Manatees, antelopes, crocodiles of the Nile, & c. A miniature Africa preserved in a string of 88 islands forming a reserve of biodiversity where the earth fauna crosses the most beautiful marine species.
The boat runs at 40 km per hour towards the horizon. At this speed, the surface of the water becomes as hard as a metal plate on which the skiff ricochets. After an hour's sailing in a straight line, the coast disappears in the mist and the waves turn from brown to azure blue, a sign that one left the immense estuary of the Rio Geba, which flows into the sea near Of Bissau, the capital of the former Portuguese Guinea. But it takes another hour to reach the heart of the Bijagos archipelago. This set of 84 islands, which fit within 100 km on 100, is the closest tropical biodiversity reserve in Europe. Some see the remains of the mythical Atlantis.
The Bijagos are a strange people who live surrounded by water but who do not love the sea. This goes back to the eighteenth century. The Bijagos then engaged in piracy, attacking the ships passing aboard the kaniabak, the great canoes of war. Excessively, the Portuguese, who controlled the coast, launched a bloody expedition of reprisals, killing, burning and shaving the villages. The Bijagos concluded that the spirits of the sea had become angry with them. Since then, bijagos villages have been built at a good distance from the coast. On 25 000 inhabitants in the archipelago, there are no more 200 who practice fishing. The natives do not eat fish: they feed on rice and palm oil, as well as chickens, pigs and goats. The cows are intended for sacred ceremonies. Women pick up oysters, knives and crabs at low tide.
Most fishermen come from Senegal and neighboring Guinea-Conakry, attracted by the fabulous fishery resources of the area. As long as they do not settle on the sacred islands, reserved for ritual initiation practices, they are welcome. Offenders are kindly warned by the elders. If they do not run away, they expose themselves to the formidable science of the Bijagos in matters of poisoning, and fall one after the other, struck by a mysterious evil. But this knowledge is also at the service of an incredible pharmacopoeia: the Bijagos treat almost everything with their plants, even the bites of pythons, mambas or other vipers of Gabon. And malaria. It is better not to fall seriously ill: there is a dispensary and a nurse in everything and for everything in the islands.
The Bijagos are welcoming, but their traditions must be respected. There is no question of setting up a tourist camp without their consent. This is the first thing Gilles Develay has assured himself. This former backpacker is a tall blonde of 54 years old, who fell in love with the corner during one of his innumerable trips. Eighteen years he frequents the islands, thirteen he lives in Bubaque, the largest island of the archipelago, with his Senegalese wife and their two daughters. "It's a perfect place. Everything grows, there is groundwater all year round, even in case of drought. There is no risk that mass tourism will destroy this fragile ecosystem. To build his hotel, Casa Afrikana, Develay had to import all the construction equipment of Senegal. It takes twenty hours of sailing in a large dugout canoe to join Ziguinchor, the main town of the province of Casamance. Even today, everything comes from Senegal, even the essence. For the rest, you have to be a handyman: Develay has installed everything himself, the parable, which connects him to the Internet, fax and telephone, radio, generator and billiards. His hotel is limited to four large rooms. Like all the camps of the Bijagos, which are counted on the fingers of both hands, Develay aims at a very "sharp" clientele: these are sports fishing enthusiasts. Bijagos: carangues, red carps, barracudas, various rays, sea bream, mackerels, emperors, soles, turbos, aiguillettes, cobias, Senegalese otholites, sharks ...
Popper or launch
Gilles Develay practices all kinds of peaches: Rapallo (a lure that is allowed to drag 2 to 3 meters under water), to the popper (other lure imitating a wounded fish), to the throw (with a piece of mule to Attract prey) ... The motor boats are equipped with a GPS and a sonar to locate the schools of fish. But all the technology will not replace an intimate knowledge of the seabed acquired throughout its years of fishing. In one week it is quite possible to bring back to the end of its line a tiger shark of 250 kg. However, this profusion does not prevent Develay from being respectful of resources: "On 30 fish caught, I keep only 4 or 5. I force customers to put the fish back into the sea, if only to calm their sense of predation, to teach them to respect their environment. "
However, these good resolutions weigh little on the damage caused by European and Asian factory ships, which cross offshore and bring back 10 tons of fish per trawl to keep only 200 kg of a sought-after species. These degradations are not solely the result of industrial fishing: large canoes from Senegal can carry up to 25 tons of fish, kept in large wooden crates with salt ice.
The extreme poverty of Guinea-Bissau is at the same time its best protection and its worst defect. It was thanks to it that it was able to remain preserved, but it is because of it that the worst traffics there.
No matter what, in any case disturb the frolics of sea hippos, monkeys and giant lizards that populate the archipelago. The Bijagos are both a natural reserve and a miniature Africa, "an Africa before the rampage", as Develay likes to say. There are gazelles, parrots, lizards, manatees, cobs of reeds, otters and even crocodiles of the Nile. Without counting the kites, the fishing eagles and the goshawk which crosses heavens that even Turner would have had trouble to imagine. Often, while men are fishing, their wives leave to discover the wonders of the Bijagos. On the 88, only about 20 are inhabited and, in all, there must be no more 200 rooms in the archipelago. Almost enough to take a Robinson.