From Bissau to the end of Guinea
Apr 14, 2013
|Saturday 30th March 2013
Bissau to Quebo, Guinea-Bissau (Rio Corubal)
After packing up in the city this morning, we set off at about 10am, then went to get ice for the drinks. The ice machine was broken (surprise, surprise) but we were able to get a quantity of shaved ice. Finally set off around 11am towards the east of the country. The day was very hot as we headed through village after village for about 160-180km. We stopped for lunch in the shade of a number of cashew trees in the grounds of a school in a village. A small number of children came over to watch us eat our lunch, but sat quietly nearby. After we had finished lunch, Lynn gave them each a small sticker with an Australian animal on it. They were all very pleased to get this little gift although when she first approached them, they backed off in fear – strange white lady!. When driving through another village, we noticed that there was some sort of celebration going on, so we stopped to have a look and within a minute or so we had been swept into the party and were all dancing in the street, linking arms with the villagers, dancing up and down with the beating of drums in the background. They were taking photos and videos of us and we were taking photos and videos of them. It was huge fun. After many handshakes, hugs and kisses, we left again. Quite a random thing really but part of this very nice country. Before we came, we had hardly heard of Guinea-Bissau, now we know it to be a very friendly and warm country, even though it’s one of the poorest places on earth. The average life expectancy her is 49 for women and 47 for men – pretty devastating when you think about it. Many children don’t get the opportunity to go to school even though it is supposed to be compulsory for 7-13 year olds and is free. We then continued on and stopped at a river (Rio Corubal) where there were flat rocks across the width of the river, causing waterfalls, and quite a large bridge across a river. We stopped and took photos and our co-driver went for a dip in the river. Continued on for a few more kms before we realised that the aforementioned bridge was also the site of a hotel where we were going to stop for the night and camp in the grounds. So back we went and arranged to camp, some people upgraded to rooms. After we had pitched our tent, we went down to the river for a swim, well – we sat in the water anyway and cooled off. After some time it dawned on us that we were sitting in the mens’ washing area but they were too polite to say anything. It was very pleasant to cool off, then walked back to the hotel and had a beer in the bar. Then it was time for dinner at around 8pm (cooked by one of the cook groups) and soon after dinner people drifted off and we went to our tent to bed around 11pm.
Sunday 31st March 2013
Quebo to Jemberem (Cantanhez N.P.)
Because we had built up two spare days, today we set off to a campsite from where we could travel to see chimpanzees in the forest. The good road ended after about 20km and then became a dirt track barely wide enough for our truck. The last 80 or so kilometres took us about 7 hours with branches from trees scraping the sides of the truck and the truck bumping up and down. On the way there, we visited a museum dedicated to the freedom fighters of Guinea-Bissau, who were assisted to get independence from Portugal by Che Guevara and Fidel Castro back in the mid-1960s.The museum dedicated to ammunition and arms had only opened 2 days before we arrived in this most remote part of Southern Guinea-Bissau down close to the Guinea border. Their national hero Amilcar Cabral was assassinated in January 1973 in Conakry, the capital city of Guinea (the next country we will be visiting). This is truly the end of the road but there are many villages with friendly people, smiling children, always waving at us. We arrived at the Cantanhez National Park and the campground late in the afternoon and because we were cooking this evening, we set about our task and after dinner, to bed around 10.30pm. A very hot day again, very difficult driving day for the drivers and for the truck.
