[ Bissau, Guinea-Bissau ]
On Day 2 I turned inland, hoping to follow the south shore of the Gambia river for a few days. Most travelers never venture into The Gambia’s interior, passing instead through the densely populated coastal corridor and continuing south into Senegal’s Casamance region. Not me.
The early part of the day was spent threading my way through traffic (no more collisions, thankfully) and larger towns and villages. The further inland I went the hotter it got, and by mid-afternoon I was cooling my heels in front of a typical village shop, drinking cold soda and waiting for the heat to subside. Turns out I was already at the day’s final destination.
As is often the case, the curious kids arrive first, then a few adults wander over, and before long you have an invite to stay the night in someone’s home. It was a bit early for that, but one of the men explained they were currently producing charcoal for sale back in the capital; I should join them out in “the bush” tending the pyres for a night. (The bush is Africa’s universal term for any wild, uncultivated or uninhabited land, like the outback in Australia.)
Of course I said yes, and of course it was the right call.
I set up my tent amongst cashew and mango trees, and learned the ins and outs of creating and tending a large charcoal pyre–a slow, five- to seven-day process. I also learned that the application of the term “Rastafarian” was pretty fluid in this country, and that everyone was categorized as either a Rastafarian or a “sober.” I guess I’m a Rastafarian, then. Along with all the working and tending–overseen by my namesake James, there was plenty of homebrew cashew wine, fresh-roasted cashews, cashew fruit, mangoes, amazing music from Gambia and Guinea-Bissau, dancing, a veritable assembly line cranking out “the Bobby,” and even an acapella performance of the Gambian national anthem for Yours Truly, sung in the deepest, richest African Basso Profundo you can imagine. Surreal.
I slept, ummm, well, I slept quite well when I finally crawled into my tent after three in the morning.
Dawn came far too early, but James wanted to lead me through the neighboring forest to a swampy tributary of the river, where he convinced me to wade hip deep in mud and mangrove roots to find some sandbar where the boys play football at low tide, and women dive for oysters. (I was fine with all of this until he started laughing and said the c-word, by the way. Never use the c-word around a city-boy wading hip-deep in mud and mangrove roots, m’k? M’k.)
After this came another long nap under the trees, letting the cashew wine run its course before setting out after lunch for another day’s adventure.
Enjoy the charcoal and mangroves, and let me know what you think of my experience.