Published: May 22nd 2012May 7th 2012
Their school is situated in No Man's Land between Senegal and Guinea. There were super excited when we stopped at the police check point
We're in Guinea! And we're pretty sure we're the first overland truck to come here!
We've seen some of the most friendliest people this morning. We'd camped only 50km from the border last night and left our campsite at 07:15, spotting baboons - our first wild animal! What we think was the border was situated right next to a large school and children started amassing on and around a mound in the corner of their grounds, waving and yelling. One bright little spark got the idea to run out the school gates to get closer to us and half the kids followed. Looking down from the truck, we started counting in French and they all joined in, counting all the way to fifty. When we applauded, they all joined in and we continued smiling and waving until Suse returned from the policemen's hut. We waved goodbye and they all ran back to school, the adults looking on in...bemusement?
No man's land is approximately 20km wide and is widely inhabited. We saw more baboons crossing the road and the African cows are now in abundance. All are marked and left to roam free and
eat as they please.
Stopped in Koundara for lunch supplies and had a chance to get off the truck and meet the nicest people ever. Oscar was the policeman in charge and was absolutely lovely, showing the cook group where to get vegetables (and the local people carrying everything back for no reason except to be nice), he showed Suse where to change money (who loaned us 50,000 Guinean Francs; €1 = 9,000fr. A can of Coke or 1.5L bottle of water cost 6,000) and asked us for photos. His phone now has a photo of himself with a very sweaty me! It is almost unbearably hot with only the slightest hint of a breeze. He asked me to go get my camera and I happily complied, pleased to actually be asked for a photo rather than having to ask!
We spent about an hour and a half there talking in either French or English (some, like Nicholas, spoke excellent English and although he disagreed, it was better than my French!) about where we'd been and where we were going, what road conditions were like and whether Sydney or Melbourne was better (the locals found it highly amusing
when Ben and I started that). Nicholas' beautiful wife also brought out their pet antelope! It must've only been months old, it was a tiny thing. He wanted to sell it but what could we do with such a creature? He understood and invited us to take photos before returning it to his house. Our group came back with stories of honesty (handing over 50,000 instead of 5,000 and locals laughing good-naturedly and correcting the mistake, saying we were unused to their money) and happiness and it was a really positive introduction to the country.
It's much greener here, Guinea being the wettest country in West Africa. There's a lot of trees and they're currently burning sections of land in preparation for the rainy season (to encourage new growth. The rain will speed up the process). I can hear cicadas as we drive along the new sealed road (a pleasant surprise when guide books said to expect few) and in the distance, forested mountains. Cathedral termite mounds and a more squat version dot the landscape as do the odd village. The homes are what I assume most people would picture in their heads; the woven conical roofs sitting on
a circular structure made from mud. Women and young children sit outside in doorways or shelter under trees for shade. There are simple structures built from straw and logs sitting about a metre off the ground with blankets lain inside that seem to be for sleeping - a much more appealing concept than our tents! Mango trees full of fruit are in abundance and young children bite into them at one end and squeeze the flesh out, then peeling them and sucking the last bit of fruit from the skin. Older children have a knife, peeling them as they go. I'm hot and filthy and yet all of these people take it in their stride. Obviously they have to but there's a definite lesson in it!
After Boumehome, we hit dirt roads, the red earth kicking up dust that stuck to our sweaty skin. This was the road we'd been warned about but it was looking good - more than good. I spent the majority of the day hanging out the side waving to as many people as I could, receiving waves and smiles and shouts of 'bonjour!' or ''bon voyage!' and even the occasional 'hello!'. Several times the
road would narrow and an oncoming truck meant we needed to hug the side of the road and tree branches would come at us like whips. I got whacked when I didn't duck quick enough as did Nico but it didn't deter us.
After a while the dirt road gave way to potholed tar and Suse picked her way around as many as possible. Ahead, other vehicles did the same which resulted in a comical dance of sorts.
Our free camp came in the shape of an open expanse of land, a road parallel to the main one leading us there. Before we could even get our tents up we were inundated with flying ants and moths, attracted to the light we'd turned on to get organised. Dinner was another quick concoction of veg and rice and after taking our malaria pill, we sat around talking while we waited the suggested thirty minutes - which is tough when bugs are crawling all over you!
