau that evening has stopped working for the day. The reason and excitement for my impatience was not just because I was going to a new country, but was because I was visiting a country that was colonized by the Portuguese and also speaks Portuguese as the official language. It was actually going to be first time of practicing speaking Portuguese with someone face to face. I have actually had a conversation in Portuguese sometimes with Ordem, a friend from Mozambique, but that was on a Whatsapp call.
Vous allez à Bissau? Je peux t’aider traverser la frontière et t’amène au Saint Domingos pour 4000CFA. A very slim mean looking man called out to me from his bike. He was asking me if I was going to Bissau, probably because he saw me making enquiries where people going to Bissau get vehicle. He said he can help me to cross the border and also take me to Saint Domingos where I can get a vehicle to Bissau the capital. We agreed on a price and left for the journey. The road was good until we left the Senegalese side of the border. I was told by some soldiers at the border that I can’t have my passport stamped as their immigration officers have closed for the day. They advised me to continue my journey and explain to the officer at the Guinea Bissau side that I could not stamp because the Senegalese side have closed for the day. I picked up courage and continued.
The road at the Guinea Bissau side (GB) was bad. At a point, our bike broke down and I lighted the touch on my phone for the bike man to use to fix the problem. It was funny my torchlight was brighter than his headlamps on his bike. It was then he decided to use my phone light to drive. This taught me the need to travel with a good torchlight. I was very excited for the fact I was going to speak Portuguese face to face in some minutes but was also bothered on what effect not stamping my passport out of Senegal would have on me when am leaving GB. I was also concerned if the man moving me on his bike is genuine as the place looked bushy and deserted. It was a mixture of fear and excitement. I wondered if I would ever experience any of these in my life again. In a couple of minutes, we got to the GB immigration post.
I walked up alone to a small house that was lighted with the widows wide open. Inside the office sat this young immigration officer who was without any expression on his face. My heart was pounding as I was not sure if he was going to allow me due to the unstamped passport and the fact that I may not understand his Portuguese. Boa noite! I said and he responded same. Tu vai para onde? He queried. He was asking where am I going to… At this point, I could not contain my excitement as I was showing all 32. I was very happy because I could understand him – very much like the same I hear on tele and on the internet. I admired his strong Portugal Portuguese ascents (there is Brazilian Portuguese as well) and I could not hold my smile anymore. It was a good thing he spoke no English and I intentionally did not want to let him know I speak French – this is because normally, when you try to talk to people abroad who speak a different language and they find out you can communicate better in another language, they will opt to use the one they think you understand. I told him in Portuguese that he was the first human being that I would converse in Portuguese with and that I was so happy to be doing it right there. He too was happy from the smiles I was seeing on his face. Even though I was taking my time to make my sentence word after word, he was patient and made efforts to correct me. I tried to explain why I did not stamp on the Senegalese side but those details did not border him. He took my passport, stamped it and recorded my details. I did not have to pull my journalist stunt or tell further stories why I do not want to pay for stamping my passport. Of course he did not ask me for any money. When I was leaving he said… Eu sou chamado... He was trying to say my name is…. He said it actually but I did not get it. I smiled back and told him mine, gave him a handshake and left with so much fulfilment and excitement.
We got to Saint Domingos in another 5 minutes. He took me directly to a vehicle to Bissau. He told me his name is Boubacar and gave me his number. He advised me to call him when am coming back, that he would help me. I thanked him and boarded the vehicle. Live that evening there was very lively. There were lots of young people on the streets. It was Easter eve and there were lots of crusades going on here and there. There were also people walking up and down the streets and they were well dressed and all looking happy. Everyone was speaking Portuguese or the local Criolo. It was just as I wanted it, but however, I found it hard to communicate much.
The journey from Saint Domingos to Bissau was three hours and some minutes. The fare was 2500 CFA ($5). The vehicle was a different world entirely. First of all, I have started worrying about the fact am not having cash with me. I was supposed to change some money at Brikama in Gambia but I did not. Now in Saint Domingos, I could not find anywhere to change. I only had 1000 CFA and was wondering how I was going to pay for hotel, food and some other things I will be needing that night. I was a bit bothered about the fact I was not stamped at the Senegalese side also. I wondered what will happen when I embark on my return trip back to Senegal. In the car also, three ladies there were conversing in Portuguese. One of the girls sounded familiar, yes, she sounded like an actress I saw in an Angolan soap opera (Windeck). She sounded like Luena and I was able to understand much of what she is saying. That is one thing to take note of when you are learning a language. Most times, you tend to understand someone who listen/talk to very often than others. Seating close to me was a man in his middle forties, at least from his looks. He spoke French fluently and I guessed right he was a visitor like me. He told me he was from Guinea but lives in Bissau. We discussed quite a lot before we got a point where he left the vehicle.
