Dakar – Dalaba (Monday evening)

The sun is setting for the third time and I’m clocking up my 58th hour on the road when we leave the mountains behind and drive into a green valley. In the distance I can see houses and mosques and buildings. Life! People! Civilization! Shops! Food! Drinks! Restaurants and bars! Nice things!!!!

It’s a glorified crossroads, a kind of Manda in the Mountains, with the charming name of Popodara. So how far to Labé, then, first stop on the way to Dalaba? ‘Oh, that’s further up the hill. I’m going to eat first,’ announces the driver. That’s fine, my good friend, but first you are going to get my luggage off the roof because you and I are parting company.

He tells one of the boys to get the mesh off, untie the ropes, find my bag and give it to me. With that, he saunters unceremoniously off. To dinner. I’m not having dinner here.

Some hawk-eyed touts have been keenly watching the scene and waste no time descending on me.

‘Labé?’ How did you guess?

The Gate to...you have guessed right. Pic by Foutapedia.

There is a car leaving now. How many places? Nine. How many are already in? Three. OK, so that means six more, right? How much for one? Fifteen thousand. I’m beyond caring. Nine – or twelve or fifteen – euros later me, three booked passengers plus another one I am paying for (he’s a schoolboy from the taxi we’re leaving behind) and my luggage are on our way for the last stretch to Labé, which I imagine on a mountain. It is on a mountain. We clang and clunk and clatter our way up. This is another carcass. Who cares? It’s getting me there.

The road climbs through a gorgeously lush landscape, onwards and upwards. Speaking of which, I turn my gaze to the sky and see that a menacing posse of thick anthracite clouds has gathered over our heads. I thank the stars for my – for once – sound judgement. We would have been stuck with our grinning driver until…I don’t want to know.

Yes, this is a typical scene in this spectacular land. Pic: me.

The rain pours down, enters the car. I couldn’t care less until someone ever so politely asks me if I could please close the window because he is getting awfully wet. I curse myself for my un-Guinean selfishness and apologize. He gracefully accepts and we begin a conversation about where I’m from and what I am looking for here. I mention something about wanting to see the Fouta Djalon…

‘You do realise that Cellou (Dalein Diallo, the opposition politician who is from here) won the presidential elections last year?’ For some strange reason I am not quite ready for a profound discussion on Guinean politics, so the conversation ambles along somewhat aimlessly. But as I will find out later this week, resentment about the victory of ruling president Alpha Condé runs deep in these parts.

But that’s for another story. For now, I am content to pay the young and fast driver another 5000 Guinea Francs for the privilege of not being dumped at Labé bus station but being delivered right on the doorstep of the Hotel Provincial, where the rooms, I am told, are 8 euros a night, where there is tepid beer “because of electricity problems”, which nevertheless tastes like the gods have personally brewed it for me, where there is heavenly steak and angelic frites served by candlelight in a room where there is a television that (thank the stars) does not work. “Electricity problems”.

And I can finally show you this!

I go back to the terrace beer in hand. Next to me at another table an elderly man in a leather jacket sits opposite a much younger man who, it turns out, is being accused of having an affair with a married woman. ‘For once, try not to lie,’ the older man says. He looks like a Russian secret agent from an old James Bond movie. ‘The lady in question is of no interest to me. But you – it’s you I am after,’ he adds menacingly. And then the interrogation begins. I switch off. This is not exactly what one need, over a second tepid beer in three days.

It’s eight in the evening and after precisely sixty hours on the road I get into my dimly-lit room (“electricity problems”) and crash in the general direction of bed. Not even the pots and pans in the kitchen outside my window disturb my peace. They can do so, tomorrow.

[Dalaba was indeed my next stop, just an hour’s drive down the road. I covered that wonderful place here. And will certainly be going back there…]


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