30.12.2010 - 09.01.2011 30 °C
Guinee is considered to be one of the poorest countries in the world with a BBP/Capita of US$ 350 (2005). Most people live from the land and have their small business selling tea/drinks/food. The almost 10 mln people are mostly islamic (85%). In tiny villages you will find mosques but there were surprisingly many churches around for the 9% people that are christian.
SAFETY IN GUINEE
If you want to avoid tourists, Guinee is an excellent destination. You have to buy a visum beforehand and using the visumshop in NL proved to be very useful for obtaining a visum between Christmas and New year without too much hassle.
On 21 December 2010 a new president has been installed, Alpha Condé, and considering all the t-shirts, posters, slogans etc we have seen, he is popular. As during the elections there was an unstable situation, with a curfew in the capital Conakry, there is currently the same travel advice as for Afghanistan: "advise against all but essential travel". However, we have not had any unpleasant situations and have not felt threatened or unsafe for one single second. There are frequent road blocks where the driver has to pay a little to get through but that is really all we have noticed.
Travelling in Guinea & Senegal is easy. There are 'sept/neuf-places', old peugeots for 7/9 people. These cars are the 'public transport'. System is simple: when the car is full, it leaves. So it could be that you have to wait only for 1 hour or maybe for 6 hours. Or you simply buy the other places which ensures also that you have a normal seat instead of having to sit with 4 people in the back (at the first back row. In the second back row, where you constantly bang your head at the roof, they manage to fit 3 people, excluding the children, at the right front seat they easily place 2 people). This attitude of buying places is of course not very 'backpacker' but budgets become very relative here. It is a few euros for a couple of hours travelling so you easily buy another seat AND you travel way more comfortable.
It could almost a be a Dutch train where everyone is silent and reads a newspaper or listens music. Also in Guinee the people are mostly silent in the car (for hours), even the children. Instead of reading a news paper they are vomitting though...
The road blocks were a quite interesting experience. We counted at least 5 different outfits: police, gendarmerie, military, customs, ... They are all trying to make their living by creating road blocks so that they can collect some money. You pay the driver in advance the full amount and the driver pays at each road block a little bit, its all included. Once we had to follow a military into the hut where we were invited to sit down at the bed where his fellow officer was sleeping, in front of the desk where another officer tried to look intimidating behind a little wooden desk. Brief, they wanted money. Why, because we were in his area now. Our papers were fine, asking for a ticket made little impression and saying that we would call the embassy was not impressing him either. So we both fell silent and were patiently waiting for the next step in the game. Our driver and a passenger entered and the passenger started a long story that he was responsible for us, had been guiding us, had an important position, blah di blah and after a while we could leave. The same gentlemen had told in an earlier roadblock that a boy in our car, who did not had the right papers, was his former student. In the next road block, the former student had become his student, etc.. A man of many professions...
HIKING IN FOUTA DJALON
We came to Guinee to hike in the Fouta Djalon, the mountainous area of Guinee (ca 1100 m). It is full of waterfalls where you can take a wonderful swim and the rock formations and plateaus are really beautiful. At night it gets ca 10 degrees. during the day it can get to 40 degrees celcius at the plateaus. You see a lot of burnt area. There are still vast areas of wood but the fires are burning down quite a bit and also the villages need wood. The villages consist of fula huts and also modern brick houses. During our trekking there were no roads, just foot paths that the villagers use to get from one to another village (for market days). The roads in Fouta Djalon are mostly dirt roads where it is even more pleasant and quicker on a moto-taxi than in a 9-place.
Since it was the orange season we have been eating endlessly wonderful oranges. Such a delilght to just hit a tree and be able to eat an orange. During our hike people would offer us oranges (already partially pealed to make it easier to eat them). You eat the oranges there when they are green to ensure that they are not rotten. It was easier to get oranges than water!
Going to an area where there are not many tourists means that people react naturally. They are either excited to see a white person of simply continue what they are doing. Especially the children are really excited that something is happening in their village so we have had escorts of the whole village waving us goodbye.
The fula word for white man is 'phoeto'/photo. So we thought each time that they wanted a picture... until we understood they were actually saying, 'hey theres a white person'. I now understand why they reacted surprised when we actually replied with 'photo'.
In some place they were clearly not used to photo cameras. One eldermen of the village wanted a picture to be taken from him and stood there in front of his harvest very seriously (picture above). To look at the camera he pressed his eye to the camera because that is what the photographer had been doing... we explained that he could actually see himself at the screen and did not had to press his eye to the camera...
Brief, hiking in Fouta Djalon was a wonderful experience in a remote area. We understood that there had been about 84 tourists in the last 5 years...
Especially around Doucki you have really a diversity in the area that you absolutely do not expect. And Hassan from Doucki is an excellent guide with an excellent place where you can stay in nice huts and with great food. We met there also Jim & Maria. Maria had been working 1 year as a nurse for Medecin sans Frontieres and had basically been living under a curfew the whole year and had not been able to see one bit of the country...
