Note: my camera broke shortly before the trip and all of these images (except the one by Tess) and on the other Guinea blogs were taken on my phone.
I’d spoken to Hassan on the phone weeks earlier, to arrange the visit and was pleased to discover that having been born and raised in next door Sierra Leone, he spoke great English.
As we approached his compound, children opened the gates and he greeted us – a small guy in his late 50s, wearing a boubu, skull cap and smiling a toothless smile. A force of nature, he welcomed us, showed us our traditional thatched roundhouses and the central bantaba where we’d be eating. A cauldron appeared and we ladled out bowls of a Fula stew: peanut sauce, cassava and sweet potato = delicious.
“You’ll be wanting to trek this afternoon?” he enquired and indeed we did. After a rest, we strolled out through the village and what appeared to be a small garden of eden.
All of the houses were traditional and there was very little litter. There were banana groves, papaya, various vegetables, orange trees and more. Goats wandered about with a stick tied horizontally to their neck – it means they can’t pass through gaps in fences to destroy gardens.
Eventually we reached a fence surrounding the village and crossed a stile into the bush beyond, hiked down a slope and were suddenly rewarded with a breathtaking view akin to standing at the top of the Grand Canyon. It was a kilometre or so down and pinnacles of rock jutted up from the ground below. It was beautiful and otherworldly.
We posed for pictures, watched butterflies flitting around and strolled gently through flower strewn meadows. I couldn’t stop grinning and was looking forward to the next days of trekking.
Being so remote and with zero light pollution, the stars were incredible and I laid out on a log that night staring at the heavens. On the other side of the compound, Hassan fired up his solar system and most of the village arrived to watch Ghana versus Congo on the tv – it was still the Africa cup.
The next day we split into two groups. Frederik, Mart, Jeremy and Carol were doing to do a mid-level hike with Hassan whilst myself, Tess, Khadri and Baks were going to do the hardest – chutes and ladders – with his brother Abdou.
“It’s a KAH” said Hassan.
“KAH, a kick ass hike, the best in West Africa.”
We set off around 8am, down the hillside, past various rock formations until we reached the first difficult section.
A very steep rocky track lead down the side of a very tall waterfall. We trod carefully, not wanting to slip on the wet rock and were covered in spray. Occasionally we’d stop and refill bottles with water that seeped from the rock – pure mineral water.
In fact, all along the routes, used primarily by local villagers, cups were hanging in trees for weary travellers to refresh themselves.
As we struggled down a slope that reminded me of clambering around the mountains at Maccu Pichu in Peru, some passers bye put us to shame.
Local women skipped gaily past, babies strapped to their backs, huge loads on their heads and all whilst wearing flip-flops.
We reached a lookout point – a flat rock high on a cliff overlooking a waterfall that is known as the Bob Marley stage. Hassan upon returning to his ancestral lands in Douki had originally worked in local villagers as a health worker. He’d met American peace corps workers who’d helped develop hikes in the region and then promote them to travellers, thus building his tourism project that seems to help support the entire village. Apparently one of the peace corps had slept on this rock on the anniversary day for Bob Marley, hence the name.
Down we went, eventually in the late morning reaching the valley floor and walking through the dry scratchy and often burnt scrub land.
The cliffs towered above us and were awe inspiring. Raptors soared in the thermals, monkeys hooted loudly in the trees and I fully expected a dinosaur to emerge from the forest.
We reached a rocky pool area at the base of some rapids, where we stopped for lunch and a swim. Unlike Salthino, this water felt ice cold and shocked me as I entered. I paddled around and then ate a bowl of cassava, sardines and boiled eggs before the journey up.
This was the celebrated ladders section of the hike. Natural looking log ladders had been constructed years earlier, primarily for their own use by the local people. We climbed steeply, arriving out of puff at the first that took us up the first section of cliff.
In fact, looking up the narrow crevice which rose about a kilometre above us, it felt unbelievable, and not a little daunting, that we were going up that way. Logs had been lashed together with vines and there were various points where one could get a hand or foot hold to drag yourself up.
There were nine ladders, some alongside waterfalls and soaking wet, others passing through narrow holes in rock through which we squeezed. Up, up, up and then, eventually, it eased and we were walking through dried pastures again, all whilst looking out at the most amazing other worldly views.
The sun was low in the sky as we reached orchards signifying the return to villages and Abdou pointed out various local fruits such as ditak. Sadly I’d neglected to wear my boots in properly – I had done so years ago but haven’t worn them for ages, so took the skin off my big toe and spent the next few days hobbling. But it was a small price to pay for such a great day.