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Guinea-Bissau: Bubaque Island

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Bubaque Island | Guinea-Bissau | Africa

[Visited: September 2013]

There is one official boat every week to Bubaque, and I had planned my visit to the country accordingly. The timing of the departure is according to the tides, and there was some confusion, but the most likely time seemed to be 9am. So it was another traveller and I were kindly taken to the port by the owner of our hotel in Bissau. An old rusty ferry was docked, and there was quite some activity around it. Good signs, so we lined up to buy a ticket. This turned out to be a straightforward process as well. In fact, the only thing that bothers me a little bit, was the weather. After the heavy lightning the evening and night before, the sky was full of clouds, and with some wind coming from the sea, the air felt quite cool on our skin. Even though it was a ferry boat, the port did not provide for it to dock in a way that the ramp of the vessel could be used. Instead, we had to board the ferry over a wobbly wooden planks, held by two strong men. Getting down high steps took us aboard the ship that once plied the Mediterranean waters of Greece. We found a good spot on the upper deck; we had not paid for the VIP lounge which turned out to be a closed, air-conditioned room. We left around 9.30, and it felt great to be on the sea again. Strangely enough, the boat did not carry much cargo. The weather seemed to clear, and soon, we passed the first islands of the Bijagós archipelago. A rather large group of islands of various sizes off the coast of Guinea Bissau, the Bijagós are a main destination for any visitor to the country. The islands are all covered with jungle, are low, and have stretches of beaches that looked beautiful from a distance. When the sun was finally out, and we were sailing the quiet sea, I felt like the trip could last forever. But when we got closer to Bubaque, the sky to the east turned dark grey, and then black. The sun disappeared again, and the clouds were moving towards us. We could see a wall of rain below the clouds. The only question was: when would that wall hit our boat - which suddenly seemed very small? Stupidly enough, we stayed on the deck, and when the rain hit, it hit hard. We could already discern the contours of Bubaque, but now, the only concern was not to get too wet, and cold - and to try to protect our bags and cameras. We huddled under a leaking canvas, while the rain was being blown diagonally across the deck. When we finally reached the island, streams of red earth were flowing down into the sea.

Picture of Bubaque Island (Guinea-Bissau): The white sands of Bruce beach on Bubaque island

We found a very nice place to stay, and after hanging our stuff to dry, started exploring the town. My camera did not function anymore, and we walked through the muddy streets. After Bissau, we felt a special atmosphere here, notably different and more relaxed. People seemed more responsive, greeting us, smiling, and we started to like the place almost immediately. Especially after the downpour, the streets of Bubaque town were very muddy; still, it was endearing to see that in some places, people had done an effort to embellish the place by making mosaics with shells on the ground. A clear reminder of the Portuguese influence in Guinea Bissau. Most of the houses in town were crumbling, falling apart, and in bad need of maintenance, repair, and some fresh paint. But at the same time, that was also the charm of it. We had a drink in a local bar, a tasty dinner, and walked back in darkness, avoiding the pools of water. The next morning, we walked to the best hotel in town, to find out all their bikes were under repair. But this is Africa, and one of the guys of the hotel even took us to another place in town offering bikes for rent in his car. The bikes seemed in pretty good order, needed some adjustments, and when we were on the way, I had this exhilarating feeling of freedom I get when riding a bike. The temperature was OK, and after we rode the airstrip, we took the only road running north-south over the island. The surface was not bad at all, and we advanced pretty fast through a landscape of tropical forest, immense trees, and small villages where people greeted us and kids tried to run along. Alas - at some point, I heard something break in my rear wheel, which blocked right away and made me come to a sudden stop. At the same side of it, it turned out there were four broken spokes, and when we tweaked the brakes of the back, the wheel was more or less able to run again, even though with a pretty big deviation which gave me a funny feeling while riding. We passed some open fields with agriculture, and suddenly, heard the surf of the sea ahead of us. When we emerged on the sand of Praia Bruce or Bruce Beach, an empty beach opened up before us. The tide was low, and we decided to ride the beach.

Picture of Bubaque Island (Guinea-Bissau): Cinema of Bubaque

It turned out to be a great plan. Riding close to the surf, on the hard sand, it was easy to cycle, and the further we cycled, the more I was amazed that we did not see anyone. On our left, the forest, on our right, the waves of the Gulf of Guinea, with some islands visible, and straight ahead: an empty beach. At the end of it, we arrived at the mouth of a river. We lied our bikes to rest, and walked explored the river mouth on foot. Many crabs around, mangroves, and bright green plants, and when the sun finally broke through the clouds, the sand of Bruce beach turned white. It was time for a break. We had lunch, walked a little more on the beach, until the call of the waves could not be resisted anymore. The water was shallow, and I was careful: had heard warnings about stingrays around the island. When we saw that our tracks were disappearing under the rising sea, we cycled back, and continued to the other end of the beach. We found a small cape, behind which lied a bay with a fishing boat. We had an unobstructed view westward here, and it was tempting to stay for sunset. But cycling back in the dark did not seem a good idea. We arrived in town just at dusk; after all the cycling, we were in bad need of a drink and had an enjoyable dinner. The next morning, after I had made sure the boat back to Bissau would leave at 2pm (departure time depends on the tide), we went for a walk through town. Passing some fields, we headed to the eastern coast of the island, through a small village, where we arrived at a small beach at low tide. Women had their feet knee-deep in the mud, digging for shells. We walked a trail back to the village, and it was time for me to pack and get ready for the boat ride back - and say goodbye to my travel companion who was going to stay to explore some of the surrounding islands. The boat left in time again, docked at an open space on the coast where a van was pushed aboard, and we sailed off to Bissau in much better weather than on the way out.

Picture of Bubaque Island (Guinea-Bissau): Fishing boat with fish on the way to the fish market of Bubaque
Picture of Bubaque Island (Guinea-Bissau): The road running north-south on Bubaque island
Picture of Bubaque Island (Guinea-Bissau): Fish market on Bubaque with a direct supply from the sea
Picture of Bubaque Island (Guinea-Bissau): Looking out towards Bubaque island from the ferry
Picture of Bubaque Island (Guinea-Bissau): Empty Bruce Beach is perfect to cycle on
Picture of Bubaque Island (Guinea-Bissau): River with white sands at the northern tip of Bruce beach
Picture of Bubaque Island (Guinea-Bissau): Stream running over the beach
Picture of Bubaque Island (Guinea-Bissau): Southern cape of Bruce beach
Picture of Bubaque Island (Guinea-Bissau): Hut and palm trees on a field on Bubaque island
Picture of Bubaque Island (Guinea-Bissau): Typical straw huts on Bubaque island
Picture of Bubaque Island (Guinea-Bissau): Departure day at the pier of Bubaque with women selling stuff on the street
Picture of Bubaque Island (Guinea-Bissau): Old house of Bubaque with grazing cows
Picture of Bubaque Island (Guinea-Bissau): Bubaque pier full of people upon the departure of the weekly ferry boat

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