19 December 2013

One rural destination was not a disappointment.
These striking cascades are the Soumba Waterfall.
After the spaciousness and economic progress of Cabo Verde, it was painful to see the dense poverty and rubbish-packed squalor (not shown below) of Conakry, the capital of Guinea. Income is estimated at a few hundred dollars a year, among the lowest even in Africa.

Guinea is yet another mineral-rich African nation that is poverty stricken. It's not surprising when you look at the past fifty years: After throwing out the French in 1958, the country collapsed under long-time Marxist dictator Sékou Touré, then got a plain vanilla dictator, a military junta, bloody power struggles, some inter-ethnic strife, entrenched corruption, you name it.

Currently, the country is between crises, so I wanted to take a peak.
On the bumper-to-bumper road from Conakry to Dubreka.
One of the times my driver negotiated with and then "tipped" a gendarme so she or
he would overlook his failure to post an updated annual license to transport a tourist.
After the slow, hot, two-hour, bumpy car ride,
and the slow, hot, one-hour struggle to hire a boat,
we took a slow, hot, one-hour, bland boat ride
to wade slowly through knee-deep, muddy clay to get to shore
to see fish being smoked in an unfriendly, littered village.
Somehow on paper it had all seemed like a brilliant idea.
Left: Women waiting for the boat to ferry them home.
Right: My guide at the little National Museum.

Obama was still a hero in much of Africa.
Typical city markets and the off-limits Grand Mosque
Amid so much poverty, it seems crass to stay at an expensive, marble-drenched hotel.
And yet, many developing countries lack suitable mid-range options.
Choices often come down to (a) scary and cheap versus (b) lavish and exorbitant.
In Conakry, I splurged and stayed at the new Palm Camayenne Hotel.

Departing Guinea was a mess. Consistently awful, reliably unreliable Senegal Airlines was 20 hours late getting to Dakar and destroyed my chance to visit Mauritania on this trip. Ethiopian and South African Airlines are better but Senegal Air was the only option for a couple of my connections.