Guinea (Conakry) Part 1

By the time we had obtained our Guinean visas, packed and finished saying our farewells to Milky and his family it was late afternoon. We drove into the dark and then tried to find a place to camp.  After searching unsuccessfully for more than an hour we passed a bar and decided to stop. There were a few plastic tables and chairs and a giant speaker system busting out Nigerian pop music at an ear splitting volume. I felt a pang of sympathy for their neighbours who I very much doubted had double glazing (or any glazing at all). Besides a few teenagers lounging around on a wooden bench the place was empty. We shouted that we would like some beers and after a while asked the boy who served us if he knew anywhere we could camp. It wasn’t long before the owner had arrived and we had been invited to pitch our tents for free in a small covered area next to the bar. We enquired casually (or as casual at it’s possible to be when shouting) what time the music would finish the owner immediately ordered one of the teenagers to turn it off. The silence was bliss! I was just imagining how relieved the neighbours must be when 4 people entered the bar and began remonstrating loudly with the owner. It turned out the neighbours were not so grateful for our interventions after all. Not wanting to put a dampener off everyone’s Tuesday night, we reassured the owner we were actually enjoying the music and it quickly returned to full volume. 

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Our new travel buddy, Blanco

When I awoke the next morning I found Leon searching along the fence at the back of the compound. In the night he had been awoken by a very faint mewing next to his head, he had looked outside but couldn’t find anything but in the morning he heard it again. A few minutes later he had retrieved a tiny kitten from inside the fence. The kitten looked as if he had been alone and hiding there for days. His eyes were covered in a thick crust and he was so skinny I could fit my thumb and first finger around his belly. His legs could barely support his weight; they were so thin and gangly and out of proportion with the rest of his body. When Leon handed him to me he lay limply in my lap. We gave him some baguette and chocolate spread which he tore into ravenously and he perked up a little bit. We wondered what we should do with him, we couldn’t exactly take him on the motorbike but if we left him where he was he would almost certainly die within the next few days. In the end Jim agreed to take him for a few days in the Subaru until we could find him a new home. He feigned reluctance but I could tell that secretly he had been won over. The only thing left to decide on was his name, we settled on Blanco, the Creole word for ‘white person’ which had been shouted as us everywhere we went in Guinea Bissau. 

The border crossing went remarkably smoothly considering we had neither an entry stamp nor passavant. The immigration officer was so engrossed with the game of ludo she was playing on her phone that she barely glanced at our passports before issuing our exit stamp. As soon as we exited Guinea Bissau the (very potholed) tarmac road ended, as we approached the Guinean border post it became a corrugated mud track, split in two by an enormous litter filled trench. Clearly the Guinean government was not too concerned about first impressions! Getting our passports and CPD stamped turned out to be very straightforward, meaning that for the first time in months all of our paperwork was in order.  

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The Guinean border
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The road to Koundara
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Leon and Jim celebrating becoming millionaires, the highest denomination is 10,000 Guinean Francs (1 Euro)

From the border at Buruntuma it was around 40km to the nearest town, Koundara where we stayed the night. The road was in appalling condition, it seemed crazy that this was one of the main overland routes into or out of the country. Koundara turned out to be an unlikely meeting place for other travellers, we met Charlene who was on a solo cycling trip from France to Togo and Robin a Swiss guy backpacking from Morocco to Nigeria. In the evening Chi, who had decided to stay on a bit longer in Guinea Bissau also turned up. The following day we drove 250km south to Labe, the road could not have been more different, a beautiful swathe of perfect tarmac with not a pothole in sight, it twisted its way through the hills. The only exception was 25km of dusty red earth road which took us up into the mountains. The north of Guinea was stunning; covered in thick jungle and with spectacular views out over mountains hung with mist.

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Leon and Chi on the section of dirt road between Koundara and Labe

As we neared Labe we felt the first drops of rain, at first we enjoyed the novelty and the relief from the oppressive heat, but before long it became a torrential downpour. By the time we reached Labe and took shelter in a bar, the storm drains had become fast flowing brown rivers and the sound of the rain pounding on the tin roof was so loud it drowned out all conversation. It seemed we had arrived in Guinea just in time for raining season!  

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