What to See in Guinea?
The Fouta Djallon area, with its waterfalls, cliffs and plateaux, reminiscent of South America’s Lost World, is the acknowledged highlight of Guinea. It gives rise to most of the great rivers of West Africa, including The Gambia River and the Senegal River.
Driving in Guinea
Coming from Guinea-Bissau, we bounce over more red ridges as we make our way to the town of Labe in Guinea. The road surfaces can only be described as appalling. I’m bracing against the ‘Oh My God handles’ most of the time, as we zig- zag around looking for the least dangerous path. A huge escarpment soon appears, filling the horizon, and providing a dramatic backdrop to a village of thatched low rondavels with Hobbit style low doors. We are warmly welcomed, the women again in colourful cotton attire. They are threshing rice, filling and huge polyester bags with the straw, to make mattresses. The pride of the village is a couple of solar panels which are used to power a few lights and …the whole village’s mobile phone chargers. They’re all plugged in on one huge board.
The small children are a little apprehensive, as tourists here are a very rare and the visit is treated as a special event. The older siblings pose for pictures, giggling over the replays. No-one asks for anything. It’s very refreshing.
Lunch in a very grimy cafe at Koundhara. I’m trying not to examine anything too closely, but I wipe my cutlery with hand gel. Guide Augusto and driver Maladho are disgusted they don’t have rice on offer and pointedly leave the replacement haricots.
Spirits in Termite Mounds
The road is paved from here. Spanking new tarmac white lines and speed signs. Until it reverts to rutted red sand again. We’re now on the main road from eastern Senegal. Verdant mountains fill the horizon, the odd waterfall trickles beside us. We are mostly surrounded by ferns and other lush vegetation, contrasting wonderfully with the rust soil. But every so often there are clusters of small mushroom shaped termite hills stretching as far as the eye can see instead. Augusto says that Local myths have it that termite mounds house important spirits. Red or green, the roadside is dotted with villages, neat with woven fenced compounds. Some even have little trees placed decoratively at intervals.
The Road to Labe
The police here are mainly from the Susa tribe and Maladho is Fulani. He says this is why they give him an especially hard time. Maladho is small and chirpy and happy to have a good argument with anyone if necessary. My Laddo suits him. He has a penchant for techno music, so I’m trying my usual tactic of diversion with Bob Marley, who always goes down well in Africa.
We’re on the road for 11 hours, before we reach Labe, the capital of the Fouta Djallon, nestled in the forest and mountains. My small hotel has pastel stylish bungalows. The ceilings are decorated with woven roundels, as is the fashion in all the important buildings in Guinea. Electricity all day. But no Wi-Fi. The mattress is pretty solid too. I’m checking to see if it’s made of rice straw.
We’re starting today with a drive to one of the many waterfalls. My Bob Marley tactic has misfired. Maladho is demanding more as soon as I get in the car. And I only have the one album. Good as it is, I don’t want it on repeat all day, so I’ve told him my phone isn’t functioning.
Most of the goats in these parts have metre long horizontal sticks suspended from their necks, to stop them getting into the gardens. It can’t be fun touting one of those all day. Much of the land alongside the road. has been burned off. Smoke and flames indicate that the process is ongoing, showcasing-the termite mounds. I’m thinking that we should test the new fire extinguisher that Maladho has just bought in an attempt to reduce police hassle. The last one didn’t have a date stamp on it.
We stop to watch some weavers set up by the side of the road in Pita, calm and dexterous. Maladho is oblivious to their muttering about cadeaux.
The waterfall is impressive, definitely worth the excessively bumping and the shouted demands of villagers for money towards the upkeep of the road. At one point the car is straddling a small ravine. I’m not sure what the locals can have done to improve things.
Kambadaga is two wide cascades above each other, one with an eighty-metre drop. There are great views from the edge of the precipice we’ve clambered to. There’s another escarpment to provide a dramatic panorama, a wobbly and dilapidated vine bridge and some smaller falls upstream, to picnic by. There are even a few other visitors bathing in the water - Danish and French people who work here.
Maladho has outsmarted me. He has discovered a USB stick of his own that contains a Bob Marley album. I think he’s made a visit to his home, near Pita.
The town of Delaba is another hour up the road. Here, we make a last visit to the historic circular Casa Apalable, where the leaders of francophone West Africa met to discuss their struggle for independence. It’s covered in decorated plaster and has the colourful roundels on the ceiling. The ornate old residency building is next door.Tonight’s hotel terrace has a great view across the mountains. However, the rooms are the most unappealing so far on this trip. The lampshades are splintering, the curtain pole off the wall and I’m not convinced the sheets are fresh. I’ll be using my sleeping bag liner. The staff are all busy watching Manchester United play Everton on the big dining room television. It’s a draw. The electricity has been off for half an hour - they’ve just got the generator to work, but now there’s no water. I’m not even asking about Wi-Fi.
Augusto has been telling me about voodoo and fetishes today. Most of the village houses have bottles and half calabashes nailed near the door, to keep away evil spirits. And animistic religions thrive, often being subscribed to by those who also follow other religions. Chickens are frequently used for sacrificial purposes. Part of the procedure involves dissecting the cock to examine the testicles. It’s good news if they’re white, bad if they’re black. Bad news either way for the cockerel.
More mountain chains, even redder soil, long misty valleys filled with palm trees, and more waterfalls, flowing into tempting pools. We pick up the main road from Bamako, now travelling south east towards Conakry the capital. The road continues to be an exhausting experience. Sadly, there are none of those brand-new stretches of European like highway we encountered two days ago. Despite this, the traffic increases, as does the number of folk clinging precariously to vehicles. There’s a boy asleep in the back of an overloaded hatchback (tailgate open of course) and a guy standing on the roof of an estate car, clutching onto the load on the roof rack, coat billowing.
We travel through a meat selling area. It’s a novel experience to have a rack of ribs flourished on the tarmac, instead of the usual bag of tangerines. Coyah, our stop for tonight, is on the outskirts of capital Conakry. Chicken and chips for lunch – and dinner.
The Guinea Border
Another early start. I’m bleary eyed. Bob Marley has been permeating my dreams and Maladho switches him on straight away. It’s like Chinese water torture. He’s my driver for two more countries yet. The area leading up to the Sierra Leone frontier is a scrimmage of police demanding money, even grabbing it from Maladho’s hand, and jostling money changers. Let’s hope it leads to better roads.
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