Monday, 23 July 2012

The Guinean Pin

GUINEA (Saturday, July 7 - Thursday 12 July 2012)

Our pins: Labe, Mamou, Kissidougou, N'Zerekore

There are three Guinea within the African continent. Guinea-Bissau where Bissau is the capital and neighbors with Senegal, Guinea where Conakry is the capital and neighbors with Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Senegal, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast and finally Equatorial Guinea which is between Cameroon and Gabon. What is more, there is also Papua New Guinea somewhere in Oceania and Guyana in the north part of Latin America.

Welcome in Guinea
Boudou Fourou - N'zoo: app. 1.200 kilometers.. wet, tropical, amazing.. a green country with plenty of smiling people across the road.. at the end Zikos found its natural environment..

Very early in Saturday morning, we passed through the Senegalese borders. In 15 minutes we managed to take all stamps in passports and Carnet. Maybe the fastest border cross so far and so professional as well.

After 40 km in a brand new tarmac road, we ended up in the Guinean borderline and it was the first time we met so many people smiling, shaking hands and waving us. After four or five (we do not remember how many) offices where everyone keeps notes of your passport or Carnet, we finished with all the bureaucratic stuff. All people were friendly and proffessionals even when this process started to become tiring. However, in Guinea, the keyword for being treated easily and cross every road block, officials or customs is "Tourist". Since you say the magic word, nobody wants to search your car, see your passport or even check the car documents.

Ghislain full in dust!
Isn't it wonderful?
First stop in Koundara, the first town from west to east. We exchanged some money, we ate something very quickly and we decided to move further to Labe. Local people said that the road was brand new, made by Chinese people. However, in the Michelin map, the Koundara-Labe road was impassable during the rainy season. After all, it was an awesome off road experience within a tropical forest even we did 220 km in 7 hours. Not that rough but we did the biggest part under heavy rain (poor Ghislain). Only the first 40 km were in tarmac and, Yes, Chinese have done a great job but they need to keep moving faster before the next rainy season. At the end, we managed to find a hotel (looking for Tata Hotel that was closed) where we spent the night.

Dancing in Mamou
Next day, we decided to move further on south. Mamou was the next destination and we did it one more time, under heavy rain. The road was good and it was only some 150 km, so we arrived very early. Being quite tired, we found a kind of hostel where we decided to spend our night. It was in Mamou where we met a team of 5 Guinean people -four Gendarmeries and a bank representative- whose job was to clear the finance market from the fake bank notes and replace everything with the new ones (red instead of green 10.000 GF notes). Great people who really enjoyed our company. We explained to them about the Greek crisis and what made us visit their country and they gave us plenty of information about our next steps. What is more, we danced together, they offered us local tea to drink and they tried to communicate in their local dialect (Malinke) with no success.. hahahaha

At the same time, a wedding party was taking place in the yard of the hostel and it was so amazing the way they prepared everything since the rain had finished. They put a sofa and 10-15 chairs around it where the couple sat and all people wished them for the usual stuff. Having a generator on the back and two huge speakers, they put loud music and they did not stop dancing until it got really dark. Too simple to get married in Guinea, really. We did not notice any buffet.. ;-(

Guinean main road network
Monday morning, we headed to Kissidougou. However, we did the first 180 kilometers till Faranah to 5 hours. The road was broken every 1-2 km so we never managed to put the third gear on our car. From Faranah to Kissidougou, the road was really good and late in the afternoon we arrived in Kissi. Again, we managed to find a hotel in a reasonable price and we finally camped after 5 days (since Senegal). We only used the toilet for the dirty stuff but it was still disgusting. Later on the evening we walked in the local market. Too much people dressed in colorful clothes selling everything you can imagine. Too much information to process, indeed.. hahaha

Next day, we headed south to N'Zerekore. The local people who had met in Mamou talked about a difficult route from Kissi to Bofosou. Our new record was 114 km in 5 1/2 hours.Bad corrugated road full of dust, mud and huge potholes. Zikos was in his natural environment and we put another strong off road experience on our adventure CV. The next 250 km was quite fast to N'Zerekore thanks to EU funding. Isn't it wonderful how EU can help Africa (ironic)?

