The new Lonely Planet guide says…. ‘Imagine you’re traveling on smooth highways and then get tempted by a dusty turnoff signed ‘adventure’. Well that turnoff is to Guinea.’
My turnoff to Guinea was a few kilometres past the town of Danane and after a quick border crossing we dove to N’zerekore, which is the first large town over the border.
The following morning three of us jumped in a local taxi to the Mt Nimba Chimpanzee Research Centre near Bossou. The Chimpanzee population unfortunately is now down to only six animals with only one female and she’s to old to breed.
The local villagers and the centre have built a nursery with over six thousand plants to try and re vegetate the corridor to the other side of the mountain in Liberia which has a much larger chimp population so the Liberian females can travel across. I never did get a chance to ask why they don’t just catch a few and drive them over but there must be a reason why they haven’t.
We hired two rangers and went birding for the day in good African rainforest. I was now about 1000m asl, so the temperature at night was very pleasant and would have been even more pleasant if the motel had invested in fans.
That night we walked into town and found a Liberian woman who looked astonishingly like a young Ellen Johnson Shirleaf cooking street food in the village. We bought a plate of plantain, spice, spaghetti and beans each and sat on a bench watching village life go by and chatting to locals.
The following morning the other two guys decided to pay 50 Euros and go Chimp tracking. I’d seen Chimps in three different countries and opted to save my money for something else.
From Bossou my next Guinea destination was the capital city, Conakry. We drove through traffic chaos for two hours, eventually reaching the Guinea-Bissau Embassy and miraculously a parking spot directly out the front. The staff were waiting and the ambassador himself came in to say hello and ask me about my trip and thanked us for visiting his country.
Similar to the two Congos, there are two countries next to each, other one called Guinea and the other Guinea-Bissau. Guinea-Bissau is the Portuguese speaking small neighbour of the much larger French speaking Guinea.
Conakry is undoubtedly the poorest West African capital I’ve visited. There’s obvious tension and aggression in the air, similar to parts of Kinshasa in the Congo. It’s dirty, chaotic and an unattractive city with an overwhelming police and army presence. I really don’t have anything positive to say about it. Interestingly Guinea has 30% of the World’s bauxite. Three guesses where the money goes?
While we waited for our visas, two of us jumped in a taxi and headed down to the corniche to a restaurant built on stilts over the water called Restaurant Obama.
It took two taxis to get to the waterfront after our first driver was stopped by the cops and taken away, leaving us on the roadside to find another one. A couple of cold local beers and a plate of spaghetti del mare filled in a couple of hours and by the time we’d finished lunch our visas were ready!
For the next nine days our target destination was a remote mountainous plateau area in Northern Guinea called Fouta Djallon. Its one of Africa’s most incredible locations with precipitous escarpments, plunging waterfalls, cool temperatures and long hikes.
If this plateau was in southern or east Africa it would be world famous.
My first stop was the town Dalaba where my accommodation had views across the mountains but not much else. I hired a guide to take us to the nearby (50km) Kambadaga Waterfall and incredibly, in non-West African fashion, he arrived on time the following morning.
Everything he did after that was as you learn to expect in this part of the world. After climbing into his 400yr old Renault we headed for the falls, only to stop at the first service station to put $5 worth of fuel in the car. The next village he stopped to buy cigarettes, then 10km later he stopped for a drink of Redbull. It was Sunday morning, so he must of had a big Saturday night. A few further kilometers along the road he stopped again for $15 worth of fuel.
I did mention to him that maybe he should get fuel before the trip but I was met with a bemused look. Then he stopped get some water and after six stops in 50km we arrived at the falls.
I relaxed and swam in the deep pools at the top of the falls where a vine bridge crosses to the other side and the sandstone escarpment can be seen dropping into the canyon below.
From Dalaba we drove to the tiny village of Doucki where the Fouta Djallon’s most famous tour guide lives. Hassan has explored the region for years and has created several hikes with names such as the Indiana Jones with it’s steep Canyon walls and vine swings, to the all day Wet & Wild following the river with plenty of swimming holes, cliff jumps and two underwater swim throughs.
The two hikes were excellent and both were amongst the best things I’ve done in Africa.
I stayed three days at Hussan’s house in Doucki and had a great time living with his extended family and enjoying his wife’s home cooked meals.
From Doucki we drove for hours on rough roast where I spent three nights in the not so happening town of Labe where my high light was finding the countries’ only road grader. I knew they had to have one somewhere.
From Labe it was all downhill off the plateau and into tropical savanna. With the drop in altitude came a rise in temperature and a much more barren landscape.
Several small villages were scattered along the 250km route which took a day and a half to drive.
Along the way we turned down a dirt track towards the river and found a nice wide section with a swimming hole.
At the end of the first day we were in the middle of nowhere, so we decided to camp under a full moon in the bush about 500m from the road.
On my final morning in Guinea the road deteriorated further and it took two hours to drive the last 20km, eventually arriving at the small border post where I exited Guinea and entered Guinea-Bissau.