The Guinea gamble

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VIEWS

Adventurer Dan Grec is sending us updates from his two-year trip around Africa’s perimeter, covering 30 countries and 130 000km. He is driving a four-door Jeep Wrangler Rubicon.

Dan’s route through Africa.

“Road closed,” the immaculately uniformed officer leaning on a shiny AK-47 says casually.  “The ferry washed downstream last week,” he adds, giving all the explanation I need.

Turning back, now, means hundreds of kilometres on muddy, potholed jungle tracks. So much for best-laid plans.

As is customary in these situations, I lay maps on the hood, and a crowd of military men and spectators gathers − everyone pointing to a different place on the map as each tries to determine our location. I had been planning to cross the border from Guinea-Bissau at a tiny border post that required a river crossing, and a tiny track not found on many maps. Without a ferry to cross the swollen river, this option is off the table. I am forced to change my plan.

It is generally agreed that I can continue a few kilometres, before turning off onto a smaller track that winds to the bigger road which eventually leads to the isolated border post at Kandika. Here I can cross into the extreme North West of Guinea. There is Immigration and Customs at Kandika, I am told.

Well, probably.

Guinea in the wet season

Often overlooked in the mad scramble to traverse the West Coast of Africa, Guinea lies south of Senegal and Mali, hugging Sierra Leone and Liberia. The capital of Conakry sees more rainfall in the month of August than the 330cm the Pacific Northwest of the United States sees in an entire year −  a fact I don’t miss, given that I am arriving in early August. Guinea had been declared free of the massive Ebola epidemic by the World Health Organization only a few months before, and has seen essentially no tourists since. Major guide books have no information about Guinea, citing a “general lack of interest”.

The Michelin map of West Africa, highly regarded by Overlanders as the best in print, lists the major road I must travel as “impassable in the wet season”. The majority of roads I plan to drive are smaller, and variously marked as “less improved”, “unimproved” and “track”.

Given the season and lack of information available, I start to wonder about the odds of success.

Are the roads even passable, or will I be hopelessly stuck in endless mud?

Will the rain ever let up, or will I be perpetually soaked to the bone?

And can I find enough fuel, food, water and supplies to successfully traverse the country through the wet season?

These thoughts bounce around my head as I take a deep breath, roll the dice, and plunge in.

 Into Guinea

Not entirely certain what to expect, I prepare for days of isolation in the jungle. Stocking up on petrol, food and drinking water, I fill everything to capacity. After my unplanned detour, I wind my way along small tracks, mostly following my nose, and arrive at the sleepy border post marked by two crumbling buildings and a log across the road. There are no tracks in the mud. No vehicles have passed this way today… maybe not this week. The lone dog lazing in the shade does not lift his head as I enter the makeshift Immigration building.

A taste of the wonders of Guinea.

Immigration and Customs dutifully enter my details in enormous ledgers before I am free to exit Guinea-Bissau and continue to the Guinea side. Within only a few hundred metres, the road deteriorates badly and I’m forced to use low-range first gear to traverse ruts in the middle of the road. This does not bode well.

For the first time in Africa, Customs asks to see my Carnet de Passage – a kind of passport for vehicles. My reply of “No Carnet” causes a lot of confusion. I’m asked a few times more before the chief, who is summoned from his midday slumber, again asks to see my Carnet.

After a lot of head scratching, they tell me to drive on, and give assurances that I can get it sorted at the regional Customs headquarters in Koundara, 100km away.

I walk to Immigration, and am shocked to find four extremely well-dressed officers sitting behind huge wooden desks, apparently awaiting my arrival. It’s easy to infer rank and status from both the number of medals on each chest and the girth of each man, and I slowly move up the chain, shaking hands with warm greetings, handing over my passport and having my details dutifully recorded. I’m amused to watch one man painfully rule lines and use multiple coloured pens in a huge paper ledger that must contain years of entries, while he continually plays with and changes the music on his touch-screen phone. If only there were a better way to record all this Immigration information.

On the way out, I am bid a warm farewell and “Bonne Route” all round.

Dan and the military officials.

For the full story, be sure to get your hands on a copy of our April issue, in stores now.
By Dan Grec

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