N'Zerekore main street
Since we arrived in the town, we managed to find the Hotel Mont Ndiba that was in Lonely Planet but a Portuguese company had already booked the whole hotel for its people. The guards kicked us out of it and it was then, we met Agnes. A local girl that was working for this company heard about us and came out of the hotel so as to meet us. We explained to her what we were looking for (a place to camp and a toilet!) and at the same time, she gave us the solution. Her father had a brand new hotel and he agreed to pick us up and give us a place to rest.
Les Repos, Residence in N'Zerekore
Residence TOP, Les Repos. 
The only destination if you ever be in N'Zerekore!Monsieur Francois was so peaceful and for sure he was one of the few people he did not treat us like a cash machine. He was so calm and quiet while talking. Great man! Agnes visited us at the same night and made us putting off our departure. She offered her to show us the local market, help us buying some local clothes and being the local person we were missing in all other countries. In this hotel, we also tried some incredible chicken recipes made by Mustafa (or Taf), a Senegalese guy. At the end, we never missed water or electricity (things that are hard to find in Guinea!). Agnes also tried Ghislain's Africa Twin that she found too big for her.

Planning & thinking!
We passed the next day walking around the town and its market. It is worthwhile to mention that we counted hundreds of thousands of Chinese bikes that are used mainly as taxis and they do not stop playing their horn. After 3 hours walking, we got back in our little paradise planning for the next day. Each time we have borders to pass, it is a bit tricky for us. The roads are not the best - with the exception of Senegal - we have no idea what to expect from the local authorities (police, army, customs) and we do not know when it will be the next civilized place with bank, gas station and some kind of food.

Thursday morning, we got up very early in order to take the road to N'Zoo and the Ivorian borders. Once again, we crossed a bamboo forest off road while Zikos and Ghislain were deep in mud and dust. For the first time, we crossed a river quite deep for a bike! Ghislain did a great job and passed it without any problems. Zikos -in low gear- managed also to cross it without being stuck. It only took us half an hour to get all our passports and Carnet stamped before crossing the 400 meters No man's land on a semi destroyed bridge.

We liked:
The off road experience within tropical forests, rivers and mud, our company in Mamou (the lads of the Gendarmerie), all Guinean people who only smiled and waving, and finally people reactions in the sight of scalp on the front of the car.

We did not like:
Honestly, there is nothing to mention except some people in some hotels who asked for a looot of money for a night.

We saw:
Thousands of motorbike-taxi across the country, tropical green everywhere,hundreds of people walking on the street any time of the day.

Average price for diesel 1.11 euro

Local currency: Guinean franc (GNF) - Exchange rate: 1 EUR ≈ 8.500 GNF

Logistics in Guinea
Driving in Guinea: We found it really nice to do off road within a tropical country. Ok, the roads are not the best we could drive but this is why we decided to do this trip on a 4X4 vehicle. Our engineers have done a great job on the car's suspensions. Plus the BFGoodrich tyres, it seems that Zikos is quite powerful to cope with any kind of road. Small motorbikes (125 or 250 cc) are the main means of transport while the usual cabs (Toytota Corolla, station Peugeot 505 & Renault 19 mainly) are used to move around goods and people in and out of them. We saw several trucks - all Renault for an unexplained reason - that were heavy loaded and performing a kind of transportation. In each case, either driving or walking down the street, you should get used to the horn at all hours of the day from all vehicles.

Deep in mud!
Bravo Ghislain!
Car: No need to say more about Zikos. Mud, gravel, rivers and huge potholes have been done in full success. Shocks, springs and tyres made Ghislain to enjoy the back of Zikos each time we crossed something difficult. No problem with the starter/ignition so far. Finally, we feel really proud because in a country with a terrible road network, we saw plenty of Vitara & Grand Vitara than anywhere else so far.

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