Guinea

Conakry City

 Currency = FrG  
£1 = FrG 4200  
US $1 = FrG 2400
1 Euro = FrG 2900
March 2004     

This was originally an island called Tumbo, connected to the mainland by a narrow causeway, which provided a safe haven for slavers and merchant vessels from the late 1400's.
Today's city is built 20 km out to sea on a promontory with all the basic necessities of banking, shops, embassies, hotels and restaurants on offer. Luckily, the dire warnings I received were to prove superfluous The city is certainly not pretty, but all the people I met were warm, friendly and accommodating .. although I do understand that some caution should be exercised, especially at night and in the back street areas.

We emerged from our taxi at the taxi-gararge .. covered in brown dust and not a little stiff .. and said fond farewells to our companions, our driver and our once shining and quiet taxi.
Its exhaust was hanging off and with a serious sounding knocking from the front suspension, it was as dirty as we were. It occurred to me that after a day's rest .. in which the car would have to be repaired .. the driver would be setting off on the same 24 hour return journey, with all its pitfalls, potholes and frustrations. I don't envy him  his job, but I certainly admire his fortitude !

We were soon approached by a happily smiling taxi driver willing to take us, in a small Peugeot mostly devoid of any interior trim but somewhat more spacious than our  previous transport, to the nearby Hotel Galion .. to indulge in the luxury of a shower, clean clothes and a good meal.

On asking, and probably because of my dishevelled state, a small discount was obtained on the room price which came to FrG70,000 per night - including a very good breakfast. Equipped with remote control colour TV, en suite facilities with hot  water, a secure cupboard for valuables, air-conditioning and a large comfortable bed .. this was indeed luxury. Extremely expensive by local values .. but very affordable when compared to the European / US equivalent.
OK, I don't mind roughing it in the bush .. but after many cramped hours with very little sleep ..
I succumbed to the temptation of some comfort .. I am not a complete masochist !!

Alaghi had lots of business to attend to before our next days' market visits .. and after a shower and change of clothes, disappeared off to the centre of the city to see his friends .. strangely declining my offer of a free meal. He is more used to this sort of travel and contacts were much more important to be made. Telephoning in advance to announce our arrival not being an easy or usually available option in West Africa, the word had to be spread to the traders to come up with any suitable goods which we may like to see and possibly buy.

Factfile 11: The spread of mobile phone networks is rapidly advancing across most
West African countries .. with many ( especially Gambian citizens ) suffering from the 'phone-permanently-glued-to-the-ear syndrome' as seen in Europe. To get a line is relatively cheap, but roaming agreements are extremely expensive ( a deposit of D15,000 is required in Gambia ) and although my UK mobile worked in  Mali and parts of Sénégal .. Guinea has its own networks, solely serving the environs of Conakry City and not linked to any UK networks.

The weather on the coast was surprisingly but welcomingly cool. The shower tray was brown and muddy after washing off the grime .. but never has avocado with shrimps, filet de boeuf, fresh fruit salad, a couple of bottles of Amstel beer and coffee tasted so exquisite - FrG 37,000.

To see these pictures in conjunction with reading their appropriate text ..
Read on until you come to a
Link* then click on the thumbnail with the same number of *s

The Hotel Galion

Marché de Madina *

Local Fashion **

Lunch ***

Next morning, at the crack of dawn .. 10.00-ish .. Alaghi arrived. Both well rested, we jumped into a local taxi to find the Mali Embassy. Fares for a town trip ( i.e. your own car to your own  destination ) are usually between FrG1000 and 2500 throughout the city .. depending on your bargaining skills. Streets absolutely clogged up with queuing traffic .. lots of choking exhaust fumes and smoke-blackened buildings lined our route. Painting buildings does not seem of much importance thereabouts and missing were the bright colours seen in cities elsewhere.

It was with some difficulty and a lot of stopping to ask .. that we eventually found the Malian Embassy. According to our information, it wasn't where it should have been, having just recently moved into an enormous 3 storey building, with a courtyard and a large ground floor waiting room almost completely devoid of furniture, save for a couple of comfy lounge chairs.

