We head back into Guinea, coming in from the Sierra Leone side instead of Cote d'ivorie, it's a lot more drive days on the truck and a lot longer in Guinea this time around as we are here to enjoy the highland scenery in the area known as the Fouta Djalon. The Fouta Djalon region covers a lot of the western part of Guinea and the scenery is stunning with expansive plateaus, hundreds of rivers, sheer cliffs and either cultivated or jungle filled valleys, its sparsely populated until we get through the centre part of it, where it is populated it seems a high percentage of Muslims and farming definitely seems to be a main source of income.
But we need to kill some kms first before we get anywhere near the Fouta Djalon, so after leaving Freetown and crossing the border into Guinea we head to Coyah which is about 100km from the capital Conakry. Coyah is just a convenient base for us so that we can head into Conakry to get our Guinea Bissau visas for later in the trip, getting the visas is easy, getting into Conakry is a lesson in patience, the 100km drive on reasonable (for here) roads takes a good 3 hours, its jam packed with traffic, especially mini vans and motorbikes that have no hesitation in cutting across our huge truck with a split second to spare, clearly they trust that no one will hit them. The sides of the road are packed with the usual African markets and street sellers risking their lives walking in and out of the traffic trying to sell their wares, maps of the region and the world seem to be a big thing the are trying to push the day we are there. Where there isn't markets lining the streets it's rubbish, piles and piles of it, stacked high, occasionally being burnt but mainly just polluting everything. It's definitely not my favourite African city, too much chaos and it's exhausting.
With Guinea Bissau visas in hand, we get out on the red dusty and bumpy tracks for our slow drive through Guinea. We bushcamp on route to the town of Kindia and as is normal a few locals wander through to see what we are up to, one brave lad invites himself to dinner and when we ask him why he isn't drinking his cuppa he responds with he wants to take it home to his mum, so we end up packaging it up into an empty milk bottle for him and he seems quite pleased, he obviously enjoyed our food as he sneaks but in the morning for breakfast.
Kindia itself is the gateway to the Fouta Djalon with a bustling market specialising in the local cloth of the region and just outside of it are the Les Chutes de la Voile de la mariee (aka bridal veils falls) where we can get a bit of a wash in after our dusty bushcamp the night before. Our first stop in the Fouta Djalon proper is Tiemele it's a long drive to get there given the state of the roads which makes it exhausting but the scenery along the way takes some of that away as does a few stops for swimming inlocal rivers where we join the locals who either washing their clothes or washing themselves and are more than happy to have a group of Portobhe (white people) sharing the river.
Tiemele is a pretty small town, there isn't much too it other than some red dusty roads, a school, the obligatory mosque and some local sellers, the day we are there is market day which adds quite a bit of life to the town, it is also the day where the electricity stops and we use up all the water within a couple of hours being there. What Tiemele does offer is a chance to enjoy the Fouta Djalon with some easy walks taking in the scenery. A few of us were keen to climb the mountain overlooking town and we were given two guides which turned into five guides to take us and we all confirmed in French before we set off we wanted to go the mountain but it ended up an aimless wander just outside the village with them getting lost at one point and us having to scramble through various jungle to try and find a path for them. Not quite the climb we had in mind but gave us a chance to stretch our legs. With a different guide in the afternoon we managed to get a bit out of town to explore some grottos or cave systems which were really interesting with all the narrow passageways and tunnels.
Continuing our long slow drive through the Fouta djalon region we come to the definite highlight of the region, Doucki or Hassan Doucki, Hassan is an enthusiastic, funny and warm Muslim guy that has set up accommodation and hikes for tourists in the Fouta Djalon region, he personally greets us all and gives us a suite of traditional huts to sleep in then tells us about his different treks which range from easy walks to hardcore. His hardcore walk he calls 'Chutes and Ladders' a fall day walk covering a range of terrain, I decide to tackle this along with three others in the group. It's a full day walk which takes us 600m down into the valley by way of loose rock, well worn paths, thick bushes, crossing rivers and waterfalls surrounded by jagged mountains, green vistas and lots of lovely fresh spring water. Once we are down in the valley it's time to climb back up, our first climb is alongside a waterfall, we essentially climb to the top, the locals have created ladders made of vine and sticks they have couple together of varying lengths and steepness, we navigate our way through nine of these ladders (lianas) to get to the top of the waterfall, once there it's a further steep climb up loose rock to reach the top again, the climb is defiantly hard work after the four hour walk down in the baking heat but it's more than manageable with a few downwards bits to freshen up in the rivers, we manage the walk in a comfortable 7 hours which we are told is pretty good. Hassan said he thinks it is one of the best walks in West Africa - the four of us would definitely agree with him.
Labe provides a final proper stop and town in the Fouta Djalon area, I head out on a motorbike about 40km out to see the biggest waterfall in the region, Chutes de Sala, given its the dry season it's not cascading or thundering down like we've seen in pictures but there is enough water to give us a sense of how impressive it would be at full flow with all the water cutting through the gorge, it's also a nice spot at this time of year for us to be able to have a swim in its pretty chilly waters. The ride to the waterfall was probably more of the highlight, I thought the roads we had been travelling on were pretty bad but these were even worse and riding over them on the back of a motor bike driven by someone who clearly wanted to be first in the group was definitely an experience and may have caused the heart to skip a beat or two!
(photo credit Ann Hume)
We say goodbye to the stunning Fouta Djalon region ( which has been a real highlight for me) after Labe and it's one last bushacamp amongst the cotton trees before moving into Guinea Bissau.