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No.90 Cycling in Guinea – friendliness, colors and monsoon

Oct 17, 2019 | Africa, Blog, Guinea

Guinea was different – Guinea was great.

What I liked most about Guinea were the people. Friendly and unintrusive. Almost no begging. Pure relaxation. But to make things clear, Guinea wasn’t a walk in the park either.

The border station was in a total no man’s land, where one puddle ended, and the next began. The border guard was sitting in a bamboo hut and welcomed me warmly. (MAP with the route)

From then on, I had more and more rain, especially at night. The rains were torrential, lasting for hours but bringing with them a welcome change as the intense heat I had been experiencing became less of a problem.

Guinea, or rather Guinea Conakry as the Africans call it, was once a French colony.

So, my daily, complex conversations were once again: “Bonjour, ca va?” “Ca va bien! “Hello, how are you? I’m fine” because neither many of the villagers nor I could say much more than that.

The road from the border in Guinea-Bissau to Boke, the first city in Guinea, was almost flat, with only a few small hills, but nothing that would have stopped me from moving forward.

But I took my time. The people deserved it. We laughed, we danced, and we tried to communicate with our hands and feet.

Right from the start, I was fascinated with the beautifully painted houses, childlike, but they seem to fit with my idea of what is Africa. Guinea felt African. Of course, others have their ideas of what Africa is supposed to be.

“Fote, Fote,” the children shouted and clapped hands at the roadside when they saw me. It was so very cute. As always, I was called white man.

“Fote, Fote” without the addition of begging, and that was what made Guinea so great. Honest joy to see me without ulterior motives. They danced, they laughed, and I was happy about it as if I was a child myself again.

When I jumped back and forth on the pedals, they almost freaked out with enthusiasm, and more and more children cheered me on.

“Fote, Fote” all day long.

As in Guinea-Bissau, I continued sleeping in schools. Dry and a little outside of the villages, I could sleep most of the time, away from the village noises.

Only the rain showers at night were super loud, heavy rain on a tin roof gives you the feeling the roof will collapse at any minute.

Women sometimes reached for their boobies and pointed at me, asking if I was a woman or a man. I found this direct and open communication quite fun.

I wonder about almost nothing here; none of their questions were surprising as it was very clear in these remote villages that a woman showing up on a bicycle from a faraway place was not an everyday occurrence.

Their questions and confused view of me were not something new to me. In Senegal, for example, when women shook their boobs back and forth in their hands and pointed to a child, it was clear that they were the mother of the child.

Or when they pointed at me, they wanted to know if I had children.

Like elsewhere, there was at least one well in every village. In Guinea, pumping is done by foot, not by hand.

I filled my bottles and drank the water without filtering. The wells are sealed off in concrete, obviously installed by NGOs, and appear to present little risk.

So far, I have had no problems. Many tourists rely on being able to purchase bottled water, but in these remote areas,’ locals can’t afford it, and with hardly any tourists passing through, it is rarely even sold.

If water is sold, it is in small plastic bags. These are sometimes served with food orders and included in the 30 cents you often pay for a meal.

But I only drink from the wells anyway; we already have enough plastic trash everywhere.

Normal house flies were uncountable – luckily mosquitoes were few. West Africa is a high-risk area for malaria, and I don’t take prophylaxis so, I was happy about this.

If I sat somewhere at a small food stall and some crumbs fell out of my hand, it took about 2-3 minutes before the first ant colonies arrived and cleaned the place up in no time.

But sometimes the chickens were faster, or If the pieces were a little bigger, the goats cleaned up instead.

Sometimes the goats even climbed on the tables and benches to get the leftovers – not to mention that they ate from the bowls and pots when no one was paying attention.

In any case, nothing gets lost here.

While I was sitting there and experiencing the world around me, the cultural contrasts hit me once again. I recently read a post on Facebook, where a German was selling her used Thermomix, a 1000 Euro kitchen appliance, which has supposedly revolutionized cooking.