Justice and I sat up front for another long drive day through Guinea and again, it didn't fail to amaze. The dirt road continued almost
They motioned for me to take their photo, jumping behind the counter to pose
all the way to Labé but it was nowhere near as bad as peoples' blogs had said it would be. We're a little confused as to what they were travelling in and when. Supposedly it was motorbikes during the dry season so...maybe they've never seen bad roads?
We saw the same iridescent blue birds as yesterday but they were too quick to get a photo of. I also saw my first vulture! They were spotted periodically throughout the day and are about as pretty as I imagined. Villages were more frequent than yesterday and the people just as friendly. Considering Guinea has sporadic electricity at best, we're guessing that some people would have seen white people on television but others would have only seen the occasional charity worker or tourist going through.
Guide books and maps told us there were waterfalls in the area and we set about looking for one along our route, settling on the one near Konkouré which was only 25km out of our way. When we stopped in Mamou I went to speak to the two dozen or so motorbike taxi drivers, armed with a map and French phrase book to figure out where
He stopped Steph and I and asked for us to take his photo
they were (damn guide book. Why say there's a waterfall but not tell us how to get to it?). They stopped arguing over who was going to talk to me once they realised I wasn't a fluent French speaker and kindly called over a man who spoke a little English. I did attempt to pronounce 'are there any waterfalls in the river' as it was written in the book but received laughter in response so I showed him the sentence and he nodded. I asked about road conditions and pointed to the truck and asked if it would fit and was told the road was good and yes it was good for the truck. All we had to do was follow the road 'direct'. Thanking them and posing for camera phone photos again, I crossed the road looking each way at least three times and climbed in.
Around the corner and down the road we went, keeping an eye on the number of kilometres. Crossing a bridge we saw a dirt road off to the left and briefly wondered if that was it but kept driving. We stopped several times and asked the locals if they could give us
directions and were a little disconcerted when they kept trying to send us to Kindia where the bigger falls were but that was almost 100km away. No one seemed to know of any falls any closer. We drove on and asked again, really not knowing what else to do and thankfully found a lady who knew what I was babbling on about! She was lovely and told me that the elderly man with her was heading that way and he could show us so after thanking her profusely, Justice and. I crammed in the back so he could sit in the seat. Returning to the village we saw. we'd been correct; the dirt path we saw earlier was the path we needed. A woman came towards us waving and told us her friend had phoned her and told her to expect us. She in turn gave us her two sons to show us the way and all of a sudden the cabin was getting very hot, very quick. One boy squeezed in between Justice and I and the other sat next to the man on the seat. Then we turned off the main road and the fun began. The road
was solid dirt but branches hung low and required constant checking. We bumbled along past houses whose inhabitants were busy preparing their evening meals and watched them stand up and stare almost in disbelief at the massive truck full of white people. Then our three new friends stopped Suse and pointed to a path on the left. All of a sudden it wasn't looking so feasible. She jumped out and disappeared up the path followed by a hoard of children while we stood about smiling at the staring locals. I introduced myself to one man and tried to ask him if the falls were good. He nodded. I asked if they were 'grand or petit' and he said big so it was looking like we were getting our shower after all. But then Carlos asked in proper French and was told there was no water at all! Suse returned from her three mile jog looking like she wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry. They were indeed 'grand' but they were indeed dry also - not to mention it was a 300m drop down a sheer cliff to the bottom of the falls!
Now we had a huge truck
on a small path lined with scrub and trees to turn around. It was decided that it was best to reverse and I set about finding a suitable place to camp for the night. After speaking to several people, I was back with the woman whose sons were still in the truck and she offered the land near her house. We accepted and after putting on a long sleeve top and pants (soooo uncomfortable in the heat!), set up our tents with little groups of children watching each of us.
Chairs were set out and soon occupied by little people who watched cook group light the charcoal and start chopping veggies. Steph amused another group making shadow puppets on a brick wall, our spotlight allowing the perfect amount of light. But along with all this fun came some not so fun flying ants who flew into ears, noses, up pant legs and down backs of necks and bit. A lot of us soon starting dancing around, literally with ants in our pants while the kids and those who weren't getting bitten, laughed. It wasn't funny! They bloody hurt! After dinner and packing away we retired pretty quickly but undressing
He watched others have their photo taken and then finally asked for his own portrait
in the tent produced even more of them and the sound of slapping could be heard from several tents as the kids dispersed and made their way home.
