Tuesday 11th December, 2012 – Kedougou, Senegal
It’s been over a week since we were able to get on line and update the blog. Not that we haven’t been busy, as a River Gambia Expedition team. Florio has been doing his thing – photography – so we have lots of images from our travels to come, over the coming weeks. I’ve been keeping up on my journal (some of which you’ll read here on the blog. The rest? You’ll have to wait for the book!); Abdou and Ebou have excelled as team mates, translators, and givers of cultural knowledge.
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Friday 30th November – Kedougou, Senegal – Labé, Guinea, West Africa
We left Kedougou bus station around 1pm on Friday 29th November, after three days of waiting for the vehicle to fill up with enough passengers before the driver would start the engine – then the damn vehicle had to be push-started; probably because it had sat there for so long! And, then only after much haggling about the extortionate price of the seats, with what seemed like the entire ‘Drivers Union of Kedougou’ – if there is such a body. It seems everyone likes to get in on the action when the ‘toubabs’ – that’s yours truly and Mr Florio – are around. If that wasn’t enough, after agreeing on the price for the four of us, the driver still tried to extort even more XOF francs from us, for our baggage. You can bet your bottom franc that we paid over the odds! But, we had already waited too long for the vehicle to fill up – all 20 passengers in/on top of one ancient, knackered, pick up truck. Alas, comfort and luxury not included in the already racked-up price. We needed to get going – on to the next stage of our journey.
Saturday 1st December – 130km and 24 hours later and we arrive in the capital of Labé, in the Fouta Djallon Highlands, Guinea…
…and our minds and bodies knew exactly why transport cost’s so much in Senegal/Guinea – and it’s not just the horrendously expensive fuel prices. Unraveling our aching limbs from the crammed cab of the truck, having traversed moonscape-like terrain for 20 of those 24 hours – bouncing. Hang on, lets backtrack here: ‘bouncing’? That much too soft word to describe our journey up to the Fouta Djallon, Guinea. Lets replace that with ‘JUDDERING’ – uppercase intended – on ‘roads’ which can only be described as driving over riverbeds – the rockiest ones that you can possibly imagine, at that! “Vehicles have to be remade when they have made the journey to Guinea” one driver at the bus station in Kedougou had told us in, when we were haggling for the best price. Slight exaggeration, surely?, we thought…before we started the journey there, that is!
For every inch of those 130kms we rattled up, down, around, and over the Fouta Djallon mountain’s – fording streams; collective willing (from Florio and I, at least. ‘insh-Allah’/’god willing’, no doubt, from our fellow passengers) the struggling vehicle up 1:4 gradients; breathing in to cross narrow, barely-there bridges; getting a birds-eye view, inches from my permanently-wound-down-window (a hole where the ‘manuel’, the winder to open and close it, should have been), of the sheer drop down into the valley, whilst preying the driver doesn’t over estimate the narrowness of yet another hair-pin bend. And, despite hating driving at night in Africa – and, even worse, being driven (I’m petrified! Too many crashes and near misses with other vehicles, as they drive towards you with full beam, over the years, will do that) – I was actually relieved to remain in relative ignorance on this particular journey, as we drove through the most precipitous of mountain ‘roads’. As the darkest night slipped away and dawn took over, I tried my damnedest to keep my eyes directly on the road ahead – but, I couldn’t help myself, by looking at the too-close-for-comfort sheer drop outside my window once again!
Thankfully, Mr Drammeh, our Guinean driver, had very obviously made the route from Kedougou to Labé many times – his maneuvering over the treacherous, red-rock-filled, roads, was a testament in itself. We salute the Chinese auto industry– that pick up truck was like a ‘Tonka Toy’!
Around 2am, the truck stopped in the darkness, in what appeared to be a cluster of huts in the middle of nowhere. Without a word to us, Mr Drammeh stepped down from the truck. We then we noticed the other passengers disembarking from the back of the vehicle, with various pieces of luggage, and proceeded to unroll mats and carpets on the ground. I guess we are resting for a while then – an undetermined time, at that – no one having explained to us what was going on. A cacophony of pissing, farting – and it wasn’t just from the numerous goats doted around us – blowing snot out of noses, and, finally, snoring ensued. Then…the star-filled night was suddenly quiet. Abdou and Ebou found space on a mat, Florio took the front seats (splitting the silence by accidentally knocking the car horn on a couple of occasions, whilst trying to get comfortable! However, it’s a good job it we weren’t honking for help – because no one stirred!). I took the back seats. Not much sleep was had, but at least we had the full moon to light up the night – which made it considerably easier to find a place to pee during those wee hours.
