After an early morning run, I went to a local store to get some breakfast and some snacks for the trip south.
I then met up with Jason and Jordan at their hotel, and at 11am we met up with the driver we had organised for the ~40 kilometer drive to the Gambia-Senegal border.
Our plan for the next two days was to drive south from The Gambia down to Ziguinchor, get our visas at the local Guinea-Bissau consulate there the next day, and then head over the border to Bissau, the capital of Guinea-Bissau.
On the road south. Our driver had been to Bissau before, and had taken some German tourists to the Bissagos Islands. Unfortunately his car didn’t have Senegalese/ECOWAS insurance though, so he was only taking us as far as the border today.
At about 12pm we made it to the Gambia-Senegal border, and got stamped out of The Gambia.
Our driver then organised a car for us to take us for the ~2 kilometers over to the Senegal border post, where we got stamped into Senegal.
Our driver then took us to the gare routiere where he helped negotiate a sept-place taxi to take us to Ziguinchor for ~$50 total or about 13000 CFA each for the three of us. The cars normally carry seven people plus the driver. As we were travelling together as a group of three though, it was much easier, faster and way more comfortable to just buy the whole car.
Heading south again. The driver had some bass-heavy hip-hop music blasting from the car stereo which poor Jason had to put up with while sitting in the front. The road was in reasonably good shape though and we cruised at about 80kph, making good time.
We reached our hotel, Hotel Le Flamboyant in Ziguinchor at 2:30pm, or ~3.5 hours door to door.
For 22.5k CFA/~$36 a night including breakfast, wifi and AC it was very reasonable.
We then met up to see a bit of Ziguinchor and get some lunch. We went to get some cash out of the local ATM's but the machine wouldn't accept my six digit PIN. Fortunately Jason spotted me some CFA though.
It was just after 3pm and our original choice, Le Perroquet, had already stopped serving lunch. They then directed us to the Kadiandoumagne Hotel, situated just on the Casamance River and where they also had some interesting carvings.
And then enjoyed a tasty lunch of potatoes and pork ribs.
Peanuts and Mangoes. We then continued our walk around Ziguinchor.
The local church.
Although the majority of Senegalese are Muslims, Christianity is much more common in the Casamance region in the southern part of Senegal.
Ladies. As it was a Sunday afternoon, the streets were quite empty and peaceful.
After resting up at the hotel, we headed out in the evening for some dinner.
At Le Perroquet again, where we originally came for lunch.
And where we had one of the specials, Barracuda and fries. The portion size was a little small but still very tasty and filling.
And some delicious Banana flambé for dessert!
Today our plan was to get our visa for Guinea-Bissau before heading to Bissau. It was the first work day after the New Years break and I was a little paranoid the consulate may still be closed for the holidays. Not getting the Guinea-Bissau visa would possibly mean missing our flight from Bissau tomorrow and put a real spanner in the works for the rest of the trip.
I got up at 6am and went for a morning run, and ran past the Guinea-Bissau consulate. Some lights were on in the early morning, so thankfully looked like someone was inside. We then met up at the hotel for a baguette and hot chocolate for breakfast.
We then went for a walk to the Guinea-Bissau Consulate to get our visas. Monday morning so quite a few school kids out and about.
And some more kids playing table soccer.
The consulate was thankfully open, and we got our visas no problem whatsoever. Only one passport photo, 20k CFA and 20 minutes later we were ready to continue our journey south. There was also missionary from Texas and some older American ladies with a German tour leader there getting their visas too.
Shirts and ties.
And a very interesting sign with a steroidal donkey!
After checking out of the hotel we caught a taxi to the gare routiere to organise a taxi to Bissau. After Jason did some rapid fire negotiating back and forth in French, he eventually settled on a price of just over $20 for each of us for the 144 kilometre trip from Ziguinchor to Bissau. The sept-place also had some very cool purple shag covers!
The border was only 15 kilometres from Ziguinchor, where we got our new Guinea-Bissau visas stamped and into my first new country of the year.
Some 'duty-free' at the border.
And resuming our journey onwards to Bissau.
