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999 Days Around Africa: The Road Chose Me
Guinea, as far as I can tell, is a land made for waterfalls. With huge rocky mountains, immense rainfall (it’s capital Conakry is second in wordwide rainfall only to the capital of neighboring Sierra Leon) and the beginnings of all the mighty rivers of West Africa. Virtually every valley contains waterfalls impressive enough that anywhere else in the world there would be viewing platforms, safety fences and hordes of tourists. Here in Guinea, there is only very narrow jungle/mountain tracks and endless wilderness, occasionally populated by a small village of friendly people. Safety fences are nowhere to be seen, and I love hanging my toes over the edge
I make it a mission to visit ever more remote falls, which offer great places to camp for free, and a chance to add some pinstripes to the side of the Jeep on the narrow tracks. Sitting at a roadside restaurant eating the now staple of “rice with sauce”, I’m a little shocked to see kids playing with an empty cardboard box with “Gift of Canada” printed on the side. Nobody here can read English, so they have no idea what it says. I gather the contents of the box have been used in the village.
Changing money on the black market in Guinea nets an exchange rate about 30% better than official, and leads to some funny interactions. I stop at the entrance to a larger town, where a man immediately comes to my window waiving a massive wad of cash – millions and millions of Guinean Francs (worth maybe a thousand Euros). There are so many stacks the friendly guy can barely hold them all. Although the street is busy, there is no concern of robbery. He’s in the open with all of this money, without a care.
He is very intent on getting my business, so after lots and back and forward with a calculator I purchase 1.3 million Francs. It feels great to be a millionaire, though less so when I spend four hundred thousand on a tank of gas. It’s common practice to stack 10,000 notes into bundles of 100,000 and the rare 20,000 notes into bundles of 200,000. When I hand over the bundles, the guy pumping gas doesn’t bother to count the individual notes, only bundles. He trusts I didn’t cheat him.
On a whim, I decide to drive up into the mountains in the far North West corner of Guinea, to a town confusingly called Maliville. From there, I will be able to see both Senegal and Mali at the same time, though to get there I have to drive a road that even locals are calling horrible.
This should be good