Quaint Island Life In A Narco State – Guinea-Bissau Part 2

Join us as we continue our travels through Guinea-Bissau, a country that just weeks ago experienced a deadly coup attempt that aimed to kill the president, prime minister, cabinet, and army officials, and succeeded in killing almost a dozen people before it was stopped. The president describes the coup attempt as an attack on democracy, and the officials say that it was led by a convicted drug baron.

Read on to learn more about why a drug trafficker was concerned with the president, and my own personal experience of traveling through this troubled country with my beautiful Brazilian girlfriend.

A Nefarious Trade Route

Before European colonial times, Guinea-Bissau and the Bissagos Islands in particular (which we began to explore in our last entry) were central to trade between Africa and Europe. The Bissagos Islands are still part of an important trade route, but today, it’s the drug trade that they are essential to.

The islands are famous for having huge packages of cocaine floating in the water or washing up on shore, as the islands are a main point of entry for drugs on their way from South America to Europe. We were told by locals that the whole country is basically a narco-state, with the president and government officials involved in, and profiting off of, the drug trade.

The kids of Guinea-Bissau may be the only ones uncorrupted.

Alana and I visited Guinea-Bissau and its Bissagos Archipelago in the autumn of 2021, so we missed the coup attempt by several months, and we did not find any packages of “party favors” floating in the water during our stay. However, we learned later that the day we left, a mysterious plane landed in the capital of Bissau and stayed there for a long time.

No one could determine who were the pilot and passengers, as they disappeared quickly after the arrival of the plane, and it could only be assumed that they were drug traffickers. We didn’t see much evidence of drug trafficking while we were there, but we did notice some particularly nice hotels and restaurants where we figured that the money was probably being laundered as part of the local drug trade. 🤑

Alana, as a Brazilian whose native language is Portuguese, was able to help me with the language barrier as we traveled through this country because they speak Portuguese (as well as Creole) in Guinea-Bissau, which was a former Portuguese colony.

Alana making friends with some local children

Alana told me that their Portuguese was quite difficult to understand, but she managed well and made friends with our local guide, who had extremely long fingernails at about 10 centimeters each. It seems to be a cultural thing there, but that was still quite funny to see on a man. Apparently, his long nails were not for using drugs but to give an image of prosperity, as men with long fingernails do not typically do manual labor.

Join us now back where we left off in the Bissagos Archipelago, where we had previously explored the island of Bolama, and most recently, Orango Island.

The Main Town

The next day after visiting Orango Island, we looked forward to advancing deeper into the Bissagos Archipelago to visit the island of Bubaque, which is considered to be the main island on the archipelago. The island is just opposite from where our hotel was.

Welcome to Bubaque

We walked around there a bit and went to a museum that describes the history and the wildlife of the island, which includes not only hippos and crocodiles but also whales, sharks, and turtles. We learned about Poilão Island, a holy turtle island that is sacred to the local people. Only adult males are permitted to go there, while women and children are prohibited.

They have so many turtles there that it’s considered to be the third-largest turtle nesting site in the Atlantic. I had heard that it was possible to visit there as a tourist, but it wasn’t in our program, so I asked our guide if he could arrange a visit. He said that it was possible. We went to the island later that night to see it.

Hanging out with the locals in Bubaque

But first, we were in Bubaque going around a bit and seeing some of the action on the island. It’s not so colonial; it’s more African. But they have many more amenities than we found in Orango. I wouldn’t want to live there, but it was nice walking around to see the town and the people there. Although it is one of the main towns and tourist gateways on the islands, featuring some little hotels and bars and so on, it wasn’t very touristy due to the pandemic and visa issues.

Fun in the Mud

We continued onward, further offshore from the mainland to a very remote village where we ended up having an adventure in the mud because the tide there was so crazy. When we arrived, we were directly on the beach, but when we left we had to walk a kilometer out into the sea just to reach our boat. On arrival though, everything was fine. We walked for about twenty minutes through the village, which was for some reason inland and not at the beach.

Here’s the beach where we arrived at high tide

We went there to see a special dance that would be performed by the local kids. It was very interesting and cool to see them dance for us.

Meeting the local children

In addition to the children dancing, there was also some very nice drumming and costumes too. The local people did everything to welcome us, and they showed us some other stuff, too, in their typical village.

