Overland From Guinea to Sierra Leone

I arrived at Conakry airport after spending the night in Dakar. Conakry airport kind of set the mood for Guinea-hectic! First, after landing, the bus met the plane to drive us to the arrivals area-keep in mind this airport probably gets 2 or 3 flights a day, period. Anyway, the driver was a maniac and was speeding and knocked a bunch of people that were standing over before slamming on the breaks as we reached the arrivals. Nobody seemed to think it was strange besides me but this Africa. After customs you are left in the baggage claim area where there appear to be no doors in this open air terminal. However, at closer look, behind the ladies who search through your bags and ask for bribes there is one of those dungeon style doors with the large metal block that slides off to open the door. Very strange once again but nobody else seemed to think so. Finally, after figuring out where you are supposed to meet taxis, which is no easy task-you are bombarded by drivers literally fighting for your business. As the peace loving man that I am-I just picked one guy randomly to avoid being grabbed and screamed at anymore. He then proceeds to continue his shouting matches with the other drivers who are happy to get a white man because they can charge more for the ride. After getting into the cab we wait in traffic for about 30 minutes trying to wade through the sea of people hocking everything under the sun. This was a great intro to the country that experienced a successful coup just two weeks ago. I love Africa!

After finally leaving the airport I was unsure of my plan so I told the driver to take me to a hotel in the center of Conakry, the capital city, where I could check my bag for the day and figure out if I was going to spend the night in Conakry or head down into Sierra Leone that same day. As I arrived early in the morning I was able to tour around the entire city of Conakry which wasn’t the most scenic place you’ve ever seen but had some charm to it and a charming port to get to the neighboring islands. I was surprised to see signs everywhere embracing the new President who used a military coup to seize power. They also have an 8pm curfew instituted in the city so that didn’t sound too appealing to me either. So I decided that I had seen enough in Conakry and I hired a driver (after a lot of haggling-a lot!) to drive me to the border with Sierra Leone and then get me a car on the other side of the border to drive the rest of the way to Freetown, Sierra Leone. His car was a nice Toyota SUV and he sped through the Guinean countryside passing cars left and right on the one lane road that goes through every village in South Guinea. A very nice guy after we agreed on the price by the way.
After a few hours we arrived at the end of the paved road and for the next hour or so we bumped and grinded through a treacherous dirt road. If you’ve ever traveled in the developing world-you know what I mean. I don’t know how those guys who hang off cars don’t fall off and kill themselves. After finally arriving at the Guinean border and avoiding all shakedown attempts, I met the Sierra Leonian driver to finish the road to Freetown. This road was awful.

Awful in every sense of the word. Massive dirt hills and several passes through the forest and it seemed just inconceivable that we were actually heading toward something-let alone where I wanted to be going. However, alas after six hours, the first 4 on that dirt road, I arrived in Freetown at a place called the Bintimani Hotel which was actually the headquarters of the Revolutionary United Front during the recent war in Sierra Leone. I don’t know if I think that’s cool or not but it is what it is and it’s a decent place that was bought by the Chinese of all people and turned into a semi nice hotel-although the Chinese menu needs to be updated as nobody should ever have to eat Chinese food in Africa.

Freetown itself is a frenetic and crazy place that has no electricity at night so everyone just hangs out on the streets literally. Traffic is a nightmare because of all the people and in most of Africa there is no such thing as more than a one lane road. Thus people just dance the night away-even on Sundays in the streets and it’s pretty cool to see as long as you have some patience.

Today, I headed to the gorgeous beaches of the Freetown Peninsula across more godawful dirt roads. It’s amazing how long it can take to go 20 miles if the road is in bad shape or actually not even a road at all. Sussex beach was lovely, it look like something out of the wild Caribbean or South Pacific and it will only be a matter of time before Europeans start flocking here for holidays as I hear the land has been bought up and developments are coming-it is beautiful. If these beaches were in any somewhat developed country or not in West Africa they would be where the rich and famous would vacation.

The only problem I had was that the brothers that drove me to the beach after attempting to persuade me to let them drive me to Liberia tomorrow had left and I was literally at the end of a dirt road in the middle of nowhere with no way to get back. Luckily, there was a few British ladies there who worked for the UN or some type of aid organization and they offered their driver to take me to an area a few miles up the dirt road to grab a taxi. That was very fortunate because the other alternative was to hitch on the back of a motorbike inhaling tons of dirt if you can find one or walking ten miles in 100 degree humid heat. I was lucky and am here at an Internet cafe in Lumley about to grab some dinner and go to bed as I am leaving really early for the nightmarish dirt road drive to Monrovia, Liberia tomorrow morning with the same guy who me from the Guinean border to Freetown as I trust him-so to speak.

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  1. wow that sounds incredible and its very brave of you to do that trip overland…goodonya

  2. Thanks. It was a little touch and go at the borders but I never felt unsafe.

  3. Wow, I just found your site by accident and I cannot stop reading this. I am fascinated by your trip and by these places, I look forward to reading more. Good luck with your goals.

  4. What city was more entertaining, Freetown or Monrovia?

  5. Guinea is the best country i like

    • Much respect Lee. I’m using your blog to help me adjust the route for my upcoming trip to West Africa. I like your stance on bribary but i can imagine it is difficult to stick to.

  6. George Browne Jr says

    wow am very much impressed by a guy who could do this all by himself. best of luck my friend. ……..

  7. George Browne Jr says

    wow am very much impressed by a guy who could do this all by himself. best of luck my friend. ….

  8. The road from just before Guinea border to near Freetown is now in excellent condition. Took 2 hrs from border to Waterloo then another 3 hrs to navigate Freetown traffic!

  9. I just stumbled across your blog, and read your post about Equatorial Guinea first. It made me wonder if you had written anything about Guinea (Conakry) and I found this post. What’s crazy (and made me write this) is that you made this trip almost immediately after I did – I was a PC volunteer in Guinea from 2007-2009, and a group of us went to Sierra Leone (overland!) for Xmas/New Years 2008. The day after we arrived, we woke up to the news that there had been a coup in Guinea. We weren’t sure for a few days if we could even go back, but in the end it didn’t really change our vacation. We spent almost a week on River #2 (the bio-luminescence there was amazing at night!) then went back to Freetown for NYE.

    It was a little different experience once we had crossed the border on the return trip because there were so many military road blocks between the border and Conakry. Every time soldiers (some obviously drunk) demanded money and waved guns around at us. It was the only time I can remember being really nervous the whole time I was there. Back in our villages there was no change at all. We ended up being evacuated to Mali later in 2009 when things got a little worse, which ended up being a whole other adventure.

    Anyway, I am really enjoying your blog!!

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