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Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Guinea, part 2.

Day 3 – 18/4/12

As per our experience thus far, the Guinea formalities were completed quickly, efficiently  and with a minimum of fuss. The immigration bloke even completed Avril’s form whilst Ray did his. Avril sat in the car chatting to all the local boys whilst Ray did the hard yards. No request for a bribe.

We asked all the officials along the way for a good hotel in Forecariah and there was general agreement.

The road to Forecariah was OK, but there were some pot holes and some wash aways. The EU had funded the Sierra Leone side, but clearly not the Guinea side.

We found our way to the nominated hotel only to find that Rio Tinto & Fluor had taken it over. The security guard was not too helpful, but eventually one of the chaps went with Avril to show her the next possible hotel. She discovered that it did not pass the hygiene test. Meanwhile Ray had managed to talk his way up the food chain at the hotel and got to chat to  the chief. He said that the hotel they had taken Avril to was no so good, so he made a phone call and got us into a clean guest house.

We cooked up some curry & rice.

An MSF vehicle showed up a bit later; as per our general experience, the local drivers chatted to us, but the more important imported folks seemed to be much too important to chat to the rif-raf.

Ray driving. 299 km. hrs, not relevant!  N  090 25’ 52.9’’ W 0130 04’ 43.7’’

Day 4 – 19/4/12

Mountains & Waterfalls. We made a reasonably efficient start to the day and motored to Coyah, where the mountains start. The joy!!!  This is the start of the Fouta Djallon region, famed for its dramatic scenery. All the day we drove through some wonderful scenes. Unfortunately the conditions were not ideal for photography; the vistas too expansive and the heat haze added to the thick smoke from fires, making photography hard. Still, we enjoyed the scenery. There were a lot of beautiful river crossings, each worthy of a photo.

We first stopped at the Voilee de la Marie (Bridal Veil) falls. These are a very broad series of falls with a number of small cascades creating an even, misty fall – hence the name. There were good facilities there and we decided to have an early lunch under the falls. As we were back in a Francophone country we had crusty baguettes with camembert and pate.

The next falls we stopped at were the Koundoure. At a village close to the falls we asked the way and after getting directions, we asked the chap if he would take us there. Such a change from other countries where you are harassed by guides all the time. Here you have to actually ask – people are too polite to push themselves! We were followed by a large number of kids to the falls. Our guide, sensing this was not pleasant, laid out a branch on the ground and instructed the kids not to cross it – and they did not! Unfortunately as it was the dry season, the falls were dry but we got an excellent impression of them. They would be great in the rainy season.

We stopped at a road block near Mamou and one of the officers noticed we were leaking fuel – again! So we went into town and asked at a service station for a mechanic; fortunately there was one just behind the service station. They immediately got onto the job. The return fuel line had split. They shortened the line and ensured it could not be squeezed again and we were on our way. $15 the poorer!

We decided to go all the way to Labe and spend 2 nights there. We stayed at the Tata hotel

Avril driving. 299 km. hrs, not relevant!  N  090 25’ 52.9’’ W 0130 04’ 43.7’’

Day 4 – 20/4/12

Waterfalls!! A late start to the day. We drove to the Kambadaga Falls. Again, we stopped to ask directions and then asked the chap to be our guide. Along the way we picked up a walker who then also came along to the falls. The falls were fantastic; actually different sets of falls. To get a view we crossed an ancient swing bridge that would not pass any safety check. But we did it! We walked around the top of the main (?) middle falls to get different views. Not being all that keen on steep ascents, Avril decided to retreat a bit earlier than Ray. Ray walked to the top of the bottom falls and then along the river to get a wonderful view of the larger middle falls from the bottom. As we had given the “walker” a lift we were fortunate to have 2 guides! Unfortunately our camera decided to stop working at the critical moment. Ray tried all the known solutions (i.e. turn it off and turn it on – many times), but nothing worked. Then ignoring Dad’s # 1 rule, “never force anything mechanical”, Ray (gently) belted the camera on the ground and voilà it worked again!

We lunched at the falls and fed the full guiding crew & some spurious hanger-ons. It was ~ 15 km and 45 min to get to the falls.

Then, a bit later than we wanted, we drove to the Dittin falls. To get there we needed to bracket the turnoff, asking a person, then driving a bit far, coming back and asking again. It was quite a distance to get to the falls. Along the way we stopped and pick up a “guide”. Eventually we got to Dittin village and chatted to the chief who allocated a near-by person to come along as our guide. From there it was ~ 7 km to the falls. These falls are (apparently) a 80 m drop down a cliff. Again, they were spectacular but we did not have time to really appreciate them.

All in all a great day. The bonus is the very temperate weather, high 20s and the humidity was not too high.

Avril driving. 211 km. hrs; not relevant! But the odometer did pass 111,111 km: very exciting. We dined out on the milestone; Avril pizza and Ray spaghetti. 

Day 5 – 21/4/12

Up very early. It was with some trepidation we approached the day’s drive. Blogs & guide books had spoken of a horror stretch of road, a river crossing impassable in the rains and minimum 10 hours and up to 16 hours drive. Apparently the terrible road was legendary with hardy/experienced travellers. This was the stretch of road that caused us to rush other areas a bit.

The reality; a wonderful drive across mountains/hills with some great vistas. The road was mainly good, if corrugated, gravel. The bad sections were over the hills and this is where you want to go slow anyway to appreciate the view. The vegetation changed from reasonably close bush to more of a savannah outlook. The 1st 175 km from Labe took 4 hours; there the excellent tar road started. The 248 km from Labe to Koundara took 5 hours. There was a manual ferry crossing, Guinea money 50,000 (fortunately a lovely French couple had warned us of the cost the previous night), but no river to ford.

As expected, the Guinea side immigration and customs were completed quickly. No hint of a bribe.

Guinea Summary

We loved Guinea. It is a no hassle country. Folks are very friendly and so laid-back. There were no security issues. At the road blocks the officials were very friendly and we enjoyed the chat. If you needed to pass through the same road block twice, they would remember you and ask how things were.

The scenery is stunning. The roads in the main are very good.

We struggle to think of a negative for the report.

Lonely Planet: 5/10, Rough Guide: 5/10. IGN map: 5/10.

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