A quick glance at the ruined presidential palace of the little known
former Portuguese colony of Guinea-Bissau tells you a lot about its
turbulent recent history. It's the country I least expected to
visit in West Africa, but my interest was piqued by a French car
trafficker heading down there and who loves the country. After
almost 40 years of war, both civil and against Portugal, Guinea-Bissau
has at long last stabilized and can begin its development from ground
zero. It is one of the most shattered nations I've ever visited,
but so worthwhile, for the lush tropical setting, its friendly and
earnest people, and the intoxicating (literally) lifestyle inherited
from the freeliving Portuguese. I only missed the Carnaval here by a
couple of days. Quite a change from the more austere, muslim
Senegal to its north.
Bissau still retains significant colonial charm and is one of the most
pleasant capital cities in West Africa, unhurried and uncrowded with a
timeless serenity. The names of the capital cities Bissau and
Conakry distinguish the two neighbouring Guineas in West Africa.
Nothing really works in this country but that doesn't seem to bother
anybody. Perhaps only from the womb of violence and fatigue can
such peace emanate?
Offshore from Bissau lies one of the true unknown gems in Africa.
No, not the blood diamonds from nearby Liberia and Sierra Leone, but
the archipelago dos Bijagos, the only major island archipelago off
African shores. The reefs draw in swarms of fish, which along
with the local palm products (oil, wine, fruit) drive the
economy. More curious still is the unique matriarchal society
with its unique art and dances, but these are difficult to
access. I was content to spend a couple of days on the Ilha
Bubaque, the largest island and still a little slice of paradise.
There used to be a luxury hotel resort on Ilha Bubaque back in the
1970s under Portuguese and here is an old hotel shuttle bus to prove it.