Published: May 21st 2011May 6th 2011
We were in pursuit of the rarely seen Fouta Djalon ranges. Driving around in a motorbike my guide and I could see the lush green pine trees mixed with other varieties of trees. All were surrounding the road and the hills in the distances. Locals pop up every now and then and they look gobsmacked.
Kids yell out all day “Porto!” (In the local language) which means, “White skin!” It’s something that happens throughout Africa and it’s classed as okay to say. Even adults have called me white man. In Australia if a child was to say “black man” than it’s like, ‘Oh great my child is racists.’ “Theodore don’t say that!” It’s refreshing to hear people saying it as they see it. And for a country pretty much unknown to most of the world it is probably why. For some reason countries blocked off to the world have the most character for a traveller.
I often wonder how they feel seeing these white people flash by on transport. I know they find it curious as to why I and travellers like me aren’t in flashy 4wd’s of the NGO or UN.
There are many towns you can
base to see the area. Labe the biggest town is a rip off so I left hours after the 20 ½ hour bus the same day and headed to the smaller, friendlier, less money hungry Dalaba an hour and a bit south.
The small town has a large mosque for such a small place and this seemed quite usual for Guinea - small town or village have mosques with large minarets. Around town and also in Guinea Bissau children walked around with tablets like Moses with the 10 commandments but with words from the Koran written on them.
The artesian shops are full of leather products with sandals the main go. Dalaba people are very nice people but it doesn’t see much tourism with the tourist office looking disused. I was told it was being renovated.
Every afternoon around 10 or so locals join up and play drafts to kill time. During conversation they make this high pitched “EH!” noise, which all locals do. For two days and an overnight stay at a local village it cost me $40 ($39aud, thought I’d take that opportunity whilst I can)
The first day I headed to
the Bridge of God. It won’t go down as the highlight of my trip. But it is nice to walk around with no one trying to sell you anything. The stone bridge has been carved out by the water rushing down from the waterfall. It sounds better than what it was. Instead just smelling plant life, hearing birds is a rare treat for Africa. Observing the reactions from locals is always good when you go way off the beaten track. But in Guinea a lot of babies cried at me which is rare. Usually I am an adorable face to look at!!
The land looks very fertile with a bit of agriculture and pine trees everywhere. A lot of volcanic rock around too. My guide didn’t have much English but tried his best to be patient with my French and actually turned into a language teacher in a way. I realised that if I got the basics of French what I should have done was then go on a 4-5 day hike with one of the guides and used him as my private French lesson. I have learned a valuable lesson on that one. So much better than being
stuck in a classroom.
Also part of the walk is the white sand quarries and bamboo tree clusters. Over the years the sands have been dug out of the hill and distributed. Photos are not allowed where working is shown. They use ladders made from bamboo to climb to the top.
Another part is the 15m or so high Chinese bamboo that was planted between the 1960’s and 70’s as a government initiative on a 5 year to 5 year plan to create a paper making industry but that didn’t eventuate and they still remain un touched.
The evening before I changed guides for the village stopover we went to a house where I was given the history of the place. It’s owned by a French women who married a local and was forced to leave the country years ago. The husband stayed and was later found 19 years later buried in the forest near where the house is (At least this is what the translation was.) Just a reminder of what has happened here.
My village stay was not in any traditional hut just a concrete building with a normal bed next to the potatoes.
It’s hard to distinguish a poor African country to another sometimes. But one clear cut way is to see the influence of not just the western world but anywhere in the world. In Guinea it is limited. Majority of the countries at least have the stock standard coke products, chips (crisps) or other confectionary products. In Guinea, some rare places have Coke and strawberry Fanta that’s found its way from Algeria or orange Fanta from Equatorial Guinea but the key sign is milk.
Milk Powder was provided at my village stay and I could not see liquid milk available when I was in Dalaba. The other sign is when I am not eating well. If it’s hard to find a decent meal than you have entered real Africa. Apart from a few chicken meals I was starving. Few African countries allow that experience!!!
With water you try and hold out as long as possible but it was here I finally gave into drinking clean water the local way, through plastic bags. Drinking from a water bottle is a luxury and these plastic bags are the equivalent of the western worlds discarding of MacDonald’s products. Fouta Djalon wasn’t that
bad but some other areas and neighbouring countries it was atrocious. It’s drunk quickly and discarded even quicker. It is one of the major contributors to the pollution problem in West Africa. Just imagine Micky D’s rubbish in your town on a mass scale and substitute that with this clear plastic bag with blue writing big enough to fill 500mls of water. Some places don’t even stock bottles because there is not a market for it.
