Sunday, 14 January 2007

Long road from Labe to Kedougou, Senegal

Walking down to the restaurant, I felt rather sad to be leaving Gianni behind; we'd had such a great few weeks travelling! I got to the restaurant at 8am and waited half an hour for the waitress to turn up. She & I walked up to the gare routiere for Kedougou which was just behind the market area, I thought it was further out of town.

We immediately found a very old Peugeot, a normal saloon car that already had a fair bit of luggage and was taking 8 including the driver; I wasn't too keen on it, only due to the fact I was becoming aware of Guinean roads and realising I could spend a few days crossing the border in it. Added to which they only had 2 passengers, it could have been a long wait to find some others. We moved on and I found a 4WD pick up, this one needed 3 more passengers to be full. I was offered the price of 80,000FG, and decided to pay for 2 seats but asked the driver for my place(s) in the front. I would now be sitting with the driver and one other, instead of 4 of us jammed in the front. The waitress & I went off to a cafe and had breakfast together, she told me of a few places to stay in Kedougou and the fact she trusted my driver.

We waited for another person to appear, I sat around taking various pictures of people coming and going to the market. Eventually at 11.30am a guy turned up and paid but then started complaining that he would have to sit in the open back and not in the front seat. Two of the women had gone off to the market so they all decided at 12pm to go to the mosque and pray before setting off; I wandered back to the market, did a bit of last minute shopping ensuring I had enough water for every eventuality! Getting back to the vehicle at 1pm, the situation was the same, the two women were nowhere to be seen and the driver was getting highly irratated by it. He seemed a very calm and friendly but the only two other women in his vehicle were trying his patience. He moved the 4WD and suddenly the two women appeared, at 2.30pm we finally set off with 18 of us on board! I thought Gianni had probably already made it to Kindia by now, I was still stuck in Labe!!!
Leaving Labe, we went on a good piste which continued for quite a way, there was one difficult bit of it going down a very steep rocky hill which had us all hanging on! Somewhere in the region of Missira we stopped for a break. The geologist, a Guinean working in Senegal, sitting behind me was fascinated by my map and had everyone else pouring over it whilst I pointed out village names to them. Further on the bush turned more to forest and we kept encountering monkeys along the way. Continuing on we passed two broken down vehicles along the way both asking for help by contacting the mechanics in Koumbia. Just as we entered the town, there was a massive noise from below and screams from the baggage guy, our fuel tank had fallen off and all the diesel we had bought in Labe was pouring down the road!

We all got out, this could be a serious setback, the driver, baggage guy and a few others were under the vehicle. I sat on a rock hoping for good news, we were incredibly lucky to have broken down on the edge of Koumbia and not in the middle of nowhere like the others. The two women disappeared again and the driver groaned, apparently off to see if they could buy chickens (to add to the two large boxes of stacked eggs we had on board!). After half an hour of fiddling the tank was 'fit' to be carefully driven to Koumbia and the mechanics.Getting into the centre, I was immediately spied upon by some young boys, all about 10-12 who were fascinated that they had a blanc in town! After endless questioning they left to be replaced by a group of girls who sat a few feet away from me. One or two were very keen to talk, the others were incredibly shy. Then, a first for me, a group of goats came over to see the 'blanc' - I couldn't stop laughing, nor could my friends on the 4WD particularly the geologist.
Just as it was getting dark the repair had been done and we all loaded back into the vehicle and set off again. The road from Koumbia was appalling in parts, large rocks protruding, very narrow parts of the road. At 11pm we stopped in Salambande, a small village where the village women were ready to cook us all some supper, everyone full, we set off again. A few times the road was safe enough to get out of first gear and actually pick up speed, but most of the time we were making very slow progress, passing lots of villages with people coming out to ask for a free lift to the border (they were ignored!).

At 2am, I was still awake with the man next to me in the middle seat, asleep, occasionally trying to use my shoulder as a pillow! The driver told me that he was too tired and we'd have to pull up for the night. I was pleased in a way as I'd seen his eyes drooping a few times and the road wasn't going to be kind to those who made mistakes. We went up a long, steep escarpment and reached Balaki, there was a large open space with a few houses around and a truck parked there with the people from the truck sleeping on benches in the open air.

