Guinea: The Sequel

Trip Start Sep 08, 2006
Trip End ??? ??, 2007

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Flag of Guinea  ,
Thursday, January 25, 2007

Having broken a bed, smashed the over head light, not to mention locking the only key inside the room, we decided to beat a hasty retreat from our Conakry hotel the next morning and set off for up-country Guinea.
Killissi is not mentioned in any of the (out of date) guidebooks in our possession, but at the recommendation of someone we met on the way, we headed there to see the waterfalls. They were beautiful and well-worth the deadly motorcycle taxi ride we had to take to get there. Poet I am not, but for one night only, it was just us, the stars, and three thundering torrents of water.

The taxicars that serve as long-distance transport in Guinea aim to extract maximum cash from passengers and consequently it's an overcrowded and cozy ride between cities. Our tiny car to Dalaba was rammed with 7 adult passengers, 2 children, a (panicking) chicken, and our combined luggage so we took it in turns to sit on the gearstick for the 5 hour journey. Our driver was a lunatic who took the hairpin bends around the precarious mountain roads at death-defying speeds on more than one occasion it was only horrified gasps from his passengers that caused him to take evasive action to avoid a smash with an oncoming fuel tanker.

Our driver took regular breaks to smoke or chat to pals, much to the increasing irritation of his passengers. The final straw was when he stopped to gape at another taxi that had broken down on the side of the road. After 20 mins of watching him make perfunctory lazy kicks at the vehicle's wheel, the sole male passenger in our taxi had had enough and stormed out and ordered our driver back to the car. A huge screaming match ensued during which the passenger questioned the driver's ability to drive, think or act like a sane human being, and the driver queried the passenger's apparent preference for walking the remaining 100k to Dalaba. At this point the exchange turned physical and a major crisis was only averted by the woman sharing our backseat dumping her toddler on my lap, striding purposefully out of the car, then separating and berating the pair of them. Meekly they both returned to the car and we drove on without further incident. Men!

Having declined to pay an extra 12p to be dropped at our hotel (a foolish move made out of illogical pride, I later decided as my rucksack and I struggled resentfully up the mountainside) were in a state when we finally arrived at the hotel, only to discover that it was full. Seeing our despairing expressions and bedraggled outfits, the staff took pity on us and some of them bunked up for a night so we could sleep in one of their rooms. As we waited in the lounge for them to dig out some extra blankets, we saw the news breaking on the TV that Saddam Hussein had been executed. It was the first time I had caught sight of a television in 4 months and it came as a shock to realize how far removed I felt from what was going on in the world - something momentous could be going on and there was a good chance we'd never know. Big Brother for example.

We ended up staying longer than intended in Dalaba due to one of Guinea's frequent petrol shortages. There are worst places to be stranded. We spent our time getting repeatedly lost in the surrounding mountains and bamboo forests. New Year passed quietly in a country more focused on the meat-filled festival of Tobaski which this year fell on the same day. Once the petrol arrived, we continued our journey onwards through Guinea, making it as far as Labe, homeland of Guinea's indigo-cloth cooperatives that has left an entire generation of females with blue hands. Between the Martian-women and the vast numbers of militia based there, Labe was a surreal community.

Transparency International ranks Guinea as the most corrupt country in the world but outside of army checkpoints, I saw little of this - the large majority of people welcomed us warmly and helped us with no ulterior motives. The army however, discontent with their low wages, are pretty astute at using their uniforms to extract a little extra cash in any possible situation.

We did have a little trouble with them - even on the airport on the way in we were surrounded by swarms of officers competing to "help" us complete out landing cards before dropping suggestive but menacing hints about how hungry they were. Luckily this was one occasion on which my genuinely appalling comprehension of French came in useful and they soon got bored of my confused expression and moved onto other easier targets. The only time during our whole trip that we had any real cause for concern was at the renowned KM36 - a checkpoint famous for the avarice of its operators. The militia took one look at our skin colour and disappeared with our passports. The entire population of our shared taxi poured out onto the street to protest with us and this, combined with the production of our Order du Mission caused them to have a rethink and the passports were meekly handed back with a cheerful request for our phone numbers.

Having allowed extra time in case of any unexpected disasters on the way back to the capital, we arrived back with a couple of days to kill and more Guinean Francs than we could spend. As nobody will change it back and you aren't allowed to take it out of the country we decided to blow the lot in spending our remaining time in style. For two whole days we stayed in a place that gave us access to a hot shower. If you've never had to get up in the dark day after day and immerse yourself in glacial cascade, then you won't appreciate the bliss of this. I have never taken so many showers in one day. By the time we left I had almost managed to rid myself of the layer of dust I permanently carry around in the Gambia. Our very last night was spent in a beach hut right on the ocean on a tiny island off the coast of Conakry.

By the time we boarded our plane back to Gambia I was too relaxed to even worry about putting my life back in the hands of Slok Air. We got good seats on the plane on the journey because no one wanted to sit next to us. For most Gambians (and Guineans) the flight is probably one of the top highlights of the trip. To board a plane, you need both money and a passport, privileges denied to the majority. As such, the plane ride is an event itself and one must dress accordingly - our flight was filled with women in spangly and men in suits or full African dress. Thus no one wished to sit next to the dirty and disheveled toubabs who clearly had no sense of occasion. Chastised, I vowed next time to make more of an effort.

Within days of us leaving Guinea the country had erupted into civil disorder with strikes crippling the nation and clashes between police and protesters leaving 60 people dead, many in places that we only just passed through. Living in Gambia, a charmingly sleepy country where the only thing that ever gets people hyped up is the football, its easy to get a false sense of security of exactly where I am in the world, but even by my standards, being caught up in a civil war is not my idea of fun and I'm going to ensure next time I pick somewhere a little less volatile. Incidentally, did I mention I'm going to Sierra Leone for Easter? J
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rawcus on

Britain's Next Top Model
Please, please let me submit that near-drowning picture to BNTM. They'd be falling over their Gucci handbags to get their perfectly maniculured slender hands on you.

Also have you had any traditional Gambian dress made yet? Go on, post some pics.

Also, Ant wishes to point out that if his African slave is coming to the UK on foot, that means he'll be too tired to do any work, and as such will probably want to join a Union or something.

sweet2thlh on

re: BNTM
Gucci and Versache have already been on the phone offering to move their next fashion shows to The Gambia if it will enable me to be in them.

Photos of Gambian Dress to ensue once I have got the hang of wearing them without tripping or melting.

A slave, by definition, rarely has access to a Union and by seeking such a luxuary, said slave would be therefore doing himself out of a job. So you are probably safe.

hallu on

i love guinea

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