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Guinea-Bissau and its many islands.

A new way to explore a country.


Boa Tarde, which to your eyes seems just “Good Afternoon” in Portuguese, and it is but it means the same in Kriol, the most spoken language in Guinea-Bissau.


The country, being a former Portuguese colony, has developed this unique language mixing many local languages with Portuguese, creating its own syntax and grammar which is difficult to understand for us, apart from some basic words.


We spent the month on various Islands, in the capital Bissau and we finished with three days of exhibitions in three different locations. You should know us by now, we like to get things done always a bit more than the previous time.


Mind you Guinea-Bissau is different from Guinea, which is the country just next to it. To differentiate the two Guinea, we include the name of its capital when we mention it, either Guinea-Bissau or Guinea-Conakry (Francophone country).


Let’s add something else also, we’ve been asked many times to add sounds to this newsletter, and we really would love to, but we felt this is more of a resume to what we’ve been up to and a journal, which is not the end here. If we start adding sounds to the journal you have to be taken to another page, and we feel you would lose track of the journal. This is why we will share recordings in the coming months, after having had some time to create some sound stories for you. Be patient, many sounds will come your way.


Italian friends, if you haven’t watched it yet, we had a chat with StepsOver about our project when in Senegal, and they recently released the video. Check it out! Thank you Simone and Lucia for the super support.





 



Trip Summary: Islands islands islands.


We all have a piece of Africa in our pockets.

We did expect to go from green to greener, but wow if this was a clearcut jump to literally jungle! Entering the country from the north into Sao Domingo and we were greeted by lush forests of palm trees and other tropical trees we’ve got no idea what they are, we just felt uplifted and connected straight away to this place. We headed straight to Varela, just north of Guinea-Bissau on the coast, to some of the most paradisiac beaches you can ever find.



A common view of the roads in the jungle of Guinea-Bissau.

There we stayed two days at the cottages run by Valentina, a half Guinea-Bissau and half-Italian lady and her Italian father. We had a lovely time before working, but we also encountered some dramatic stories. Not far from there, a foreign company aims to dig out around 4km of pristine beach to find zirconia or other material to make electronical components. Through a whole series of illegal actions, creating false documents and companies through corrupted people, they will start digging probably around May, planning to displace many communities to give space to big machinery to collect all the rocks and materials to be shipped. Unfortunately, it’s not a new story for West Africa.


Valentina is doing her best to avoid this from happening, which seems like an impossible task when you have to deal with multi-million dollar companies which can just take whatever they want, against a few fishing communities, but she’s getting deeper and closer to solutions. Would you like to know more about the story? Follow her on her Facebook account, we hope she’ll be able to avoid this beautiful place to being destroyed for the next iPhone 16 Pro Max to take selfies. By the way, we have a first solution, buy second-hand!





The village of Varela and the 4 km of pristine beach.


Back to the expedition, time to navigate to the islands.

This was the month with the least driving involved, as Guinea Bissau includes the Bijagos Archipelago and other islands dotted around its coast. This country is one of the most important migratory bird hotspot in the whole of West Africa, millions of European birds come here every year to feed, and many other African ones come here to breed. This meant our beloved Daphne and Jota stayed parked at Yuri’s place (a super cool guy strategically based in Bissau), while we spent a few weeks out on the islands.


Our main contact is Francisco Wambar, director of ODZH, a Birdlife partner and the NGO which deals with birds and wetland habitats all over Guinea-Bissau. He is a wonderful man full of ideas, turning them into reality, like the new university he just opened in the countryside; exactly the type of person we like to work with. Together with his team and IBAP, the Instituto da Biodiversidade e das Áreas Protegidas, we developed a program to visit the most important locations where to find migratory birds. We were aware of our timing also, as we arrived when the birds were slowly leaving towards Europe, so we had to act fast!


The first week we would be on Jeta Island, on the north side of the coast, a relatively small island temporarily inhabited by a small group of fishermen, no facilities on it, hence why we had to bring with us everything from water to electricity to stoves to cook food. It was an intense 5 days experience, the midday heat wouldn’t let us work much at that time, but we had plenty of time in the mornings and evenings to go out to film and record. We’re so thankful to Paul from GadgetBag.co.uk who provided us with a 300W portable power bank, which we plugged into our solar panels and let us recharge one laptop and Axel’s many powerbanks over our stay there, super useful.



From the left: Axel, Bedam, Ario and Francisco Wambar.

You can go to Jeta from a small fishing harbour close to the Caio village, not the harbour you would think of. We had to carry all our equipment through a marketplace, and we were worried about all the equipment; would someone take something if we left it there? How can we avoid it? We’ve been calmed down by our local guide Tamiso, and he’s right, people are chilled, and no one would take anything from us. Why would they?


