After waking up in a field in the village of Sincem Boxe, still unsure what we had witnessed the night before at the Gabu School Party! and what it all meant, we drove to Gabu and pulled up to a single pump on the side of the road. With the Cruiser nearly empty, we bought our first diesel since St. Louis. (We would later discover that we made the right call in not purchasing black market fuel, as two rally teams ran into engine trouble after being forced to buy gasoline out of cans on the street during the Senegalese fuel strike.) From Gabu we drove on the main road through much of Guinea Bissau, passing through a landscape that became increasingly green and verdant with each village.
We arrived in Bissau, the capital and the rally’s finish line, in the early afternoon. From the Guinea Bissau border it was clear that the rally was big news throughout the entire country. There was a divided highway leading up to the burnt out, bullet riddled ruins of the presidential palace, where the rally was to finish, but for some reason we saw the traffic going in two directions on the other side of the highway. Then there was a small traffic jam. Only then did it dawn on us that the government of Guinea Bissau had closed down the main road to all traffic but rally traffic, and we felt a bit self-conscious as we turned onto the final stretch, crossed the finish line, drove around Praca dos Herois Nacionais and parked in front of the offices of Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde (PAIGC), Guinea Bissau’s founding political party.
The Hungarian rally organizers, the Guinea Bissau national paraplegic basketball team, the local news media and a host of others were on hand to welcome us. After hanging out with some of the local people in the plaza and watching some other teams finish (one Portuguese guy, who had a leaking tire and we had lent our air compressor to earlier in the rally, got out of his white van and popped a bottle of champagne right at the finish line), we checked into a guesthouse and set about unloading all of our gear from the Cruiser, before having a guy we met on the street give it a wipe down inside and out. Everyone in town knew about the rally. It was clear that Bissau, a very small capital city, is not used to the kind of foreigner influx the rally brought.
Most of the teams that we had come to know over the past couple of weeks attended the rally’s closing party at Club Lenox. There were some fierce traditional dancing performances, and free beer provided by the government of Guinea Bissau (which, again, made us feel a bit self-conscious). This night was also Nate’s last—he had a 2:30 a.m. flight to Lisbon and soon back to work in New York. He made a midnight exit as the party was still going strong, along with a group of Norwegians we met on the rally (who donated their vehicle to the local office of a Portuguese charity).
While some rally teams donated their vehicles to charities, or sold them and donated the money they received to charities, the majority seemed to come to Bissau with the idea of selling their vehicles and keeping the money. Because of Guinea Bissau’s small population, somewhat isolated location, struggling economy, and relative obscurity, not many vehicles from Europe (or anywhere, for that matter) make it down. There is strong local demand for vehicles of all kinds; many rally teams found that, as in Bamako in Mali at the conclusion of previous rallies, they could sell their vehicles in Bissau for a far greater price than was possible back in Europe. Though we were not selling and therefore didn’t experience anything but persistent inquiries, many local buyers apparently had heaps of euros in hand, ready to buy. Many rally teams did in fact sell, some at a loosely organized auction in the national stadium and in so doing—according to their calculations at least—paid for all or part of the cost of participating in the rally.