West Africa Love

Peace Corps Volunteer Experience in Mali and Guinea

Overlanding to Dakar, Senegal from Guinea and Back

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Traveling to Dakar from Middle Guinea took 1.5 days but I made it in one piece (albeit pretty dirty)  and with some good stories.

It can be stressful trying to figure things out because you’ll hear something different depending on who you ask.  When I was asked about cars going to Dakar I heard cars leave every day from the regional capital (Labe) while others said you should really try to leave Monday.   I was worried because the people I was asking said “Well you can find a car on other days… but it’s harder to find passengers”.. and here in Guinea not finding passengers means the car doesn’t leave.  I decided to take a chance anyways and leave Wednesday.   I made it to the taxi station at 8:30 am and we left by 11 am so I was feeling good.  The road north of Labe is pretty amazing, which is not the case for almost all other roads in Guinea. When you’re traveling on a decent road you’re thinking “Wow! Traveling doesn’t have to be so horrible =D”.   There was only one stretch of dirt road and it was more or less paved and another area where they’ve put a bunch of rocks so you can cross a lake or river.  After that it was smooth sailing until we got close to the border and had to show our papers.

I always get a little nervous when crossing borders because I don’t know if the guards are going to try to ask me for bribes and if I’m not going to figure it out fast enough- they don’t generally do it in a straightforward way.  Instead they’ll find an issue with one of your papers or ask you a lot of questions until you decide to offer them money so they’ll let you go sooner.  Crossing the Senegalese border was pretty laidback (in Sierra Leone they were really serious and told us we had better not overstay our visas) but he hassled some of the other passengers in my car. He told one of them that he had a fake ID card and then wouldn’t give it back to him. Another man brought a paper showing his old ID card had expired, signed and stamped by the police, and the guy said “I can’t accept this”.  I was marveled by how the Guineans reacted to this. At first they were a little defensive and then as if realizing ok I just need to stroke his ego they started asking for forgiveness and saying he was right.  I felt like I was in the 1960’s South and the police/government workers were just making bogus rules to hassle black people.  They started offering money and the guy wasn’t accepting but somehow once I left the area they resolved the issue somehow so maybe he was just waiting for me to leave.

We made it to the border by 7 pm which seemed like a good time but turns out they close it at 6 pm. Some guy said “we’re going to have to sleep here” and I thought he was joking but turned out he was serious.  If I were anywhere in the United States this would have made me nervous but I was not worried. Worst case scenario we’d stay up all night.  I thought maybe there’d be a place for all of us to stay since I’m sure this happens a lot but it seemed like people just rely on the hospitality of that border town’s inhabitants.  I stayed close to my fellow passengers and another woman and I were offered a mat and a space on someone’s porch. The other members were sleeping there too so it wasn’t as if they offered us to sleep outside while they all stayed inside. Luckily it did not get cold. I was just worried a mouse was going to come and get into the tortilla chips I was traveling with.   In the morning I saw that some of the passengers in a big truck that also didn’t get through in time had laid out a mat and slept under their truck.

One of the passengers in our car was asking me about the US.  The majority of people here will tell you that they dream of going to the States.  I explained that it’s nice but it’s very different.  You would never knock on someone’s door and ask to stay with them (at least not in my state).  And you would also never hitchhike the way people do here in Guinea because people don’t trust each other enough.  He was really surprised to hear that.

At 7 am they told us we could get going. We did a few more checks. One guard looked at my passport and said “You’re pretty in this picture but you’re not pretty right now.” , to which I responded “I’m in Africa”. Not that people can’t manage to look fabulous here but don’t expect that from me when I’m traveling during dusty dry season and just had to spend the night at the border.   He got a little pissed at that and said what is that supposed to mean. Then he started speaking Pular and proceeded to advise that I learn Pular. I responded in Pular “You don’t know if I understand Pular. You didn’t ask me”. He laughed at that and let me go.  They’re pretty laidback here but I probably would have to cut the sass any other place.

