After a short ferry crossing of the river that constituted the border between Guinea-Bissau and Guinea, we got back in the car and drove about 20 mins to get to the Guinean checkpoint near a village called Foulamory. Once there, we had to go into a hut where the guy told me to leave if I didn’t sit down, even though there were no seats left. I said I’d wait for my passport, so he passed it to another guy who looked through it then gave it back to me. Of course, there was no signage, but I had to walk to the police post at the other side of the village to get stamped. The versions of my name the immigration officers are coming up with are getting more comical the further into Africa I travel!
In many of the villages along the road, I saw signs for a project by China Aid to bring TV to remote villages in Guinea. Something about that did not sit well with me. These are villages dotted along remote dirt roads with no running water and possibly no electricity. Besides the fact that electricity is essential for running TVs, accessibility to water and reliable electricity should definitely be higher priorities.
As we continued along the way, people would stop what they were doing and kids would point or wave excitedly at the car as we drove past. By 4:30pm, we’d made it to Koumbia and a slightly better, but still quite horrible road. The driver said we would make it to Conakry that night, but I was dubious about that as we still had about 100km of bad road. Plus I was sure there’d be more than a few stops as well.
At one such stop, I had some unidentified meat. The driver said it was beef, but it most definitely was not. It wasn’t goat meat either, so I really have no idea what I consumed, but that’s all part of the experience! The dirt road continued and we made another stop to offload some stuff at Wendou M’bour, a small town before Boké, at about 8pm. While waiting, I noticed that every time I moved, I had 3 kids creepily following me wherever I walked. I guess they don’t see many foreigners. A little bit further on from there, just after the road finally became sealed, we hit a police roadblock and with it, any hopes of reaching Conakry that night.
Unexpected Overnight Stay On The Road
Apparently, there had been some fighting and strikes in the town up the road, initiated by an anti-government group. The police had closed the road for miles in either direction, apparently for safety. Fair enough, but it was a little annoying that they wouldn’t give a straight answer as to when the road would re-open. There were about 10 cars stuck in the blockade and a Guinean woman from one of the other cars, who was moving to Dakar, started talking to me about the things like this that Africans have to deal with every day. After telling her about my trip, she told me I was a very strong woman and she was glad I’d taken enough of an interest in the area to want to travel so far overland.
When it was obvious that the block would be in place for several hours, people started laying down on the road to rest, but I headed back to the van and laid down on one of the seats to rest for a bit. Luckily only the driver and 2 other people travelling with me had the same idea, so I had the whole bench to myself.
Around 7 hours later at 6am, the driver ushered everyone into the van and we started moving again. There was a good chance we’d make it to Conakry in the morning! But of course, we didn’t, because this is Africa! With other stops, we ended up getting to Conakry at about 2pm. It had taken 4 days for me to get there and I must say that the city was very unimpressive. Everything seemed to be twice the price of other West African countries and there was almost no infrastructure.
Any roads that were sealed, were full of car-sized potholes and in severe need of repair, but most roads were dirt or mud and lined with massive piles of rubbish. This meant that the smells got quite interesting at times. I even saw one pile of rubbish that was at least as tall as a house, right next to a market where people were selling food. I definitely wouldn’t be buying food there.
The traffic was also absolutely terrible, probably due in part to the terrible roads. It took 40 min for an over crowded taxi to take us about 8km, which was only about half of the distance to the Medina. I had to change taxis at that point, because they have some kinda weird transport system where taxis only take you as far as they’re willing to go, then make you get another taxi. The problem with that was that several people were already waiting for taxis in that area, so getting one was almost impossible. I decided that I didn’t want to wait around, so walked about a kilometre down the road where I was finally able to get another overcrowded taxi to take me the remaining 4km to the Medina.
The Medina was super crazy. It was hard on the ears, the eyes and the lungs. Any parts of the path on the side of the road that wern’t covered in rubbish, were taken up by people selling their wares and the occasional beggar. This meant that you generally had to walk on the road, but of course drivers didn’t like that, so the constant beeping was almost deafening.
The Road to Sierra Leone
I somehow found the taxi I needed to take me to Freetown, Sierra Leone but it was way overpriced at 60,000 Guinea Francs (€6) + 20,000 (€2) for my small bag. I was not okay with paying extra for my bag, but the driver was a bit of a dick and he wouldn’t take it for less than 10,000(€1). This price was even more ridiculous when you take into account that fact that the car was at least 40 years old and didn’t look like it had been maintained any time in the last 20 years. It was in such a state of disrepair that I had real doubts that we’d make it. There wasn’t even a key, the driver just started it by hotwiring it.
