|My last update mentioned that I was about to head South towards Conakry, so here's whats happened since then. We decided first of all to spend the day at the town/city of Kindia some 2 hours or so South of Dalaba on the road to Conakry. Once we struggled out of the bush taxi we reached for the guidebook to try and find a cheap hotel to stay. As we did this, 2 policemen approached us and asked to see our passports and medical vaccination records. Now, as sooon as they ask for your vaccinations record you know they are trying it on, because most of these morons are not able to read or write, and are simply after some kind of bribe. Anyway, they didn't ask for anything as the older one of the two told the other one that everything was in order. A guy then helped us find a hotel, but he had us walking for about an hour in the blazing heat before we finally found somewhere which seemed to be in the middle of nowhere on the outskirts of town. It was a decent place actually, and cheap, although it was clearly a brothel, which just about all cheap hotels are in West Africa. There was also a couple of condoms sat on the the pillows, which makes a change from a mint. The reason we decided to stop in this town was to break up the journey to Conakry, but also to meet a couple of French girls who had been staying at our hotel in Dalaba. We thought they were other travellers at first, but were not surprised to discover that they worked in Kindia. Anyway, as luck would have it, they were staying in a house right next door to our brothel, and the really nice part of town was just a kilometre down the road, so we went out and had something to drink with them that evening. I must quickly mention that our hotel room in Dalaba was infested with mosquitos, and neither myself or Cole got any sleep that night, although it turned out that it was just that particular rooom that had the mosquito problem , and so we moved into the room where the French girls had been staying as they told us that they didn't have any Mosquitos. Northern Guinea is not a good place to get bitten as they have the worst form of malaria there.
The next day we got into another bush taxi and made for Conakry. Firstly, I should say that Guinean bush taxis are terrible, as they pack as many people as possible into them; they are basically sept-places ( built for 7 people), but they pack 9, sometimes ten into them, which is ridiculous..plus there's often people sitting on the roof. This is ok for short trips, but for longer trips on bad roads, which Guinea is not short on, then it can be mightily uncomfortable. We had arranged to couchsurf with a young American girl in Conakry, and she had a lovely little place. Unfortunately , she said she had to go out of town for a couple of weeks, but she was kind enough to give us a spare set of keys..very nice of her. Conakry is actually quite a modern city by African standards, with many tall buildings, but it also has its fair share of rough looking military wandering the streets, and they don't look the friendliest. We both needed a visa for the Ivory Coast ( Cote d'Ivoire) so we paid a visit to their embassy in Conakry, and the guy there was so cheerful and glad to see us, and was bending over backwards to make sure we got the visa. To be honest, he was so charming that I was beginning to think that we were being scammed , and that despite handing over the cash we would return the next day to be told that we had been rejected , and that the fees were non-refundable. Anyway, we returned the next day and were told that there was a problem in Abidjan ( the Ivory Coast capital in all but name), and it would be ready tomorrow. As you can imagine, I now began to think that my worst fears were about to become true, but no, as they were indeed ready the next day. The Ivory Coast visa is another supposedly difficult visa to get on the road, so I was pretty happy at securing it, although it did cost 100 pounds, or thereabouts. After a couple of days In Conakry we left for Sierra Leone, and Freetown, although Cole was getting off at some town before the capital as he had a friend there. Regarding the military in Guinea, well, they were constantly checking us on the trip towards Conakry, and at one point it got ridiculous as we had just spent about 10 minutes at one checkpoint, when we stopped again , literally a couple of miles further on, for another check of our passport and vaccinations card, and let me tell you that they really didn't look happy with their lot in life. They were all certainly well armed! As we approached the border we had to go through more of their shit, and, despite the fact that we had just received our exit stamp and were free to leave the county,a bunch of them lounging about shouted us over for them to look at our passports, and they passed them around each other, before handing them back to us. Have to say that Northern Guinea was lovely and relaxed, but Southern Guinea really wasn't. The night before we left we actually got invited round for some drinks and food to the house of a Scottish girl ( the friend of the American girl) who is working there until the summer, which was nice. Anyway, I was now about to enter Sierra Leone!