A colorful traditional costume for dancing

As you might expect, there were a huge number of kids trying to play with us. At one point we were surrounded by 30 kids, which was interesting and nice. We joked around with them, they got Alana’s sunglasses, and we took some nice pictures. 😎

You have to admit, this kid looks pretty stylish. 🤣

We went back to the boat about two hours later when the tide was already going out. It was like someone had taken all the water away from the beach where we had previously arrived. The boat looked so far away from the beach, and we had to walk through the low-tide mud for a long way to reach it.

Even once we made it to the boat, it was nearly impossible to get out because the boat was practically stranded in a little river that was hardly deep enough to exit. It was a wild adventure, but I took some nice pictures of the low tide on those islands.

This is the same beach we arrived at, just three hours later 🤯

Turtle Island

We went back to the hotel and chilled a bit there. We had dinner, then took the boat for almost two hours to get to this holy turtle island, which was quite far offshore. It’s the farthest island off the coast, which is already almost halfway to Guinea proper.

It was a nice, sandy Island, but we didn’t see much of the island itself because the sun was almost already down by the time we got there. We were still in the boat as the sun was going down, so we got to see a very nice sunset over the Atlantic Ocean. We think that we may have seen a whale at some point, or maybe Alana just has an overactive imagination, but we definitely saw a lot of birds. 😅

Sunset over the Atlantic

We arrived at the island at dusk, chilled a bit with four or five local rangers that we met there, drank some alcohol, and waited for it to get dark outside. After dark, we went to see the baby turtles, which the rangers had collected so that no gulls or other predators could eat them. They were kept safe in a bucket, which was given to us at the beach.

Cute baby turtle

We released them about five meters from the sea and counted them, then watched as all the baby turtles instinctively went straight to the water for the first time in their lives. They entered the water and swam off to grow into big, beautiful sea turtles. That was quite impressive. Even though we didn’t get to see them hatching from their eggs, it was still nice to see them all running through the sand toward the ocean and swimming away to meet their destiny at sea.

In addition to the baby turtles, we also saw lots of very large turtles that night as they emerged from the water to lay their eggs. We walked all around the island with a guide, keeping our eyes peeled for those big turtles which came out of the water and made a burrow in which they laid their eggs. It was dark, but we had a special light that didn’t disturb the turtles but allowed us to see well and take some photos.

Mama turtle laying her eggs

Dancing Through Life

After exploring the turtle island, we had a two-hour ride back through the dark night in a small boat over the Atlantic back to our lodge under the beautiful starry sky. That was our last night at the resort, which we enjoyed a lot.

Our beautiful beach resort

The next morning we had a little time to just chill before going back to Bissau where we still had some plans. We were planning to go to another place first, but because of something going on with the boat, they took us back to Bissau instead. There we got picked up by a car and drove to our next destination of Quinhamel, which is 38 kilometers west of the capital. We saw some inland parts of Bissau as we drove around the streets.

We were mainly going to Quinhamel to see another dance, as practically the whole village was planning to dance for us. On the way there, we went for lunch at some old sailing club resort by the river. In the past, it was probably a popular place for foreign sailors to go visit, but when we were there we saw only two old sailing boats. We had a nice meal there at the resort, and wandered around a bit, taking pictures of the river, and getting a ton of mosquito bites.

A delicious dinner of raw meat 😋

We then drove over some very remote paths to get to the village where they would dance for us. After seeing the dance, which was very nice, and enjoying some of the local village life, we headed back to the same nice hotel that we had first stayed in and just enjoyed our last afternoon in Bissau. We had a good dinner there and then got ready for our next flight.

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

Our next flight meant saying goodbye to Alana for now because she was flying back to Brazil, with a night or two stopover in Lisbon. She was supposed to take a direct flight from Bissau to Lisbon, but the night before her flight we saw that it was suddenly canceled, so I booked Alana a new flight.

At midnight, we said goodbye and she left to fly with Royal Jordanian over Casablanca in Morocco to Portugal. Unfortunately, the airline lost her luggage along the way, and it was not returned to her until over ten days later in São Paolo, Brazil. It was too bad that on one of her first trips with me, Alana lost all of her luggage and essentials for such a long time, which was quite hard for her.

The adventure continues

I slept for a few hours after saying goodbye to Alana, then in the very early morning, I flew back to Dakar in Senegal, and from there to the capital of Conakry in Guinea proper. From there, my travel to the more dangerous Western African countries would begin with Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and so on, which I will write about next time.

Traveling onward to Guinea

Alana and I were sad to part ways, but we had a lot of fun together between our week in Dubai, our week in Mauritania, and our final week in Guinea Bissau.