Guinea: A Gem in Africa
Getting Around Guinea
“What do you mean the car isn’t full?” I asked the chauffeur in Pulaar. I was peering inside the Renault station wagon commonly known as a sept place in Senegal because it seats seven passengers plus the driver. As the dark interior shifted and human shapes became apparent, I felt a mixture of horror and admiration at the twelve people they had managed to cram inside the car. My friend and I grudgingly agreed to get in because we had no other choice unless we wanted to walk through Guinea. We squeezed and shuffled our shoulders and legs into the middle seat, making fourteen of us in the car. Four people in the front, four people in the middle, three people in the back, and three children scattered about wherever their limbs would fit. Not to mention the three teenage boys who scampered like monkeys up the mountain of baggage stacked double the height of the car onto the roof. It became very clear to me that I was not in Senegal anymore.
In the last three weeks I spent in Guinea, there were times when I said to myself, “That’s it, I give up. I’m out of here! Back to Senegal, where at least the roads look like roads and the number of people inside the car is reasonable.” But then we would teeter around another hairpin turn and shadowy mountains would appear through a gap in the tropical forest, cropped like a postcard by hanging vines and giant red flowers. Between the mountains and cliff side where we drove not inches from a 200-foot drop into a luscious-looking gorge, miles of palms, mangoes, and shrubs with big fan-like leaves undulated like some great verdant ocean. The only break would be a red rock formation, its glistening face covered in vines and moss, dark crevices just visible in the distance, almost daring me to turn back.
That’s the thing about Guinea. It’s a contradiction, or perhaps more accurately, an old lover you can’t quite let yourself quit. Your car will break down and you will wait five hours while the chauffeur tinkers under the hood with nothing but a pair of pliers and a jug of water. The ATM machines will be out of service and it will seem as if a market brawl has broken out inside the bank. A gendarme official, ruined by too much authority under a non-functional government, will harass you for no reason at all. Then, just when you think you’ve had enough, just when you swear you can’t take one more mishap, Guinea bats her lashes and promises to behave. So you stay.
Guinea’s Natural Landscape
And you’ll be happy you did. Her beauty radiates in raw forests unexplored by anyone but savvy locals and the truly adventurous traveler. Hidden waterfalls abound, tucked like treasures among rock formations you can’t quite believe are of this world. The people, friendly and curious because travelers rarely venture to Guinea, will offer one of their plentiful fruit varieties, from avocados to papayas to bananas. And just as you offer a smile, right when you emerge from the icy cold blast of the waterfall hidden behind vines, right when you fall in love and forget everything she’s done, it will happen all over again.
And so it goes with Guinea. Woe to the traveler who doesn’t make it to this gem of a country in West Africa. Guinea is not for the faint of heart, the queasy stomach, or the inexperienced traveler. But if you do make it, be sure to have your camera ready and your patience prepared. Be warned, she is dangerous and magical, and she will steal your heart. At least, I can say she has certainly stolen mine.
Whitney Jenkins, raised a country girl on her family’s cattle ranch in Nebraska, has always had a taste for adventure. After graduating from Creighton University with a degree in creative writing, she joined the Peace Corps. Now she lives in Senegal and works with local farmers propagating fruit tree orchards as a way to make her local community more sustainable. Whitney’s talents include singing with her mouth closed, disturbingly accurate impersonations of Jay Leno, and finding the magic in every place she goes, including Guinea.