Week 22, the road to Koundara, crossing into country number 12 & battling through the Fouta Djalon Mountains of Guinea. TOTAL 8930 KM
Leaving Gabu in North East Guinea Bissau was an emotional affair as I left a small piece of my heart somewhere between Bafata and Buruntuma. Saying goodbye to this little slice of North West Africa has been the most difficult to date as I was deeply touched and humbled by the warmth of the people and felt sincerely proud to be an African, an emotion that’s intensity has the ability to fluctuate at times through the frustrations this beautiful continent can sometimes muster.
The road to Koundara will see me eat my words as last week I was singing the praise of Guinea Bissau and its impressive roads; little did I know at the time that the road to Koundara would prove otherwise. Roughly a hundred kilometers of unsealed surface that will test the derriere of even the most seasoned saddler’s, having said that, it was a magical stretch of road that served up a few twists and turns and taught its own little life lessons in a ruthless but fair way as I encountered some special people on this bumpy track in Africa.
I reached the border post after a two day slog over some terrible gravel and sandy surfaces knackered, sweaty and absolutely starving, keen to get stuck into a bowl of Futi which is a local traditional rice dish served in a large round bowl and often shared. After wolfing down what could probably feed a small army I reached for my money belt to pay the lady that had so kindly fed me, to find that I was no longer in possession of my saddlebag which contained passport, cash, bank cards, knife, pretty much everything you don’t want to lose.
Standing at the border between Guinea Bissau and Guinea, alone, no passport, no phone and just over a dollar in my pocket, the reality of the matter hits you like a sledge hammer, you feel completely disempowered and vulnerable as you now have to rely on who ever and whatever means possible to try and rectify this situation that frankly is not too easy to fix. Racking my brain as to what could have happened the only thing I could think of was a pit stop en route to the border for a brief encounter with mother nature, this would have required me to take off my belt.
Okay, now to backtrack the roughly 8 or was it 12 , no maybe 10 km’s to look for a random tree on a gravel road in the middle of North West Africa that has very few distinguishing characteristics and is lined with literally thousands of trees. Two hours of up and down and I finally locate the elusive natural statue and there she was, in all her glory hanging on a branch, my survival kit, just where I left her.
Once again six foot tall and bulletproof, brandishing my saddlebag, I crossed into Guinea after the usual formalities of emptying all my luggage to be scrutenised by a young man in uniform on a power trip wanting detailed information about nationality, occupation, destination and all the other bits and pieces they feel the urge to ask about on that particular day.
Guinea, country number twelve, a new currency and a very different feel to its neighbour of Guinea Bissau, I continued from Kandika which is the Guinean side of the border crossing to Koundara where I got my first taste of Leto’ which is maize meal covered in a cold spicy soup as I filled my stomach sharing a bowl of food with a local and tried to wrap my head around a few more zero’s on the notes.
I had scoured my map in detail and was quite confident I could make it to the town of Labe’ in the Fouta Djalon mountain region by the time I was due to publish the next blog, little did I know at the time of leaving Koundara that 180 km’s of the 252 km stretch would be over the most treacherous surface I had encountered to date and would see me pushing my bike up numerous gravel mountain passes as the inclines and rocky surface would not permit me to cycle as I spent hours each day on foot.
Eating dust for days through this intensely remote part of the country my equipment covered in layers of dirt so thick you could almost crack the fabric as the dust embedded itself in the fibers. Quite relieved to come across a small river crossing where I took the opportunity to have a good wash & get acquainted with the locals, trying to learn some of the regional language, Fuler which hails from the Fouta region and now has me greeting people in the local dialect “Gjarama nalaton”.
The lack of electricity is hugely apparent in Guinea as nightfall means black out even in the urban areas of Koundara and Labe’ with the odd hum here and there of generators powering spots that ply their trade at night and the challenge of getting the weekly blog out is getting increasingly complicated with the lack of internet facilities and the very few that do exist not having power and are often closed as a result.
In Labe’ in the heart of the Fouta mountains with plenty more work to do before getting a little closer to sea level, rumour has it the road is sealed from here on heading in the direction of Mamou, which is great news as my equipment took a real battering leading up to Labe’ and could do with a few tarred miles.