Monday 1st April 2013
Jemberem back to Quebo, Guinea-Bissau
We were up very early (4.45am) today for a 5am start on our expedition to find chimpanzees. The guides had spotted where the chimp family had gone to sleep the night before and, mostly, they are apparently in the same place the next morning, so we set off in a ute – some sat in the cab – David and 5 others sat in the tray back and we drove for about ¼ hour until we reached the place where we walked off the track into the jungle on a narrower track. It was still pitch dark so we had our torches and followed the guides. Ants got into the inside of our long pants and bit our legs when we stopped and the guide pulled two leeches off David before they had latched on – we were told to be very quiet while they looked for the chimp family. After about 3/4 an hour and a couple of moves to different areas it was decided that there was no chance of a sighting as they had gone from where they had been seen the night before (by the same guide), so we walked back through the forest to our cars. It was light by now and we drove back to camp and had breakfast, packed up our tents, and set off around 9am for the long arduous drive back. It was a bit easier going back as we knew what the road was like and how far it was. We stopped for lunch in the grounds of the museum mentioned from yesterday and then continued on. When we reached the hotel where we stayed in the grounds two nights ago, we were given a choice – keep driving towards the border or continue on for another hour or two to camp in the grounds of the hotel near the river. We took the easy option of stopping around 4pm and after we had set up our tents, we both went down to the river and we washed our faces, arms and legs in the river. It was very relaxing. After that, we came back to the hotel and had a very cold beer in the bar, chatted to some members of the group then had dinner. After dinner more chatting and to bed around 11pm. Another very hot day – they are all hot here – and very dry at present. Rainy season is not expected in this country until June, so it’s possible that later in the trip in Ghana or Benin there may be some rainy days. Here’s hoping not…
Tuesday 2nd April 2013
Quebo Guinea-Bissau to Wild Camp on road on way to Labe, Guinea
After a very early breakfast, we set off at 7am heading for the Guinea-Bissau/Guinea border about 220km away with the aim of heading as far as possible in Guinea before setting up a bush camp. The road in Guinea-Bissau to the border was quite good and we made good time and arrived about 1.30pm at the border after having lunch by the side of the road, stopping off at a number of villages to buy food for today. The border was very quiet with no money changers – in fact no one but us going across the border, so it was fairly quick and painless. Once we were in Guinea, the landscape changed. There were more hills and the forest became thicker. People now speak French again (Portuguese and Creole in Guinea Bissau) and are very friendly, waving and calling out to us. The road, good tarmac for about 100km, then deteriorated into a dirt road that had to be negotiated much more slowly. About 6.15pm, we found a reasonable place to camp off the road on the crest of a small hill. There was an abandoned concrete home there – it was probably really nice at one time but a ruin now. There were cows grazing round and we set up camp there, had a beer out of the truck esky as it was very hot, dinner was cooked and we sat around for a little while chatting then off to bed. Today was very tiring – long day on the truck and very hot – probably 37-38C.
Wednesday 3rd April 2013
Bush Camp to Labe, Guinea
Today we set off from our bush camp at about 8am and drove on a very poor road south east through the countryside of Guinea. It is still the dry season here and the country looks in drought. Around mid morning we arrived at a river where there was a hand winched ferry to go across the river. It was great fun negotiating that. Then it was back to the bad road. After lunch we reached the area where they are building a new road and there were many detours. We passed through a couple of large towns and many smaller villages, finally arriving in Labe (pronounced Lar-bay), a large bustling town near the Fouta Djallon Mountains (high forested hills). We walked around the town trying to get ATMs to work or find money changers. We couldn’t get any money and will be going to get it tomorrow in a very large sack as the largest note is worth about $A1.30 and we need about $350 worth. We then drove to a hotel on the edge of town where we are staying tonight and it will be nice to have a shower and wash some clothes. Having pizza for dinner in the hotel (it is all they have). Weather fine, not as hot today, and a bit overcast as we are now at a higher altitude.
