When I try and recall what I’ve done over the past two weeks, what mostly stands out in my mind are the bumpy dusty roads, hiking in the Fouta Djalon highlands of Guinea, and a whole lot of swimming in rivers and waterfalls (in a futile attempt to wash off some of the dust and grime from my body).
Of course, there has been a whole lot more besides. After crossing the border from Sierra Leone into Guinea, we headed towards Conakry, the capital city, spending a night camping about 20km away. As is often the case, it was a long day as it involved a border crossing and we only arrived just before darkness. A post dinner dip in the river under the moon and the stars was most welcome since, whilst the campsite did have western style toilets, it didn’t have showers. And actually the toilets didn’t flush either. What you have to accept in West Africa is that not much works as you might expect. For example, if the toilet did flush, then the chances are the electricity wouldn’t work or the door wouldn’t close. Just have low expectations and then you won’t be disappointed!
The main purpose of our visit to Conakry was to obtain visas for Guinea-Bissau. This was a simple process because the Embassy didn’t require us to complete reams of paperwork or make any pretence that they would be assessing our applications in any way. All they wanted was the money, our passports and a passport photo, and a visa was duly issued. Whilst in Conakry, we also made a visit to a refugee school. The civil wars in countries such as Liberia and Sierra Leone led to many fleeing to other WA countries to seek refuge. The school was quite an eye-opener as it was based in a dark dank concrete high rise building where you could barely hear yourself speak due to the noise of traffic below.
From Conakry, we headed up into the Fouta Djalon highland region of Guinea. Spectacular scenery and slightly cooler nights made for a pleasant change, although the roads were, as always, dreadful. As we head towards the end of the dry season, there is just so much dust. Passing another vehicle leads to the truck being swathed in dust but it is also unfathomable to close the windows because of the heat.
There were some fabulous hiking opportunities in the Fouta Djalon. One of my favourite places was a village called Doucki where we stayed in little thatch roofed round mud huts. Superb walks abounded with stunning views, vine ladders, scrambling over and jumping off rocks into rivers and waterfalls. We also had a nice break from cooking off the truck as the village provided meals for us. Not that Guinea has been challenging from a food shopping perspective as the fresh fruit and vegetables in the markets have been fantastic. Meat is always a bit more difficult to source and we did have an interesting time in one place trying to purchase chicken since only live ones were available. Trying to explain in French that you want chickens that have been killed and plucked to people that presumably buy them live and then just slaughter them as and when they want them was tricky. We did ultimately get chicken for dinner - very skinny ones but chicken nonetheless.
We have now left Guinea behind and are in the tiny country of Guinea-Bissau which only has a population of approximately 1.7 million. G-B is a former Portuguese colony although fortunately French is also reasonably widely spoken, otherwise communication would be difficult. G-B uses the CFA as its currency as do a number of other West African countries. Guinea, however, has its own - the Guinea Franc - and I am not sad to see the back of that. The largest note is 20,000 francs which equates to about £2. You are very unlikely to come across these notes (not quite sure why they don’t print some more), so normally you have even smaller denominations which means that you need a bag to carry your money around in rather than a wallet because so many notes are required to make up any sensible sum of money.
We’ve spent just four nights in G-B. The first night at a bush camp just after crossing the border. For a country with such a small population, it took a very long time to find somewhere to camp that night as ideally we don’t want to be too close to a village since a bunch of white people setting up camp for the night does tend to draw a crowd! Then a night camping by Saltinho Falls (more swimming in rivers) and now two nights in the capital Bissau. As a city, it is totally different from any other West African city that we’ve visited. Much quieter with a lot less hustle and bustle, and lots of crumbling Portuguese colonial buildings. Our hotel is in one such building and I’m rather enjoying sitting out on our balcony watching the world go by below. Making the most of the wifi and air conditioning today - it’s a mere 39 degrees centigrade outside. Off to Senegal tomorrow….