Wednesday (ANZAC day)
It was another sleepless night in the cooler but still humid air. When I finally left my tent at 6am, the fires were already burning and the locals were leaning against the nearby wall as if waiting for us to emerge. Denise and Maria took down their tent and found a scorpion the size of my hand hiding underneath but they're not known to be as dangerous as the smaller ones.
The woman that allowed us to camp appeared, dressed head to toe in yellow and looking refreshed and happy. After we'd finished breakfast, we offered her our leftover baguettes and fruit, collected our empty water bottles and gave her our three-quarters full bag of charcoal to distribute amongst everyone. She seemed grateful and happy and I hope she was; it had been such a great experience meeting everyone and feeling welcomed.
We said our goodbyes and climbed back on the truck for an unexpected potholed drive to K.issidougou.
Spot the traveller!
We were quite popular in the local marketplace!
It was slow going, Suse doing her very best to swerve the massive dips in the road but occasionally it was impossible and at other times the road disappeared altogether. We bounced around in the back, hanging out of the sides and cheering when we made it into fifth gear. The time was passed dissecting the book 'Think like a lady, act like a man' much to everyone's amusement, read by 18yr old Rhys whose thoughts sometimes differed greatly to those of us oldies.
We stopped for lunch in a small town and I stayed on the truck (having no money - I haven't found a bureau de change yet and don't want to keep borrowing off people) and amused a bunch of kids who kept shouting 'Madame! Bonjour!' and waving like mad. I played peek-a-boo with them but like all the kids recently, if I crouch down, so do they! It's funny. When Toni and others returned and said we should head for the market, Steph, Ben and I went to take a look. It wasn't as big or as chaotic as we'd seen previously but there were so many kids and all wanted photos - portraits! -
taken. Ben and Steph began while I returned to the truck for my bigger camera (I've only been carrying around my little point and shoot). When I returned, they were in the little back streets of the houses that separated the market from the main street we were parked on and the kids crowded around. So many adorable faces! And the shouts of glee when they see themselves on the camera! It was wonderful. They followed us back to the main road where we found the rest of the town's children, reciting their one to ten in english with Carlos and Jareb. They'd borrowed someone's little blackboard and stood at the back of the truck with their impromptu students, watched on by adults minding their stalls. It was sad to have to say goodbye and as I climbed the stairs, little hands reached out to touch mine - you'd have thought I was famous or something! They waved us down the street, some running alongside the truck but it was a bit unnerving. They only had eyes for us and there are motorbikes travelling in all directions on both sides of the road. You hear awful stories about children being
injured or killed because people throw candy or the like from moving vehicles but we're not handing anything out and these kids don't know to expect such a thing.
I tried to sleep but having to hold on made it a little tricky so I watched the world go by and continued waving. It was getting dark, the sun having long set and we'd seen no feasible camp site but on the far side of the village of Laya Sando was their dirt football pitch. Permission was requested and granted and we turned left onto the pitch and promptly found ourselves bogged for the first time, the back wheels spinning furiously in the soft ground. We clambered out, shovels in hand and started digging, locals gathering in the darkness to watch and offer help. Suse tried again to no avail and the three men took the shovels from us, digging much faster than we had been. As for us, most positioned themselves at the rear of the truck, ready to push while Toni and I watched for oncoming traffic (though it'd be handy if cars drove with their lights on). The truck was pushed out easily enough and parked and
the usual evening routine began except this time when the chairs were taken out, the children helped, setting them up in a circle. When I came around from the other side of the tent, there were two children on most seats, the rest standing around. We introduced ourselves and asked their name and age but pretty much sat in companionable silence. None of us had the heart to ask them to move so when dinner was ready, we stood near the truck and ate. Suse then suggested that the following morning, we could pack and have breakfast at 07:15, followed by a football match at 8am for an hour! Carlos first asked permission of one of the adults who consented so it was put to the children who smiled and nodded. One was asked to bring a ball and they definitely departed for the night with an air of excitement.