After a 5 minute wait, we were ushered in to meet the ambassador in his reassuringly well equipped office .. I was beginning to believe that all West African  consuls and ambassadors were having to work in Spartan conditions !! A few questions for the form to be filled in, and in 15 minutes flat I had my Mali entry visa for the very modest price of FrG16,200. As with the Guinea Consul in Banjul, the Mali Ambassador was friendly and very efficient. Unknown to yourself, you now hold the present record for the fastest issued visa to date, thank you Sir.

Another taxi was hailed and slowly inched right into the centre of the Madina market .. where there was precious little room for one car, no matter two opposing lanes of traffic. We arrived at the shop shown above* to a very warm welcome from long-time Hausa friends and distant cousins of Alaghi and were ushered in and presented with chairs, drinks. Then followed a host of questions from the immaculately dressed owner .. looking resplendent in his white head dress, speaking in excellent English and very sprightly for his 70+ years. Very nice people.

Amongst the myriad selection of Far Eastern goods on display were some interesting necklaces from Abu Dhabi in the Arab Emirates. For me, a new source for beads and the first time I had seen these attractive new types in West Africa. Our host evidently travels there to buy them.

Whilst sitting chatting .. a pair  of shoes, I think the longest I have ever seen, strode into view .. attached to a very nice pair of legs. Out came the
camera ** and the smiles from all around !!

US Dollars ( the best foreign cash to carry here ) were changed locally into Guinea Francs and we headed off into the depths of the market. As well as a whole range of local products and Far Eastern and Nigerian goods normally to be seen in West African markets, there was an array of different animal products on offer. Snake and animal skins, horn, shell and bone fetishes and other unidentifiable products, mostly used for medicine production and other local 'magic.'

Factfile 12: In many other countries, especially outside Africa, trade in most of these animal products is strictly prohibited. As a lover of wildlife and a wildlife conservationist, I cannot agree with much of this trade, especially that relating to wild animals and endangered species.
I can truthfully say that the only way I would ever shoot any living thing, is with a camera.  However, I am reporting on the common sights which any visitor to this market can see.

Few beads older than around 30 years were to be found .. except these 3 colourful Nueva Cadiz

21 x 11 x 11 mm

17 x 10 x 9 mm

11 x 11 x 10 mm

Fairly commonly found in the Americas from the 16th century onwards, these are the first specimens I had seen in West Africa. Guinea is not a good source of beads, apart from various forms of "amber".. although newish Czech "wedding beads" were available on most markets.

Lunch was taken at a local restaurant*** consisting of freshly hacked-off sheep, onions and fried potatoes ..  very tasty, despite having to carefully avoid the bone splinters !

More market browsing after lunch and a return, through the even heavier rush-hour traffic, to the hotel for a meal. Some of the UN personnel, working in Guinea on short term contracts, were staying there. In between writing my notes for this saga, I had an interesting chat with an aircraft mechanic, who had recently been in the hot spots of Liberia and Sierra Leone and was enjoying the relative peace and quiet of his first month in Guinea .. with 8 more to go.

On enquiring if he had had any 'monetary problems' crossing the numerous checkpoints on his travels throughout Guinea .. he smiled and said: "Not with the UN stickers on our vehicles."
"I don't suppose you have a couple of spare ones I could borrow ?" I asked.
Unfortunately "No" was his answer. Shucks .. another cunning plan foiled !!

Conakry's electricity supply is not constant during the day .. but precisely at 5.30 the Hotel's generator was turned off and very soon after, the city's power was restored for the evening .. usually until around midnight. Venturing out as darkness was falling, I found a nearby small craft shop with a couple of cheerful young lads very keen to sell anything or everything to me at 'special knockdown prices'. Trying to boost their day's takings, as they were far from the main market areas and would  have to rely on the few local hotels' clients for the majority of their business. They had many wood carvings, old and new .. a small taste of what I would see in the Marché de Niger the next day. A few beads .. some worn
spindle whorls and these new glass tapered barrel beads .. which they said also originated from a Middle Eastern connection.

 Back to the hotel to take full advantage of the selection of channels on the TV .. one only ..
I drifted off to sleep, looking forward to the next day's visit to the Marché de Niger.