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.


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


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.

Img 1916

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.


4 thoughts on “When the going gets rough: the Fatou Djalon mountains of Guinea

  1. Mark Janssen

    Hi Gee,
    Excellent piece of writing; your best yet! Good luck with the dog.
    Travel safely.

  2. Sebastiaan

    Hey Gee, Geweldige trip om over te lezen. Woon hier met onze ‘Nederlandse’ Ridgeback in Kaapstad. Gooi de volgende keer een natte handdoek over haar heen. Doet wonderen. :-)

    1. Gee Post author

      Hi Sebastiaan,
      Dank voor de tip; ik gooide er zelfs twee overheen, en het hielp wel!
      Maar de algehele stress door warmte en slechte wegen is moeilijk te voorkomen bij haar.
      We doen het dus rustig aan!




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