I said goodbye to Cole about an hour outside of the capital, Freetown, and finally arrived there around 6 in the evening which gave me an hour to fine a place before it got dark. I had arranged to stay with someone, but he hadn't got back in touch for a couple of days, which was a shame because Freetown is meant to be expensive for places to stay. There was , however, one place in the book that seemed cheap, and so I made my way from where I though I had been dropped of towards this hotel. As it happened, I wasn't where I though I was, and it was nearly 8 by the time I found the place , right in the Centre of Freetown. At 6 quid a night it was a bargain although there was no running water , but it did have a generator which was a plus. I met an elderly Dutch couple there, and they told me that they had been coming to West Africa for over 30 years..they basically only came to West Africa, which is pretty hard core of them. The centre of Freetown is one noisy place , and the music they play constantly is absolutely deafening. I have to say though that I really liked Freetown, and they love British people, and you will see Union Jacks everywhere around the city, they really are a nice bunch of people. I did see the seedier side of Freetown one evening however, when I visited a bar in the East side of the city with a guy who was going to tell me about the diamond business, and what happened during the war. Anyway, as we sat there chatting, a guy walked into the bar, said something in the local lingo to another bloke, then pulled out a gun and shot him. I think he shot him a couple of times, but he finished him off with a final shot in the face. Strangely enough, there didn't seem to be too much of a panic in the bar as the guy ran off, and the guy I was chatting with simply said that it happens sometimes. Anyway, the dead guy was hurriedly removed from the bar into a taxi, and that was that, the police didn't even come. This type of thing happens in major cities around the world so I am not letting it change my opinion on Freetown and its people. After nearly a week here I decided it was time to move on, and so I decided to head to the town of Kenema ( the 3rd biggest city , although nothing more than a town)I found a place to stay, another cheapy, but what a dive this was, really horrible with no running water or electricity, but, as I say, dirt cheap. I have actually been getting through Africa on a very tight budget thus far, due mainly to eating cheap street food, living in cheap accommodation, and couchsurfing in the more expensive places, in fact, for the past month I have been surviving on about ten pounds a day, which for West Africa is amazing! It also helps if you meet other people to share the costs with, but I have only met 3 so far in the whole of the region.
Photographing people in Sierra Leone can be a risky business, which, given that they are not long out of a civil war is understandable...or so I was led to believe. That all changed in kenema. I had arrived there from Freetown on an air-conditioned bus...yes..an air-con bus..utter luxury. It left at 5 in the morning and was in Kenema by 11.. sheer bliss, and on a good road, too. I then hooked my dslr around my neck and went wandering around the town, and to my surprise( and delight), just about everyone was shouting me over to have their picture taken. It actually got to the point that I had to say no more as I was running out of charge. They were incredibly friendly people, and the street food they had at night was amongst the best I have had in Africa ( Freetown street food wasn't great) The guidebook says that this town has no problem with electricity, what a load of crap, as the streets are total darkness at night, and most places shut because they can't afford a generator. There are loads of diamond merchant shops about town, just about all owned by Lebanese, as Kenema and the surrounding area is bang in the middle of diamond country. So, I arranged to go and visit one of the mines in the morning ( 6 a.m) but, surprise surprise, the guy didn't appear ( he was the brother of the manager of the hotel). In fact, I could never find the manager of my hotel as he was never there, and so I just decided I would have to skip seeing the mines, and just get a bush taxi to Liberia instead, as I couldn't face another night in that shitty hotel, where I was the only guest.
Apart from the hotel, I thought Kenema was a great little place, more muslim than Freetown, but the thing I like about Sierra Leone is the fact that they don't let religion get in the way of anything, and inter-faith marriage is very common. When I was in Freetown I picked up a dvd from one of the street sellers, and it was all about the war, with lots and lots of real video taken during the time, and it is quite possibly the most disturbing thing I have ever watched, with close up videos taken of kids, no more than 12, being stripped naked by soldiers , kicked and punched, before being taken away to their horrible fate, together with umpteen executions. They don't refer to it as the world's most brutal war for nothing. I also saw loads of amputees around the country, the handywork of soldiers and militias on both sides, in fact, in Freetown, I bought a coke of a woman who I thought was deaf, before I was told that her tongue had been cut out during the war! I now had to get from Kenema to the border in a cramped guinea-style bush taxi, and if I thought I had already seen the worst road in Africa then I needed to think again, as this road was simply atrocious, and I really can't put into words just how awful it was. It was basically just a dirt track full of huge potholes filled with water from a recent downpour; it took 6 hours for what would have taken less than an hour on a half decent road. I have to say though that I loved it as you drove though some pretty dense rainforests , and you really got the African experience, plus the car was full of members of the same family who were singing and laughing with me the whole way to the border. I took plenty pics of this road, which I have now uploaded , in fact I am bang up to date on my pictures now, including another video from Mauritania, so check out the flickr page. Bear in mind that the pics taken on this road are not of a very high quality due to the fact that the bloody taxi was bouncing about constantly making photography almost impossible. Anyhoo, on the way to the border we stopped at a random town, about 20 miles from the border, and the women informed me that it was here, and not at the border, that I would receive my exit stamp..strange, but not the first time I have experienced this. I reached the border and said goodbye to my fellow passengers, before getting stamped into Liberia.