The car was only small, yet we had 6 passengers squeezed in there. That meant I was sharing the front seat with a lovely Sierra Leonean lady named Efuah. It was also her first time in Guinea and we started chatting about our experiences in Guinea and how we both couldn’t wait to get to Sierra Leone. She also advised me that the car was only going to Pamelap, which was before the border. That made me even more annoyed about the amount I’d paid, to not even get halfway to my destination. It was also annoying that the driver had told me the car would go the whole way through to Freetown.
Thankfully Efuah knew how things worked and graciously took me under her wing to make sure that I would get across the border and into Freetown okay. I had no idea what was coming though and it really made me sympathise with the anti-government groups constantly fighting against the Guinean government.
The police have set up many stops on the road to the border, where they charge people who don’t have a Guinean ID card between 5000-10,000 Guinean Francs (€5-10). Almost no one has this ID, probably because it costs a stupid amount of money to get one. That means that these compulsory bribes are not just targeted at foreigners, but also at Guineans. Even our driver had to pay at each checkpoint. There was no discussion, you either paid or they didn’t let you through. Our driver actually drove straight through one of the checkpoints without stopping to pay, but I think he just got lucky that the officer was distracted and too lazy to do anything but blow his whistle.
This is a prime example of how a corrupt government can screw over its people and infrastructure. These police officers just sit at these checkpoints all day, collecting 35,000-70,000 (€3.5-7) per car, or 60,000-120,000 (€6-12) per minibus. Even if only one car and one minibus came through each hour, that’s 95,000-190,000 (€9.5-19) per hour. There are definitely more cars passing through than that though. We passed, or were passed by, at least 8 other cars or minibuses on the stretch where the checkpoints were, so a modest estimate would have these government workers syphoning hundreds of Euro a day from the pockets of their people, while the rubbish piles up on under-maintained streets. I have never been more disgusted by the actions of government workers in my life.
When we arrived at 8pm, after 5 hours on increasingly crappy roads, the border was ‘closed’. The immigration guys, who were clearly still working, told me the border was closed so I’d have to wait there until morning, or pay 20,000 (€2) for an exit stamp. As Efuah was with me and helping me negotiate with the guys, I decided to just pay so I could finally get out of the country that was annoying me more and more by the second. The guy with the stamp, who I might add was a greedy freaking douche canoe, decided he wanted to add his own cut of 35,000 (€3.5) to the already ridiculous bribe. I was so disheartened to have to give into to such corruption, but I also couldn’t spend another minute in such a corrupted place.
Kez = 3; African Border Corruption = 1
In a few words – Rampant corruption and rubbish lined streets
Language – French and local language
Currency – Guinea Franc (GNF)
WiFi availability – ?
WiFi was almost impossible to find
Transport – ?
? Over-priced and over-crowded shared taxis are available for inner city and intercity trips. Inner city taxis run on a confusing zone system that means you’ll have to swap taxi 2 or 3 times to get to where you want.
? Over-priced, but slightly less squeezy vans are also available for intercity trips
Roads – ?
Roads in Guinea are terrible. Aside from a couple hundred kilometres of road between Boke and Conakry and a 10 kilometre stretch of road before the Sierra Leone border, all roads in Guinea are barely maintained dirt roads.
Scenery – ??⛰??
Green, green and more green! I was mesmerised by the endless greenery and rolling hills while driving through remote areas of the country.
Prices, – ????
Guinea seemed to run on a different mantra to the rest of West Africa; half the service, twice the price. It was by far the most expensive country I encountered, with prices for most things being around double those in Senegal for about 70% less product.
Checkpoints – ???
Most of the country was free of checkpoints, until the road to Guinea-Bissau. The checkpoints served a different purpose than they had in other countries; they were specifically set up to extort money from people.
Border efficiency – ?
Borders are confusing to navigate as there is absolutely zero signage, you generally need to rely on the driver of your vehicle to point you in the right direction.
When entering from Guinea-Bissau, there was only one immigration officer to process a whole carload of people and he had no sense of urgency.
Corruption level – ⚠⚠⚠⚠⚠
Overall – ?
Next up: A welcome oasis of serenity in Sierra Leone