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Sunday, April 15

Guinea Pigs

Brett: the regular overlanding route has been through Mali for a long time, but Mali’s borders were closed with the coup and sanctions. We decided to head to to Guinea with Mike and Emma as a bit of an experiment to see if we could open up a new route. There are very few points in T4A for Guinea and very little information about it on the internet - being officially just “Guinea”, any Google search needs to explicitly exclude Bissau, Equatorial, Papua, Fowl and Pigs. 

We spent about an hour in immigration at the Guinea entry and had our documents inspected at several steps. Customs was 20km on at Sambailo, where we had the carnet stamped and all our documents checked again - we felt as if we had entered Guinea twice. Over the next 20km, there were two more customs checkpoints where they checked all our documents again, about as thoroughly as if it was the border – each one took around 30 minutes, but there were none of the requests for hand-outs we found in Senegal. They mostly seemed fascinated at the number of countries shown in our passports and carnets and they hardly ever see tourists. The road to Labe was once famous for being very rough, but we were treated to new tar (except for a section of rough dirt road climbing up to the plateau). We bumped into the Crazy Dutch guys (afrikaoverland.blogspot.com) who we had met in Wadi Halfa, Sudan in Nov 2011 – they had driven from Holland through Europe to Egypt and down the East Coast to SA, then back up the West Coast to Guinea in just 6 months in their front wheel drive van. They enthusiastically told us they had no issues in Ivory Coast (although they went via the coastal route & through Man)

Most of the river crossings are via really cool old iron bridges, but one crossing has a fun manual pontoon ($7) which is pulled across the river using a chain and pulleys. We found another free camp spot (N11 42.361 W12 49.862) a short way past the pontoon. We could vaguely hear a village in the distance, but there was nobody around. We camped among the weird eroded termite mounds and did our best to combat the kamikaze miniature flies. They didn’t seem to bite anyone else but for some reason I had a few bites which became infected and I got cellulitis again. We were browny-red from head to foot from the day’s driving through the fine dust, so we used our precious water to have a bucket shower. Our second battery started to die on us and with the extreme heat, our fridge couldn’t keep to its normal 4 degrees. At a similar time, Mike and Emma’s fridge control panel broke due to humidity and moisture – we were eating out a fair amount and didn’t really need it to keep food fresh but more important was having enough cold drinks since the water in the car was between 40 and 45 degrees. I have been taking Larium and had no problems, but the combination of Larium, anti-biotics, beer and trying to sleep in the wild with night time temperatures over 30 degrees produced some crazy dreams…

Mary: we continued climbing on the rough, windy dirt roads through very pretty forests. We bought some basic supplies at Tianguel-Bori, a nice laid back single-horse town, before stopping for a snack and a drink in the shade. There were a few passers by so I ventured into the forest for a quick wee, and discovered too late that I was being swarmed by massive biting ants. It was impossible to retain any dignity while running back to the cars howling with my shorts round my knees but at least I gave everyone (including an old man on a motorbike) a laugh. The road flattened out again to good graded dirt road and we eventually reached Labe, where we camped at the unexpected lovely Tata Hotel ($8 per tent) (N11 18.747 W12 17.488). We managed to draw some money and fill up on fuel while exploring the town – it is totally chaotic, with a massive market which sprawls across the streets, but at least there are no cops so we were free to tangle up the local traffic with our illegal u-turn manouvers. Back at the hotel, we had some brilliant pizzas and ice cold beers. At sunset, we were treated to a fantastic rain storm which reminded us a lot of Joburg – dramatic colours in the sky, lightning, rain hammering down on the tin roof and the damp smell of hot, wet earth. We had taken the fly sheet off the tent way back in Mauritania, as it makes a heck of a racket flapping around in a strong wind, and we hadn’t bothered to put it back, so with the sheer force of the rain we had a few leaks along the seams of the tent and a bit of a damp night.

In the morning, Mike and Emma headed to Conakry on a visa mission and we hung out in Labe. There is an internet cafe near to Tata’s, but the guy there laughed at us and told us the internet wasn’t working… there wasn’t any power except occasionally after 7pm, and internet connectivity only sometimes worked when there was power. Once again the Kindle proved very useful to try get information from other travellers on Mali and Ivory Coast. We went on a shopping spree/explore around town and came away with several kilos of fruit and veg for a few dollars, and amused the locals with our bad French. The people are really friendly, and the lack of tourists in Guinea makes for a totally hassle-free experience.