Around 7am, after more noisy farting and pissing, everyone clambered back onto the truck, and we set off, once again; arrived in Labé around 12.30pm. For a good hour afterwards, whenever I closed my eyes, I swear that could still feel the juddering motion of the long drive. Later that evening, we met a couple from the USA and Holland – Tim and Kate – who had just made the same journey. Tim’s very apt analogy: “it feels like I have just been put though a cement mixer!”.
Saturday 1st December – Labé, Guinea-Conarkry
Labè’s got style!
Ghana photographer, Malik Sidibe, portrait subjects spring to mind, as we walked around the downtown area of Labé. These ‘moto taxi’ guys are seriously cool.
We met with Yayah Baldeh, who runs Galissa Voyage Trekking. He was going to supply us with a local guide and translator – Saifoulaye Djallow (‘Saif’) – who would take us up into the more rural areas of Fouta Djallon Highlands and, what we had came here for, to pay homage to the source of the River Gambia (Fleuve Gambie – as it is known in Guinea). After a year of planning, where the River Gambia Expedition would truly begin.
Labé is a motorcycle city, over-run with thousands of, Chinese-made, taxi bikes – ‘moto taxis’ (those aforementioned extremely high fuel prices give many people little option to use anything else) – carrying a minimum of 2-3 passengers apiece. As we walk around the town, we constantly had to dart out of the way, as yet another ‘moto’ zooms towards us, at maximum speed – We have this expression: ‘taking no prisoners’ – within inches of us. “à ton à ton! There are too many accidents every day, here in Labè” Saif tells us, leading us through the dusty, stinking, dirty, litter-filled streets of the downtown area. Despite the moto-dodging, and the putrid aromas, Labè is a vibrant, animated, friendly place – ‘Jarama’s’ (local Pula language greeting), “bonjours”, and “ca va’s”, abound, from every smiling, curious (as in, intrigued by the two ‘portos’ – Guinea version of ‘toubab‘ in town), face we pass.
We stayed in ‘Le Campagne Hotel’, a short 15-20 minute walk from the downtown area (and 10 minutes to the nearest ‘Cyber Café, where we could also get a decent/fast at times WiFi connection – 68774.7GNF for an hour – about 50p). The hotel is a small, pleasant enough place – during the day, that is. After 6pm, it becomes the local hangout for well-heeled – judging by the shiny new cars they rocked up in, to park in the compound – Gaselle (Guinean beer) guzzling, good-natured, Guinean guys and ‘ladies of the night’. Loud, vociferous banter and laughter, accompanied by static, as in un-tuned transistor radio music (what is it about Africans, that they don’t seem to notice when a radio is not tuned in and/or is constantly turned up to mac 11?!), blared into the early hours. Oh, and lets not forget the 24 hour TV, blasting in the restaurant area. It was a job to pry ‘la madam’ of the hotel away from the screen – to which she sat, glued to – to get an order of drinks or food!
So…our journey continues. We will update as and when we can – which isn’t that often at the moment. We’re going to see if we can buy a ‘dongle’/network key, which we can insert our cell phone sim cards into, to get on line. However, as mentioned, if you don’t see any updates for a while, check out our YellowBrick page, to see where we are, at any given time. I think my mum is our biggest fan – she knows where we’re headed before we even get there!! You can also leave messages on the page too, to which we can respond, due to the YB3 tracking device being on the iridium and satellite network – all we need to do it blue tooth it with the iPad et viola!
Thanks, as always, for stopping by. It’s great to have you on board!
Fonyato domanding (‘until next time’)
Helen, Florio, Abdou & Ebou – River Gambia Expedition team
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COMING SOON! Reaching the source of the River Gambia, in the Fouta Djallon Highlands, Guinea; toilet humour and bathing with bull’s(!); 80km and 8 ½ moto-taxi ride from Mali Ville, Guinea, to Kedougou, Senegal… updates as soon as!!