Guinea to Senegal … a road of remembrance of villages, waterfalls and the song of a missionary

Bureh Beach is a legendary chill down venue amongst the west African overlanding community. And it lives up to its reputation. You can spend long days surfing or walking or smoking joints and doing very little. Your call. All about you are the smiling faces of the very chilled down Sierre Leone villagers and fishing folk. Rastas and surf masters line the beach offering up their brands of offerings. But mostly you are left to laze in the sun, do walks and surf all day long. Its bliss. We stay a week or so. 

Despite the peacefulness or because of it, we feel like we are chasing deadlines. Granted they are deadlines which are self-imposed, derived from the architecture of year long trip around the African continent. But deadlines nonetheless. In bite sized chunks, our topline, immediate deadline is to be in Morocco when our visa opens in late March. And now it’s late February and we are still lingering on Bureh beach, southern Sierra Leone. We need to get going. We have one month. And we have the whole of Guinea to cross, then Senegal and Gambia and Senegal again, and finally Mauritania, before we reach the southern border of Morocco. We need to get going. And we need to move swiftly, resolutely, do day drives and sleep early and rise early and drive again. Day after day. All of this is swirling around in my head. If we follow my head we will be in Morocco in a month. We will be there at the start of our visa opening. And we will have fifty days to explore the backroads of the atlas mountains and Moroccan villages and deserts before we take our already booked ferry from Tangiers to Genoa Italy in early May. 

Morocco stands like an apex country above all the rest. It occupies at almost mythical place in my mind. It’s the overlander dream country to explore. Through countless months before the trip began I had trawled through overlanding websites and watched YouTube videos of the overlanding trails across Morocco. All of that impregnated my mind with a burning desire to be on those trails exploring the Atlas mountains, living in the villages and surfing the point breaks. Morocco is the reason for us to choose to start our journey by doing the West Africa first. To take the hard part up front and follow that with the way easier and more gentle drive south down the east African coast. All of this drives my excitement, just knowing we are reaching a half way pinnacle of your trip. It feels unbelievable. Unfathomable. We are nearly in Morocco. We are going to be immersed in north Africa eventually. Lost in in its mystical ways. It feels like a dream is about to be realised. 

There is no time to laze about on beaches. We bid farewell to our overlanding friends on the beaches of Sierra Leone and head out. Following the waypoints in my head we key them into the Garmin and drive north once more. Crossing the southern border from Sierra Leone into Guinea is time consuming but smooth. Once crossed we head north east in search of what we have been told is a beautifully peaceful Catholic mission outside Kindia. It’s a long drive on awful roads again. Roads that are thick with traffic and red dust and slowness. But we are patient and determined and eventually we arrive at our destination at dusk sets in. We find the gates of the mission and pull up and are immediately transfixed by the beauty of the sound of song coming from the chapel. There is no-one about but a pure, clean and sound of women in spiritual song wafts from the chapel across the hills surrounding the mission. We are so stunned by the serenity that we do nothing, say nothing. We wander about our car stretching legs and listening and waiting. Someone will emerge. And sure enough from the forest emerges a French women with her walking stick. She has a glow that matches the peacefulness of the mission itself. We explain our wish to stay and contribute to the mission and within minutes she has shown us where to park our cruiser alongside clean and well maintained ablutions we can use.  

It’s not yet dark so we follow our hosts advice and take the farm track out of the beautiful cast iron front gates of the mission and down into the valley below us. We are heading for the river and some waterfalls she has told us about. Walking through forests and across fields we follow the sound of crashing, falling water till we find the river and the falls. It beautiful and we are all alone. So we strip-off and swim naked in the eddies of the river. Wash some of our clothes before heading home again. We watch the sun set whilst having dinner from our little hill in monastery. Its deadly silent of any people noise. It’s like everyone know that some superior being is watching for any disturbances, but no one says anything to let on. We sleep to the sound of a rustle of cool breeze ion the trees and a starlit blanket above us. The first sound we hear, alongside the bird song at dawn, is the sweet sound of the women singing in prayer again. Its unspeakably beautiful and calming. So deeply peaceful that it feels like you should stay for a month or a year or a decade or more. It feels plain wrong to leave. It is so settled and contained and without any aspirations, or sense of hope or desire even. It just is what is in its totally. The entire monastery experience pulls at something inside my hard and incorrigible atheist heart. There is something of extreme beauty here. A evolved life even. An unpretentious, deep rooted acceptance of a lifestyle steeped in order and discipline and humility and faith. That alone attracts and compels me to think and feel the inner urge to be a servant here, a sweeper of leaves, even without the faith to hear the voice of the gods about us. The thought stays with me for a long time after as the road challenges me again. 

The real world of our journey is back on us. We move on dusty roads heading for Kambadaga waterfalls south of Labe for our second night of the Guinea crossing. Again it’s a long day on the road that ends at dusk with our arrival at the top of the falls. But not before we have managed to navigate past the villagers who collect tithes from visitors wanting to see the falls. We decide this is not an African thing and engage with the tithe collectors in a mixture of broken Xhosa and Zulu. Speaking wildly and gesticulating that we are from the south, Africans like them, Xhosa speakers, we somehow impress upon our Guinean tithe collectors that we are one of them. Just a pale one. Not an English or French one. An African one. Food and gifts for the children are donated. And finally we are free to go. We decide to compensate them all on our return up the same track in the morning. 

The track winds down into a ravine cloaked by riverine forest around the head of the Kambadaga waterfalls. Finally the track arrives at the edge of the river and opens up onto flat black rock surfaces above the falls. Its perfect. We drive onto the rock surface alongside the river and set up camp for the night above the falls. It’s perfect and we celebrate another perfect wild camp spot in the middle of Guinea with a swim in the river and a beer. That night we sleep with the sound of the falls in our ears. The next day rising early we take the final long day drive through Labe in northern Guinea and on to the border with Senegal. Everything works out exactly as planned as we cross Guinea with time to spare. So we decide to head to the coast of southern Senegal and spend more time on the lakes and beaches and mangrove swamps of the south. 

  

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