There’s a gap between the time when we left Senegal and the time when we got to Mali. Here’s what happened.

We headed down to Bissau, the capital of Guinea-Bissau. At the border crossing we ran into a Swiss gentleman (the only other whitey around) who told us about his hostel in Bissau. Once across, we spent a lot of time waiting in a little bus full of other passengers, wooden benches and something that smelled very bad. It wasn’t filling u, so we got a seven-seater van to ourselves and took off. Not much in Bissau works or looks nice, except for the embassies of Russia and China.

The rest of the town is crumbling. It seems that no maintenance has been done anywhere in the capital since independence. The government doesn’t even provide electricity – every place has its own generator. We walked around the sleepy town. It’s pretty nice in its faded glory. One of the coolest things is the former presidential palace that was bombed out in the civil war and then just abandoned there at the edge of a huge plaza at the top of town. You can walk through the decrepit, empty rooms. It looked like a set someone had designed, it was such a perfect ghostly leftover. There’s no explanations or people to guide you around it either. Just some bats in the huge hall on the second floor.

It was in the hostel that we met Erik. He’s a Norwegian traveller who was going from Dakar to Lagos. We went out with him that night to a few bars in the company of some Portuguese policemen (there to train the local police force). The nightlife was nothing special.

The next morning Erik left for Guinea, promising to tell us how it was. We were unsure how easy it was to travel there. We spent another day because we were going to catch a boat to the Bigajos islands off the coast there. They are supposed to be a beautiful set of islands that is a natural reserve. The problem is that they are difficult to get to. There’s only on or two boats a week going back and forth. We were on the point of getting a ticket for the boat when we suddenly thought about how much tim we will be spending on a boat (a much, much nicer one) sailing to beautiful islands in the Caribbean. So, we ditched the idea and took off for Guinea.

The ride from Gabu, Guine-Bissau, to Labe, Guinea, was one of the worst car rides I’ve ever been on. It started with haggling for a price at the gare-voiture in Gabu. A syndicate patron made us pay for all nine seats in the seven-seater. We thought he was cheating us, but it turns out that in Guinea the same cars that are overstuffed with seven in G-B carry nine passengers in Guinea. We finally left after two other passengers showed up. The road was okay until the border, then it rapidly declined. It was muddy, rutted and washed out to varying degrees. Some potholes were bigger than the whole car. Our driver was pretty skilled at never stopping in the muddy ruts that we fishtailed up. Other cars didn’t even attempt them. Our driver stopped in one town to get dinner. The “chef” there served spaghetti with his hand. The driver didn’t stop there where we could have slept in a hotel. Instead, he went to some farmhouse-cum-truckstop in the middle of nowhere and tells us he’s going to sleep for six hours. We had to make due in the car itself. No bed, no mosquito net and no love lost for our driver. As the next day dawned, we headed on, stiff and grumpy from our fitful rest. Finally we made it to Labe, a distance of 100 km covered in about 24 hours.

We stayed the next night in Labe to recuperate. From there we organized some guides to take us hiking in the Fouta Djalon, the homeland of the Fula people. We had some pretty good pizza in the next hotel over from ours. It was served by perhaps the only gay man in Guinea, who must be a lonely fellow indeed.

The guides (well, one guide and one porter) picked us up in the morning, took a long time to get groceries and then took us out to a town called Pita. From Pita we went to a village called Douki. That little trip took several hours of waiting around, watching guys tie the same pair of chickens in various different places on the outside of the car. they ended up hanging upside down off the hatchback.

We get to Douki, where the Lonely Planet recommends super-guide Hassan Bah. As we walk up to his village, Hassan is there to greet us. “Oh, you’re friend’s here waiting for you,” he says in his near-perfect English. Our friend? And there, under one of the huts is Erik, chilling on a hammock.

He was on his way out, but we convince him to stay another day to go hiking with us. Luckily he did. We had a great time hiking with Hassan. All of his hikes are named and we did Hyena Rock, Wet and Wild and Indiana Jones together. We let our other guides go because Hassan Bah is the man. It was on one of the hikes that Andrew invited Erik to come with us on the Atlantic crossing. Erik comes from a long line of sea-going men and he was really excited about the possibility of coming with us. It meant a big change in his travel plans fro West Africa, but he was going to see what he could do to change tickets et cetera to make it all work.

He left the next day. We did a hike called “chutes and ladders” which was described by our guide as “Guinea’s AT in one day”. The “ladders” were bundles of wooden poles tied together with pieces of bark or something. It was sketchy to say the least and Andrew did not like it at all. The rest of the hike was very cool though, passing through villages and up and don the high cliff wall of the rift valley there.

We left the next day, having eaten nothing but carbs the whole three days we stayed there. It was another series of uncomfortable car rides until we finally got out of a compact car with eight people in it.

The next day we got a ride into Kankan and took the best ride we’d had into Bamako.

And now you’re caught up.

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