Thursday 4th April 2013
Labe, Guinea to Kouta Village in Fouta Tjallon Mountains
This morning some people had to get money in the town and so we had arranged to leave on our Fouta Tjallon village and walking trip at 10am. So at the appointed hour, our guides arrived and we set off. Six of the group went in a 4x4 (including us) and the other four went in a bush taxi (a totally clapped out looking high suspension Peugeot with shag pile seat covers) and we drove to a small town called Pita where it was market day. We walked through the very crowded market looking at all the interesting stalls and speaking to the stall holders. We then walked down to the part of the town where the men were doing weaving on machines that were very intricate and obviously a very old design. Whilst there we bought 2 bananas from a lady passing by, ate them and then stood holding the skins – planning to give them to the next couple of goats we found which wouldn’t be far. The seller held her hand out for the skins and so we passed them over, thinking she might have some use for them – but no, she just chucked them over her shoulder onto the ground! Presumably a goat would find them. Having finished at the market around 1pm we then drove out to the village which was far out in the hills through paddocks and back roads over narrow bridges. When we arrived there we were welcomed by the people in the village, most particularly the family in whose compound we were staying. We had all meant to be camping but there were 3 twin rooms on offer in a separate building and one double so we decided that we would stay in the double room which was inside the family house. It was a crazy room full of someone’s belongings and with a long display cabinet filled with the painted tin bowls they use here. After lunch, we went for a walk to a river about ¾ hour away then to a waterfall then back again. The river was spanned by a natural bridge and everyone took photos. It was a very beautiful spot. We then walked back and had dinner on the patio of the house where the rest of the non-campers stayed in rooms – sardines, potatoes, cabbage, sauce and a type of couscous all served on a large shared platter and eaten with forks. After dinner, we walked through into our room inside the house. It was quite humid inside but we went to sleep at around 10.30pm.
Friday 5th April, 2013 (Carly’s 2nd birthday)
Walking in the Fouta Djallon Mountains then return to Labe, Guinea
Up very early for breakfast today. Set off on our walk into the mountains at around 7.15am when the sun was very low in the sky. We walked up about 300-400metres and then down a very steep path, at the bottom of which most of the group (not us) saw a large troop of (probably) baboons in the far distance although there was some conjecture as to whether they may have been chimpanzees. As we only saw the distant trees moving with the monkeys, we were unsure. We passed through another village and the people there gave us tea and picked fresh oranges and gave them to us. So hospitable. Shortly after this village, there was a vine bridge stretching across the river. David asked if he could be the first person to cross as it appeared very scary and he thought he might not be able to do it. Although it was a confronting task, he crossed it without incident and was very pleased with himself. Lynn was also very concerned about crossing as the path was very narrow and the bridge was a little wobbly, but she also crossed the bridge successfully, so we were both feeling pretty pleased with ourselves. Once all the others had crossed the bridge (some had admitted to being apprehensive about this crossing), we headed off further into the countryside. The day soon heated up and it was probably about 35C by 8.30 or 9, so the going was quite tough in the heat and Lynn had injured the front part of her left foot (muscular problem) and found it difficult to walk on the very uneven rocky surface. We walked for a number of hours through mostly open savannah type country with no respite from the hot sun. At lunch time we walked into an area near a waterfall, the most difficult part of the whole walk and after lunch, we had to walk back down, up and out again to another waterfall where some of the group went swimming and others just paddled their feet in the water. By this time it was about 2.30pm, the hottest part of the day, so we pushed on back towards the village that we had left just after 7am. Although the walk was difficult and long, the scenery was spectacular – this is a very beautiful part of this country – at around 4.30pm we arrived back in the village and soon after farewells and handshakes, we were on our way back to the town, by every back road and rutted track you can imagine. We finally reached the hotel a bit after 7pm and after a shower, we went to the hotel next door for dinner (it was substantially cheaper and the food was better) and then exhausted, fell into bed. Lynn’s foot was causing her lots of pain when she walked on it but hopefully will be better tomorrow.
