We were ready and waiting for the boat at 7 – it didn’t turn up for 3 hours, which gave me time to discover Joao had bought PG tips, so we had a great brew to start the day. We also walked up to the village school to meet Filipe to give him one of the solar lights we’d bought – we’re sure he’ll manage it well, giving a little light in the night for the community gatherings. As we were waiting for him a swarm of waiting school children crowded around us, so we did a bit of counting in English, and they had 1 to 9 nailed by the time Filipe arrived.
The boat showed up and we said our goodbye’s to Kaiser Da Silva, the island’s technician, Quinta and Dona, the director and deputy of the women’s group, both wonderful, helpful and kind – it was quite sad to be leaving. Unhucomu is certainly a beautiful place to live, but the isolation is extreme and daily life in this paradise is certainly not easy.
On our way to our next stop, Orango, we passed a small dug-out fishing boat, after over an hour of seeing no other vessel. We motored up and greeted the men (from Sierra Leone) who were pulling in a line, with fishes attached to the hooks just a couple of meters apart. Their boat was filled with mainly catfish, but also a massive stingray, a small shark and a baby hammerhead. We picked a couple of fat garoupas (a meaty white seafish), for which the men didn’t want any money for, so we paid them in biscuits. Bargain!
We approached yet another long white sandy beach, picked a camping spot, and ate a delicious fishy-vegetable stew that Joao rustled up in minutes. Orango is a national park and one of the larger and better known of the islands – the eco-hotel and hippos draw a modest but significant number of visitors every year. Another claim of the island is that it was home to Okinka Pampa – the formidable African Queen who ruled over the Bijagos Islands (until 1923) and continues to be a great inspiration to many today.
Walking to the village, Eticoga, by a grassy dune path made me think about just how different each island and village is. All have their own distinct character – this was almost a town, with larger buildings including a primary and secondary school, a huge solar-powered electricity pylon and some satellite dishes. The market garden was very large and well established, with pigs, cows and chickens hanging out in the fields outside. Joao and Anderson stayed by the well, as Anderson worked with a helpful group of locals to fix the problem he was now quite familiar with, Joao gathered a small group to check in on any issues and discuss the management of the well.
We managed another fantastic fishy meal for dinner, BBQ-ing the two garoupas we’d been given, eating under the stars as Joao went in to story-telling mode again – a much more imaginative and satisfying way to pass an evening than watching Netflix….
Transport around the islands is notoriously difficult. Up until now we had privately hired boats – a quick way to get around, but also hard-hitting on the wallet. There was a local passenger boat that left in the morning to Bubaque, the capital island of Bijagos. Being just a twice-ish weekly occurrence, we hopped on. Hopping on is perhaps not really the right word – it involved a hectic wade through thigh-high waves holding bags high before scrabbling on to the boat and finding a ‘seat’ (a thin wooden plank) as far away as possible from the three bull-cows, pigs and chickens that somehow made their way on too. It was a bit of a squish, and the journey turned out to be five hours rather than the expected three, but it more comfortable than I’d thought and it was good to experience the local way of travelling rather than jetting past on relatively luxurious speed boats.
At any other time I would have considered Bubaque to be a rather sleepy small town, but it felt definitively metropolitan compared to the other villages we’d been to in the last few days. There are small shops, simple restaurants and hotels by the port, with some fancier holiday complexes a little further away and even an airport (albeit a barely used single dusty landing strip). After a much-enjoyed cold beer with lunch, we meandered around the town and said goodbye to Joao who found a last minute lift back to Bissau. We will see him again in a few days back in the WellFound office.
And so we came to the end of our WellFound adventure thus far – we decided to take some more days exploring the islands. I write this from Kere, a tiny island with a beautiful hotel used mainly by fishing enthusiasts coming from all over the world. We plan to spend more time camping by a couple of other villages where WellFound have had projects, we’d like to see a little more of their work – we have also fallen in love with the Robinson Crusoe life style so can’t quite bear to leave just yet!
26th April to 7th May
We significantly extended our stay on the islands – everything they had to offer proved too wonderful. As well as enjoying the comfort and delights that Kere had to offer, we camped on Carache for a few nights, re-visiting the community in Binte and doing some follow-up work on their well, and getting to know Ampincha, another village WellFound have worked with. Their well was working but Anderson saw that a good bit of maintenance wouldn’t go amiss so his time was put to good use!
Our time with WellFound has been incredible. Through working with the dedicated team we have travelled to places we would otherwise never have been, welcomed in to a number of local communities and given insights in to their culture that could never be found in guidebooks. Anderson’s engineering expertise has helped fix water pumps, and I hope that the photographs and videos that I have taken can be enjoyed by the communities once the computer, projector and generator are speaking to each other again!
That is the end of Alice’s diary. Thank you again to Alice and Anderson for travelling with us, for helping out so much in practical ways and for sharing both the magic and the challenges of Guinea-Bissau through this diary.
The complete diary is here: