Sometimes Africa does offer some wonderful surprises
15.08.2016 - 28.08.2016 24 °C
Mostly know for Ebola, civil war and corruption, Guinea have shown a very different side of itself during my first ten days here.
I’d have to admit that I didn’t know much about Guinea before I arrived here. Other than the usual news stories, what I’ve heard was that the locals are very friendly (even for West Africa) and that the corruption, terrible roads and crazy humidity often make up for that. That is also why, when travellers talk about West Africa being one of the hardest regions in the world to travel in, they often think of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. However, I do thrive on poor reputations, and the fundamental reason for all my weird and uncommon destinations is an innate need to “go and see unknown places for myself” – especially countries that have been unlucky enough to get a ride in the circle of bad news stories.
Due to my lack of information, and the not-too-encouraging snip-bits I did know, imagine my surprise when Dan (my Jeep-driving ride) and I suddenly found ourselves in an adventure land of mountainous rainforest, rocky plateaus, endless waterfalls and world class hiking. Dan had flashbacks of Bolivia and, to be honest, I have found one of those rare places that doesn't remind me of anywhere I’ve been before. We had arrived in Guinea’s Fouta Djallon region.
Granted, the Fouta Djallon region only comprises a quarter of Guinea, so other parts could be less fantastic (the capital Conakry sure has a poor reputation). Granted, the horror stories about ridiculously bad roads, an endless number of officials wanting “cadeau” and a rainy season where Guinea gets more rain in August than London gets in a year are all true. But right now the travelling life seems to be trouble free.
We have spent a week, driving from one 60+ metre high waterfall to the next, and the excitement of exploring nature here is next to nothing. There are no guides to tell you where it’s safe to put your feet. No marked trails to follow. Safety railings is a thing of the colonial past. And there has been nothing stopping us from plummeting dramatically to our deaths, should we slip on the wet rocks atop of the falls. When the wet rocks have not been out to get us, rickety swing bridges have kept our hearts pumping and legs trembling.
When our poor souls need a break from the excitement, it’s possible to spot monkeys from our campsites, swing in vines and lianas in the rain forests, or climbing rocky hills for sweeping panorama views of the region's valleys. Best of all, we got it all to ourselves. The one campsite that does do official guided hikes, yes there is only one, is based in a small, isolated village in the top of a cliff offering sweeping views over the Fouta Valley. On the ‘Coca-Cola Scale of Isolation’ it’s so remote that here are neither products, commercials or merchandise for that otherwise ever-present evil empire – sorry, I meant fresh drinks company. Exploration here feels as being part of an Indiana Jones movie (the hat’s finally home) scrambling through dark caves, climbing up vertical cliff sides on liana ladders, and crawling through dense jungle.
Having no other visitors around might be a blessing for us. But for the locals, it’s hurting an already weak economy. Guinea picked up tourists interest back 2005. A small private tourist office, which was also running a campement (campground with associated small huts), had its statistic posted. More than 1300 visitors in a little village out in nowhere back in 2008. A coup-attempt in late 2009 and the presidents following crackdown scared a lot of visitors away. Recently Ebola have gotten rid of the rest. Only 28 people visited last year, and Dan and I were visitor number 21 and 22, respectively, this year. In another campement that also kept a record, only six people had stayed there in 2016 before our arrival.
This is too bad for a destination that offers such prime natural wonders. While corruption (not a big problem if you aren’t driving your own vehicle) and poor infrastructure will keep many from going, for those who find themselves in the neighbourhood, a visit to Guinea will – surprisingly – offer great rewards!
Both Dan and I know that we can’t stay here in Fouta Djallon forever, though we’d like to. I have to get down to dreadful Conakry to arrange visas and Dan need to continue east. But right now, we really don’t want to, and we are certainly not in any hurry to get out of here.
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