Saturday 6th April, 2013
Labe to Mamou, Guinea
Today we drove to the town of Pita again and did some market shopping for lunch (bread, tomatoes, lettuce, bananas). We then drove to the Kinkon Falls where there is a hydro-electric power station – built by the Chinese in 2005 – set in a very deep valley. At present it is the dry season. The falls must be quite a sight in the rainy season. It was quite a long way into where the falls were. Lynn’s foot was quite painful today and she decided not to walk down to the viewing platform. After that, we then set off to the south east through Central Guinea, having lunch on the way. There are many small villages by the side of the road with people waving everywhere you pass. Some of the villages are quite neat looking with clean surroundings while others are very dirty looking with lots of rubbish piled up. Sometimes it is a bit depressing to see the way these people live, but mostly they appear to be happy and welcoming. In the late afternoon we arrived to our hotel in Mamou, and had an aperitif just outside our room. Mamou appeared to be set in a very nice part of the highlands and it was a bit cooler there. We had dinner in the hotel restaurant and went to bed around 11pm.
Sunday 7th April, 2013
Mamou to Faranah, Guinea
At present we are making our way south east through Central Guinea so today was another driving day, only about 160km but the road was very poor for about half the way there. Firstly we stopped in the town of Mamou to shop for lunch and then set off again, lunch at around 12noon today then driving into the afternoon. Late in the day, just when we had almost arrived at Faranah, we discovered that one of the tyres had a puncture and the wheel had to be changed so Jason and Anya asked three of the locals at the tyre repair place to assist with the changing of the wheel. The rest of us went for a walk in the nearby market talking to the stall holders and admiring their food and their children. We also walked down to the bridge at the bottom of the hill. We were told that the river here is the mighty Niger River that rises in Guinea and runs through Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Nigeria. It is one of the largest rivers in Africa, but here it was only about 100m wide and very placid. After the truck had been repaired, we went to a hotel but they were full, then went to a second one and they only had one room available, so when we visited the third hotel, and they had sufficient rooms available we agreed to stay there. They had no running water even though there were shower heads, toilets etc. The power was being switched on (via generator) at 7pm so the staff agreed that they would fill buckets with water while we went out for dinner. We then went out for dinner in the town and when we arrived back, the power was on and the 150litre container was full of water so we could have a wash out of a bucket and also wash some clothes to dry overnight. Every day has been quite hot and today was no exception. Very hot from about 11am until about 6pm. Today there was a very large ceremony of some sort in the town and the President of Guinea was in attendance – he apparently was born and raised in this town, so that was the reason the hotels didn’t have vacancies.
Monday 8th April, 2013
Faranah to Macenta, Guinea
We had breakfast off the truck this morning and left to do some shopping in the nearby town of Faranah for lunch. We walked through the market, bought a drink and a yoghurt, some peanuts, then a banana each. The ladies selling the bananas told us it was “un cadeau” – a gift – and we didn’t have to pay for them. We then set off initially on a pretty bad road which got better, then deteriorated, then got better again, passing through many small villages and two or three larger towns on the way. The countryside was quite hilly with palm trees and other very large trees growing – we had entered the Guinea Forestiere – the heavily forested area of Southern Guinea, just a few kilometres from the Sierra Leone, Liberian and Cote d’Ivoire borders. There have been a number of civil wars in these countries in recent years and it is still a problem area with (apparently) many refugees still living in Guinea as a result of these wars. Guinea is not much better having suffered decades of political turmoil by way of dictatorships, coups, tortures, massacres and the like. This country has only opened up to tourism in the past two to three years and there is very little infrastructure. It is a very resource rich country, possessing at least 25% and possibly up to 50% of the world’s bauxite and many other minerals, including diamonds, gold and silver. So it has huge potential, but the people are so poor, but there are always friendly smiling faces and waves everywhere you go. We passed through the large town of Gueckedou on the way to our destination today, Macenta down in the central south east of the country. Eventually we checked into a small hotel on the outskirts of town – 7 rooms, no running water, just cold bucket showers, no light in the room so they went to the town to buy lightbulbs, very basic. The hotel arranged to send out for dinner and beer for us – this finally arrived around 8.45pm but the food was OK. After dinner we bucket showered in the fairly grubby shared shower room and then went back to our room. We are in a large cell like room with a double bed – that’s it!! So to sleep at around 10.45pm.
