It felt good to be back in Guinea as the border police stamped our passport with no fuss. It all seemed more straightforward compared with Sierra Leone. The greetings changed back to French, bonjour, ca va, bon route, bon courage, bon voyage, bon chance, it all sounds so pleasant and kind. The French language gives such charm and softness, it helps there are so many pleasantries used, which sits well with the African way, where there is such importance with greetings and exchanges.
It’s was good to see the bustling markets with street food, fruit and some vegetables. People were farming a little more and we saw coffee plantations. Coffee beans were drying by the roadside. It was all more productive. Women everyday we see walking purposefully carrying all kinds of loads on their heads, firewood, water, bundles of produce for market, or perhaps just a machete conveniently placed up there out of the way, often with children on there backs too.
Our first stop after crossing the river from Sierra Leone, was at an omelette and bread stall. A heavily pregnant lady preparing all kinds of food under the shade of a few large tatty faded umbrellas, which is the usual scene of an African market, sometimes they are the grass roofed stick built stalls, but very often, the dust stained beach umbrellas indicate the market area of a town.
Business like, and cool, she methodically prepared omelette sandwiches, cold vermicelli with mashed beans, fried bananas, and drinks. School children were coming to her for their lunch. A continual flow of people passed through the stall. We imagined her working in a few months with her new baby on her back. It was a pleasant scene watching the comings and goings from the bench we sat at in the shade eating our omelette sandwiches.
Others were barbecuing sweet corn. It was all so different from Sierra Leone and other parts of Guinea where we weren’t seeing any food apart from rice and leaves with dried fish. There we rarely even saw bananas and jumped on them when we did.
We were in the Forest region of Guinea. Stuff grew here and there was cultivation.
The jungle was thick in places and the landscape mountainous. Lianas bridges made from vines spanned rivers deep in the lush forest. A chance meeting in a village on the roadside meant we were soon off the road and heading deep into the jungle with Mohamed to find a Lianas bridge. Collecting another guide at a village where a festival was taking place we headed along narrow tracks towards a river. The forest hung thick and the air was hot and humid. Following the river for a short while the path lead to a shaded glade where the delicate fragile looking mass of ragged vines spanned from one bank to another, hanging from tendrils lashed high up in the forest canopy. It was a work of art, using natural Lianas from the forest, the structure was woven and twisted together, lashed to surrounding tree branches, until all the parts working together had the strength to support people crossing the river. After each rainy season when the river rises and buffers the bridge about, it needs a major overhaul and repair.
A little downstream the villagers were collectively building and paying themselves for a concrete bridge to be built. It was a long way for off with just a few bridge supports cast on the rocky river bed. This is progress for them and the need to get motor bikes to villages on the other side of the river. It seems a shame that eventually the beautiful Lianas bridges will be a thing of the past, a romantic westerners view which is quite unreasonable, when you can see how a concrete bridge will make life a lot easier, and save so much walking carrying large loads on their heads. A motor bike in Africa provides so much, it is the family car, and the small truck, that can carry all sorts of unimaginable loads.
As the sun rises and the hazy sky above the tall trees and palms turns from darkness too a yellow shimmery glow, another day starts and activity from the villages we pass through slowly starts up. Fires are lit and big steel pots perched on three rocks above the flickering flames that dart around the branches, brew away. People sit around, warming themselves next to the steaming pots of rice and leaves.
We pass lots of well kept plantations, coffee, palm oil and cocoa. There is real agriculture here, and people are working hard processing and making palm oil, drying and grinding coffee, and fermenting and drying cocoa beans.
Groups of children always provide entertainment, their smiles and inquisitive stares at us and our bike.
Labourers hang out with their wheel barrows at transport hubs, rushing to lorries and trucks as they pull in. Others are loading huge articulated lorries, cast offs from Europe, imported after their life has finished in the West, some are still sign written with a haulage company from somewhere like Bedford or Warwick. Large sacks of coffee and cocoa across the shoulders of broad smiling men are carried into the trucks.
Eventually we reach the market town of Lola where the good tarmac road finishes and we start the rough road to Côte d’Ivoire.
A lot of the road was under construction by the Chinese so there were many diversions and temporary tracks. Mud hutted villages had been savagely bisected by the new road. Traditional life split by the harsh concrete and tarmac. Kids playing in the two halves with an old tin can attached to a piece of string. Chickens and goats rummage around the two spaces. People sitting here and there, cooking rice and chatting. Their tranquil world had been disfigured forever.
A lovely section of the old road took us through cool shaded arching bamboo forest, that formed a tunnel of the giant impressive tubular plant.
Guinea Forestere has been an interesting few days and the most dynamic and vibrant place we have travelled through so far. Quite a surprise. There seems to be real hope in this country with what appears to be a very progressive government for the last ten years which broke the cycle of military rule and coups. Real effort being made to stop corruption, invest in education, and develop home grown business.