Category Archives: Guinea-Conakry

Travels with or without Thimba

(unable to upload any photographs, so just text!)

Travels with or without Thimba
After Thimba’s suffering in the Fouta Djalon Mountains I stayed at the Tata hotel for three days. Luxury, airco, great apartment and even greater pizza’s!. Took time to clean out the car of (most of) the red dust, and got my clothes and bed linnen laundered. The route from Labé to Kindia and further on to Conya and to the Guinea-Sierra Leone border is potholed, but o.k..  I need to fuel up. The first fuel station has no diesel. The second one has, so I ask diesel for 600.000 francs. When the meter reaches 420.000 it stops. Empty. The Military Toyota pick-up waiting behind me is far from amused, and drives away aggressively.
The border crossing is again unique. On the Guinean side relaxed and more or less efficient. The Sierra Leone side is housed in a far too big new building donated by the EU: too many desks, too many officials, too many hassles! They even want me to pay for an import permit for Thimba, of course at my own discretion! After the border: Sierra Leone! Imagine, driving your car into Sierra Leone! Few people do, and I’m doing it! Lots of heads turned in villages, people waving and giving thumbs up! A few checkpoints, but they’re ever so friendly. At one checkpoint it’s “Hey, come and see this!” and they all gather around the car to ask questions about Thimba, the car, my travels, and me (usually in that order!). There’s a new road to Freetown (again, thank you EU), and I drive the last stretch to Bureh Beach (45 km south of Freetown) with 100 km/hr (well, that’s what the Land Rover indicates). I park the car right up on the beach with a view of the ocean. WOW!. I’m not much of a beach man, but this is fabulous! Quiet, relaxed, no hassle, and run by a couple of locals who call themselves the Beach Boys (what else?). Camping is 3,50 euro. Yes!

Travels without Thimba
I decide to put Thimba on a plane back to Holland, if that can be arranged. It takes a lot of internet research, calls, mails, text messages (THANKS MEES!!) to come to the conclusion that it’s practically impossible. After three days Bureh Beach I move to Freetown (staying at the Catholic Mission St. Edwards) to be able to talk to the agent myself, but it results in nothing but miscommunication and unanswered calls. I enjoy the days in Freetown, however. Andrew, of the mission, takes me into town, shows me the highlights and the slums. It’s a great city and on all my walks I feel completely comfortable and safe. I take a few motor taxis to the Liberian embassy, too  far to walk. They charge me 150 USD for a visa. Extortionists!
Now that it’s evident that sending back Thimba is not going to work, I create a new space for her on the front passenger seat, and I am going to travel on with her as far as Accra (Ghana) at least. I hope that it will be easier from there, KLM and Lufthansa having direct flight from there.. The test was yesterday (Freetown to Makeni) and today (Makeni to Bo, including 50 km of piste). She was still very uncomfortable, but at least I got her to lie down, even during the the bad piste. It took some very forceful corrections (not my usual way of dealing with her), but it worked: don’t try harder, try different!

Sierra Leone
Last year only 8.000 tourists visited Sierra Leone, and most of them stayed at the beaches. It’s hard to imagine that this beautiful country and friendly people were only recently involved in one of the most cruel civil wars. I am having a long conversation with Mohammed, the manager of the hotel in Makeni where I’m staying. He’s a 38 year-old American-Sierra Leonian (degree in chemistry) who spent the war years in the USA. Perhaps that’s why he talks so openly about the after-war problems. When I return to my room I write down the following:

- education: people are not used to think  long term (and education is!). How do I survive the next day is what counts.

- Young girls: as soon as they’re 14-15 and have breasts they are supposed to bring in some money or gifts. I was “offered” a young girl: “Do you like her?” She can’t have been more than 13!

- There are programs for the amputees “Short-sleeve or long-sleeve” was the choice you had for your hand cut off, or your arm.  But here’s a whole generation traumatized by this insane war. And no psychological help to speak of. One of Mohammed’s employees saw her husband killed in an indescribable brutal manner and afterwards raped for days on end. She now has a “rape-child” to take care of, and the rapist is still living in the village. How do you cope with that?

When the war was over and the question was raised: “what was it all about?”, no one had an answer. Perhaps that’s the most disgusting and intriguing of it all.

And to end in a positive mood, with an idea that really would get this country going forward: confiscate all these luxury NGO Toyota SUV’s tomorrow!

p.s I met Martin, Max and Philip again in Freetown, and I’m sure we’ll meet again! I also met Jonathan, a biker from the UK who is taking it very slowly towards Cape Town. I still owe him some money, so we’ll definitely see each other again soon. Maybe linking up to cross Nigeria and DRC. Looking forward to that!

When the going gets rough: the Fatou Djalon mountains of Guinea

The Fouta Djalon Mountains
After all the carnival festivities, which culminated in the big parade yesterday, the city is very quiet early in the morning at 7.30. I’m heading for the Fouta Djalon mountains, together with my German friends Max, Martin and Philipp in their beautiful Mitsubishi 4×4 campervan. The first part towards Guda is pretty easy. Some checkpoints, but without exception very friendly. Some of them not even wanting to see any papers, just a chat. The border crossing between Guinea Bissau and Guinea Conakry is also hassle free and relaxed. For the first time the douane officer wants to see Thimba’s documents. When he studies Thimba’s passport he wants to know why it hasn’t been stamped when entering Guinea Bissau in Sao Domingo. I say they weren’t really interested. He remains a bit suspicious, but after some hesitation hands me back the documents and advises me to “present” the dog for inspection at all borders! So a bit further down the road, at the Conakry douane, I “present” Thimba to the officer by pointing at her (she’s lying next to the car in the shade), asking whether he wants to check her papers. He looks through the window, then at me as if I have just made him an indecent proposal, and says: “C’est pas nécessaire!”.