Tuesday 9th April, 2013
Macenta to N’zerekore, Guinea
Today we were up early as we had to get breakfast ready. Lynn and Sharon prepared porridge and everyone really enjoyed it. We then left the hotel and headed towards N’zerekore further south east. The road cuts very close to the Liberian border and this area suffered in both the Sierra Leone and Liberian civil wars with up to a thousand people being killed in the conflicts. The country is hilly with as usual, many villages on the way. We stopped in one village and strolled around the market, talking to the people, then back on the truck. We also stopped at a place where artisans were showing their wares (cloth, bags, masks and statues mainly) in a number of huts in a rubber plantation. This is the first time we have seen anything touristy for sale and there was nothing worth buying. We shortly afterwards arrived in N’zerekore, a large market and junction town and checked into our hotel about 12noon – only a short drive today. We have two nights here and are looking forward to a break from driving each day. We had lunch and a drink and washed some clothes. We are shortly going to walk up to the town (about 1km away) and have a look around before we come back for dinner. The day is hot and humid – around 35C. The hotel is a real treat – it looks nice, the rooms are huge with a separate seating area – furnished with interesting cane furniture, the sink only leaks a small amount – there are screens on the windows, a mosquito net and a fan – of course the power will only be on for a few hours this evening. However, it’s a real treat after our filthy cell of last night……
Wednesday 10th April, 2013
Had breakfast in the hotel outdoor dining area this morning. Postcards to send today so we joined up with some others in the group to walk up to the town. Armed with Lynn’s mud map which nobody paid any attention to, we somehow took a turn that took us into the back streets of this quite large town and we walked through looking at all the sights. Many people came out to say hello including children. We finally made our way back to the main street by following the roads the motorcycles took. We then had a fun experience at the post office – everyone sent postcards so we sat around talking to the man in charge while he sold us postcards and stamps. After that, we walked around the town looking at the market (today was market day in the town and there were stalls everywhere, it was noisy and totally chaotic. We each bought water in a little plastic bag because we were thirsty and hadn’t brought any water. We weren’t able to buy exactly what we wanted in the market so we walked back to the hotel, bought a couple of baguettes for lunch had a couple of beers and read and lazed around all afternoon. The day was hot as usual and when the others in the group drifted back, we chatted and then had dinner and to bed.
Thursday 11th April, 2013
N’zerekore to Beyla, Guinea
Today is our wedding anniversary (21 years), but we had celebrated last night because that was when it would have been in Australia – and we knew we wouldn’t have any opportunity for a nice dinner. We set off from N’zerekore towards the north on an extremely poor road towards the Guinea/Cote d’Ivoire border. The further we went the worse the road became. The country was sometimes forested, sometimes burnt out with stumps of trees and distant hills, many small villages with welcoming smiles and many waves as well as children running beside the truck. The people appear to live in really poor conditions and don’t see many white faces. In Guinea, there has been one Dragoman trip before ours and tourism is in its infancy. The roads are dreadful and other infrastructure is almost non existent. It is strangely other worldly most of the time. People are very curious and are always unfailingly polite and smiling. Many children shake your hand and say hello. It is quite humbling to experience this part of the travel. We final reached Beyla, a small town on this road. The truck had a small problem that had to be fixed by welding a part so we sat in the workshop (open air, off the road, with hundreds of people looking and being involved) while the pipe was fixed and by this time t was about 6.30pm and nearly dark so we searched for a hotel to stay in. There was one – like a haunted house – and we decided to camp there in the grounds and some people stayed in rooms – we camped – but after dinner, because it looked as though it may rain, some of us (including us) moved our tents onto the tiled veranda and slept there. There was no running water – had a bucket shower – cold water. It didn’t rain and we went to sleep at about 10.30pm.