Once in Senegal I started seeing a lot more donkeys, horses and baobob trees.  It was also really hot! When they stopped to pray, I went to find some rice.  There were a lot of flies so I was eating spoonfuls of hot rice all the while swatting and wiping my sweaty forehead.

We made it to the outskirts of Dakar that evening.

The next night I flew out to meet my family in Rome. After a few days in Rome, we then did a week in 3 different cities in Spain: Barcelona, Seville, and Madrid before ending in Dakar. It was way too much moving around but I’m glad we got to see Seville.  Definitely planning to go back there.  This time of year the sun doesn’t go down until around 9 pm!! It was throwing me off but I liked it.  We went to a Flamenco show there and were all amazed at how intense the dancers get.

After being with my family for 2 weeks it was hard saying goodbye at the airport. I’ve been in West Africa by myself for a while but for some reason after leaving them I felt really lonely heading back to Guinea. But once I was in a taxi surrounded by Pular speakers I felt ok again.  As soon as I got in the car someone said “You’re going to Guinea?  So are these two people so you guys will go together.”  My fellow companions were a brother and his sister with her baby. He had come to help her get her papers fixed to reunite with her husband in the US. I felt super grateful at that moment. When you’re traveling you’re in a super vulnerable state and when people offer to help you feel so overwhelmingly grateful.  Seriously where else would this happen? That people see someone traveling by themselves and offer to help so willingly?  As I was sitting in the car I was thinking how much I wanted to be able to be able to pay this hospitality forward to all the immigrants in the US.

We left Dakar around 8:30 am and got to Manda around 5:30. As soon as our car pulled into the station it was rushed by at least 10 guys trying to get passengers.  There are always a lot of young men at taxi station- not all of them are drivers but they’ll hang out and help and they’ll get some money from whoever they help.  Someone asked me where I was going and I said Labe and then an argument ensued between two guys over whose passenger I would be. “I asked her first!” said one of the guys.  It was funny and scary at the same time but luckily my fellow passenger helped out there. This rushing of the car happened every time a car pulled in.

We found out that we’d be staying at the station that night and leaving early the next morning.  At that point I could’ve gone to a hotel but I was really tired and didn’t want to deal with having to figure things out the next morning.  There was no porch to sleep on this time but the chauffeur had a nice car so me and one of the women I was traveling with stayed there.  We didn’t leave the next at 6 am as promised but we made really good time and got in at 4 pm.

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I was feeling really happy to be back in Guinea again but adjusting to the village again has been a little rough. During the day I’d be fine but the first few days I’d wake up confused about where I was and I’d feel really lonely. Also I felt like my body was not so willing to do what it used to.  I’d gotten used to biking here a lot, at least 4 days a week, but when I got back I was thinking “How did you do this before???” It’s getting better now but it hasn’t helped that April seems to be the hottest month here. The Fouta doesn’t get as hot as other parts of Guinea but the sun can be pretty intense midday.  Rainy season is sounding really nice right now. I’m gonna wanna dance in the rain once those first rains come.

Below are some tips for people traveling from Dakar to Labe:

  • Get a taxi to Gare Beau Marachere in Pikine
    • This should cost you no more than 5000 CFA. I paid 4000 CFA.
  • A seat in a taxi to Manda will cost 12,000 CFA. Bags are 1000, Suitcases are 2000 CFA
  • Getting to Tambacounda takes between 8-10 hours. It was 9 hours for us but we stopped to eat for an hour.
  • Best to stay at a hotel in Tambacounda and get a ride to Manda early the next day because the border closes at 6 pm.
  • Manda to Labe costs around 225,000 Guinean francs. You can also pay in CFA.
  • From Manda to the last Guinean checkpoint it is about 2.5 hours.

 

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Author: moniq77

Peace Corps volunteer in Mali before the program was suspended due to security concerns. Finishing my service in Guinea.

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