The north of Guinea is known for its spectacular waterfalls; one of the nicest is Sala which is around 30km from Labe. Leon, Jim, Simon, Blanco and I spent an enjoyable couple of days camping at one of the viewpoints above the waterfall. We were told that locals fear the djinn who they believe are present in this area, but besides a marauding cow which was determined to eat Simon’s tent we were left in peace. We hiked down to some of the smaller pools where we could swim.
From Labe, Jim, Simon and Blanco continued South to Conakry whilst Leon and I headed up to the North to visit the Dam de Mali, a famous mountain shaped like a woman’s face. The drive was difficult, 200km of steeply undulating and potholed dirt track, but it was stunning, taking us through one of the most wild and remote areas of Guinea. There was very little in the way of tourist infrastructure in Mali village, but the self appointed manager of the ‘tourist bureau’ (in reality just a small bookshop) allowed us to stay with his family in return for a small donation. His home was in a beautiful location just a short walk from a spectacular viewpoint where you could look out at the Dam.
Next we visited the tiny village of Diouki from where Hassan, a tiny and energetic Guinean man in his 60’s takes people trekking. It was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the trip so far, the scenery was breathtaking, encompassing the spectacular ‘Grand Canyon of Guinea’, jutting rock formations, dense jungle and countless waterfalls. Hassan was very entertaining, he appeared to have named every rock in the vicinity, every time we passed one he would point to it and say ‘this one looks like a snail/shark/chair/elephant/dog/shoe etc’ and we would tilt our heads and strain our eyes trying to work out what on earth he was going on about. On the second day we climbed up to a mountain cave. Inside there was a narrow pool of water. At one end of the pool there was an opening through which light and a steady stream of water poured in. At the other end there was a narrow and dark tunnel. Hassan directed us to swim into the tunnel and assured us if we did we would be in for a surprise. With some trepidation I lowed myself into the murky water and started swimming. I could see that there was a sliver of light ahead and headed towards it. The light was coming from an opening in the sheer mountain face, a window through which I had a speculator and dizzying view out. In front of the window there was a lip of rock a bit like a window ledge. I hoisted myself up and peered over and saw that the pool I was swimming in was at the top of another waterfall. Water was tumbling over the ledge and crashing down into another pool some 20 meters below.
From Diouki we began our journey south to Conakry stopping for a couple of days in Dalaba, the highest town in Guinea. Leon recovered from sickness whilst I commandeered a kid with a moto taxi to drive me on a 60km round trip down some truly terrible roads to visit yet another waterfall. We had arrived in Guinea for the start of the mango season, as we drove south stalls piled high with mangos lined the sides of the roads. In the UK there are 2 types of mangos, the giant Alphonso mango you get in the supermarkets and the smaller, sweeter yellow mangoes you occasionally find in Asian shops. Here there was a seemingly endless array of different types of mangos, piled on tables and heaped into buckets, each costing between £0.5-£0.25p. In fact, despite eating at least one or two mangos per day for the entire time we were in Guinea, outside of Conakry I rarely ever bought them. When I would enquire how much for a single mango most people would laugh and respond ‘un cadeau.’
Police checkpoints had been largely absent from the far North, but between Labe and Conakry there were at least 7. It quickly became clear why Guinean police are said to be some of the most corrupt in West Africa. Upon being pulled over a half a dozen police/gendarmerie will encircle your vehicle making endless demands, just waiting for you to slip up; driving license, Carte Gris (ownership papers) Carte Brun (insurance). They will pour over each of these documents looking for the slightest discrepancy (many tourists get hefty fines due to a typo). For anyone in a car/ 4×4 they demand to see a fire extinguisher (they will check the expiry date), first aid kit and 2 safety triangles. A friend of ours was told he had to pay a fine as he didn’t have a safety whistle! What is particularly galling is that whilst you are busy emptying your car desperately searching for that second safety triangle, taxi’s will sail gleefully past with 6 people perched perilously on top of an enormous bulging bag of rice strapped to the roof. The police ‘fines’ do little to dissuade anyone; I have rarely seen vehicles as overloaded as they are in Guinea. Leon and I made it through the checkpoints without incident; Jim we later found out had not been so lucky. After producing all his documents, digging out his fire extinguisher, first aid kit and 2 safety triangles the disappointed officer was just about to let him go when he spotted he wasn’t wearing any shoes and promptly fined him. After this Jim decided it was best to try and drive straight through the checkpoints, unfortunately the first time he attempted this the police chased him down on motorbikes, fined him for not stopping and also made him pay for the petrol they had used driving after him.