Stopping to buy some oranges. I gave them 200 CFA (~30 cents) and took two oranges, but they were insistent and gave me three more!
After mistakenly taking us to the Coimbra Bar, our driver finally dropped us at the Coimbra Hotel. The streets were in quite rough shape, and were covered in a rich red dust.
At $130 a night, the hotel wasn't cheap, but it was clean with reasonably good AC and wifi.
Myself and Jordan then went out to do some exploring. A Portugese Catholic Church.
The dusty red streets and some of the many derelict buildings. Guinea-Bissau achieved independence in 1974, but no democratically elected President has yet to complete a full term in office due to various coups, assassinations and ill health.
As well as cashew nuts, peanuts are one of Guinea-Bissau's main exports.
The old Portugese fort, which is still used and occupied by the Guinea-Bissau military.
Cavalheiro de estar em uma cadeira.
After meeting back at the hotel with Jason, we headed off for dinner to a place we had seen earlier, O Bistro, a Belgian owned and run restaurant recommended by the Lonelyplanet.
After skipping lunch I was pretty hungry, so had the Fantasia de carne de porc for the starter.
And then had the Scaloppine al gorgonzola for the main. Very tasty and a good double dose of protein!
And a bust of Lenin outside the restaurant kitchen. The U.S.S.R. supported the armed movement for independence from the Portugese in the 1960's and 70's.
Tailor. After a morning run and a mediocre breakfast at the hotel, we went out to see some more of the bustling metropolis of Bissau.
The Fist monument, just outside the Bissau Port, to commemorate the Pidjiguiti massacre when in 1959, police shot dead 50 and wounded 100 striking dock workers.
The UN flag fluttering at the roundabout in front of the Presidiential Palace. A local guy came up to us and started badgering us in Portugese. He finally switched to English, and kept repeating "Give me money, give me money, give me money...".
We then continued on to Papa Loca for some pastries and a drink. The owner was Lebanese but originally from the Casamance region in Senegal.
National Football Stadium.
We then went back to O Bistro for lunch, and I had the Petto di pollo con salsa all'aglio.
Our flight to Dakar wasn't until 6:15pm, but not wanting to be stuck in traffic or missing the flight if it took off early we took the complimentary hotel shuttle at 3pm and arrived in plenty of time. The airport was closed for cleaning when we arrived, but they let us in to shelter from the heat and humidity outside.
Grabbing a cool drink air-side after check-in and immigration. The Portugese airline, TAP used to fly direct flights from Bissau to Lisbon (OXB-LIS). They suspended operations in December 2013 however when local police forces threatened the crew with guns and forced them to board 74 Syrian refugees, who had arrived in Bissau via Morocco and Turkey and were holding falsified Turkish passports.
Our ASKY flight arrived on time and we were soon ready to board.
Seats weren't allocated and myself and Jason managed to score an exit row each.
The 45 minute flight was over pretty quickly and we landed in Dakar on time just after 7pm.
Jason was staying in the Radisson Hotel and myself and Jordan were staying at Hotel Baraka so we grabbed a taxi for 7000 CFA for the ride into town. Soon after we left the airport traffic was backed up quite abit after a motorcyclist and a taxi had collided. The motorcyclist was sprawled out motionless on the road while traffic was diverted around him. It was a sombre welcome to Dakar.
We finally made it to the hotel just 8pm and checked in. We had stayed here 9 months previously on our first trip to Dakar, although this time I had a room on a higher floor and it had been refurbished with a new coat of paint etc.
We then met up with Jason at La Piazza, a French-Italian restaurant near the Presidiential Palace. Jason was seconded to Dakar for his job a few years ago, and the restaurant was one of his go-to places in Dakar for a decent meal. I was pretty hungry, so had the Pizza Texane.
And a much needed cocoa fix from the chocolat chaud à froid for dessert!
I got up early and went for a morning run along the streets of Dakar and then met up with Jordan downstairs at the hotel for breakfast.
Oranges. Our original plan for the morning was to head out to Lac Rose but as Jason was busy with work, we decided to see a bit of central Dakar instead.
