#12 – Learning the language of the rain season
Some water drops wake me up. It’s neither dew, nor kids playing with water. And there are too much drops for pissing bats. There is only one option left, it’s rain! And there is thunder! Rain season started, and I have to be quick to install the outer tent. I jump out of my tent, on my bare feet wearing only a boxershort. In record time I smack six pegs into the earth. Just in time I’m back in my tent, hoping that I will survive.
The start of a new period
It was 2 am when the rain started. After one hour the rain and thunder was over. The bright flashes I’d seen before I went to sleep were now explained. I went back to sleep and when I woke up at 8 am, I was excited that the rain season had started. And what started as a colder morning, ended as a humid afternoon.
I cycled just 40 km, through the outstanding Casamance region, to reach the next city Ziguinchor. Tomorrow I have to get the visa for Guinea Bissau in this city. I stayed in a hostel and took it easy.
Crisp drops on my skin
I woke up ill and sweated a lot in the humid hostel room last night. Losing so much minerals and water can’t be good, especially not when you cycle six to eight hours a day. I waited for the heaviest rain to fade away and entered the comfortable chilly outside. After getting some medicines and vitamine pills I applied for the Guinea-Bissau visa, which I easily got in just five minutes. If only all visas were this easy to get, it would dissolve so much annoyance.
For the first time in more than two months I cycled in the rain, and I enjoyed it. After an hour I reached the border and showed my passport twice to both the Senegalese and Guinea-Bissau checkpoints. The first impression I got in the new country was ‘green’. Except for the asphalt, there were trees everywhere, mostly cashew trees. My new name was ‘Branco’, which means ‘white man’ in Portuguese.
I asked a man sitting next to a magazine hall if it was possible to put my tent on his ground. His son was able to speak French and responded that I could sleep in one of his rooms inside. After a refreshing shower he took me to a place by car. We went into a suburb and eventually entered a garden where 27 beautiful women were sitting. This group makes traditional music, and my host called himself ‘the king’ of this group. Popcorn, cake, chicken and beer was served for us two. And although they use to sing together, there was a small dispute between two women, which was getting solved right away.
Learning a new language
A few surprising faces looked at me when I left the cashew farm. My host left just a few minutes before me, and allowed me to enjoy my breakfast outside his house. Back on the road I enjoyed the green surrounding and the small villages. The landscape was slightly hilly, but just enough to make the ride a bit more difficult.
I rode to the capital Bissau. Here I got hosted by Paulo, his wife and two kids. I got welcomed by a delicious chicken soup and a refreshing shower. Paulo is an English teacher, but all teachers are on strike for three months already, since they don’t agree with the bad conditions of their work. He also owns a small shop near his house, where we stayed at untill dinner.
That evening I learned the language of the rain season. Flashes were almost continuously ruling the dark sky, and they came closer by the minute. Suddenly a fierce wind passed by and we hid inside the house. Heavy rainfall followed and clattered on the steel roof plates. The sound was so loud that the thunder had no chance to reach our ears.
In the morning I left my host to find the embassy of Guinea-Conakry. I found it, but it was closed due to a renovation. Luckily one of the officials directed me to a temporary location. It was located in a remote suburb of the city, and I rather would have avoided this place. Once arrived I filled in the visa document and was told I could pick it up in the afternoon.
I found a small restaurant to spend the waiting time. One of the employees came to sit next to me the whole time, drinking cashew wine and talking Portuguese and a bit of French. In the beginning it was funny, then it became annoying and he seemed to want something, and eventually he even send me away. I left him some money to avoid any problems. It was a strange situation, but I was left clueless.
After acquiring the visa I desperately wanted to escape the crowded city. After cycling about just 20 km I found a nice and quiet village with a catholic church. A passing boy told me I was able to put my tent on the veranda of the church. It was just perfect for me.
Lonely in the crowd
Two men who just entered the terrain of the church starter throwing rocks to the ground. They were holding a manchete, but didn’t use, and reacted spastic when something crawling moved again. They were killing a snake, and I witnessed it from my tent, realizing even more that I should be careful.
The road showed many green with an almost continuous stream of villages and houses. Almost at least every minute I saw people and they almost all called “Branco” to me, to which I mostly waved back and said “Bom dia”. Altough I was surrounded by so many people, I’m not sure if I have felt more lonely. Not being able to say more than three different things for the whole day made me tired, in that case I would rather be completely alone.
I cycled until I found a dry and safe to camp at, except for a house. This was more difficult than I ever, but eventually I found an old wood cutting factory. The owner allowed me to sleep next to the machines, which seemed to be not working anymore.
Religion of the tribes
Almost ready to go, it started raining. Luckily I sat dry under the roof of the wood factory. A thunder with an immense sound dominated the area and beyond for a few seconds. I’m not sure if I ever heard a thunder strike that loud. I unpacked my bike and started doing some maintenance, untill the rain faded away.
The surrounding was similar as the two days before. Interesting to see was that a village has either a church or a mosque. The religion is more or less equilly spread across the country, and depending on the tribe they are from, they are Muslim or Christian. And there is no tension between the two religions in this country, as the people are more or less the same, with similar habits and the same culture.
Suddenly I passed a building with a fence, which is not very common here. I entered the terrain, since I regard those places as good camping spots. It seemed to be a hotel, with a possibilty to camp. It is located near an old bridge and some beautiful waterfalls. A team of experts was staying here also, to do research about the possibilities to make a dam in the region. It was a pleasure to have some companion during the evening.
The next day I took advantage of the comfort at the camping I was staying at, and got a mental recharge. I wanted to work on my video, but it turned out that the power was only available in the evening. Instead I walked around the waterfalls for a while. The women of the nearby village used the slightly warm water for washing and cleaning dishes.
Mentally recharged I went back on the road. After a while I had to get off the paved path and started cycling on a gravel road. On internet I read that this road would be not passable during rain season, but a German woman (Pushbikegirl), who I closely follow passed the road last week. So I took my chances and did so too.
The first part was good and even led me into a National Park. After a while I had to turn into a small path, which was only passable by foot or bike. The dense forest and the worsening road didn’t hold me back, instead, I liked the adventurous road very much. At one point I crossed the border to Guinea-Conakry.
There was no border control, but in the first village I passed, someone in army coloured clothes came to me and asked my passport. Afterwards he also asked for some money, to buy a smoke and to help him. I told him I already paid for the visa and I shouldn’t pay at the border control. I changed subject and slowly moved my way out of here. An hour later I had a similar experience. This time I told the man that buying cigarettes was not going to help him. He couldn’t identify himself and seemed a bit uncertain about himself. It was a tricky situation, putting myself at risk or to support bribe. I’m sure it’s going to happen more often, and I have to trust in my feeling about the situation. A little later this bad experience was compensated by a cool experience, I had to cross a river by kayak.
“Passport please”, a man in a blue uniform now asked. He registered my details and put a stamp in my passport. That looked more confident. It was late and I asked of I could camp next to the football field behind him. “No problem, many people have done it before. Americans, Japanese, French”. Great. As I was setting up my tent and cooking dinner, people started to gather around on the football field. They were going to have a training. After my dinner I asked if I could join the game. In these cases I’m happy to speak the language of football and to make some short term friends.