Dakar – Dalaba (Monday)

The music has been off for a long time now. We’re on a mountain road. A bad mountain road. With deep holes, as if the taxi with all those in it is prepared to sink into the bowels of the earth. I can make out trees and shrubs flitting past to my right. Behind them… a gaping black void. Fortunately, we can’t go very fast.

Headlights come towards us. They are attached to a massive tanker. How the heck do these guys do that? Much later, in a bar in another part of the country with equally devilish roads, a driver explains that they do, in fact, receive special training to negotiate these and other hazards. But how can two vehicles pass on a road barely wide enough for one of them? That’s easy. The taxi backs up into a place where the road widens out. Just a little. One mistake and it’s….

Except a lot less gracious.

So no-one thinks about that.

Least of all our unflappable driver.

Who remains unperturbed when I ask him whether it’s just me or is the car having difficulties going uphill…?

‘Yes, he’s got a little tired. So when we get to Labé, I’ll drive it straight to Conakry (the capital, 400 kilometres down the road) and sort it out.’ You have to admire his casual if somewhat reckless courage. Here’s a man who has been at the wheel pretty much non-stop for – what, 10 hours? – passed a border, negotiated bad roads, clouds of mist, bribed a soldier, more bad roads, found his way around oncoming mastodonts on a dangerous mountain road (we can thank the stars it isn’t raining) and has his eyes on…


We pull up in a small market town in a symphony of cockcrows. I have literally not the faintest idea of where I am. Well, roughly: Guinea, Fouta Djalon, somewhere between Koundara and Labé. On a very nice terrace, with tables and chairs and bowls to wash your hands in.

We eat in early morning silence. And boy – do we need that extra energy! Because as we depart in the earliest morning lights, there seems to be nothing amiss when we hurtle downhill but then we round a corner and look at the top of the next hill looming above us. And we get the first of an endless series of this:

driver changes gears

car slows down

driver changes gears again

car slows down some more

car stalls

we get out (at least, the men do; the women stay nicely parked inside)

car backs down the hill

we follow

car turns around and attempts to get up the slope

if needed we help push it further up

we all arrive at the top

get back in

and hurtle down until

elsewhere in Guinea but you get the idea (pic by Wollersheimtime).

This is fine and even fun one time, especially when it isn’t too hot. But after number seventeen in the blistering heat (and by the way: where’s Labé?) and being absolutely eaten alive by clouds of insects that have decided to zoom buzz whizz towards us and settle on heads, arms, faces, feet, legs…yes, we are all truly and thoroughly fed up. I shoot a glace at the driver who grins his wide and innocent grin back at me. I’m sorry my friend but this has now officially ceased to be funny.

Does Labé actually exist? And what about Dalaba?


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