When we visited Dakar for a day on my last Africa trip, we didn't really get a chance to explore the streets, so was great just going for a walk and enjoying the vibe of the former capital of French West Africa.
The Senegalese National Assembly. Senegal is one of the few African states that has never experienced a coup d'état or harsh authoritarianism.
Stopping to buy some water.
Onions, one of the key ingredients for the Senegalese dish, Yassa.
The Grand Mosque of Dakar.
Mural. Not sure who this is, but given the minaret and crescent it seems to be a religious figure.
A couple of signs here were advertising bus services from Dakar all the way to Agadez in Niger. Jason was planning a trip from Bamako to Dakar later in May so we made sure to get the latest prices in case he decided to do it overland!
At about 12pm we headed to a local Senegalese restaurant, Chez Loutcha, rated #4 out of 153 restaurants on Tripadvisor.
Some Bissap, which is known as the national drink of Senegal. We had come to Chez Loutcha a couple of times for our last trip to Dakar, and was great to head back and enjoy some genuine Senegalese cuisine again.
We had a half-portion of Chicken Yassa, all for a very reasonable 2600 CFA each.
After a great lunch, we caught a taxi out to the African Renaissance Monument, a 49 meter tall bronze statue built by the North Koreans and is taller than the Statue of Liberty in New York.
The statue was completed in 2010 and has been subject to controversy due to its cost (~$27 million), the scantily clad figures and the use of foreign labour to construct it.
The view of Dakar and the airport beyond from the Monument hill.
Our taxi then took us out to Cap-Vert to visit Hôtel les Almadies, a former Club Med and now in the process of being converted to a Sheraton.
While the hotel pool was very inviting, the main reason for our visit was the hotel beach, which was is also the most western point of the African continent.
We then enjoyed some ice cream at the hotel restaurant before catching a taxi for 3500 CFA back into Central Dakar.
After resting up at the hotel, we went out to dinner to Restaurant Farid, a Lebanese place rated as #2 restaurant in Dakar.
We had eaten here before for our last night in Dakar on our previous trip, and like Chez Loutcha, it was great to revisit a good restaurant and experience some delicious food again.
Hummus and ground beef with bread to start.
I decided to be boring and have the same dish as last time, Tex-Mex Fajita's!
And the same dessert, the delicious and sweet Lebanese pistachio mousse to finish.
Up early again to catch the taxi to the airport for our 6:25am flight to Conakry. We elected to just wait at the gate rather than use the pay-for lounge. The lounge hadn't changed the wifi password since when I visited 9 months ago though, so enjoyed some decent internet while we waited.
Boarding the 737 for the ~1 hour flight Guinea. ASKY Airlines is 40% owned by Ethiopian Airlines.
Climbing up above Dakar in the early morning.
And descending over Conakry, the capital city of Guinea.
Disembarking for the short bus ride to the terminal. Guinea was the first country we were visiting of the three main Ebola affected countries, and we had a bit of paperwork to complete on arrival, and as well as getting our temperature checked.
We then met up with Ismael, the son of the owner of the guesthouse where we were staying at in Conakry. We then drove the short, but traffic-jammed drive to the Pension Les Palmiers. Although Ismael spoke English, he was much more comfortable with French, and he and Jason had a good chat.
And my room for the night. The wifi was sporadic but the AC was great and the room was quite new and very clean. Although the Lonelyplanet no longer publishes any guidance on Guinea, on their very last update, the Pension Les Palmiers was their top rated pick for a place to stay in Conakry.
The guesthouse was situated next to a school and right on the beach. Some school kids were performing hurdles out on the sand in the morning sun.
After a bit of nap after the early morning start, Ismael organised a driver for us to take us into town to show us the (limited) sights and get some lunch. Only 200k GNF ($25) for 4-5 hrs so very reasonable. First stop was to change some money to get some Guinea francs at about ~7800 to the dollar. The biggest note was 10000 so we each got a small parcel of cash.
Conakry was much more run down than Dakar, but better than neighbouring Guinea-Bissau.