I had arranged to couchsurf with a couple in Monrovia, which is good as it's incredibly expensive, but they had told me that they would be at the beach town of Robertsport, which this website doesn't recognise for the map location, so I made my way there. It took 40 minutes or so to get to a junction where the bush taxi would drop me off, and I was hoping that there would be some form of transportation from there to Robertsport, which, thankfully, there was, and by 4 p.m I had arrived at the hotel where they were staying. Robertsport is a very quiet , peaceful town, and easy to stroll around, but the place I stayed was a harsh reminder of just how expensive this country is to stay unless you can couchsurf. It is owned by a couple of American guys, and it's right on the beach..60 dollars for a room. Now, you are probably thinking that's not too bad, but when you consider I get by on 20 dollars a day then it really blows my budget. Furthermore, when I tell you that they only put the generator ( no electricity) on for 2 hours a night, and that the rooms only have shared bathrooms, then you might begin now to realise how bad value it is. And if I further tell you that they have no running water, and it's just a bucket shower, then you will finally see just how terrible 60 dollars is!!
I though ok, for 1 night it would be fine as I was getting a lift to Monrovia the next day, and I wouldn't be spending any cash on accomModation for the next 4 days, which I haven't. The place where my couchsurfing hosts stay is right near the centre, which is handy, and I also have my own en-suite room, so I am experiencing luxury at the moment..plus the room has air-con and fast wi-fi, hence the reason I can upload my pics and update my blog.
Liberia is another country that has gone through a terrible civil war, and you can see reminders of it around town, especially the Ducor hotel, which was West Africa's first ever 5 star hotel. It sits on a hill near the centre giving fantastic views across Monrovia, but is now nothing more than a bombed out shell, and it felt quite sad wandering about what's left of it, with its unused swimming pool...definitely a stark reminder of the war. I spent the rest of yesterday wandering around town, which is easy to do, as it's neatly set out on a grid system. Even eating street food here is expensive, so it was nice of my host family to ask me to join them for dinner that evening. The amount of UN cars around this city is incredible, and I am actually staying inside a UN compound. I will be leaving here on Friday morning, where I intend to reach the town of Harper, which is supposed to be nice. The most difficult thing about getting around this country is the fact that the guidebook has very, very little information, and so you are basically travelling blind and hoping for the best. There is not even a map of Monrovia in the guidebook, how pathetic is that, although there wasn't a map of Bissau either, surely the one thing a guidebook should have is a bloody map. Anyway, I am going to find the transport garage on Thursday morning and try to make it to Harper. Apparently the road there is utterly diabolical and maybe even worse then the Kenenma road.....this I have to see. Just how these cars manage to ply these routes in the wet season is more of a mystery than the changing of the seasons. I have actually just looked at some of the pictures online of cars doing this road in the wet season , and it really is astonishing that they make it at all. Anyway, the trip will take anywhere from 18 hours to 30 hours , or so I have been advised. I might get off at a town along the way, but it really is difficult to make any plans other than to play it by ear. After this road, then the rest of the countries in West Africa will be much easier to travel in as I hear the roads are..well..roads..and proper buses run on them with proper schedules!!
Right, I think that's me bang up to date on my travels so far, photos all uploaded ,too. I will probably update either from Harper or from the Ivory Coast, which I hope to be in by Sunday or Monday ( Harper is very close to the border) I was planning on crossing into the Ivory Coast in the North of Liberia, but apparently that border is closed for one reason or another, and so I am hoping they don't shut the Southern border as well, or I will be stuck in Liberia.