We headed off from the Sleeping Camel into the Mali traffic. I think the government had made some law about 2 stroke motorbikes as the streets were clogged with thousands of near new looking 125cc KTM 4 stroke commuter type motorbikes. Not a 2 stroke in sight which was good for air quality but the large fleet of clapped out diesel taxis made up for it and I can only imagine what the city might have been like with 2 stroke smoke as well.. We made straight for the border entry into Guinea down a pretty good sealed road. After an hour or so we arrived at the Mali immigration post and completed our paperwork and moved to the Guinea border. Mali had been a breeze and the border officials were excellent and they all knew their jobs. Entering Guinea was a stark contrast.
At the Police stop I was given clearance for us and the car, but to get the stamp that would complete the task, I was going to have to pay a bribe. I discussed this best I could and decided to move to the next post and see how I went later. At the next post, I had to get the car import permit. I sat in the office of an older official who didn’t look up from the paper shuffling for what seemed like ages only to glance at my things for around 1 second and wave me out saying ‘no permit for your car.’ This was of course not an option for us at all and I attempted to find out why. This went on for some time but I couldn’t get any answer from him at all. So, I left his office, walked down to the office that also had CHIEF in the title and knocked and boldly went in. I was hauled back out by his assistant and made to wait and after a short time, I was called back in with the first officer I saw to put my case. Much was said, all of which I didn’t understand and I was told by the chief, OK. You can enter. Please follow him, waving towards the first chap I had seen. Back to the small office and the paperwork was completed and I was asked for payment. I knew the correct price and the bidding started. The first offer was 50,000 CFA! It took me quite some time but I succeeded and he agreed to take the actual amount that would show on the receipt which was 11,000 CFA. Haha I thought until I reached into my pocket and realised that I didn’t have the correct change and I had to give him more that the agreed price. It wasn’t much, around €1.50 worth but I wasn’t going to get the change that’s was for sure. I then had to go back to the police for the passport stamp and the all-important stamp on the back of the import document. This was nothing more than a good old fashion shake down. No one was exempt. I was in the queue with all the rest of the locals and we were all in line to get screwed. While I was having a pretty good argument with one officer, I suddenly heard some English being spoken. It was a cunning local looking guy saying ‘but I don’t have 2000 CFA!’ His guard shot back ‘not in English’ and the discussion went on. It was interesting as in a lot of places it’s only the obvious tourists that are targeted but here I was like everyone else but for some reason my tax was more than twice what they were asking from the guy next to me. All this really did go on for all too long and I used all the tricks I had. Sat in his chair and stopped him from doing his work, acted dumb, acted smart I even went to the car and attempted to just drive on through.… nothing worked and I had to pay the tax. OK, OK, OK… I paid and got the stamp. It was then I realised how much of a victory it was for this guy to take my money as he did the stamping and signature like he was signing a new amendment declaring him the ruler of the free world. I have no doubt it made the dinner discussion around the family table that night after he stashed his tax-free earnings under his mattress (to pay for car repairs due to the poor roads in his country...) OK, let’s get going then. Off we went only to be stopped a few hundred meters down the road in what must have looked like a real full on car chase. We had not gone back to customs and we were chased down the road by the customs officials on their motorbikes, well we think it was their motorbikes as they were all on the back as passengers and with 6 of them in all, we caused quite a fuss on the street. We turned around and headed back and parked in the compound. At this stage I was worried that I had caused such a fuss getting the car permit, they might be getting out the rubber gloves for an Africa style search of the car, and us… who knows what it was but no sooner had we arrived we were told to go and we were free in Guinea.
We had a campsite to go to that was listed on the iOverlander app but when we arrived and re-read the listing, it was really only suitable for a motorbike and we kept going. After a bit of searching, we decided to head for some TV and cell phone towers we could see at the top of a hill and followed the track to the top. After chatting to the friendly caretaker and providing some kola nuts and batteries for his flashlight we settled in for a peaceful night. It’s just as well considering what we had in store for us on the roads over the next few days.