I was left with the driver who spoke only Criolo (the local language in Bissau) and a little Portuguese, with the same ladies at the back. The driver was asking me where I intended to stop but I could not answer because I knew no-where. Fortunately, the girl at the back, who I will call Luena understood French so I told her I was just a visitor and needed to get some money first from a Bank before I proceed to a hotel where I would sleep. To my greatest surprise she told me banks have closed and I tried hard to explain to her that I was using an ATM. Deep down, I saw a willingness to help but there was nothing she could do so she had to leave with her friends and I was left alone in the middle of nowhere. I was able to find an Ecobank where I now went to make withdrawals.
I have had some very exciting experiences making withdrawals abroad. The first time I visited Togo, I recall that as at that time, MasterCard was not working in Togo, hence I spent almost 3 hours going from different ATM machines to the other trying to make withdrawals. Now, when I was approaching this machine to make withdrawals, I was afraid such may happen again. Even though I also had a little confidence in the fact that the Visa Gold card I had on me as I was told by my bank will work in any country in the world and so far, the Nigerian Government policy on bank cards and withdrawal limits does not affect the card I use. I tried to make the first withdrawal and I got a wrong password issue. Well, this is ok because I only use the card when I travel and it has a different password from the local ones I use in Nigeria. On my second trial, I was told that the machine cannot honour my request at that time and that I should contact my bank. I decided to go try on a different bank. When I was leaving, a security officer in the bank asked me if I was successful, I told her no. She advised me to use a second one which eventually worked. Hallelujah.
However, the bigger problem was where to sleep. I also wanted to get a sim card as well. This lady helped me to where I got a sim and also called one other security man from a different place and they both went with me to find a hotel. After going around for almost one and half hours, we found a very dirty club with a cheap affordable room. The room only had a bed in it without any other thing. I initially rejected it but had to stay back, knowing it would soon be morning and that I will be going out to find elsewhere to stay. I will not want to go into details of how dirty the place was and the drama that went on when I wanted to use the gents the next morning.
The security lady at the bank became friends with me. I understood little or nothing when she spoke but we were still able to communicate. She should be in her fifties and works as a security officer at the bank. The next morning, I went down to where she was at the bank and made her understand I want to get a better internet as the internet service I had was not good. For the records, I checked out the stories of other people who visited Bissau and they also complained of the internet there in Bissau. First of all, she liaised with someone who came to make withdrawals at the bank, they agreed to take me to a Nigerian who they know has a shop there in Bissau Market. It was an Easter Sunday and I wondered if anyone who is Nigerian, probably an Igbo man would come to market on an Easter Sunday. Eventually, the guy was not there. They asked me to wait and see if he will come and we waited for almost 2 hours without traces of the guy. While I was waiting, I thought of a way to identify an Igbo person around there and I started playing a song by a popular Igbo Gospel Artist Prince Gozie Okeke. I believed if someone who understood the song showed up, they should at least ask me if am from Nigeria but no one came. I used the opportunity to go find something to eat with the lady and man. I was happy they have rice there but could not eat the food because it was different to an extent.
The lady told me her name but I did not get it correctly. After eating, she took me to where he son works so he could help me find internet and also help me with other things I may need. We could not find internet after the long search and I then decided I should go to the airport, first of all to find a flight to Cape Verde Islands and also find internet – to reserve an AIRBNB apartment where I would stay. I exchanged number with her son, Constantine Djata and left for the airport.
On getting to the airport, I found out that it was cheaper to buy tickets to Cape Verde Islands from the airport than online. Online had very crazy prices while at the airport, I got something for around $440 for a return ticket. Tickets online were more than $700. I was however told I would have to be in possession of 1000 euros to make this visit. I was told the immigration officers would request to see that before I get into the country and I did not have the money with me as at then. So, I decided I was not going to travel there. I could not find the internet of course so I just went back to where I started. Not wanting to disturb anyone, I decided just to walk along the road and see if I could find a place or somewhere I could relax for some time and to my greatest surprise, I heard a couple speaking Igbo, my local dialect back home. They advised me on a place I could get a good hotel and also and called a taxi for me. It is also important to note that taxis are cheap in Bissau compared to places like Dakar or even Banjul. The taxi took me to the Hotel Jordani and lo, it was a home after all. The room was clean but old but costed 15000CFA ($25). I became relaxed and things got back to normal. First of all, I went in to sleep and afterwards, I came out to see other tourists who were there as well.
It was late in the evening and I was with one of the tourists who had arrived Bissau from Portugal. A man in his early 70’s. It was easy to understand him and I told him earlier I was still learning and he attempted to speak slowly so I could understand. We talked about like in Portugal, learning other languages, and several other things. I came to understand that because of the fact he could not speak English. It has limited him to only visit places where Portuguese is spoken. Poor him I said to myself. I felt a little good within as that is not my problem at least. Not quite long after this, Constantine called me he was coming around to see me – He came with his friend Nelson and we had a very nice time. It was a very good time to practice Portuguese and they left after an hour.