Yesterday was just one of those days that almost defies belief. It started out wonderfully and ended...well, not quite as we would've expected.
Most were up by 06:15 even though breakfast wasn't until 07:15. Turns out two cows were having
a dispute amongst the tents and from fear of being trampled, some got up and out. I could already hear the murmur of foreign voices and they rose in an excited chatter as we all emerged and started putting down the tents. They watched from a respectable distance as we slowly came to life, eating bread and drinking tea and coffee before packing everything away. Suse moved the truck from the pitch to the other side of the road and we took shovels and levelled out the dirt.
By now it looked like most of the village had turned out to see the spectacle. Young children eager to play stood in a large group together; teenagers lingered nonchalantly behind the goals; curious and amused adults gathered under the trees that lined the road and many continued to materialise seemingly from nowhere. Carlos organised those who wanted to play into three teams and we started against the youngest. It was Big versus Small; our team of 13 against their team of probably 20 or so. And not long after starting, it became apparent it was Big and Uncoordinated versus Small and Speedy. The kids scored early on and when we
Sometimes it seemed better to be on a dirt road, rather than half dirt, half bitumen
followed up with a goal, they also cheered us, laughing at our over-the-top displays similar to the footballers they would watch on television.
The kids were called off and the next team came on, excited for their turn. Again they scored, followed by us (I think. It didn't matter) and then the third and final team came on. We were sweating, the sun already beating down and we were now facing the serious competition. I'm guessing most of the boys were 10-12 years old and came equipped with a coach. We all shook hands, smiles aplenty and it was game on. The crowd had swelled and several times the ball ended up amongst them; rarely being thrown back in but played on until it was back on the pitch. They were all good players but a few stood out and when they scored, we began to play a little more seriously. Okay, so chasing the ball with one of your opponents over your shoulder probably isn't in the rule book, nor is holding them back but when a kid half your size takes each and every one of you on and wins, I think exceptions can be made.
It was 3-2 to us when Suse called a five-minute warning. It was a next goal wins approach and we watched as their coach called them all over for a group chat. We then huddled together as well, all sweaty and smelly, laughing and carrying on, unanimously deciding to let them score without making it obvious.
With Nico in goal it began and again they ran circles around us. If it weren't for Rhys who was in every tackle, barefoot and barely taller than some, they would have whipped us but as it was, they scored without us even letting them. A roar of laughter went up from the crowd and the boys danced around us, cheering and teasing. It had been so much fun. So much fun. What I wrote doesn't do it justice. We all shook hands and posed for team photos before crowding as many people in as possible for a group shot. It was completely unnecessary when adults come up to us to thank us for playing; we'd had a blast. We waved goodbye from the truck, sweaty and tired but happy and settled in with bottles of water for the onward journey.
Clothes drying on a fence in a village we passed through. Clothes are also left to dry flat on the grass
brief stop for water allowed me to meet a local woman called Sarah who was extremely excited that we were able to have a photo together - as was I!
Stopping in Kissidougou for lunch and food supplies for dinner, I finally managed to change money at the bank and after a brief chat with the staff, Britt and I went looking for food for dinner. Jareb had twisted his ankle during the match and was resting on the truck which was fine; there wasn't much to be found. Potatoes, onions and rice were bought, followed by tomatoes which were expensive and confusing. If three small tomatoes cost 1,000fr (approx. 10 cents), why did fifteen tomatoes cost 20,000 and not 5,000? It's difficult when the price they're asking is only €2 but you have to think in local currency not foreign, especially when you're on a budget. We couldn't spend one fifth of our allowance on tomatoes when it wouldn't even be enough for the group. I felt bad when the woman got upset but lack of language made it hard to understand her logic and ours. In the end I bought three for 1,000 as a small token,
rather than walking away empty handed and apologised and left.
Travelling along at 10-20km an hour on bumpy roads must've been rough on Suse and Jareb was struggling as well with his ankle. Coincidentally, a Red Cross vehicle appeared behind us and we flagged it down and they were willing to take Jareb to the hospital they were heading to. We sent Denise along with him (who is a nurse and speaks a little French) and I think most were a little envious as we watched them speed off down the road and vanish in a cloud of dust.