Most tasted normal but some in Sierra Leone smelt like a dirty un-ventilated hotel room that allowed smoking and tasted like it as well. For me though I felt the water didn’t absorb into anything once consumed. It just went straight through. It’s a clear diuretic!
Mango season was beginning and there were many sites of people with long sticks prodding to dislodge mangos from the top of high trees. I wasn’t a fan of the mangos here they were too hard whilst in Sierra Leone they were softer and juicier. In reverse are the oranges - peeled of its skin so the inner coating of white is your orange to buy from a lolly jar.
Before we left for a
long day my guide went to the pump to get clean water. We passed the school, which was positioned between a few villages from around the area.
For the base of the falls it’s a long drive from Dalaba 90 mins and walking takes a while. You can’t stop but wave at the people when you drive past. But after a while I got tired of doing it so I changed to nods of recognition. I realised that I was nodding to women with produce built up on their head and thought. ‘Gosh I hope they don’t nod back in an instinctive reaction.’
What is really appreciated when driving around is the uniqueness of this in Africa. A large fertile land that’s climate is a lot cooler than other parts especially as it gets towards summer and the stickiness of rainy season.
We visited Dounkimagna Dam, which is used for irrigation around the region. It is a massive dam even though it was at a low point as it was near the end of the dry season. When we reached the waterfalls we passed a real traditional market, which we visited on the way back. Volcanic rock
on top of made up stands covered what was a one minute tour, which indicates how small it was. There was no town close by but was positioned for the regions surrounding villages to trade their various fruit, vegies and maize.
At Dittin Falls you can see it when you approach. 100m drop that flows year round from the top of a cliff surrounded by green trees and landing in a pond of water. My muscles were so tight from all the cramped buses and bush taxis that I think if I were at football training and it was my turn for stretching I’d have to go “Yep! Stop there!” as soon as my partner grabbed my foot for hamstring stretches.
So to help get over it Ditinn was a nice spot for a swim and relax. The pool of water wasn’t deep so anyone can go in and walk or swim to the fall. Underneath it it’s a piercing sensation on the skin. I didn’t have my board shorts with me but had dickstickers on (or togs, Speedos). I noticed I had a bit of board shorts tan and thought maybe I should go with a dicksticker
tan for the rest of the year? (… just a thought…)
The final stop of the trip was Chevalier Garden. Created in 1908 by a French Botanist. He tested various plants to see how it went in the Fouta environment like pine, coffee and tea. The project was abandoned due to the war and when he returned he noticed that the trees remained. It is preserved in its original state with pine dominating and the odd Eucalyptus tree… Gosh I get all patriotic when I see that tree and you can see it in every region around the world. It’s nice to see the evidence of botanist’s experiments over time in different regions.
I spent a long time waiting for bush taxis at this point in my travels. I was able to observe a few things you wouldn’t look at normally the goats and cows grazing. Goats in both Guinea’s had a lot of character. Jumping around like gazelles from a safari.
At the taxi stand they were acting like they were higher up on the food chain than dogs fending off the innocent dog passing by with forceful running. Also watching the baby goats ramming into
the mothers teat only for the mother to not give a shit and move on. In Dalaba region I noticed that some goats and cows had sticks made into a diamond shape around their neck so they couldn’t eat the vegetable garden.
Whilst waiting I was sitting next to a mother with her baby daughter. The toilet was next to me and the baby needed to pee. I don’t see anyone get up - instead I see a light yellow stream to my right interrupting my thoughts. I now take small wet patches on red earth as serious contenders for baby pee.
I found the people in Dalaba so genuine that I promised myself this story will not be told until I print off and send the photos of the people I took from the town to the tourist office. I don’t normally do this I am normally a typically bad tourist, which says yes I’ll do that and forget. But I couldn’t do it to these people some people are too nice to let down.
*** Details of Dalaba tours – He won’t be there if you just rock up. If you don’t have a phone
just ask someone close by and they’ll call him to come.
Mamadou Daimou Diallo – Director de d’office du Tourisme
Tel (60) 269348 or (67) 26 99 48
There are more photos below