We just made one, huge, fatal mistake, which both Ario and I regretted immensely, we argued about it, and we really couldn’t figure out why on Earth we didn’t think about it before. It’s such a crucial part of any expedition we do, giving us that additional power to fight any adversity and obstacles we would come across. We had an extremely tough time without our Bialetti Moka and Lavazza Premium, which really put us on the spot every morning. Our usual routine is going out early and then back to camp we would light up the fire, load up the moka, wait for the bubbly sound, quickly remove the moka from the stove, wait a few minutes and enjoy some serious Italian coffee. Beware, not at the best standards, Lavazza is not the best by any means, we’re avid supporters of our local Illy coffee from Trieste, but in tough times we can accept Lavazza. Ario is more tolerable towards the Lavazza “Il Mattino”, which still disgusts Axel’s refined coffee taste and certified barista expertise.


Anyway, we survived 5 days on the almost deserted island of Jeta, we had a great and significantly important time there. Time to go back to land where we visited a potentially interesting site on the coast overlooking Jeta, Catchalham Beach. We had to drive through some narrow jungly roads to reach the beach, and then walk around 5 km with our equipment to the beach. We walked twice, first at low tide to recce the location, which seemed ok, we then decided to take a bit of equipment with us; this meant going back to the vehicles and back to the beach. It was a long day walking under the sun, and indeed the beach was empty when we arrived. Remember, wildlife doesn’t follow a script, it’s all down to us to figure out the animal’s movement.




The beach is at low tide on the north of Jeta island.


The nature inland of Jeta island.

We then headed back to Bissau, where we spent a few days planning to visit the Bijagos Archipelago, a famous 88-island complex which covers a huge area outside Bissau. We ended up staying in Bubaque, the most famous island with the largest community, hosted by IBAP and their team. There we had the chance to travel to two main locations for filming and recording, respectively south and west of the village. This time we stayed in an actual house, crazy right?! Ario and I had one room each! Unbelievable! We spent 11 days there, many days spent in the field sleeping also, either at Dakosta Eco Retreat in the south or on the beach west of Bubaque.



Sunset at the Dakosta Eco Retreat in Bubaque Island.

Following our fieldwork we went back to Bissau, classic 3 days full on doing post-production for the exhibitions organised in collaboration with ODZH and IBAP. Friday was dedicated to the students at the INEP university complex through ODZH, where we presented it in a wonderful spacious-looking room, probably an old marketplace of some kind, it reminded us of London’s Tate Museum. On Saturday we wanted to do something open to the public, so we then decided to do it, together with Otavio from ODZH, still at INEP but on the side of the road. We knew a lot of people would walk there to go to some public events. That day we reached a new record, 130 people in one day! Absolutely a blast, we never stopped working for many hours. We couldn’t be happier to have so many people of all ages around. We skipped on Monday and then did it at IBAP’s main office, coinciding with a day of conference with representatives from all over West Africa. We have to thank IBAP’s Director Ms. Aissa Regalla De Barros for having us, it was a great day showing it to many important conservationists and members of conservation associations, including Babacar Diagne from the Diawling National Park (Mauritania) whom we met previously.


Before heading towards Guinea-Conakry we had a wonderful time with Roberto, Cocai and Chai. Roberto is hitchhiking with his two doggos through West Africa, having done already South America and Europe - India and back. He’s a wonderful person, whom we spent some lovely time in Mansoa looking for Black Crowned Cranes. Make sure to check out his IG page with all his adventures @viajerosperrunos



The Sounding Wild Experience at the University of Bissau.


Close-up of a student doing the Sounding Wild Experience.



The Sounding Wild Experience 'open air'.




More than 125 people have done the Experience in one day.


Third day of Immersive Experience at IBAP headquarters in Bissau.


Third day of Experience at IBAP headquarters in Bissau.


Axel, Ario, Rober and Cocai in Mansôa, Guinea-Bissau eating together.


 

Wild Encounters: Challenging times!


Guinea-Bissau is not an easy place to visit, logistically challenging, but it brings its rewards. Also bear in mind we find it easier to spot migratory birds when in Europe, as they’re in breeding season: this means it’s easier to predict where they will go and what they will do every day, making planning and setups more manageable and higher chances of capturing nice behaviours.


When birds are wintering somewhere, meaning their main focus is feeding and survival, we learnt that they would possibly go to the same places, but if they get scared off, or if they notice something off, it would take a much longer time for them to go back to the same place. Remember, we don’t only use long lenses, but also special 360-degree microphones and 360 cameras which require much more planning and research, as we must make sure we get as close as possible to action.



Axel walks in a wetland to get the sound of the Black Crowned Cranes flying, where cows graze regularly and mosquitos are plenty.


Filming and recording in 360, trying to anticipate the waders concentrating in a specific location on the beach at high tide.


Let’s make it clear, migratory birds are not as easy to find as the resident ones. Our mission is to find the migratory ones because of the overall message we want to send, but we won’t stop ourselves from capturing resident ones. We were on our way to Varela and we were in real need of a coffee shot, so we stopped on the side of the “road”, an unbeaten track which during the wet season because probably a river itself, when Axel heard something familiar to his ears, an African Oriole. It’s the cousin of the Eurasian Oriole, with its similar fluty sounds, it took us straight back to our home. Taking a picture ended up being an impossible task because of all the vegetation, but trust us on its incredible sound, we will share it soon with you.



No pictures of African Oriole, but that was the view, ha!


