After Mali which to no surprise enchanted us completely we left for the often ignored and badly reputed Guinea, or Guinea-Conakry as one says to separate it from its neighbouring Guinea-Bissau. Guinea has had its toll of problems, with Ebola as the latest nouveau-friss, a big scare. Though our guidebook ambitioned to include all West African countries, and was actually printed before the outbreak of Ebola, Guinea is one of the countries left out. Apparently “no travellers are heading to Guinea” to do the research from them. Surely, we thought, it can’t be that bad?
The VISA had us awkwardly spending hundred US bucks for our intended week in the country. Though with border police corrupted to its bone the multi entrance fee was crucial since they could have us go back and forth just to intimidate us into more spending. But surely, it couldn’t be that bad?
Happily aiming for the city of Labe we shot for Guinea from Bamako. Easily we got to the border in no time and left Mali a bit saddened but reassured we will come back at one point. Immediately on the Guinean side they took our passports, had a police driving back with them, us following, to be faced with a smirking chief of police. After insulting us, insinuation that Bronagh worked as a prostitute, aggressively asking why on earth we wanted to come to Guinea, what we are gonna do there and with whom, we ended up paying the amount they required for “having the police on our side” in this very dangerous country”. Angrily we went on, made it to a bigger city and was then laughed at for wanting to go to Labe in one run. There’s apparently no roads. After spending the night on the floor of an American businessman who took us in we then decided to aim for our goal. It looked like it was a normal 5-6 hours ride. The possessed driver attacked the pot holed road furiously with all windows open through the tropical rain while the most amazing landscape flew by. Bronagh and me tucked in the passenger seat up front while eight other people snuggled each other in the two rows behind. The car was originally meant for seven people, hence they call it sept-place in French. Mountains with lashing rivers, flowing hills in the anime green colour only Miyazaki manages to look real, colourful houses and a big bright sky comforted our sore buttocks while the hours went by. Darkness came and crept upon us while the driver with his headphones drove faster and faster, as if the darkness allowed him to break the laws of physics. As if the darkness around us would soften the crash once the wheels let go of the muddy surface. Me and Bronagh crept closer to each other, after ten hours in one seat our bodies were as tired as our minds slowly became. Waiting for the wheels to slip in every curve, seeing those headlights flash at you while you’re taking on the truck in front of you, making it with a hair thin marginal. Listening to the cluck and clank of a severely mistreated age-old car ready to just fall apart. The darkness did not comfort me. I knew it was not Ebola that was gonna get me. It was the madness in our drivers’ eyes.
Not to linger on the whole trip or how shitty every Guinean person treats, not just travellers, but each other. Or how unavailable and corrupted the whole infrastructure of the country is. Or how much potential is lost due to people’s obsession for sitting under trees shouting insults to white people all day. How upright rude and uncomfortably unhelpful people were. Is that why even Lonely Planets’ writers can’t be bothered to go to Guinea despite the most amazing scenery in all of West Africa?
We did a four day trek through the mountains of Fouta Djalon, that was our reason for going to Guinea in the first place. The one and only reason, really. Just google it and you will understand why. Once again we spent four days in a highly inaccessible landscape reminiscent of movies like Jurassic Park or Avatar, only slightly brighter on a sunny day. Four days well spent away from citizens with only our fantastic guide to bother us. Among waterfalls and jungle to vast fields in sunset did we walk and walk until our feet turned sore. Well taken care of by the indigenous tribes who were all a little bit mad, we were still happy we took the detour around Guinea.
Then came the time for us to leave the country.
This time, the car broke down after 30 minutes. Sat by the side of the road for two and a half hours they sent for a new car. New car shows up, already packed with people. Apparently we all have paid the same amount, an outrageous amount even, and all though the equation seems obvious to me, no one protests when the cheap, menacing owner tuck two loads of people into one car. 18 passengers in one sept-place. Or, to be fair. 12 on the inside, one in the trunk and five on the roof with all the packing. Off we go. Up we go. Amazing scenery. Then we hit the dirt road. Slightly faster than walking we bump up and down the rest of the evening, heads hitting the ceiling, knees the seats in front. Then the night comes, the degrees sink, the storm hits and rain starts pouring. Lost in the mud, trucks get stuck, vans get stuck and surely our car gets stuck. All man over board, out to push, shoes are lost in the wet layers of dirt, thunder rages and the poor men on the roof will at least catch a pneumonia. Again and again we get stuck, again and again we get out. Twenty hours later we arrive at the border. Which is closed. Sleeping on the bonnet of our car we wait. They let us out of Guinea almost 24 hours after we set out from Labe happily unknowing this was gonna be the worst experience of our lives. We did a high five and swore never to come back. The ride went on to Ziguinchor in Senegal in a regular sept-place. Another high five again when crossing the bridge over the Casamance river at sunset. A sight for sore eyes and butts after 40 hours on the road.
Guinea has a long way to go before I set my foot there again. And I, too, still have a long way to go. Next – Bissau!