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Published: April 16th 2006
After a hazardous journey we finally arrived in Koundara
Disoriented, high on fumes and coughing from dust, we paid a small boy to guide us to the closest housing.
The next morning we left with the first transport destined for Labe',
the principal capital of the Fouta Djalon
and the third biggest city in the country.
A full day journey in a kaput bush taxi, only breaking down twice as we traversed the Koliba river on a hand hauled ferry and climbed the winding bush tracks into the highlands.
The Fouta Djalon is an extensive area of undulating hills and lush valleys. It's not high enough to be mountainous, but high enough to offer pleasant climate with more in common with north European summer than the African hot season fathoming the lowlands.
The lusty inflation of the Guinea Franc made everything from accommodation to street food unusually cheap, especially after we got a very good exchange rate with the moneychangers in Labe'.
The first moneychanger telling us to see his competitors for an even higher rate, far above any exchange rate given from a bank.
So throughout the region we spent 2-5$ a
night for spotless en-suite doubles and less than 1$ for a monstrously huge avocado salad. Yummy.
And wash it down with -what's been the best beer so far in west Africa- a Guiluxe
Four nights later we left Labe' for Pita
, a small town made up of one road and a small market. Outside our guesthouse (the only one in town) there were a dozen of weaving guilds working for long hours under the shade of the mango trees, as we went out trekking.
Went to see a famous waterfall, but after being caught while trying to sneak past the military check post, and then being requested a ridiculous amount for entrance, we went back without seeing it.
A bush taxi ride later we were in Dalaba
, an even sleepier and smaller village, that doubles in size on Sundays when it boasts the regions weekly market, which was the day for our arrival. We stuffed ourselves full of deep fried bananas and potatoes and then went for some hiking.
We'd been told about some French professor setting up an experimental garden and laboratory in the late nineteenth century, somewhere in the
jungle filled valleys around Dalaba.
As we hiked -given vague directions by the locals -a hailstorm approached. The sky filled with thunder and lightning as I imagined us arriving at the gates of Doctor Frankensteins African branch. Having Igor giving us a guided tour around the premises, explaining how to use the new human species that they'd created.
As the domestic animals found shelter, so did we. Some young girls helped us find the tiny village Dounkimania
where we were given a handful of strawberries by the village elders- as the rains passed. Exhausted from the hike and with dusk growing closer, we gave up our poor attempt of finding the mysterious professors garden, and left it as a secret yet to be discovered.
Back in Dalaba we got company by the first backpacker we've seen in a long time. A Finn with the same itinerary as us. We spent a day viewing some Fula chieftain huts and the former dictators summer house before leaving for Kindia.
An active city in the southern end of the highlands, backed by the lush - yet high- Mount Gangan.
I estimated the climb to be less than
two hours in total, but we got lost on our ascend. Found some small villages halfway up on the mountain, as we were following the directions given by sling shoot hunters. As we kept on slipping on meander footpaths through banana plantations and thick forest- I realized how bad I'd miscalculated the climb.
Five hours later we were back in the village, dehydrated and worn out. Rested for a bit and then found a driver (was he even fifteen?) to take us to La Voile de la Marie'e.
I wouldn't call it a massive cascade, but the dripping water surrounded by dense forest and high bamboo created a not to unpleasant ambience.
We had some watermelon but skipped the barbecued caterpillars and as the military presence grew stronger, we headed for the capital, the notorious den of thieves: Conakry.
Finding our way to the Catholic mission -a safe haven- in this klepto-capitalistic corruptiocracy.
We went to the Malian embassy for visas and on our way walking back into the city centre, I took a picture of an old rusty tank outside the since long closed capital cinema.
A few seconds later,
Road between Pita and Telimele
angry and aggressive military had confiscated my camera and my passport, forcing me into a dark den at the corner of the small square outside the cinema.
At first I didn't take it serious and thought that a Euro would be more than enough to solve the situation quickly.
The commander found that as an insult and demanded a hefty 500 Euro to return my passport and maybe the camera.
Aili went to find the Swedish consulate, but it was not to be found, neither did the consular answer his phone.
Joha (our newly met Finnish friend) went to the police just to find out how powerless they are in dealing with the military.
Aili then spoke to the British ambassador who told us there was little else to do, than to pay the bribe.
They kept on with their harrasment and threatened to take me to the military camp for further interrogation (read extortion). This didn't appeal to me at all, since I'd read about the ugly atrocities carried out in the nearby Camp Boiro
during the former dictators reign.
After three and a half hours of threats and psychological
pressure, we settled for the amount of 130 Euro in mixed currencies, and I was free to go.
Dizzy and about to threw-up, I walked away feeling deeply violated.
Still we staid another five nights to really get to appreciate how corrupt and nasty the city is.
We went to Ile de Kassa,
the closest island offshore from the peninsula.
Not as beautiful nor pleasant as the Archipelago Bijagos in neighbouring Guinnea-Bissau, but still with some charm to it, and a nice escape from the polluted city.
Spent a few hours on a rocky beach before we got blackmailed by an arrogant French couple running a luxury hotel on the island. Excellent.
On our way back to Conakry, the captain on our boat wanted more money, and like this it continues; Conakry being a very tiresome city.
We went out clubbing one night with two members of a Swedish-African-dance team, and had no trouble, which is more an exception than a rule, I think.
Just to make the whole experience complete, I got a viral disease in my palate, a bad stomach and my camera once again, out of order.
The ferry connection with Freetown
was shut down so we opted for another shared taxi journey.
After paying a bribe to the last drunk militaries at the infamous Mile 38
checkpoint, we waved farewell to the plethora of beggars, albinos, defect people, Lebanese salesmen and Chinese exploiters; that sum up the population of the peninsula.
Accompanied by a woman claiming to be the daughter of the Sierra Leonean president. We were either to fall for yet another clever con - or enter Sierra Leone in presidential style.
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