Jeta Island was another experience also, where we initially thought we would focus on the beaches, instead, Tamiso took us to the inner part of the island, where the salt marshes are. There were two main locations, one with deeper water making it a great place for long-legged birds such as our migratory friends Black-Tailed Godwits, Black-Winged Stilts, Sanderlings, Common Greenshanks, Common Redshanks, Dunlins, sharing the space with local birds such as Greater Flamingos, Pink-Backed Pelicans, Palm Swifts, Palm-nut Vultures, Hooded Vulture. Here birds were easier to approach thanks to the surrounding mangroves, with a bit of camouflage and we managed to get some nice pictures and recordings. The second location’s water level was much lower, preferred by small groups of waders such as Common Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover and Dunlin. We tried to figure out their flying pattern and left one recorder overnight to capture the sound of the flock flying. Did we get a recording? Be patient, we’ll get there ;)



Thousand of Waders flying on and off the beach in Bubaque Island.


A Palm-Nut Vulture, one of the resident birds in the area.


A curious Sanderling looking at Ario.


When talking to people about Guinea-Bissau, the Bijagos Archipelago comes to mind first. As our friend and collaborator Tim Dodman said “it will take you much more than one year to visit all the Bijagos’s islands, maybe a lifetime”. We can’t agree more, hence why we stayed in Bubaque and focused our work there, following IBAP’s advice. South of the island we found a few groups of small waders together with our guide Carlitos, coming close to shore during high tide. They were really difficult to snap as they were quite far away and difficult to approach, sound-wise the sea roaring was always in the background masking the quiet, cute vocalisation. A tricky scenario but we managed to get enough to work with. One great surprise was not far from our base on a beach East of Bubaque’s village, an easy 3 km walk. There a huge baobab overlooks the sea, looking quite dramatic at low tide as it’s not close to the water. But magic happens at high tide when at least 40 Whimbrels go on the tree, a view we’ve never imagined to see. Usually, you see these birds at the shore, digging in the mud with their long beaks, but seeing them flying on a tree was something completely unexpected, a bit like seeing a dog climbing a tree; you would straight away ask him/her “why the hell are you up there?”.



Fourty or more Whimbrels perched on a Baobab tree, together with a Little Egret (white).

Following all the work at Bissau, we had the last mission to get some material with the Black-Crowned Cranes. Another challenging task, the birds tend to stay quite further away from any accessible place, making it so difficult to take close-up pictures or videos. Axel wanted to place the recorders closer so he decided to walk into the muddy area, water at waist height. The big issue there was the quality of the water, as the area was busy with cows (no need to say what cows “generate”, and mixed with water it doesn’t make a nice smell, guessed what right?), and the insane amount of mosquitoes at any time of the day. Black Crowned Cranes have a lovely trumpeting sound, which we recorded already in Djoudj (Senegal), but these are the ones from Bissau, would they sound different? Do they have their dialect? We’re not sure yet, we need to investigate further.



A group of Black-Crowned Cranes near Mansôa, Guinea-Bissau.


 

Sponsors Shout-Out: Saramonic.


We love to make sure any material we make looks and sounds good, it’s in our genes and professional background. It was easier for us when working for other people, but now we’re telling the stories we create, sometimes also about ourselves, and it’s important to capture these moments quickly. We were looking for a simple wireless microphone solution to plug into our phones or GoPros for quick talk-to-camera scenarios. We met the Saramonic team at Global Birdfair 2023, and their Blink 500 Pro solution was exactly what we were looking for. Simple, good sounding, not complicated, plug and play, 20/30 meters distance without dropouts, case with built-in charging station, the option to add an external mic, super long-lasting batteries. We’ve been using the system for everything, and we can’t be happier about it. You see it on the majority of our social videos and soon on our YouTube channel, including a video tutorial coming out over the coming months.





 

Partners Support: GREPOM/Birdlife.


Let’s talk about our first collaborator during the West African expedition, GREPOM/Birdlife (Groupe de Recherche pour la Protection des Oiseaux au Maroc). They work all around Morocco, collaborating with many institutes internationally to better understand birds’ behaviour in many different habitats. Morocco presents habitats from as dry as the Sahara Desert to green coastlines and high mountains, with an incredible biodiversity and variety of birds.




We collaborated with them at Sidi-Moussa Oualidia to showcase the first VR Experience, which was a huge success among the many schools which visited us for the event.




We do hope to come back soon, in the meantime, check out their work on their website.






 

Help us to spread the love for migratory birds.


Would you like to take part in the expedition by supporting us and the local nature reserves? Easy peasy, we have an online shop made just for this!


Our Interactive Postcards, Prints and Albums are available on our Ko-Fi page or Bandcamp.


By purchasing our work you support our expedition, feeding us and helping us fill up our vehicles’ tanks to reach all the migration hotspots where we bring our Immersive Experience, but not only. 10% of the profit goes back to the location where the story has been captured.


What you buy supports us and the local communities we visit, not as a one-off, but in the longer run.


If you’ve got one Print or Postcard already, check your email inbox as you should have received the password.





 

Much love from the brothers,

Axel & Ario

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