The ad said that the seller of the Thermomix did not own any pets. Curious, I asked what pets have to do with a Thermomix, the answer was that such displays are now common, because mothers of small children are afraid that the pets may have contaminated the device.

Yes, alright. Looking at the situation around me while reading this, I could only shake my head and think what a crazy world so full of extremes.

I began making a habit of leaving a little rice and sauce on my plate now and then, knowing the children around the shops were allowed to eat what was left.

So, my support was not obvious, and it was not the white woman giving out things, rather only the leftovers I couldn’t eat, that gave me a better feeling and hopefully isn’t a stimulus for begging.

The plates always went straight to the children, who were greedy for them. These areas were poor. Very poor.

I want to say; even if I gave them some leftovers, I was only really doing something for myself; the world hasn’t changed in Africa; the people are still poor.

In every small town, there was a tiny shop, often with only a few biscuits, rice, Maggi stock cubes, tomato paste, sugar, onions.

Fruits or vegetables were rarely available, except in larger towns, and larger towns were rare. Rice from Pakistan, China, or India can be found almost everywhere.

Leaves from manioc or sweet potato plants are cut into small pieces and cooked, adding palm oil, fish, and chilies. Fish is smoked allowing for long term storage. It is then crushed in a meat mincer for sauces and dishes, leaving you always chewing on bones.

If I was lucky, there was also okra sauce or fish in peanut sauce for a change, unfortunately too rare.

The extremely strong tea, as in all the other countries I had ridden through, was now a thing of the past, no one drinks it here. Now there was black tea in bags — milk and sugar and tea water that had a taste of fire.

I enjoyed the tea and coffee stalls. Finally, I could sit down somewhere comfortable and take a break, watch people playing board games or listen to them chatting.

Coziness is otherwise very hard to find, especially during the rainy season.

In larger communities, there was often fresh bread. Sometimes there were beans and fish sauce, or pasta which is processed together with the beans to create a sandwich. It may not sound very yummy, but it is.

Generally, the food is to my liking, but unfortunately always the same, rice and fish with manioc leaves. It is also very spicy, so it always burns twice.

In small villages and out in the countryside, there was only breakfast, unfortunately, rice with sauce, the rest of the day there were only biscuits, or dough balls fried in fat or nothing at all.

Many of the people in the remote areas eat only once a day; there is no money for more.

Boke was a chaotic city, like every other African city so far. Loud, dirty, and one vendors stall after the other. Exhaust fumes and eternally honking horns. But I liked it.

Although I don’t like cities, cities in Africa are the gateway to luxury. A small room for me alone, maybe even running water and electricity for at least 2-3 hours a day.

And there may even be a toilet you can use in the morning without having to hide or having to look desperately for a quiet place to have number two.

Toilets are usually in the middle of the village. A small screen around, which only covers about 80%, because the entrance is open; privacy or coziness does not exist in any case.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to camp away from the villages, because there are people almost everywhere.

Luxury, this term, resides in a different dimension in Africa, still wonderful but not in forms we usually imagine. It can mean sleeping in a room in which no bats are flying around the ceiling at night, or no goats or cows are coming to visit in the dark rooting around the tent.

Luxury may come in the form of a night spent in the tent without spiders or trains of ants seeking out crumbs from my goodnight snack.

But real luxury comes when I’m in cities and finally have a variety of food, something different. But of course, rice and sauce are ubiquitous.

Hotel rooms are small, primitive, and often relatively expensive, sometimes costing up to 20 Euros a night, for many locals almost a month’s wages.

From time to time, the forest was a bit denser, but here, as in Guinea-Bissau, much had already been destroyed. There was nothing left of the former splendor of the rainforest; if so, then maybe a single huge tree, but that was it.

True nature is dead! Everything exploited and destroyed.

Bauxite mining surrounds the city of Boke. Almost no birds and surly no wild animals to speak of. Everything damaged!

The Chinese have set up the mobile phone network, claiming on the signs they leave behind that it is free development aid.

In The Gambia, I had a conversation with a Chinese engineer. According to him, road construction in The Gambia was also development aid. Well, you don’t always have to believe everything you get told.

