Short Trip into the Guinea Highlands

November 2019: Before this trip, Guinea was a country I knew little about. I had never met anyone from there, nor had I met a traveler who had been there before. What I did discover about it during my research is that Guinea has one of the largest bauxite reserves in the world-needed for steel production. Despite Bauxite and a wealth of other natural resources, Guinea is extremely poor and is plagued with military coups and government corruption.

My friend and I had three full days in Guinea, and I wanted to get out of the capitol, Conakry and into the highlands to get a proper feel for the country. So, I worked with a fixer in Guinea to arrange a vehicle, driver and French speaking guide.

 

 

Where is Guinea

Map of Guinea

We arrived in Conakry in the early afternoon from Abidjan. Our initial impression of the country was not a good one. The airport was chaotic, hot and we were commonly asked for donations by government officials and pretty much everyone inside the airport. My friend’s pre-planned driver never showed up and so we found a taxi. 

 

Sheraton Hotel Infinity Pool

Our hotel was the Sheraton, the nicest hotel in the country, located on the ocean. Being that Guinea is not a touristy country, the hotel attracts mostly business types who are in town to procure shady government mining or military contracts. Lots of top brass military figures were present in the hotel wearing full uniform while entertaining guests some young girls at the bar. My favorite part of the hotel was the infinity pool looking out over the ocean. As soon as we arrived, I raced out into the pool with a cocktail in hand to watch the sun set. The view was spectacular over the Gulf of Guinea. 

 

As is always the case in my travels, I do not have time to relax. I just arrived in Guinea and was soaking in the infinity pool when our guide for the following day showed up at the hotel to discuss the trip. He didn’t speak English, so I had to use a French translation app on my phone to communicate with him. The plan was to leave early the next morning and the area we were going was very exploratory. We also had to map our departure from Conakry around any potential violent anti-governmental protests that have been becoming more frequent because of allegations of corruption in the parliamentary elections. 

Off to the Highlands

Our car was nothing to brag about. It was a basic sedan with bald tires. Like many African cars, it came with its own unique operating instructions that only the driver was familiar with and there was only one removable window roller handle for the entire car. The roads once out of Conakry were horrendous. We drove for 3 hours in the direction of Kindia before arriving at a turn off down an even worse road for 1.5 hours to the village of Samaya. The road ran parallel to a river that had become widened to form more of a lake-Samaya Lake- because of a dam that was built by the French in the 1950’s. We eventually arrived at the roads end, where a few villagers were waiting around. This was where we would wait to catch a ferry boat to go to the other side of the lake. We left the vehicle behind and set off on the small wooden pirogue boat with an outboard motor and ten other villagers. The man that drove the motor stood in the back of the boat looking out for any obstacles in the water. After dropping off some of the villagers at the small village of Kaporo, we took the boat to a cluster of large rocks in the middle of the lake and went for a much-needed swim in the tropical heat. Relaxing in the water in the shade beneath the rocks felt really good for an hour or so. Then we headed back to the other side of the lake near Kaporo village, where we had dropped off the villagers earlier, some with motorbikes. On that side of the lake there were no roads and cars, just motorbikes to get around. The village also did not have any electricity. The lake was remote and surrounded by sheer granite bluffs. The people in the villages were not used to having visitors and were incredibly friendly and happy to receive us. We set up our campsite on the rocky shore of the lake and set off to explore the area and visit the villagers.

Our campsite on a lake in the highlands on Samaya Lake

A foot long king scorpion on the path

As we were walking through mixed fields of crops and forest, I saw one of the villagers attacking something on the ground with a machete. I knew right away by the ferocity of the villagers attempt to kill the whatever it was on the ground, that it was going to be something that holds great interest to me. I wasn’t mistaken. It was a giant black king scorpion almost the size of my hand. A villager did his best to push me away from it in order to protect me, but little did he know that I love these types of creatures and he and the village kids were amused when I laid down on the ground in front of the venomous scorpion to grab a photo of it. After I took a photo, the man with a machete finished killing it. The scorpion was venomous and can cause a really bad fever if somebody is bitten, I was told. 