Builder. A portrait of Alpha Condé, the current President, against the Guinea flag.
Some policemen wagging their finger at a motorcyclist. Our driver showed us around town, which was mainly government ministries, the container port, and the presidential palace. Our driver tried going past the Palais de Nations, but the road was blocked and we were stopped by some soldiers. They asked for his paperwork and he eventually had to pay a small bribe (3000 GNF) to get them back.
At about 1:30pm we were starting to get hungry. We finally found a place called Luigi's run by a Lebanese family. It was pretty busy, but after a short wait we managed to get a table and enjoy a tasty lunch.
Next door was also an ice cream shop, where we couldn't resist a couple scoops. I had the Pistachio and Oreo.
Not without my voice. This was a slogan from one of the recent elections.
We then continued our tour of Conakry.
At the Monument du 22 Novembre 1970, a memorial to the 22 November attack and failed coup of President Sékou Touré by the Portugese miltary.
Our driver then dropped us back at the guesthouse. Jason suggested to ask our driver for his services to take us to the border of Sierra Leone tommorrow, and when he said 500k GNF (~60euro), we quickly agreed. The friendly guesthouse owner then brought us some cool beers to enjoy and relax with as the sun slowly went down..
The guesthouse was a good find with a reasonable price, friendly hospitality and a great location right on the beach.
While Ismael took Jason to the airport for his Air France flight to Paris (and on to Sierra Leone), myself and Jordan enjoyed some tasty local fish and plantains for dinner at the guesthouse before retiring for the night to rest for our overland adventure to Sierra Leone tommorrow.
We had organised with our driver to leave at 7am so we were up before dawn for breakfast at the guesthouse. Also joining us was a Swiss gentleman who had a Guinean wife, his son and a Guinean who lived in Denmark.
Our plan today was to drive the ~130 kilometres from Conakry to the border of Sierra Leone, and then hopefully negotiate another driver to take us on to Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. The total distance from hotel to hotel was ~309 kilometres and our guidebook said the time would be around 10 hours so we knew we were in for a long day.
By 7:20am our driver hadn't showed. We tried calling him and it was a bad connection but we managed to gather he would still be coming. He arrived soon after (Peugeot on the right) and we were on the road by 7:30am for the drive to the Sierra Leone border.
As we drove north-east out of Conakry, the traffic slowly thinned and we started to make good time.
Tyre change. Although the road was mostly sealed it was in generally poor condiiton with lots of potholes to slow you down.
We arrived at Forécariah, about 33 kilometers from the border at about 11am and refuelled the Peugeot.
We hit a traffic/customs stop about 15 kilometres from the border. They spotted us two Mzungu and made us get out to check our bags. After taking our passports, they took us to a room where they first checked Jordan, going through everything in his bag, even making him empty all his pocket and even made him remove his shoes and socks. They were pretty thorough and even found and took his American passport (he had initially given them his UK one). I don't think Guinea had a big problem with tourists smuggling contraband over the border and heard you often had to pay a small bribe to appease the checkpoint officials, so we were ready for a shakedown to occur where we had to 'pay' for whatever made up reason.
My turn was next and they was just as thorough. They managed to miss my well hidden wallet but found my backup stash of dollars and euro's. The guy's eye's lit up when he found it and at the end of the search he shouted 'you pay!' and pointed towards my pouch of cash. I offered $2 but he just kept repeating 'you pay!', again pointing towards my pouch. I decided to just ignore him though and packed up my stuff.
After not being happy with my reluctance to 'pay them' they took us to another office where a more senior officer wanted to see my cash. They gestured to me (no one spoke English and I spoke no French) to write down how much cash I had. I honestly didn't know the exact amount so gestured as such and wrote down a rough number. The senior officer then counted out my cash and it was about $600 more than I had written down. This apparently was a problem, and while I put my cash away they gestured for us to wait while an even more senior officer was called.