Watching massive rain clouds form was pretty cool and Steph and I hung out the windows, chatting. A beautiful sunset out the opposite side was a lovely distraction as we drove on and on, hoping to make it to the hospital in Gueckedou before dark. It wasn't to be...
Along a stretch of road lined with thick forest on both sides, our truck spluttered and stopped dead. We all looked at each other in surprise and listened as Suse tried to start her up. We weren't going anywhere for the time being. Lightning had been lighting up the
One of my favourite sights so far. A few little scraps, a bit of effort and a lot of love went into this, I'm sure.
night sky for some time now and as we all hung out the window trying to hear what the problem was, the palm trees blew sideways as the wind picked up and the heavens opened in a matter of seconds. We pulled the sides down and put everything under the seats for protection and listened to the rain. It was as if someone had opened a dam over us, the amount of water was amazing. Suse, Nico and Talbot clamoured aboard, having been outside looking for issues but unable to do anything in this weather. And so we waited. And waited. And sweltered in the humid air. And waited. People spoke of going out to shower in it and it was so tempting but only one person moved. The rest talked as if deserted on an island with no hope of survival (a steak dinner was high on most of our lists).
Eventually it began to subside and Suse went back to checking for problems, thinking it was a fuel issue. Talbot, a mechanic back home in Oz, was able to help and the rest of us trickled out and loitered around on the side of the road watching
the lightning. A vehicle was flagged down and Nico and Carlos went with them into town to let the others know what was going on.
Eventually everyone found themselves back on the truck, eating bread that Britt and I had bought for breakfast. Laughing Cow cheese, avocado and chocolate spread completed the meal (not all in the same sandwich!) and we settled in to watch South Park on Ben's laptop. It sounded so foreign when Suse gave it another shot and the engine started
We rumbled into town, dark apart from one distant street. Arriving at the hospital, we saw there were armed militia outside and no electricity. Staff took Suse to the room where our four were waiting, guided by torchlight. Thankfully Jareb seemed fine because the hospital had no facilities to deal with anything major.
Then, after attempting to get to a hotel down some really dodgy roads, we returned to the hotel we'd passed on the edge of town and set up tents outside their gate, the rooms being full. It was after 1am when we crawled in, hot and exhausted
Patience was in short supply after only five hour's sleep
and tempers flared with ease. We stopped in town to pick up bread and bananas and then again outside of town to eat while Suse changed a back tyre that had lost some of its tread. The town bordered Sierra Leone and had a curfew, militia patrolling throughout the night. Now it came to life with women washing clothes in the river, trucks going to and from the border and of course, children. A handful sat themselves down to stare at the funny-looking white people grumbling over who was getting breakfast supplies from the truck.
Suse changed the tyre which took about an hour, with much admiration from the men sitting across the road.
We drove along smooth sealed roads through beautiful thick jungle seeing signs to the Liberian border. A quick stop at a town known for bush rat stew proved fruitless but I did pick up some fried plantain which I think tasted better anyway!
Aiming for Bossou for the night, it was too late to continue down the road which was controlled by the military so they directed us to a nearby hotel. We were stupidly excited by the prospect of a shower but
Shelter from the hot sun
Goats penned in under a small hut
we were cooking (having only handed out bread the previous night) so by the time we ate, packed up, sorted the bugs in the room and blown up our mattresses to sleep on on the bed, Britt got a shower and I got nada. I can't tell you how bummed I was. Using a small bottle of water and baby wipes, I scrubbed as much dirt off as I could and climbed under the mosquito net. To top it off, Guinea's sporadic electricity cut out before midnight, switching off our fan. It was a long, sweaty night...
I SAW CHIMPANZEES!!!
Such an awesome day! We drove to Bossou which is only ten minutes from the Liberian border. After quite a bit of time-wasting we were on our way, dressed in long-sleeved tops and pants with Deet and citronella to ward off mosquitoes. We were also handed face masks to wear as chimps are susceptible to human diseases.
