I'm leaving behind my Ivorian friends and their bizarre traditions for Guinea. There are 3 countries named after the Gulf of Guinea: Equatorial Guinea (ex-Spanish), Guinea Bissau (ex-Portuguese) and plain "Guinea" or Guinea Conakry (ex-French), the largest of all three. I don't know quite what to expect, but I intend to drive to the Fouta Djallon, a mountain range in the west part of the country. It's been long since I've last seen some proper mountains, and I hope it's going to be fun riding it.
There is a border post with Guinea not far away, although I heard it's not very much used. Good.
The road is pretty decent until Danané, then it turns into nice laterite (gravel)..
..but not for long. As I get near the border it becomes pretty bad and I don't think normal cars get through, only vehicles with high clearance. Nor would I'd been able to clear the steep parts if it was wet. But that's the reason I've planned my trip during the dry season, and it makes for great riding. In any case there's absolutely zero traffic.
The border post is one of the nicest I've crossed yet. A small hut in the middle of the forrest, a stamp and a big book. That's all you need. The guys are very friendly and we swap a few jokes. I tentatively try to have my carnet stamped but there's no customs here. No biggies, it won't prevent me from claiming my deposit when I'm back.
The road on the other side is missing a bridge, but it's fine otherwise. Arriving at the village I pass the Guinean immigration and try to find the customs. A fat lady asks what I need, I think she's working for the customs but I'm not sure. She doesn't seem to know what to do with the carnet. She leaves me there and a while later comes another guy who manages to put a stamp and a signature on my documents. There's no non-sense, they're just doing their job. I also change some money on the road, as this is for me the first country since Nigeria that's not using CFA.
The Guinean franc isn't worth much at face value but the thing is, the biggest denomination is only 10'000 francs, worth about 1€. So the guys at the petrol stations need to move huge stacks of bills for each purchase. That's a bit better than in DRC but over there you use dollars for big purchases. Everything is pretty cheap here, cheaper than in the CFA countries. I book into an OK hotel room in Nzérékoré and manage to find a cold beer, despite most places being out of power. Guinea is one of those places where you want to hear the noise of a generator before you order a beer..
I follow the main road to the west, keeping away from Conakry. The road is partly surfaced - when I say "partly" that means not only that some stretches are gravel, but also that where there's tar, half of it is gone. The consequence is a pretty tiresome (but uneventful) slalom around (or into) the potholes. It's still much more comfortable on my bike than in a car or stuffed in a local minivan. The road hugs the border with Liberia, then heads north. After about 350 km I'm knackered and I fancy a nice and quiet night of rest, camping out here all on my own would be great. Now this is something that's exceedingly difficult to do in this part of Africa, because wherever you go it's either inhabited, cultivated, or thick forrest. I take a small track and after a fe km, before running into a village I see a spot that's almost flat and clear, right next to the road. Not hidden by any stretch of the imagination but then it's almost dark and there's zero traffic. Maybe nobody will notice me. The reason it's clear of vegetation is that it's been recently burned. No need for a tent, I set up my mosquito nest over my mattress and cook some instant noodles. As soon as it's dark (which is early here) I roll on my mattress..
..bad news: the bloody Thermarest has built a bubble again (same as 1 year ago). At least they changed it without question asked, but when it happens here, no way to send it back. I squeeze in the remaining space and fall asleep.
Second bad news: the forrest in on fire. During the dry season, the Africans use to clear up the dry high grass by burning it. The Nasa has created a very nice animation illustrating it:
I shouldn't be too worried because I picked a place that has already been burnt, and which is separated from the fire by a small stream. Still it's quite a sight and an eerie feeling sleeping in the burning forrest..
The next morning as I wake up I see a couple farmers walking to their fields. They don't seem to care too much and unlike what I feared I get little attention, just a little Bonjour (probably all they know in French). I leave for another long ride on crappy roads, not far from the source of the Niger
, in fact. The river starts as a small stream around here, runs North all the way to Timbuktu in Mali and then turns South across Niger and to the Delta region of Nigeria.
This time I'm looking for a village to spend the night. I take a small track toward the Sierra Leone border and end up at a small settlement near a river. After a few words with the kids I'm brought to the head of the village. He welcomes me and offers me a bed inside his house. They're all very nice people, although few speak French.
They have built this very nice bridge over the river. Yeah, you can actually ride it on a bike, it seems to be a shortcut. Every year during the rainy season the bridge is washed out by the river, which rises 2-3 meters. So they've built another bridge higher up to use during the other half of the year.
It's held together by a complicated (who said robust?) combination of ropes and cables, and it supposed to hold the weight of small motorbike. I sure will not try and find out if it's OK for my bike.
And so every year at the end of the rains they rebuild their bridge with logs and ropes. Very nice.
The next leg brings me to Mamou, at the foot of the Fouta Djallon.
It's a very nice ride, the road surface is better and the scenery is beautiful.
I've gained quite a bit of altitude, and the evenings are cool and nice. The area is little bit touristy so there are quite a few hotels, none of which are too appealing. I have better luck a couple clicks out of town in the Ecole Forestičre (forestry school). They have basic rooms for the students who come here to study, right now it's empty and they agree to sell me one. It's set in a small compound with a few trails heading into the forrest, away from the noise of the town. And there's even a satellite connection to the Internet (when the generator's running). I decide to spend two nights here to visit the town and the forest.