At the “Pensao Branco”: Sao Domingos

Crossing the border into Guinea Bissau was easy and straightforward… aside from my sketchy driver. I don’t know what his deal was, but he repeated the same series of motions over and over the entire time (touch the top of the steering wheel with the right hand, jiggle the key, wipe the forehead, tug at the right pant leg, touch the steering wheel with the left hand, and repeat). Thankfully the whole trip was no more than an hour, or I likely would have forgone the money already spent and would have looked for a new car.

The crossing itself makes me realize now why the Mauritania-Senegal crossings have such a bad rep; the difference is like night and day! Crazy, hectic, and corrupt, vs. the calm, almost lazy nature further south.

And of course, with this comes a series of proposals. Oh, you are so nice; I love you too much. When are you coming back? No, no, you must come back. And you have a husband? Where is he? No matter, you can have another.

From every single one.

So eventually, I crossed the border into Guinea Bissau, not knowing much about what I would find (not that this differs too much from anywhere else I’ve gone). All I knew was that accommodation in the capital was super expensive, so I thought I would stop at the first town, Sao Domingos, for a night to get some more info. I got out of the sept-place (my first time getting the front seat – a huge upgrade from the makeshift back row which I seem to always get), said goodbye to my crazy/drugged up driver, and attempted to find a hotel. Communicating this in of itself was an interesting task; not really very difficult, just interesting, as it was done through a combination of English, French, and Portuguese, and Krio; myself speaking the English and French, obviously, and the guys bantering back and forth in latter two, occasionally giving me some idea as to what they were debating about, but mostly just telling me “wait”. After some waiting, someone new appeared, who had been apparently summoned to bring me to the “pensao branco”, a terribly racist-sounding hotel, I was thinking to myself.

As it turns out, this is simply where some German guy lives, who has had a few people stay from time to time. I guess they assumed that since I was also white, he’d be happy to have me.

The Pensao Branco

Thankfully, he was a pretty accommodating host. He rents a room in this simple, yet very nice house, and has been tending the gardens and making improvements all around, so it was a lovely place to stay. He has a row of tents to one side, which he offered me. I half-heartedly protested, saying truly that I hated to impose, and that I would be more than willing to move onto one of the actual hotels, but given that it was nearing 40 degrees, I was also quite keen to put my bag down and cool off for a bit before making any further moves. In the end, I accepted the offer in exchange for beer and help making dinner. This was actually a great deal for me, as the (imported, tax-free, Portuguese) beer is less than $1, but the hotels would be at least $10-20.

Now Sao Domingos isn’t exactly a hot-spot for tourism, so I can’t say I was staying exactly because it was just too great to leave. In reality, there was a boat leaving Bissau on Friday which I wanted to take, and I preferred to stay for free in Sao Domingos than spend my entire daily budget on the nice and comfortable, yet relatively pricey hotel options in Bissau (compared to the $5-10 places I’ve been staying at in the last few months). But I did still have a nice time there; I got to borrow a bicycle, the brake-less, awkwardly-adjusted creature that it was; I learned to play dominoes, and a longer, much better, version of Yahtzee; and I could get a macaroni and black-eyed-peas sandwich for 20 cents, at pretty much any time of the day. As I’ve said, there are some interesting and creative sandwiches in this part of W. Africa, but I actually kind of love them. And believe it or not, the bread is actually amazing!

So after a few nights of sleeping under the cashew trees in Sao Domingos (cashews are the primary, if not only, export of Guinea Bissau), I headed to the big city.

All the kids must have thought I was the craziest white girl they’d ever seen, doing yoga in the morning

Oh, and I forgot to mention that somehow, up until Sao Domingos, I had never actually participated in the gathering-of-the-water-from-the-well. It’s not at all difficult (or interesting, really) in any way, but I found it to be something worth noting, that I had somehow spent months before on various trips to Africa, yet I’d never gone for water at the well.

So I guess I can check that off the list.

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