Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Going to Bel-Air...or not

Every 6 weeks we have a long weekend - meaning we are off on that Friday. These extra days allow us to go further than the city limits. Traveling is not so easy as you will see; traffic, bad roads, broken down vehicles, police checks, 'African Time'...etc. all factors that make 2 day trips unpleasant - the only thing you would remember is sitting in the car (driving or waiting).

This was our last long weekend with a dear friend who is leaving soon, so we joined a group of people who had a plan. We would leave at noon on Friday (thank you, we can sleep in!), hop into a big car, drive 3 hours and go to Bel-Air, a nice resort along the coastline, NW from Conakry, stay there for 2 nights and be back for dinner on Sunday. Sounds fabulous, right? Well, this is what really happened... :)

If you go with a group, somebody will always be late; it's just the nature of traveling in a group. We walked out of the port around 12.45. The driver (amazing!) was there, waiting for us. So the negotiations began. And went on... and on... and on... and... We were standing just outside of the port burning, a bunch of white people with huge backpacks. I suppose we did contribute to the already bad traffic - people stopped their cars and were staring at us, guess they thought we were lost - as in lost in the wrong continent! Guinea is not your typical tourist destination, the only white peeps they see here are either International Aid workers, French entrepreneurs or those in the mining business; none of them would walk unless absolutely necessary, they rather drive around in big fancy 4x4 vehicles. 

Needless to say the negotiation went slowly, it included the almost compulsory 'walk away' tactic, raising of voice, lots of calculations, shoving cell phone displays into each other's face to show numbers and all that of course in many different languages. Our guys didn't speak French, the drivers didn't speak English and some didn't even speak French, just their tribal languages. We had many offers and as you can expect, people started to gather around Darren and Josh and the local drivers. By 13.30 they reached a mutually acceptable price so we were on our way: 6-6 people in 2 cars. A bit crowded, but with the windows open it might have been a nice drive, you'd think, except we were stuck in traffic. This is not your usual Friday afternoon traffic, no, sir. It's Mosque Time, Mohammed! Their version of our 'Sunday Service' a.k.a. Jumu'ah (instead of the regular Dhuhr prayer after every lunch) is obligatory for ALL Muslims of sound mind above the age of puberty who are residents of a large town or city with a mosque. That means ca. 2 million people in Conakry alone.

The next challenge was the fuel. As customary here, drivers keep their tanks just a little under ZERO. Hiring a car means you pay one amount for the driver for his work, one amount for the usage of his car and one amount for the gas/petrol/fuel/benzin wherever you are coming from. Driving while being below zero is a miracle in itself, but when we pull up to our first stop at the local gas station the driver says we need 50 litres. According to our estimations this car has a 25-30L tank. Imagine our surprise when the counter easily went all the way up to 50L! We paid and finally we were on the road!

When you have 4 adults in the back it's inevitable that somebody sits halfway on the door, which (surprise, surprise) doesn't lock. Oh well, I guess I just need to hold on tight to... well, whatever is not a moving part in this junk.

We drove by plenty of local markets. Here is a brief list of some of my favourite items you can purchase there - from the car even! (will have a separate blog just of market pictures)
  • baguettes - I suppose it's the French influence. They are yummy! 
  • plastic buckets in all sizes - all with funky, stripy colours
  • livestock - goats, sheep, chicken, sad looking cows, parrots (???)
  • black plantains - gone bad days ago
  • carpets (Muslim prayer carpets of course)
  • third-hand clothes and shoes
  • cars and car parts
  • nuts - mostly on ladies heads
  • spices packed in small see through plastic bags (they DO look like drugs)
  • everything in small packages (from coffee to washing powder)
  • 'fresh' meat - head and featherless chicken, half a cow, fish caught last week 
  • yellow plastic buckets for transporting fuel - or just simply empty coke bottles for the same purpose
  • tiled toilette seats stands
  • wooden bed frames - the word kitsch comes to mind, not sure, why...
  • fried fish section - you know it by the smell
  • other fried food items
  • wooden sculptures polished with black shoe polish to shine and to pass as ebony
  • electrical devices - homemade extension cords in nice colours, DVD players, cell phones
  • vegetables - some of them I have never heard of or seen before
  • the latest 'original' DVDs - all 10 Street Fighter movies on 1 disc! :)
  • colourful flip flops in all shape, coulour and style
  • perfumes - though I don't know why anybody would bother, we all have the very distinctive Eau De Afrique smell ( basically we all stink) 
An hour later we stopped to stretch our legs a bit. I got out of the car only to realise we stopped right in front of the Barack Obama University. Really??? I mean we all know he is popular in Africa and all (up to a point that 4 years ago when he was elected they declared a national holiday for celebration in Uganda for sure, but I wouldn't be surprised if elsewhere, too). Technically we were still in Conakry where fotte-s (white people) are fined for taking pictures JUST BECAUSE, but I just had to snap this sign!

We got back to the car and were stopped by the police after 2 minutes. I thought it's the usual, but behold, they stopped the traffic so they could fill up a big hole on the road with sand. A-M-A-Z-I-N-G! For 1, they don't want bribe, for 2, this is the first time I see them doing some work and for 3 they are working on a bad road!

Finally we got out of town and soon started to see some mountains not too far ahead. The road is surprisingly good, but 4 in the back is still too tight. After a good few hours nothing is comfy any more, there is no good position for your bums, feet and/or legs. I asked the driver for another stretch break. Man, it felt gooood! The 2 boys turned their backs to us to take care of business on the side of the road, so me, as a girl had the privilege to go off the road, walk uphill until I could hide behind the bush. The driver yelled after me, I turned around. He said something I couldn't understand, but I could certainly decipher his arm movements: snakes. Yikes! I started clapping and making noise as I walked. The real risk comes when you squat and lower your body, but really, what can you do when nature calls? Of course there was a breeze right away that made all the leaves around me rustle and I tried hard not to freak out (too much) :)

It's good we stopped as it turns out we missed our turn. Now we need to drive back till we get to the proper side road. Yeah, right. There is a small opening in the bush-wall and you can see brown/red dirt on the ground. Yup, that' the road to the ocean! We embrace ourselves for a bumpy dirt-road driving, which could be extremely fun in a 4x4 landy, not so pleasant in an already low hanging overweight car. I sat with my legs facing the window and my fingers curled up around the roof of the car - from the outside. Really bad road + full car = lots of belly scratching for poor car. We could often even feel it, not just hear the painful sounds of car floor meeting dirt road. Drinking became an extreme sport, even with the spill-stops on our water bottles. Needless to say we got dehydrated fast. Speaking of water, there were huge puddles along the way, too. It's always risky to drive through them: you quite literally never know how deep the rabbit hole goes...

There were thousands of weaver birds on the top of palm trees; they made lots of noise as they were building nests and fighting for the best branches. They painted the blue sky and green trees yellow! Among the green lush from time to time you could spot some mud huts with cute kids and half naked ladies waving towards us. They kept shouting 'fotti' at us and when you shout back 'fore' (black person) they laugh even harder. I wonder what they think of us: instead of our own 4x4s with tinted glass and A/C we are cramped into this vehicle, the windows are down and we actually greet them back!

Finally we arrive to our weekend getaway place... (TBC)


Anonymous said...

Never thought blogging could be soo fun and interesting. Man you know how to do it brother.

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