I asked the driver if I could stay in the cab, he told me to share the back seat with one of the women. After trying to sleep for an hour I crept out and went to join some of the others who'd made a fire. I was still tired, so climbed on the bench next to a few bodies covered in light blankets with my head near the fire. I found a small boy was next to me, he moved towards me for heat and the two of us tried to sleep, he was shivering and felt very very cold! By 5am I got up having been woken by a second truck arriving and climbed onto the top of the 4WD to get another piece of clothing I had for children out of my pack, a long-sleeved jumper with 'Beckham' written on it, it used to belong to little Shannon in France; and gave it to him. His mother was estatic when she woke up and he looked like a Cheshire Cat in his new top!
Most people were milling around by 6am, at 7am they all went off to pray and we were told to get going. The two trucks had come from Senegal and were headed for Labe, I told the guys in our pick-up that they were the same type of trucks I'd used to get over the Guinea-Bissau border, they looked at me in complete astonishment & disbelief!
We got to the Guinean border; everyone got out and I was told to do the same by the guy next to me. I said, no, I'd say in the car until the soldiers told me to do something. A soldier came over and asked me to get out, I replied in English that I didn't understand and the driver looked at me like I'd gone mad, but then realised what I was up to. I went over to the border hut with my passport out and was told not to go into the hut with the others but wait outside by one officer who spoke some English. Called in, I continued my mis-understanding of French and they stamped my passport without a word, smiled and asked me to come back to Guinea one day. Their friendliness was a complete contrast to the other military I'd encountered, I told the geologist what had happened before and then went to talk to the officer. In French I explained why I'd been so bolshy and difficult, he was charming and got the senior gendarme there to listen to what I had to say. They were both shocked and explained that the military in Guinea didn't have the right to ask for money from foreigners; they took down a few details and said they would pass the information on; particularly the policeman's behaviour towards Gianni before Dabiss.We got to a village a few kilometres on, apparently we were still in Guinea. We had breakfast at 9am, changed some Guinean Francs for CFA and headed onto the Senegalese border. This border at Fongolembi was a lot more 'up-market' in terms of equipment & the hut with electricity. The guy in charge was another case, he asked everyone in turn for their Yellow Fever certificates and then asked for my passport. Firstly he accused me of not having exited Senegal until I pointed out my stamp at M'Pack, he asked for my Yellow Fever certificate, then my driving licence. Next he grilled me as to why I was re-entering Senegal and exactly where I was going. Still not content, he asked me for my AIDS certificate; at this point the driver stepped in and said he was being over-zealous. I asked him when he last saw an AIDS certificate from a foreigner, he ignored me and asked for money. I asked him for his AIDS certificate and he laughed at me, I told him that there wasn't any chance of getting money from me; the driver was getting a bit worried for me by now but I got up and walked out of the hut telling the guy to keep my passport and yellow fever certificate ... I went back to the car. Within seconds he came rushing out calling me and I stood my ground and asked him what the problem was, he handed me my passport and YF certificate and went back to deal with the others who didn't have a few bits of documentation on them. I stood by the pick-up laughing with the others over the drama he'd caused when suddenly he called me back in; looking very sheepish he asked me to open my passport to ensure he'd written '07 and not '06 on my entry stamp!!!
We headed on, the road to Kedougou wasn't bad initially then a chimpanzee crossed our road, I was thrilled, we all gasped in amazement as this big chimp shot across our path! We looked for others but couldn't see any, but there were lots of colonies of monkeys around! The road then got atrocious, downhill, very rocky we went incredibly slowly with the 4WD in action and the baggage guy walking ahead of us moving rocks out of the way on occasion. Eventually we joined the main Kedougou road, a piste that was flat and very easy to drive on, our driver put his foot down and we sped the final few kilometres to the Gambia River crossing and the edge of Kedougou, as we crossed the river, we could see a few hippos further downstream.

Arriving in Kedougou we were immediately jumped upon by a lot of taxi touts who saw me and opened the door; I grabbed the handle, shut it quickly and turned to the driver saying 'take me back to Guinea' - the difference in attitude & aggressiveness between the two countries is incredible and I wasn't happy to be back in Senegal. We unloaded the eggs and other goods people had bought in Guinea and left them at the gare routiere we headed across town to customs who checked the pick-up over and weren't happy that we didn't have anything to declare!!! Getting back to the gare routiere, the driver told me to leave my stuff in the pick-up as he would personally drive me to my auberge. Saying goodbye to him & the baggage guy was sad, they'd been so good to me and I felt it was my last link with Guinea ...

1 comment:

Cindy Johnston Feldbauer said...

Very interesting. My son is in Keougou with the Peace Corps, it's very exciting for me to hear news of the area. I'm looking forward to visiting him in early 2013. I am somewhat apprehensive of the extreme differences in culture and also the heat!