Directly after leaving my luggage behind at the hotel in the outskirts of the city, I took a taxi to the old part of town. The young, honest driver dropped me off at a small square, and I found myself standing under a large tree. I had just arrived in the country, heard mixed stories about the capital, and wanted to test the waters. Several people were cleaning the street, and a few guys were chatting under one of the other big trees. I walked towards the walls of the old fortress, and before I even took my camera out of my bag, an official in the distance made a gesture not to be misunderstood: taking pictures was not allowed here. It did not help to feel me more relaxed, and I decided to take a walk around the block. The small neighbourhood at the foot of the fortress is the old part of town, and has some great looking old Portuguese houses. Some have had a fresh layer of paint, but most are in an advanced state of decay.
Here and there, I saw people in the streets and alleys, and I still felt a little insecure about taking pictures. I started nevertheless: I did not want to lose the warm light that was filtered through the late afternoon clouds. No one seemed to care, so when I reached the southern tip of the Fortaleza d'Amura, I carefully looked around me before sneaking a picture. The soldiers wearing a red baret, sitting a little distance, did not notice. I walked past the main entrance, with soldiers and cannons everywhere. When I walked back, one of the soldiers on the wall started shouting at me, effectively sending me away. I turned to the alleys of Bissau Velho again, where someone got upset because I took a picture of one of the small streets, claiming I needed to ask permission of all the owners of the houses first.
I started to feel increasingly uncomfortable, and walked back to the square where I had started my little tour of Bissau Velho. On a corner, some locals were playing a game resembling checkers on a big board, and the atmosphere felt somewhat more relaxed. An older lady warned me that if the soldiers would see me take a picture of the fortress, they would confiscate my camera. I knew enough, and walked back to the main street of the city, Amilcar Cabral - named after the father of the independence of Guinea Bissau who never lived to see the country reach freedom - and started walking up to the Square of the National Heroes. It was time to find a good place to eat, but just at that moment, lighting accompanied by a tropical downpour of water made me escape into the lobby of a hotel.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Bissau Velho (Guinea-Bissau). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Bissau Velho.
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