There would certainly be a lot to write about Cape Verde. But on the one hand, the destination of our trip was the Bijagós Islands off the coast of Guinea-Bissau, and on the other, I caught something in Mindelo that clearly felt like corona. My suspicion fell on a theatre performance in Mindelo’s smart cultural centre. A comedy was being performed in Creole. Not that I understood much. But just witnessing the enthusiasm of the audience seemed worth it. However, this enthusiasm may also have been the accelerant that spread a nasty virus around the room.
In any case, after two days I started coughing like a chain smoker and I felt as limp as a sail in calm weather. Just like I had felt the last time I was ill with coronavirus. Back then, I was on the Selvagens, the islands between Madeira and the Canary Islands. Now I was supposed to sail to the Bijagós, around 500 nautical miles to the south-west. There are more favourable moments for an illness.
For once, I wasn’t alone on board when we set sail from Mindelo on 2 November. Paulo, an anthropologist from Santa Maria in the Azores, had come on board to sail with me to the Bijagós. To get straight to the point: I infected him, of course, and soon we were coughing together.
We made two stopovers before leaving Cape Verde. Firstly in Tarrafal on São Nicolao, where a downdraught in the bay wanted to snatch our solar panel at all costs. The following day, we headed for the island of Maio, where we almost capsized in the surf when landing with the banana boat, our folding boat. Oh, the banana boat. It caused us a lot of grief, but was a source of general amusement. But more of that later.
Oh, the waves!
Even without the virus, the crossing to the Bijagós would have been anything but pleasant. The wind was less of a problem than a steep, short wave that hammered against the side of the boat and regularly washed over it. We skipped cooking and subsisted on muesli and other simple things. But even these culinary modesties were spoilt for us; I was sitting in the cockpit with my bowl of freshly mixed muesli, just about to take my first spoonful, when a wave crashed over me from behind and literally salted my food.
The closer we got to the coast, however, the calmer the sea became and as we motored towards the estuary we had chosen to enter the island world, the sea was as flat as a pan. There was a strange atmosphere. We seemed to be gliding along on an endless expanse, because although the islands were only a few miles away, they could not be made out in the haze. We came across a few fishing boats, otherwise we were travelling alone.
Disco lights at sea
It was only when we passed the entrance to the Geba River, the access road to the capital of Bissau, that things became livelier. A number of cargo ships crossed our course and – it was now pitch dark – a green strobe light flickered across the surface of the water as if there was a disco somewhere to the east of us. It was spooky. We later learnt that they were probably fishermen.
At 9 pm on 10 November, we reached our anchorage off the island of Orangosinho, the orange island, as the last of the eight boats on our expedition. We had arrived on the Bijagós. Coughing, tired and hungry. The mission could begin.