Traces of China can be found everywhere; several people have even asked if I am Chinese.

The route from Boke to Sangaredi was paved and pleasant to ride. Nice people everywhere. Guinea was fun. No endless discussions, no men were asking me if I wanted to marry them or if I could give them money.

During one of the many nights I slept in schools, I wasn’t alone. In the classroom next door, there were road construction workers. They came from Sierra Leone.

While I slept in my tent and on my expensive 100 Euro sleeping pad, they lay without complaining on the small hard children’s benches without mosquito nets.

At that moment, I was once again aware of what kind of privileged life I live, even if I only have a few bags.

In Sangaredi, I was allowed to sleep on the church grounds for two nights. As always, I try to be a good guest in such moments and so I took part in all the church activities and even had the pleasure to recite a German Christmas song.

I wasn’t able to come up with any other Christian song in a hurry, well nobody noticed it anyway.

The service on Sunday was full of people. On the left the women, on the right the men. Here they sing and clap hands, and the atmosphere is much more relaxed than in our church services, as with everything so far in Africa.

The relaxed way of life pleases me, even if it also contributes in part to some negatives that drive me a bit crazy like garbage and the dirt everywhere.

The people were all very well dressed for the service, which was embarrassing for me because my clothes were not the best again. But luckily, I had at least had the chance to wash them the day before.

From Sangaredi, I pedaled off into the middle of nowhere. A remote area in the direction of Fouta Djallon, the mountains of Guinea. The rain became more and more intense, and the roads worse and worse.

One night I was allowed to sleep with people in their kitchen hut when outside the world seemed like it might come to an end. One thunderstorm chased the other, and I was very impressed that the thatched roof wasn’t leaking.

What surprised me in Guinea was how distant and respectful the people were. I always had my nights to myself, like in Guinea-Bissau, and could sleep in peace without children running around the tent and looking in at what I was doing.

In this area, there were fewer remnants of NGO projects. The people live more isolated than in Gambia or Senegal. Meeting a white woman is not something they frequently experience.

In several instances,’ children ran away from me, screaming. When one boy who had collected a lot of wood and balanced it home on his head saw me, he threw the wood off his head and ran for his life cross-country.

In another instance, four children were in a field. Three stood together, while one boy stood a little away from the others. Upon seeing me, the group began to scream and run away, with the poor boy standing alone soon following on their heels screaming like a banshee.

Tears of fear streaming down his cheeks. I felt sorry for him, but couldn’t do anything but cycling away in a hurry.

Small motorbikes are the taxis in this secluded world. From time to time, a car comes by, but rarely. Moped riders have the extremely annoying habit of honking their horns exactly when they come alongside me. Right in my ear. Every moped, every day, always the same game.

From afar, I saw a little boy inflicted with albinism. It was an exceptional day because the sun shone intensely. The boy walked with his arm raised to protect his eyes. It must have blinded him insanely.

Next to him walked a man wearing a baseball cap. I bought the cap from him and gave it to the boy and tried to make it clear to him that he should wear it from then on. He was only wearing a T-shirt and shorts, and his skin was in a catastrophic condition.

In this remote place called Missira, there was a cultural center created by German development aid. I tried to find the key to the building, but was unsuccessful, as nobody knew where it was. In the end, I found a place to stay overnight at the police station.

The policeman helped me find the parents of the albino boy, and he called them in for a chat. It was interesting that everyone had arrived on time and in large numbers because I had announced that I would like to buy the boy long clothes to protect him from the sun.

Friends of mine have a boy who also suffers from albinism, and so I am a little sensitive about the subject and tried to find out whether the boy needed proper glasses or whether sunglasses were sufficient.

Unfortunately, nothing was available in this remote area; otherwise, I would have just purchased things myself. Trying to put a plan together, the prices for sunglasses, possible doctor’s fees, and long-sleeved clothes were getting out of hand.

I don’t want to do wrong by these people here; it could have been the difficulties in communication, but it seemed that they thought the higher we set the costs, the more money they would get from the white woman. I wanted to help the boy, but the longer we discussed, the more I had a bad feeling.

