Okay, that wasn’t precisely the way the offer was phrased, but it might well be the most accurate description of what has happened.
12.08.2016 - 24.08.2016 22 °C
So, apparently, I’ve been an overlander for the past few days. You know, one of those people who’ve spent a little too much time and money on their fancy car, then decides to drive around a continent or from the northern tip of Europe to the most southern point of Africa in it. Let’s just say, that the luxury of home brewed morning coffee and a nice leather seat in a 4x4 (which I don’t have to share with fellow passengers) is a big step up from what I’m used to. Even though it does require a bit of camping. “Backpacking” – if you can call it that in West Africa – is usually a matter of catching overcrowded public transportation and sleeping in damp, dirty and very basic accommodation. Running water and 24h electricity are luxuries I usually can’t afford – both are now installed in the Jeep I’m currently travelling in.
It all started with a bit of bad luck. Leaving Guinea-Bissau and heading to Guinea, I arrived in the border town of Gabu in the early afternoon. I knew it would be a longshot, but I hoped to find a car heading into Guinea on that same day. I did manage to locate the shared taxi, but even after three hours of waiting no other passengers heading in my direction had shown up. Instead, I had to wait another day and head to a hotel. Here, someone had parked a very nice Jeep out front. Clearly another Western traveller. My initial thought was straight out of low-budget travel’s A-B-C: “Sweet, I might be able to get a ride across the border for free and save €15.”
I got up early the next morning, primarily so I could hover around not too far from the Jeep. I definitely didn’t want it to leave before I had a chance to talk with the vehicle’s owner… To my luck, the owner was a cool Australian named Dan, who started the morning offering me coffee – and about 2 seconds before I could ask if he would possibly give me a ride across the border, he asked if I needed a lift. It almost – almost – makes me a bit ashamed looking back of how cynical I approached the situation.
Anyway, we crossed the border. We got asked for a few bribes. Got asked for a few more bribes. Didn’t pay any of them and were finally stamped in and cross the border. Overlanders and Westerners travelling by their cars, in general, get a lot more hassle from officials than I normally do. Being on public transportation, it’s the drivers' job to pay bribes, not mine. If asked, I can always just refer the police/military/militia/customs officer to my driver. Then it’s his job to pay the bribe for getting through the checkpoint. For overlanders, there are a few tactics to avoid paying. Not understanding the languish and playing dumb is one, which works if you're sure all your paperwork is good. In that way officers can't get money out of you by imaginary offenses like driving in sandals, passports that are not valid at night, having no permit to be on a specific road, or what else their imagination comes up with. Another tactic is to make friends by offering coffee, tea, cigarettes, etc.
After getting through the border, the roads deteriorated drastically. It’s no coincident that Guinea is notorious for having some of the worst roads in West Africa (that’s saying something). So we didn’t get all that far and had to overnight in the first larger town we reached on the Guinea side of the border before we could continue the next day. During those two day’s of travelling, we got along very well, and just agreed that move on together. First to a town called Mali (yes, it’s different from the country), then to the next place and so on travelling further and further. The days went past and we kind of just figure out where we would go from day to day. So far we have done so for a week, and we’re currently heading further into the rain forests, mountain plateaus and waterfalls of northern Guinea. So it’s going to be a few more days before we part ways.
Oh, and I’ll promise that the next blog entry is going to be more about those rain forests, plateaus and waterfalls...
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