When we had planned our route through Guinea, we decided to stay pretty much to the main roads and head all the way through the country. On our first day we managed to travel only 350kms in 10½ hours of driving. Of that, maybe 2 hours were done in 4x4 low range travelling at speeds under 25kph. Before we started this trip, the only experience I have had off-road driving was many years earlier in the West Australian mines and that was really tame compared to what we were undertaking right at that moment. The roads are truly unbelievable. No description or photo will reveal the true condition of these roads. They are absolutely, completely, totally stuffed! The roads have seen no maintenance at all from the time they were built maybe 20 or 30 years ago. Add to this the annual rainy season and the damage that can do and you have the roads in Guinea. Most of the main roads are not drivable at all in normal cars during the rains. It’s a real wonder that people drive the roads in normal cars at all, but we saw them. The pot holes would start as small cracks then develop unchecked into large craters that cover the entire road. The only way through is to inch your way down the hole and back up the other side or detour onto the shoulder and back. In some cases the shoulder was better than the road. Now it’s not just one hole every so often, its holes and craters every metre of the way, even entire sections of road washed away all together leaving only mud, clay and puddles up to 1 metre deep for many, many, kilometres at a time. This went on for a few days and we were just about getting used to it but our last day was a real day of off-road adventure without ever leaving the A6 and A8 main roads through Guinea! We have walked up better walking tracks than we drove that day and sometimes I found myself laughing thinking about what we were actually doing. The roads were so rough!! We crossed several bridges that were just a bunch of logs across a span. At one crossing, the back wheel slipped off a bigger log and the right front wheel came off the ground. We were moving just enough for the momentum to carry us forward and the car toppled onto solid ground but I had to inspect the car after that one (and the crunching sound must have been the logs not the car...) All said and done, it was a real great experience and a first for us both, but the best part was the way the car handled the roughest parts with no fuss or apparent strain at all. We even towed a policeman whose car was stuck in a stream crossing. It was what the car was built to do and it did it really well. It’s a shame we were so focused (and worried at the time) to stop and take more photos of the roads and some of the obstacles we faced. I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of roads like this on this trip..
Not far from the border crossing into Ivory Coast, we visited an area where a population of Chimpanzees live. These chimps are famous and you might have even seen them yourselves. They are 1 of only 2 known populations of Chimps that have learned to use tools. These are the chimps that use sticks to ‘fish’ for termites. They poke the stick down a termite hole and when it’s covered in termites, they pull it out and they have a snack. They live in a small area of forest and are a small population in 2 groups. We arrived on Sunday and camped at the research institute and arranged a tour for the next day. It was expensive! It cost us 1,000,000 Guinea Franks which is around €100 but we were keen to see the chimps we had heard of before. Off we went into the forest with no fewer than 6 guides to see the chimps. Well, we wondered through the bush for hours and hours but we didn’t find the group. The guides were very disappointed as well. They have a 95% success rate finding them but no one works weekends so on Monday they have to find them all over again for the week. We also had a small problem finding Luxy when we returned from the trip. If we are staying at a camp all day, she will find a place to snooze for the morning and that days snooze spot was also a good hiding spot. We had to sit and wait for her to arrive back at the car before we could pack up and go. It meant a late arrival at the border crossing that day after another day of 4x4 fun.
The crossing into Ivory Coast was pretty normal. No one asked for money and everyone knew how to do their jobs. It was however quite a strange experience arriving at the border. The Guinea side had a small bit of concrete road that started at the gate and went about 30 meters into Guinea and stopped. The rains had washed away so much soil at the end of the road that we had to climb a very steep and short bank to just get to the road and border gate. No doubt the locals know about this and would get a good run up on the dirt road to launch themselves onto the concrete part but we weren’t in the know and I stalled the first time and was hanging half on half off and I had to select low range as a last effort to leave Guinea! I will never forget the roads there.
We are starting to see a pattern with road and living conditions vs corruption, lawlessness and poverty in the countries we pass through. Mali was a contrast to Guinea. We were faced with no corruption in Mali. We also saw that the roads were in good condition and the police were effective and trusted. In Guinea, we were asked for money by every official we dealt with. It was similar in The Gambia. The Gambia has a new President that may clear things up for them but Guinea has only ever had one normal election since independence in 1958 and in 2012 the current president postponed elections indefinitely so the poor record may well continue. It was in Guinea that we saw complete and total poverty for the first time. It was quite sad as the people that are affected are trapped in this cycle even though the country has huge resources at its disposal. All of this money is syphoned off by the government and nothing is put into infrastructure, education or health. To show control, the government employs a large army and police force but they are mostly idle and just for show. It is about as far from what we are used to as you can get. Nothing like travel to make you appreciate your home country…
it's Our Epic Trip...
David & Christine are from New Zealand and are embarking on a trip around the world the slow way, on foot and by personal vehicle. This could get interesting!