I also felt as if I was a teacher with little children sitting in front of me looking up to me. I don’t like such things, I want to stand eye to eye with people as equal human beings, but it is often just not possible here. Barriers such as low educational levels and very different cultural backgrounds seem to make this impossible.

I also very often get the feeling that many of these people suffer from inferiority complexes.

Are these still the legacies of the colonial masters, why so many Africans look up to us? Or is it respect for a supposedly rich person who seems to have achieved more than they have? They also look up to rich Africans; everyone who has money in their eyes is supposedly something better.

The questions were, if I give these people money, will the boy get what he needs for his health? Or will the money only be used to buy some everyday things?

Also, would I be encouraging begging, possibly even using this poor boy as bait, terrible thoughts, and probably not even likely in this remote area with few passer-byes?

In the end, I no longer cared about making a mistake or not. I just wanted to help this boy in anyway I could, so I gave the parents a little money hoping it would be well spent, and also that they might have a little more understanding for their boy’s serious situation.

Actually, it seems ridiculous to even mention this story here, but it shows the inner conflicts and struggles I am constantly confronted with.

My heart continues to bleed, I would like to help people improve their lives, but there are so many problems that I don’t have a clue how to solve, and I know I am not the only one who struggles in this way.

In principle, it is also the view of a western woman, because it is questionable whether my thoughts are right when I say that they should improve their lives? Improve what? The prosperity and with it the resulting problems?

Every day I encounter the good sides of Africa. The people are cheerful and mostly very friendly towards me, which is great. Isn’t that what the West is striving for? For happiness and contentment? But are these people here really more satisfied? Hard to say.

Without this cheerful and friendly side of West Africa, I’m pretty sure I would have thrown in the towel long ago, traveling here is in no way a picnic.

I felt comfortable in Guinea; despite all the adverse circumstances, Guinea still gave me many great hours. It wasn’t easy, but nowhere in West Africa is it easy, I’ve understood that by now.

The rains started to annoy me. Nothing had a chance to dry out. My clothes and gear, including my sleeping pad, started to stink disgustingly. Each morning, I put on my clothes still as wet as when I had taken them off the evening before.

My tent had suffered so much from the sand and dirt that I had to sew in the very last of my eight spare zipper sliders some time ago. Now only “Konrads-special glue” (the people who know Pippi Longstocking’s stories know what I mean) helped.

Desperate to keep the mosquitoes out, I glued my lower zipper completely closed. Unfortunately, I barricaded not only the entrance for the insects but also myself, and from then on, I had to do acrobatics to get in and out of my tent.

I always find it very cheeky when companies sell expensive products with specialized parts that you can only get from their company and nowhere else. Really not very helpful when in the African bush.

The road conditions got even worse. Describing them more accurately, they were steep, slippery washed out paths. But thankfully, at the same time, beautiful. Travel had taken on an end of the earth aura, because there was almost nothing here, except many friendly people.

Deforested areas, dead landscape here too, no birds. But ants of all sizes and shapes. There were such big ants that I could hear them walking in the tent at night, when it was exceptionally quiet, crazy, I know, but that’s what it was.

With the roofs leaking, the ceilings in the schools were all moldy, being made of chipboard didn’t help. I knew the biting smell of mold well by now.

Large insects commonly nest on the ceilings, and I have already mentioned the bats. Often the classrooms have no concrete floors, allowing ant avenues to animate the room.

What particularly surprised me were the backpacks left behind, over the holiday breaks, nobody comes into the classroom for months.

Garbage and cigarette butts were scattered everywhere.

Schools are often built with foreign aid, they start in good condition, but why are they left to decay within a few years? Do people see and experience things differently here? What accounts for people being able to live in the dirt easily without wanting to change it?

I also really have to wonder at the wisdom of development aid workers using chipboard for ceilings when they know how often it rains here and how likely it is that the roofs will leak. You don’t always have to understand everything, I guess.

What I also don’t understand is why children are taught math in French? Why can’t they use their language in class so that they at least understand what the teacher tells them? On every blackboard, everything was written in French.