The more senior officer took a while to arrive, so we had to wait ~15 minutes. Jordan suggested that I might have to forfeit the $600 and that the longer we waited, the larger the necessary bribe may be. I contemplated just handing over $50 so we could be on our way, but I figured if they smelled blood they would have demanded alot more, given that they knew exactly how much cash I had. This would have also made them even more bloodthirsty for the next poor Mzungu to pass through.
After a while the big boss came and we were taken to his office with 'directeur général' written on the door. I decided the best approach was to just smile and be friendly and try to not be intimidated. We shook hands and sat down in front of his desk. The other police officers in the room kept saying 'beaucoup argent' (lots of money). After gesturing to my pouch, I pulled out my wad of cash and put it on the table. The big boss waves his hands as if this is a waste of time! We then finally got our passports back without any bribe to pay. As we were leaving our driver said to give them something, so we gave them a token 20000 GNF (~$2.50).
Speeding towards the border after our (literal) hold up at the checkpoint. We hit another checkpoint ~1 kilometre from the border, but luckily we had no issues here.
We arrived at the border town at about 12:30pm, taking us ~5 hours to travel the 130 kilometres from Conakry. We then reached the share taxi park where we arranged a private taxi onwards to Freetown. $80 for the remaining ~180 kilometres to our hotel in Freetown. We then thanked our driver and gave him a decent tip before he headed back for the 5 hour drive to Conakry.
On the border there was one building shared by both Guinea and Sierra Leone and the formalities were quite easy and fortunately no demands for a bribe etc. We also had a health check, with a thermal imaging camera used to check our body temperature in case of Ebola.
We had an prepaid online visa for Sierra Leone with the entry point as Freetown Airport, but had no issues using it at the land border.
Refuelling our yellow taxi for the drive to Freetown. We hit a checkpoint soon after the border in Sierra Leone. After writing down our passport details the guy asked us for some money, but Jordan just wished him a happy and prosperous New Year.
Two-thirds of the way from Conakry to Freetown. The road was in excellent condition, and our driver cruised along at up to 120 kph. The road was perhaps too good, as we saw a couple of single car accidents, including a late model Mercedes S-Class that had lost control at high speed and went flying off the road at a corner.
Family of three. We came across regular police checkpoints where we had to slow down and stop. Our driver just gave the police a small bribe (1000 leones or 20 cents) and we were on our way again though.
We arrived at the share taxi park in Freetown at about 4pm. Our driver wanted us to take another taxi for the 12 kilometres to our hotel, but Jordan insisted he take us as they was what was originally agreed. Eventually he relented and we set off, but soon came across Friday afternoon rush hour.
We made it to the main road into the centre of town, but there was major traffic backed up. We stopped and moved a total of ~20 metres for the next ~30 minutes. We then hear a band and see a group of people marching along with a funeral procession that had closed down half the road.
Playing on the balcony. We were diverted down a side road, but the traffic didn't get much better. Even the motorcycle taxi's were having trouble moving in the jam-packed traffic.
We finally made it to our hotel just before 7pm, or almost 3 hours after we left the taxi park 12 kilometres away! We paid our driver plus an extra $20 before thanking him for his patience and skill with safely negotiating the crazy jam-packed traffic.
Our hotel, the Radisson Blu Mammy Yoko Hotel, had quite a few white SUV's in the parking lot belonging to the CDC, WHO and other NGO's for the West African Ebola outbreak.
And the obligatory hand wash and temperature check at the entrance.
And the very nice room. Although I'm not too fussy about hotels when travelling, it was great to have a nice room to relax in and a decent shower after our almost 12 hour overland adventure. The room rate for the Radisson Blu was $300 a night, but Jordan scored a 2 nights for one deal through his Club Carlson membership and offered to share the room with me. Breakfast was supposedly another $30 each morning but they never charged us for some reason, so it worked out to a very reasonable $75 a night each.
We were too knackered to go searching for a restaurant for dinner, so just opted to eat at the pool side hotel restaurant, and had the African chicken nut stew and steamed rice. We reflected on the long and eventful day, and how it was also Jordan's last overland trip as part of his quest to visit every country in the world (his last remaining countries to visit, Cuba, Samoa, Tuvalu and Nauru are all islands).