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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A short walk around Bissau

On Saturday afternoon, we flew TACV (Cabo Verde Airlines) from Praia to Bissau, capital of Republic of Guinea-Bissau. I had expected difficult immigration procedures here in this one of the poorest countries in the world, but everything was surprisingly fast and efficient. The officers were cheerful and easy-going, and certainly quite Latin in many years. Perhaps the legacy of a few centuries of Portuguese rule.
We put up at Hotel Kallipste which is owned by a Frenchman. The hotel, which also has a room full of jackpot machines (- a Mainland Chinese was there when I stepped in), looked like no place you would want to stay from the outside, but the rooms were immaculately clean, modern and well furnished. This, as well as the strong bank vault-like external doors, suggest that the ugly décor outside was perhaps meant to deceive prospective bandits and looters who tend to ransack nice places during any form of rioting or political unrest such countries experience from time to time. Indeed, Guinea Bissau, since independence from Portugal in 1975 (after more than a decade of guerilla warfare), had experienced a series of civil wars in the late 1990s and multiple coups.
We walked around Bissau Sunday morning, taking photos of the quiet streets, a few graceful old Portuguese mansions, Soviet style monuments and monumental and surprisingly beautiful ruins of the old Presidential Palace destroyed during the civil wars.
With a hectic schedule, we hopped onto a bush taxi heading for the Senegal border region of Casamance, which is Christian in a country that is 90% Muslim. Over the last few decades, Casamance had been rocked by a series of insurgencies. Our journey was peaceful and the road was generally good on both sides of the border, except for the bottleneck river-crossing at Cacheu River. More details later.

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