Surely there is no script for some of the local languages, and probably not everyone in the village speaks the same language, but I would like to say that a teacher with his mother tongue can teach more verbally than with French that is hardly understood.

I found members of the Pular tribe here also, as I had almost everywhere since Senegal. However, Susu was the dominant tribe in this area.

What I always find funny is their loud “Aaaeeeehhhh” expression when they are surprised about something.

When locals ask me where I want to go and I tell them the next place, which is maybe 50 kilometers away, they look at me and point to the bike and ask “With this bike?

When I nod, a second later comes an “Aaaeeeehhhh”? So that the whole town knows that the white woman just said something strange.

People are also very loud when they talk to each other. They discuss and argue a lot, both women and men.

As I approached what was alleged to be the main road and the junction to Teleme, I had hoped for better road conditions, but my hopes were in vain; the conditions continued to be catastrophic, although now the road did have a number.

It rained and rained and never stopped. Thunderstorms, heavy rain, and again and again mud or deep puddles. Not surprisingly, water eventually leaked into my panniers;

I’m not sure how my laptop ever survived those days. My bikepacking bags were also all leaking leaving everything wet with no chance of drying.

These conditions started to get on my nerves, and I got fed up with the whole thing: the endless rain, no healthy food, no real conversations, no comfort, no nothing.

A crisis started to roll in, and I noticed how I began to question my time here in West Africa.

Through WhatsApp, I got support from other solo cyclists who are also riding here in West Africa. That helped a lot in between, but it can make you feel even worse when you hear that it still hasn’t gotten any better three countries down the road.

Soaking wet and full of dirt, I arrived at Teleme. A small town surrounded by many hills and beautiful landscapes. I liked the place right away, but the people here were very reserved.

I didn’t get really warm with them; except with two young car mechanics who worked all day long. They worked their asses off and were the happiest.

I spent the night in a small guesthouse. Water was available in a large barrel. Electricity only worked when the generator was on. When the sun came out for about 10 minutes, I tried to get my clothes dry, but in vain, the next shower was already blackening the sky and on its way.

At every accommodation, there were always the same problems. Whether it is in a school or small guesthouses. First, where is the key to the room, and if it could be found, how do you get the door open?

There is rarely a door that can be unlocked easily. But with a few drops of my chain oil, things begin to work well to the surprise of locals ?

Sometimes people were skeptical when I took pictures. “Are you a spy?” they kept asking me.

People were well dressed, and the market at Teleme was full of life. I would have liked to have photographed more, but often people didn’t want it, and I respect that.

Due to the lack of electricity, you can find mobile phone charging stations in many places. Often in the hands of young men who charge the mobile phones of the whole village with diesel generators.

The generator runs all day long, the exhaust fumes polluting the air, and the boys sit right next to it. Just like the sales women sitting on the roadside all day breathing in the diesel exhaust fumes from the trucks. Every day anew.

Entering Kindia was like a reality TV show “absolute super-rain-challenge,” with such massive amounts of water flooding the streets as if it were some creepy living being invading the city.

Kindia, a large city, brought me back to tarmac. Here I took a break. I wanted to escape at least for a short time from the eternal rain and nested myself for a few days in a room.

In the evening, I discovered a white woman in a small restaurant, the first white person for more than four weeks.

I was eager to talk to her, but unfortunately the lady, who is working as a German development aid worker in Guinea, only had about ten minutes.

Five of them were taken to pay her bill.

It almost hurt when she said goodbye and got into the car with her Guinean colleagues. I don’t think she had a clue how much I would have loved to talk to her longer.

She was the first German since Mauritania. I hadn’t spoken German for a whole four months.

One morning I woke up, and the whole room was full of giant flying ants — an invasion. Everywhere, throughout the hotel area – tens of thousands.

Now, I wasn’t far from the border. Something good was I was able to get my visa for Sierra Leone online for $100, so I didn’t have to go all the way to Conakry, the capital of Guinea.

