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Travelling in the Rainy Season

Roads that are impossible to drive on due to mud and stretches that had turned into small lakes; showers that can keep even the most determined inside for entire days; and shoes that never dry. The challenges in West Africa’s rainy season are many.

rain 28 °C
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Bissau's main street

Bissau's main street

The room is damp. So are the mattress and the sheets. We’ve been woken up twice when heavy showers started drumming on the tin roof like was it playing at a heavy metal concert. Just to add to a night that was already misery, the hotel’s guard also woke us up in the middle of the night. Okay, “hotel” might be stretching it a bit. We were spending the night in the rooms behind a bar in a suburb to Bissau – the capital of Guinea-Bissau – we the rooms were usually just rented out for an hour or two to couples who wanted to have a good time. The guard who woke us up at 3 am. simply had to check whether we had paid to stay the entire night… Accommodation Bissau is poor value and we had spent too much money living the first few days in Guinea-Bissau nicely – and we were only staying one night anyway. We probably won’t do that again, however.

Taking cover

Taking cover

Miserable nights aside, the rains have arrived in full force. Both Astrid and I have travelled in rainy seasons before, but never in West Africa. Astrid has been to Nepal and Southeast Asia, and I have been to Central America and Madagascar. For all those places, the rainy season is usually limited to something like an hour’s torrential rains during the early evening and then nightly showers. Not here in West Africa. Guinea and Guinea-Bissau are the wettest countries in the region. On average, GB gets 850 mm rain in July alone (900 in August) – Guinea receives 4300 mm (that’s more than four meters) in both those months. To comparison does plenty of European countries not get more than 700 mm – during a whole year!

Rain

Rain

Torrential rains here don’t just last for ten minutes, as they do back home. They last for hours. Just crossing the street will soak you through to the bone. Other days they rain simply does not stop or even pause at all. Thus, Astrid and I have lost days on this trip because we have not been able – or willing – to go outside. Writing this, it does strike me that it sounds ridiculous. We have waterproof clothing with us, so missing buses, wasting half and whole days inside shouldn’t really happen. Right? Right…

Less than 10 min. outside

Less than 10 min. outside

It’s not like we haven’t been out into to rain. In the regional town of Batafá, we went out to check the abandoned market. When the rain intensified, it turned the streets around the market into small rivers and trapped us there for the better par of an hour. At Bolama we went for a full-day hike despite the rain. After 10 minutes, we had to return to our guesthouse with Astrid’s iPhone. Without having taken it out of her raincoat pocket, it had gotten water damaged. It didn’t survive. I’ll repeat that. The rains destroyed Astrid’s phone, even though it was closed off in the pocket of her waterproof coat. When we eventually got back from the walk were every inch of us dripping wet – down to our underwear – despite being dressed for the weather. Well, my hat had actually managed to keep my head somewhat dry…

Flooded Street

Flooded Street

This might not sound too bad. The problem is that it’s impossible to dry wet shoes and clothing. The humidity is rarely below 80 percent, so we need to put it out in the direct sun for it to dry. However, days can quickly pass without the sun being able to shine through the thick clouds. So stuff simply doesn't dry. Astrid had wet shoes for eight consecutive days because fresh rains keep soaking them. An old travellers' advice is to wear any clothes that haven’t dried completely after a wash. It’s icky to wear until the sun dries it (or new rains get it properly wet again), but it’s better than having wet and damp clothing packed into our bags were it would start to smell and make everything else damp. The problem is that the rainy season makes most clothing wet pretty quick if you choose to go out. I do not want to complain, and that’s why I don’t want to go out into the rains too often.

One of the better roads

One of the better roads

As a last side effect, rains ruins the roads down here. Only the biggest roads have tarmac, and the grave roads are transformed into continuous stretches of potholes full of reddish mud and water, making transportation even slower. Upcountry Astrid and I only managed 75 km in 13 hours of travel. That’s less than 6 km/h. Other roads are just washed away or permanently flooded by the extra metres the rivers rises during the rainy season. When I’m heading out of Guinea-Bissau into Guinea, I have to travel in a completely different direction, crossing most of the Guinea-Bissau before I can turn into Guinea. It’s and extra 230 km (hopefully not at a speed of less than 10 km/h) because the direct road is gone…

All this is of cause part of the struggle that is African travel. It’s a greater challenge and therefore also a greater reward every time a new obstacle have been passed. Moreover, if you have ever been to a multi-day music festival where you and your friends had to camp out, you know how much inclement weather brings people together. It’s the same here in Africa. That feeling of comradery because everyone is struggling through the same rains.

Posted by askgudmundsen 03:43 Archived in Guinea Bissau Tagged rain travel travelling problem guinea rains downpour bissau guinea-bissau challenges rainy_season

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