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Guinea-Bissau: Varela

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Varela | Guinea-Bissau | Africa

[Visited: September-October 2013]

Just to be sure, I had called ahead to see if I would find a place to stay in Varela; and if I would find transportation. It proved to be difficult to find a taxi to the bus station, and when I arrived, the minivan to Sao Domingos was leaving. The second one filled up faster than I thought, and within an hour we were on our way. Getting to Sao Domingos was straightforward and fast, but I was a little worried, as I had understood that there would only be a bus in the morning. When I finally arrived at the dusty open area which is the bus station of Sao Domingos, the bus to Varela was there. I bought a ticket, and the cheerful guy of the counter said that I was number 5. Judging from the size of the bus, it would need many more passengers than that, and I went for a walk through the market, and had my bag repaired in a small shop. When I came back to the bus, nothing was happening, and I sat down in the shade, eating and drinking something. Asked the guy again, but no more passengers had showed up. I asked him if he was sure the bus would leave at all, and no, he was not sure about that. I started to worry a little bit. The 54 kilometres were too far to walk, and I imagined there would hardly be any traffic. Just then, a 4WD showed up, which turned out to be heading to Varela. The driver was a little vague when I asked him if he could give me a ride. A little later, as I walked the open field, someone called "Amigo" after me, and it was the same driver again. He explained he did not want to steal passengers from the bus, because they were his friends, and told me to walk to the main road where he would pick me up. Indeed, within a few minutes, the Toyota showed up, and I sat in the back next to a pile of cartons of beer and softdrinks. The driver turned out to be Ukrainian, and a friendly guy; he apologized he first had to deal with some things in town before heading to Varela. He paid some money here and there, and when he was chatting to a police guy while drinking a can of beer, that did not seem strange at all to the officer.

Picture of Varela (Guinea-Bissau): Waves on the beach of Varela at the end of the day

During our drive, we tried to talk: after I used up my rusty Russian vocabulary, I was speaking Spanish to an Ukrainian guy, and getting a reply in Portuguese. The road was bad in parts, and it took us some two hours to cover the distance. I was delivered straight to the doorstep of the Italian hotel where I found a young girl with a newborn baby, and a carton full of kittens. I dumped my stuff, and walked towards the coast; but on the way, Ivan passed by and gave me a ride. I could hear the sea, but did not see it; I walked through a forest of tall pine trees through which the wind was blowing. There were several decrepit buildings around; ruins of former Portuguese manions? Soon enough, I could see the beach ahead of me. At the southern side, decaying structures spoilt the view of the beach, and I walked past them before walking down to the golden sands. I could see far ahead, until Cape Skirring in Senegal. I removed my shoes, and enjoyed the feel of sand and see on my feet. I came across the fishermen point of Varela, where big pirogues with colourful decorations were lying on the sand. I walked much further, and wondered if I would notice if I would accidentally cross the border with Senegal. I turned around, and walked back to the fishermen where a boat had arrived with the newest catch, and women were gutting the fish. I waited for sunset, but the sun suddenly disappeared into a thick layer of clouds above the horizon. A great Italian dinner waited for me when I got back to the hotel.

Picture of Varela (Guinea-Bissau): The flag of Guinea Bissau painted on the bow of a ship on the beach of Varela

After breakfast the next day, I headed out towards Sao Domingos, since I had liked the landscapes on my way in. After sweating it out the first kilometres where the air seemed stuck between the thick forest on both sides of the road, I reached the part I was heading for. Open plains with views to the tropical forest in the distance, small lakes, kids herding cows. I walked along the road, greeting the odd cyclist who passed, and saluted a couple who were working a rice paddy under the hot sun. I myself started to feel the sun, too, and calculated that if I wanted to be back in time for lunch, I should head back to Varela. A great pasta with home-made pesto was waiting for me, and I realized that it was unlikely I would have this great food for the rest of my trip. In the afternoon, I returned to the beach. Not to lie on it, but to enjoy the views, the sound of the waves, the fresh sea breeze, the solitude. For sunset, I was at the fishing boats again, until there was just enough light left so I could walk back - offered a ride by two Danish medical students who also told me they could drop me off in Sao Domingos the next morning. It was a tempting offer, especially since I did not know how reliable the bus would be, and I ideally wanted to make it to the Gambia the next day. But while I was having an enormous dinner with fresh fish, the Italian lady told me her car would be driving to Varela, which was an opportunity too good to be true. It was true; getting to Varela had not been easy, but coming back turned out to be very smooth.

Picture of Varela (Guinea-Bissau): Reflection of palm trees in a small lake
Picture of Varela (Guinea-Bissau): Late afternoon view of the beach of Varela
Picture of Varela (Guinea-Bissau): The plains of Varela
Picture of Varela (Guinea-Bissau): The notoriously bad road between Sao Domingos and Varela
Picture of Varela (Guinea-Bissau): The fresh catch arrives on the beach of Varela
Picture of Varela (Guinea-Bissau): Varela beach with pirogue
Picture of Varela (Guinea-Bissau): Looking up at the eroding beach of Varela
Picture of Varela (Guinea-Bissau): One of the typical huts found near Varela
Picture of Varela (Guinea-Bissau): The interior landscape of Varela, with grazing cows
Picture of Varela (Guinea-Bissau): Palm trees with boats moored on the beach of Varela
Picture of Varela (Guinea-Bissau): Shop with parked bicycles in Varela
Picture of Varela (Guinea-Bissau): The beach of Varela seen through the pine trees
Picture of Varela (Guinea-Bissau): The house were national hero Amilcar Cabral supposedly stayed is in decay

Around the World in 80 Clicks

Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Varela (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 Varela.
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