Madina-Oula, (Map) the border town was remote, and the roads were simply in such bad condition very few vehicles used them. Once again, a nice border guard wished me a nice ride.

“Bon Voyage, Madame.”


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  1. A really fascinating, educational post, Heike. I’ve read a lot of positive reports of Guinea (it seems to always be a favourite among long distance cyclists!) but this was the most vividly descriptive for me.

    Guinea has been at the top of my list for a long time and I hope to get there with my bike one day, but the difficulties and mental hardships become more and more clear.

    Enjoy Ghana! I spent a few months there at the end of my teens and long to go back 🙂

    • Wow Vinnie, this is a big compliment!
      Thank you very much….
      Yes, it is not a picnic….
      Thanks for your wishes….
      Best greetings Heike

  2. You are so amazing and brave it is hard to put into words. Having a very high tolerance for discomfort is your strongest suit, besides your empathy and photography. I just bicycle toured from Madrid to Helsinki and I was distraught when I didn’t have good wifi or air conditioning on some nights during the heat wave in Europe. This is a far cry from the travails of your trip. Please be safe.

    • Thank you Burt – great compliment – appreciate it!

      The longer you are on the road – the more you can adapt!
      But West Africa is a rough trail….but I can cycle on – locals can not!

      Best greetings, enjoy the road……Heike

  3. Hello Heike!
    Is West Africa the most difficult part of the world for cycling for you so far?
    It sounds heartbreaking, but it looks wonderful.
    Thank you for your blog, and have safe travels.

    • Hello Marija,

      it is….and I believe it is for most others too….

      Thank you….Cheers Heike

  4. Fascinating read and stunning photography. Thanks again for taking us along. Wishing you good days, good health, and hopefully good food now and then.

    • Thanks for the big compliment and all the nice wishes Ronald…..
      Best greetings from Africa…..Heike

  5. Again Heike just a wonderful post from the wild west of Africa.I salute you and your insight and wit.yes there are some funny bits there despite the ants and the rain.I feels guilty sitting the comfort of the library Pc with a big screen looking at your beautiful pictures.The roads looks so shocking and mud every where.It’s good to see the real Africa thru your eyes and you sharing it with us.

  6. wunderbar. tolle erlebnisse.

  7. Very interesting and self sacrificing. You are a beautiful woman and I am surprised you are not bothered or pestered more in these remote areas. Thank you for taking us along and educating us. Will be watching for more of your adventures!

    • Thank you Wayne.
      Remote areas are always the safest places…no matter where!
      Best greetings Heike

  8. Full of admiration for you, Heike. Beautiful photos. My favourite is of the old man with the two boys. Bless you, Heike.

  9. Without trying to make a controversial statement here, I noticed when I traveled throughout Africa (10 countries), people in Muslim countries (Sudan, Egypt) did not look up to me as “the rich white man”. Probably because is in their proud, strict religion philosophy not to beg, but rather treat the visitor with respect.
    In respect to handing out freebies, I refrained to do that, so not to encourage the begging mentality. I had very strict rules about that issue!
    Again, this new post of yours is stunning, very informative…an eye catcher…makes me burn my office desk and get lost. Can’t wait for the next one!

  10. Hi Heike,

    I can imagine the rains make cycling very challenging, some roads must be very slippery. My partner and I rode through Guinea on a Honda 125 from Mali back to Sierra Leone where I was a volunteer working on the Outomba-Kilimi Nationa Park which you road by on your way to Kamakwie. It was a land lost in time, the people wonderful and so willing to assist in anyway they could. Looking forward to your stories as you ride forward, the rains are ending and the cool harmattan breeze will be starting soon. Keep your eye out for volunteers (VSO, VSA, CUSO, etc.) as they would love to put you up for the night and share some concervation. Ride safe, hugs, Brent

  11. Hi Heike,

    My name is Vanessa and I am currently researching mining in Guinea for my master’s thesis. I would love to get in touch with you to hear about your experience traveling through Guinea. Please email me if you are up for it! Looking forward to your response!

    • Hi Vanessa, please send me your questions to my contact form.
      Cheers Heike


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