We drive through a very charming landscape with typical round huts.

beauti

beautiful round hut

We stop in a small village for a late lunch, rice with a sauce and a plastic little bag with water. I pay 3 euros for the four of us. Everywhere we stop we gather a crowd of mainly children. They all want to look at Thimba, ask questions like “What does she eat?” (Thimba is so big compared to African

lots of attention

lots of attention

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Auberge Afilat, Koundara

dogs, she must be on a special diet). In the meantime the road gets worse with a lot of potholes and we cover the 325 kilometers in 8 hours. We stay at the Auberge Afilat in Koundara. A large secluded compound with a family, chicken, goats. Very basic, no running water (bucket shower), no electricity. When it gets dark I fit my outside LED lamp to the sand ladders, and read a Sierra Leone novel on my iPad,while the mother of the family is preparing an evening meal for her husband and children, almost completely in the dark. Two very different worlds.

We leave Koundara next morning to drive the first 50 kilometers on a newly sealed road. But this is the day of the 200 km. Koundara-Labé piste. Right at the start we arrive at a picturesque bridge and prepare 4 cameras to film the crossing: that’s one of the nice things about traveling with others (apart of course from the pleasant company and the safety in case of a breakdown): filming with more than one camera and different perspectives. We have a GoPro attached to the bridge, one on the Land Rover, a DSLR for the broader picture, and my Canon video camera at the end of the bridge. This will take some editing (what fun!). For now, all I can offer is a very short teaser, but you get the idea!

no zebra crossing

no zebra crossing

eating dust!

eating dust!

bad piste in beautiful scenery

bad piste in beautiful scenery

We enjoy the intensity of the colours in the early hours. The lively green of the trees against the cold blue of the  ky, and the warm red of the earth. Driving is very slow, mostly in 2nd gear. It’s like rock crawling. A couple of times we are overtaken by old, local Peugeot station wagons with 6 or 7 passengers in it and an enormous load – and extra passengers – on the roof. We pass some villages, people wave at us and put up their thumbs. Again a few checkpoints, but all very friendly.

Philipp and Martin negotiating the price for some food and drinks

Philipp and Martin negotiating the price for some food and drinks

One of the policemen even gives us a mango. Says Max: “That’s the first time we’ve been given a present instead of them asking for one!”.
We arrive at a manual ferry. A picture post card one, so beautiful! It’s operated by two men who pull the barge along a steel cable, and you have to drive through the water to get on an off it. Philipp prepares the quadrocopter with the GoPro to shoot some video from the air (I know, poor students travelling through Africa with a quadrocopter…). The reaction of the people on the barge when they see the copter taking off! We don’t think they realize there’s a video camera attached to it! Great fun for all on the barge during the short crossing! Again a very short teaser, quick and dirty!

A lady dangerously in distress
In the meantime the long and bumpy ride in the tropical heat (my estimate: 35 c.) is taking its toll on Thimba. It’s very hot in the car (my estimate: 40 c.) and because I’m driving low speed there’s no wind. She doesn’t lie down (too stressed) so uses her four feet as shock absorbers. Very tiring, and she’s panting like mad. She should drink water when I stop, but she doesn’t; again, probably too stressed. I’m beginning to get really really worried about her body temperature. During the many stops she immediately heads for the shade and just lies there. I consider resting till dark, but it would take until long after dark for the temperature to drop a bit, and the condition of the piste would remain the same. Besides, driving in the dark, constantly navigating around holes and rocks, would be asking for other  trouble! So I drive on and during the frequent stops I cover her up with towels and throw not too cold water over her (thanks for the fridge!). This gives her some relief, but she is beginning to look really bad now. Her eyelids are swollen and a rosé colour. When I try to get her back into the car after a rest, I have to carry her into the car.

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Poor Thimba!

Poor girl, she’s suffering and just wants to lie down. The pleasure that I experienced during the first hours on the piste is completely gone. I don’t notice the beautiful mountain scenery anymore. All I ‘m concerned about now is how to keep Thimba’s body temperature under control. I have still got 60 km. of very bad piste ahead of me. With each patch of flatter surface I hope it will remain like that for some time, but around the corner it’s back to 2nd gear again.

Then all of a sudden the piste ends and there’s a broad gravel road! The Chinese are building a new road from Koundara to Labé! I had never thought I would be grateful to the Chinese road builders in Africa, but now I am, wholeheartedly, and I wave at the few Chinese I see at the side of the road. I turn around to look at Thimba in the back of the car and I feel the tears  rolling down my cheeks. I drive the 50 km. to Labé and check in at the Tata hotel. Oh joy, to see Thimba on a cool stone floor, fast asleep after what must have been a nightmare for her.