Friday 12th April, 2013
Beyla to Bush Camp near Guinea Border
After we set off from the town of Beyla this morning, we headed further north towards the Guinea/Cote d’Ivoire border. The road became worse and worse and in most of the villages we had to ask for directions out of the village, but most people didn’t appear to know where the border (that we were looking for) actually was, so we slowly moved in the correct direction not knowing quite where we were. There are no signs at all in this area and no traffic except motorbikes (and us). It is sort of like a black hole where people wave and smile and point but we don’t understand where we are and they can’t tell us because they don’t really understand that Cote d’Ivoire is the next country. After following ever narrower roads through the forest, we thought we were near the border and so set up a bush camp in a clearing. Dinner was cooked, we sat around and chatted and put our flies on our tents in case it rained in the night. The night was clear and very dark with not a sound except the card players on the truck. To sleep around 10pm.
Saturday 13th April, 2013
Bush Camp near Guinea Border to Odienne, Cote d’Ivoire
David woke in the night to hear light rain and managed to put the fly on the tent before Lynn even woke. The tent is a hopeless shape with much unusable space due to the design and we have to put our belongings around the edge inside. We had to drag everything closer to the centre so that nothing was touching the sides – this could cause rain to start leaking in. For the rest of the night it was almost like we were sleeping on top of our luggage. When we woke in the morning it was raining steadily – the breakfast group had managed to get the awning out so we all huddled under there to have breakfast cereals and coffee. Bit of a trial when you were forced out into the rain for a bush toilet and it is amazing how quckly toilet paper disintegrates when wet! Eventually everything was packed away and we set off – in good spirits because we felt, by the mileage accomplished the previous day, that we were only approx. 15k from the border. Each village we went through was asked the direction of the border and the distance – with varying answers ranging up to 50k. The rain had made throad very treacherous – deep puddles/water holes – slippery surface etc. We continued on slowly, always expecting to reach the border. After some time we came to another village and noticed that the houses were a different style and also there were concrete power poles – quite different to what we were used to seeing. Hmm… suspicions were raised – and then verified when we saw a sign for building works that included the words ‘Cote d’Ivoire’. A passing man confirmed it was Cote d’Ivoire. Somehow we had managed to cross across into Cote d’Ivoire without knowing!! We eventually found a Guinea border post but, because we had arrived from the wrong direction, they refused to give us exit stamps and sent us off to another border post. To cut a long and tedious story short – we spent hours driving from one border post to another trying to get the paperwork and passports stamped, without success, and always on dreadful roads. Fortunately it had stopped raining but the roads were extremely bad. None of the guards were prepared to stamp our passports because we had crossed 'illegally'. All in all we crossed the border between Guinea and Cote d'Ivoire five times at different places! We realised later that, around 5pm the previous day, we had turned left in a village instead of right, and so had travelled north. When we bushcamped we were nowhere near where we thought we were. Instead we spentthe day like the Ancient Mariner – forever doomed to travel… Eventually we found a Cote d’Ivoire border post that allowed us to pass them and drive 5k to a Guinea border post. This 5k took us an hour as the road was so bad but when we got there the officials took pity on us. The main official was 80k away (don’t know why) and so they couldn’t stamp our passports with an exit stamp but they did stamp on a list of our names. We had finally officially left Guinea! Interestingly it was noted that in the last 6 months we were the 3rd vehicle to come over the border. We slowly drove back to the Cote d’Ivoire border post but they had gone home by then. They had told us that if they had gone we should just proceed to the next town Odienne and go to the Prefecture there. Just outside town we were stopped by the gendarmes (frequent occurrence) and after much discussion they decided to accompany us into town. By now it was dark and we were all very tired having driven around in circles all day. When we got to the gendarmerie the Commandant was waiting but it still took an hour to get it sorted out – but eventually we had our entry stamps in our passports and checked in to a hotel at 9.30pm. A nightmare of a day, and about 300k short of the planned destination.