The Fouta Djalon area is famous for green hills and waterfalls, (at least in the wet season), so we drove to the Chutes de Kambadaga (N10 59.826 W12 29.584). The turnoff (N10 59.497 W12 23.215) is in Bourouwal Tappe and a fun 4x4 track leads to the top of the falls. We had expected a lot more water but the falls were still pretty. The temperature was hovering around 40 degrees and humid, so we were relieved we didn’t have to hike to reach the falls.  There is a dilapidated rope bridge across the river and a couple of pools at the perfect temperature for swimming. After a picnic lunch we headed on to Dalaba and took a ridiculously cheap room at the Hotel Tangama ($8). The hotel was ok-ish in the day but turned into a noisy shebeen that evening. Guinea has the least infrastructure (electricity, internet, running water etc) of any country we have visited on this trip so far – as an illustration, I’d say Ethiopia was at least 3 times more developed.

We didn’t have any plan in mind, but got tagged early on by a guide who identified himself as Mamadou Diallo (named in the LP). We planned on doing a hike with him in the morning but when we woke up the manager of the Tangama Hotel said he was Mamadou Diallo, and that he would sort us out a guide. It was quite confusing, as the two Mamadou’s looked fairly similar…in the end we hiked with our original Mamadou, as Mamadou no 2 couldn’t find an available guide. We paid $9 for both of us for the day and set off. The scenery is awesome and we hiked a 15km circular route through some villages and forests, to the Pont de Dieu (rock bridge over some falls) and to Chevalier Gardens (a 1908 French experiment to see what European plants would grow in Guinea). Mamadou, having claimed to speak English, French and Spanish, turned out to speak French plus a few words of English, which he wasn’t keen to use because of the importance of French as a language, apparently. We didn’t fancy another night at the Tangama so we moved accommodation and set up our tent in the garden of the French restaurant Le Bouchon Lyonnais ($8) (N10 41.260 W12 15.621) – we had originally discounted this option because there isn’t much privacy from the road, or any shade, but in the end it wasn’t an issue at all. The food was absolutely amazing, the best we have had on the West coast, and the owner/manageress is really lovely.

Brett: Mamou seems to be the epicentre of potholes in Guinea, particularly within a 40km radius of the town in all directions. We stopped at the Ecole Forestiere (N10 21.909 W12 06.747) where we used the internet in the student computer room – it took ages to get through a few chores because it was so slow, but they have a lot of equipment and computers and the guys running it are really knowledgeable. They charged us $8 for a few hours of internet, but then camping was free. They aren’t really set up for camping, and we were a bit of a curiosity for the visiting students and professors on various courses and conferences, but they do have a lot of space in the grounds. 

We had been struggling to get in touch with Mike and Emma who had gone to Conakry to get their Ivory Coast Visas (8h in embassy + 48h to process, €100, no need for proof of accom) – being unable to contact each other on our cell phones, we had to rely on a Kindle email every 2 days and good old fashioned making a plan and sticking to it. We caught up with them at Dabola at the very pink Tinkisso Hotel (N10 44.170 W11 06.603) and heard about their adventures in Conakry and the islands while we had been walking Dabola flat.

On the way to Kankan, Mike and Emma got their first puncture from a bolt on the potholed roads. Kankan is a university town and has a nice feel, but there were several attempts to overcharge us on accommodation and fuel. We gave the charity box from Meggan and John to the Catholic Mission Orphanage & School, who where absolutely thrilled with the gift, but a little nervous to take it at first – it was probably the gift they had ever received. After a much needed shower we wandered round town before settling on dinner at Hotel Bakonko. We spent the night camped in the courtyard at Centre d’Accueil Diocesain (N10 22.291 W9 18.006), the guesthouse attached to the Catholic Mission which runs the school, and paid for a room to use the showers ($25 was a bit steep). There were a large number of massive bats in the trees and it was incredibly hot and humid through the night – we woke up before sunrise in puddles of sweat.

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