As our Fula knowledge was not so well developed and maps of the area are non existing we thought it wise to go with a guide, so we discussed with Foutatrekking our plans. They indicated that we would have Boubah as a guide, that he would come in the evening to Thimbi and that we could decide per day where we would like to sleep, that we were flexible. A price per day was indicated and they said that the trekking would be 5 days.
However, in the evening there was no Boubah, the next morning there was no Boubah and after many hours waiting we set off ourselves. After a while to our big surprise a car full of people, including other tourists, porters and a whole circus of people arrived. We had indicated that we did not need a porter, only a guide who would arrange food and a sleeping place for the two of us and who knew the way. We had indicated not to be interested in walking with other tourists / people. Brief, we asked where Boubah was, Boubah was not there, and there appeared to be only 1 guide. So, we ended up with a porter who clearly had no clue what's o ever. And who was not bringing anything at all. no food, no tents, no nothing and instead was each time asking us if we had some food, a bed etc. The poor man tried his best to arrange some food in the villages for the three of us. After three days we were done with the trekking (it was really not that far). When we met with the big boss of Foutatrekking it soon appeared that instead of apologising for the inconvience caused, they actually wanted to be paid for the full 5 days, even if we had agreed a price per day, even if we had not had a guide, had to sleep on the bare ground outside (10 degrees celcius) since there were no mattresses (which they had promised to provide).
We ended up at the police station to settle our disagreement. We knew in advance that this meant that we would have to pay. The police officer literally told us that he would never say something against his own citizens... So we paid and left the police officer behind who could continue watching almost naked girls at this tv (one of the very few who had electricity...).
TRAVELLING TO / FROM GUINEE
To get to Guinee we flew to Senegal, Dakar and took a car / publi transport / taxi / 7 place straight through Senegal. After a night in the plane we went straight to the 'bus station' which was nothing more but a large area with many many cars. After 2.5 hours waiting/negotiating we left and drove about 10 hours. It was 31 December 22.30 and our driver stopped, turned around and said: 'this is as far as I go, and bye the way, there is no hotel here'. We had no clue where we were, clearly there was no electricity or running water, there were a few houses who did not look too inviting so we decided to sleep in the car. Funny thing was that there was an more than excellent mobile network in this middle of nowhere, so at new year we could make our phone calls and exchange best wishes with friends & family back home.
Next morning we searched a new car who would take us further to Guinee and more specifically Labé. We had breakfast and got into the next car, drove another 14 hours and arrived again at 23.00 in Labé. I slept very well after this 60 hour travelling, not having had a normal bed for 3 days...
Returning back home appeared not to be easy. Our trip from Dalaba to Conakry (drive of 9 hours), had been really smooth (except for my neighbour + child who both vomitted the whole way...).
Arriving in Conakry we learnt that our flight to Dakar had been cancelled. We ended up buying a whole new ticket to Amsterdam! Mohammed from Maroc Air actually gave us a really good price. We had to pay cash so from all our sources we collected money to be able to pay the ticket but managed. However, than all the dollars and euros and senegalese money had to be changed towards the guinean currency so 1.5 hour of bargaining with local money brokers started...
After this the diner in the wonderful resto Isles des Joies tasted absolutely fabolous.
DAY BY DAY
30 Dec 2010 - Flying Amsterdam - Casablanca - Dakar (Senegal), arrival 4h30
31 Dec - from Dakar by car to Mamba - 10 hours drive
1 Jan 2011 - from Mamba with 4WD crossing border at Koundara - Bhoundoufourou, to Labé - 14 hours drive. Lousy hotel
2 Jan - arrange trekking. Market in Labé, to Thimbi (market), sleep at Mr Bailot, no guide
3 Jan - wait for guide, no guide, to Ninguelande by broken car and moto taxi, hike to Ghikan, Loubeya, village with celebration of children, cross river, swim, sleep outside in Fula hut in Saadi (10 degrees celcius) - hike 5h, ascend 140m, descend 870m, ca 20km
4 Jan - wait for food, cross river, hike to Banking, swim, sleep in house - hike 4h, ascend 227m, descend 77m, ca 16km
5 Jan - hike to Leifita (porter does not want to walk further: he is tired) and Ainguel, swim, discussion with porter on ending trip, phone call with foutatrekking - hike 6h30, ascend 730m, descend 426m, ca 24 km
6 Jan - hike on our own to water falls, to Doucki (Hassan), diner with Maria & Jim - hike 6h, ascend 555m, descend 328m, ca 24 km
7 Jan - hike with Hassan to Canyon, Hyena rock, Indiana Jones World, wait for transport, to Pita, police, to Dalaba, SIB hotel - hike 2h50, ascend 178m, descend 184m
8 Jan - car to Conakry. No flight to Dakar, new ticket, pay cash to Mohammed of Air Maroc, change money, eat at Isles des Joies, fly to Casablanca
9 Jan - fly to Amsterdam