Me posing with the Kaporo village chief

The village was ecstatic to see us, and I shared some food with them. The women showed us how they make cassava by grounding it up and we played with random hide and seek games with the kids. The people like much of Guinea were a mix of Christian, animist and Muslim. Despite their religious differences they lived peacefully with one another. The highlight of the village was playing with the kids, all who had the biggest, most genuine and innocent smiles. 

Village kids Welcoming Us

Village kids Welcoming Us

Village kids Welcoming Us

Village kids Welcoming Us

Village houses

After visiting the village, we followed a village kid walking his goat back to our campsite on the edge of the lake. 

Village shepherd 

At our campsite we watched the sun set over the lake, cooked dinner and shared our food with a few local fishermen. Then we sat out in the open watching a Quentin Tarantino movie-the hateful Eight on Richard’s iPad. The villagers were glued to the movie. They didn’t have electricity and likely have seen few movies and here they were watching possibly a movie with all of the gore and sex of the Hateful 8. They visibly winced in every gore scene. Even though they didn’t understand English, they were mesmerized by the movie. I couldn’t help but to feel a little guilty for showdown corrupting them. 

Our boatman who watched the Hateful Eight with us

I woke up early and the lake with its morning mist was a photographer’s paradise. I watched as the villagers paddled out in their wooden boats to fish. Somehow with the limited cell reception, we managed to receive a message that our flight had changed and was now leaving early in the morning instead of the evening. It was a good thing we received this message because we would have missed our flight otherwise. We called ahead to have anew driver come earlier to pick us up later in the afternoon. 

Morning on the lake

Fishing Eagles and other birds were common

Fisherman

Morning on the lake

After having a very basic breakfast of instant coffee and omelet with a baguette, with set off to hike up a ridge to swim in a waterfall. 

Village Lady carrying her vegetables and baby

On the trail we passed a beautiful topless woman with a machete harvesting her fields with a baby on her back, while 3 of her other children played in the field next to her. She greeted us with a warm and contagious smile. Then we continued hiking up a mountain ridge passed some forest and into tall grasslands. We eventually arrived to a small, secluded waterfall and went for a swim. it wasn’t easy to relax in the stream with the small fish that would nip at your feet whenever you stop moving. 

Waterfall

Village lady taking a break to smile at me while working her fields

Village lady taking a break to smile at me while working her fields

In the afternoon our new driver arrived to pick us up and take us back to the Sheraton in Conakry where I once again was able to watch a sunset in the infinity pool to my heart’s desire. Early the next morning we had just enough time before our departure flight to Senegal to visit a circus training center-Keita Fodeba Centre for Acrobatic Arts. The center was founded in 1998 and it recruits street children and youth to train in acrobatics and contortionism, who practice every day in the hopes of eventually earning a position in a foreign traveling circus. Some have toured internationally in Europe and North America and have sought to work with Cirque du Soleil and other acts.  In return for the training at the center, if one of the circus hopefuls lands a contract at a foreign service, a percentage of their wages goes to the training center. Evidently it is a common thing for trainers to be hired in international circus shows.

We arrived at the training center, a metal building drenched in thick humid air with 30 or so street kids in the middle of training. The circus hopefuls instantly redirected their attention to us as we watched in the corner. The scene of African drumming, dancing, singing held in conjunction with acrobatics and a midget man running on top of a ball was outstanding. At the end we left a tip for the performers, in a basket.

Circus Training Center

Little Man Balancing on a Ball

African drums

The highlight and the most disturbing part of the training was the contortionist who managed to bend his head backwards likely because of some kind of ability to voluntarily dislocate his joints. We were told that this man already landed a contract and was off to Europe to join a traveling circus. 

Circus Training Center-Contortionist 

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