We walked into the village and veered off past the market and into the jungle (I'm told jungle and rainforest are one and the same but jungle sounds way cooler). The
But they didn't. Thankfully there was plenty of room to go around them without disturbing them
clouds had been gathering and the sky grew dark and sure enough it starting raining, forcing us under short palms to try and protect our cameras. Carrying on, I was in the middle of the group listening as the wind swept in heavier rain from behind us. It was enough to make us detour and shelter with a family; their hut sitting on a small plot of cleared land. Pineapples of various sizes grew nearby and smoke from their little burner wafted out the door.
The rain began to lessen and the guide led the way further into the dark jungle. I first heard a chimp call and scanned the trees in the direction of the noise. There he (she?) was. Standing in a palm tree and seemingly on sentry duty, he stared at us and called again before vanishing. I was stupidly excited - a chimp! in the wild! We followed the guide to the other side of the group of trees and there they were. Five in a large tree and a couple others off to the other side. I was mesmerised. I took a few photos and then just watched as they ate and lazed, lying
Preparing for the rains
Back burning is a common practice to encourage new growth when the rains arrive
back on the branches. After they were done, they climbed down and crossed the nearby river, looking back at us as they did. There were a few researchers there also and they followed them across the river while we circled back and watched from a distance as they sat eating mango in a large tree. A squabble ensured and I would've loved to have recorded their sounds but I wasn't quick enough!
I learnt later that they aren't particularly keen on getting wet so after eating, they took a nap and all was still. We stood there hoping to see more action but eventually the guide motioned for us to follow and we walked back. I sat talking to Chris and Justin, two Americans working as research station who answered all our questions. There are thirteen chimpanzees in the Bossou area, cut off from the Mount Nimba group by savannah. Since 1998, conservationists have been trying to create a corridor to connect the two groups but it's slow going. Funding for this project comes from Japan and not only goes into the chimps but also the villagers that live in the town or in the jungle. The chimps we
saw are seriously interbred; one of the two infants having six fingers so the corridor is important. They use tools and mothers teach youngsters to use tools to crack nuts, something the Mount Nimba group do not do and are therefore considered 'cultured'.
We were given permission to camp overnight so a few went into town for drinks and snacks (plantain chips!) and others mooched around. There were several children talking amongst themselves, laying on the cool cement verandah in front of the offices and I wandered over to talk to them. Jareb joined us and we made them laugh trying to speak French. They were keen on the camera, both in front and behind and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. And when people started putting up their tents, the older ones rushed over, eager to help. They connected the frame and hooked the tent to it and even threw the rain cover on them! I stood back and watched and as a reward, unzipped the tent and motioned them in. After removing their shoes (without being asked!) they tumbled, flipped and jumped their way in, laughing and carrying on. I left them to it while I went into town
We weren't sure what to expect but it wasn't a barge!
for my own drinks and food before having Denise help me wash my hair near the water pump out back of the buildings. It felt SO good. It took a couple of washes for the water to run clean and having not combed my hair in about a week, it took quite a bit of effort there as well! It wouldn't be something I'm used to but I'm sure I'm going to have more practice in the months to come!
It was after breakfast when I realised I was missing my memory card. Luckily I'd downloaded all the photos the previous night but...grr. Left my e-mail and address with them in case it turns up.
We were heading for the border with the intention of crossing into Cote d'Ivoire before sunset and so we set off early, not knowing road conditions. There were water crossings, a beautiful bamboo forest where it grew in large clusters (and was taller than any of us had ever seen) and forested mountains in the distance, the clouds still lingering near the top. Tall slim trees grew skyward and I'm sure I sat there grinning
stupidly while trying to hold onto the seat so I wasn't thrown off on the bumpy roads.
At then, less than one kilometre from the border, we hit water that we couldn't cross. Suse waded out to the middle and was waist high in it. Men were hard at work building a bridge but it was a long way off and the detour to the side wasn't possible for a truck our size; we'd either get bogged in the mud or worse, tip on the thin track.
It was a frustrating drive back to the bamboo forest where the road had forked. It was extremely humid and clouds were again building. The road was full of deep potholes and on occasion we got out and walked, preferable to being tossed about in the truck.
Eventually, the border was spotted. It was a slow bumpy approach but we were cleared and entered Cote d'Ivoire, our sixth country!
There are more photos below