‘West Africa is not a flat, hot place!’
I forgot that after living in this small bubble of country. I really needed some reminding and another West African country, also starting with a G, helped me remember. And Guinea was its name. I was going on my third and final trip but it wasn’t going to be a vacation. Guinea is one of the lowest ranked countries on the Human development scale – meaning, poor road, poor people and poor education system. Ranking almost ten spots below The Gambia, this was going to be an adventure. But of course that is my favorite kind. We started the trip days after thanksgiving, which involved over landing it through three country – Gambia, Senegal and Guinea. On a good day it would take 18 hours to make the trip but there hasn’t been a good day in a very long time. The dread of the car ride got much worse when it came time to get in the car. If you read the car manual it would say we were driving in a 7 passenger vehicle. We had 5 PCVs, 3 Gambians, 3 Guineans, 4 children, a driver and his assistant but who reads the manual anyways. Ohhh ya you read that correctly, that is 17 people in car the size of a Subaru family wagon, oh and about another meter high of luggage. That’s an adventure with a capital A. And it wouldn’t be Africa if the car didn’t start on the first try.
We were going pretty smoothly until we were leaving Senegal and about to enter into guinea. While we were getting our papers checked my immigration we got some pretty freighting news. Two day earlier a car just lie ours in the middle of the night were stopped by bandits. They killed the driver and his assistant and took all of the passenger’s money. Our driver was pretty concern, he said this used to happen often but not in some time. This man drives this road 2 to 3 times a week and when he is pretty concerned that means something. But he had a plan. There was a road side village were most people stop to get dinner. He said we would only drive until we reach that place before sundown. We would wait until there were enough cars ready to leave and we would all go together as a caravan. He encouraged that we would be safe in big numbers. The other volunteers and I weren’t ready to go back. We trusted the driver, so despite our nerves, we would go on.
We made it to the out post just before darkness fell. All 17 people were happy to get out of the car and take a break from the bad roads and squeezed bodies. West African hospitality never fails, we were given mats to sleep on shop keepers floor. At 4am the driver woke us up as the caravan started to gear up and go. At sunrise we reached a hand pulled ferry. An industrial chain stretched across a 100 meters of river (that same water turns into the Gambia river) a hand cranked wheel and barge takes the cars from one side to the other.
After the 30 hour journey we finally reach of destination of Labe. But not use we still had yet another 2 hour bumpy ride to our final, final destination Duki. In Duki a man about 5,’ 60 years old and a ball of energy greeted us at his compound. He was the man we came for and the one everyone raved about. Many groups of PCV from the Gambia had come to his lodge before. He had a hug guest book of Gambia volunteers new and old to prove it. It takes the PC type to make that journey to see Hassan Bah. You can ask any of them and they will all tell you that the hellish car ride is worth the experience of Hassan Bah’s home.
We can to hike some mountains and hiking is what we did. For 5 days straight we hiked nearly 10 miles a day. This is a bold statement but I would venture to say it was some of the best hiking I have ever done in my life. We hiked through waterfalls, caves, canyons, climbed rock faces and cliff dove in to fresh water springs. Every hike had a name, like Indian Jones, where we felt like we were on the set of Raids of the Lost Ark. Or there was this other one called chutes and ladders were we climbed down a cascading water fall and climbed back on another one with local ladders made only of branches and bark rope. There was sore feet all around but nothing less then smile in sight.