The spectacular Fouta Djalon
It was obvious that if I were to see any more of Guinea than its taxi stations, I would have to find a different way of travelling. The obvious solution was the "deplacement": charter of an entire taxi. It entailed paying the fare for each place in the vehicle - and even a regular-sized taxi (a normal car) will squeeze in six passengers.
So my money started to go six times as fast, and I finally started to see Guinea.
The first site of real interest was the Case de Palabre in Dalaba. This was constructed to hold certain ceremonies on Guinea's independence 50 years ago. It is built in traditional style (with baked mud) but elaborately decorated on the floor and walls with designs representing the 12 Fula chiefs who were present at the Independence ceremony. Apparently the ceiling had been equally spectacular, made of woven bamboo, but this collapsed a few years ago and has now been replaced with corrugated iron.
Indeed the whole building is crumbling away, as the current regime in Guinea has no interest in funding its maintenance. This is a real tragedy. Africa has very few buildings of historical significance (if one ignores the colonial legacy), and this one is also very beautiful. I shall do what I can (emails to UN, embassies) to try to pressure someone to get it preserved!
I also spent a few days walking in the hills around Dalaba, a pretty area but quite bizarrely featuring groves of pine trees - relics of a French colonial experiment 100 years ago. The scenery was nice and the villages were pretty.
From there I travelled into the heart of the Fouta Djalon, where a guide by the name of Hassan Bah is famous for leading visitors on spectacular treks near the village of Doucki. At first I did wonder if I had made the right decision, as the taxi drove further and further away from civilisation along a rough track up into nowhere. It was a harsh landscape (sometimes the track just bumped along over bare rock), made worse by the local custom of burning off any vegetation left after the rainy season, and I couldn't imagine - even if this guide was around - where one could even sleep or eat, let alone walk.
The taxi driver kept muttering about how far it was, but eventually we saw a little sign saying Doucki, and an even barer track led off to the left. As we arrived someone took my rucksack from me and motioned for me to sit in a wicker chair. Ten minutes later lunch arrived, and a man told me in English that a room was being made up for me and Hassan Bah would be along in a few minutes! He arrived, told me I must be dusty from my trip and that we would therfore go on a nice walk to a waterfall in the afternoon where I could clean up.
In fact we visited a couple of waterfalls, and a whole lot more. It turned out that not so far away from the road, on either side, were cliffs where the land dropped down into spectacular valleys. Also, less obvious, there were little pockets of vegetation here and there, some turning out to be tiny patches of jungle complete with lianas and monkeys, (and one with a grey eagle owl which flew onto a branch nearby, until it was finally chased away by two red-bellied paradise flycatchers), and there were great rock formations all around, including a wonderful slot canyon. The whole area was completely stunning - a truly wild and unspoilt place - and I spent a great couple of days hiking around it. I'm not sure what more to say about it to do it justice, so have attached rather a few more photos than normal. It was hard to photograph because of the strong sun and the haze from burning of vegetation, but hopefully these give some indication of the beauty and variety of the scenery there.
I also saw a big fat black scorpion near my feet whilst eating dinner, but I guess you all know what those look like!