x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

The Practical Traveller: Finding a way through Guinea Bissau's red tape

Chris Guillebeau visits his third-to-last country on his quest to visit every nation on earth. This week: Guinea Bissau.

Chris Guillebeau, 35, is the author of The Art of Non-Conformity and The $100 Startup. He in on a five-year mission to visit every country in the world and this is his third-from-last stop.

It was the last country on the most challenging continent. For the past decade I had travelled throughout Africa, making it to every country in the south, the north, the east, and even the Sahara.

I had more than my share of experiences in bush taxis and dangerous ferries. Yet Guinea Bissau, a tiny country in West Africa, had always eluded me.

Part of the problem was logistical. By all accounts a visa was required to enter Guinea Bissau, but there was no embassy in any accessible city - not in Washington, not in Ottawa and not in London. How can travellers get a required visa when there is no way to apply?

I found the answer in a small office on the east side of Manhattan. A few blocks from Grand Central Station, a tired building serves as a hub for dozens of countries that maintain a diplomatic presence at the United Nations. There wasn't an embassy, in other words, but presumably someone who worked for the Guinea Bissau government might be able to help.

After numerous enquiries, I found the right building. Then, after further enquiries and a long wait, I hit the jackpot. The handover of US$100 (Dh367) in cash (no receipt provided) and a passport photo produced the necessary approval from a young man on assignment from Guinea Bissau, along with an invitation to visit a Brooklyn nightclub where the young man moonlighted as a DJ.

Success! I finally had what I needed. I went to London, I went to Madrid, and after two days of travel, I went to Dakar for the final flight. Landing in the capital of Bissau at long last, I checked into a small hotel and began a three-day stay.

Now it was time to ponder my experience in the final African country - but where to begin? Years ago, I had roamed the region in a fleet of Land Rovers, transporting medical shipments while volunteering for an international charity. Now it was different; I was a tourist in a land of no tourism. Asking around for sightseeing recommendations at the hotel produced a shrug. I went to the market, but it was uninspiring.

Then I remembered the port! I could go to the port.

A decade earlier I arrived by ship in Sierra Leone, my first African country. This experience served as my introduction to Africa, a continent I grew to love, as well as a catalyst for many years of travel.

I hadn't been back to Sierra Leone since those early days, but now I was practically next door in Bissau. Walking down to the port, I saw a bustle of activity. Merchant ships were unloading. A tanker was heading back out to sea. The usual flotilla of shipwrecks dotted the coastline.

There was no hospital ship waiting to welcome me back on board, but I had made it "home" to West Africa nonetheless. I sat on the pier and watched the fishermen bring in their catch. Only two countries remained.

twitter Follow us @TravelNational

Follow us on Facebook for discussions, entertainment, reviews, wellness and news.