A Bush Taxi across Guinea

Still in search of her elusive backpack, Ailsa has us pointed in every direction as she’s selected ROADS as the subject for this edition of the Weekly Travel Theme.

Roman roadSince Roman time, roads have generally moved the masses from their starting point to their final destination via a network of interconnected pavement. That’s the norm, unless your journey begins and ends in Guinea in West Africa.

Here, there is really only one paved (blacktop) road — riddled with pot holes — left over from the days when France ruled the region until the late 1950s.

Today, with little or no upkeep, that narrow two-lane road connects the capital city of Conakry in the west to Kankan, the country’s second largest city, all the way to the east. It’s a rigorous 360 mi. (600 km) trek that, on average, lasts between 12 and 14 hours in either direction. I know. I’ve been there, done that.

Creole Boy - KanKan-Conakry bush taxi driver | ©Tom Palladio ImagesWhile my daughter was a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer, my wife and I paid her a visit. From Conakry, in bound from Paris, we flew to Kankan in under an hour aboard a rickety old Antonov-26 turbo-prop commuter plane, stayed overnight in Kankan, then caught a bush taxi for the three-hour, bumpy and unpaved ride to her village of Kalan-Kalan.

In order to walk in our daughter’s flip-flops, we agreed to make our return trip, Kankan-Conakry, after our stay in her village, via a car hire that the three of us had all to ourselves. It was an early-model, four-door Nissan owned and piloted by a guy calling himself Creole Boy. Granted, it was a car and driver that we hired exclusively for this one-way trip, but it was nothing more than a long-haul bush taxi.

Map of Guinea | © U.S. State Department mapsTo understand Guinea you need to know that it sits at the bottom of the pecking order of third-world (developing) countries, and most of its cars, buses and scooters are junkers — hand-me-down motorized transport from other developing countries a bit higher up on the food chain.

It’s not unusual to look down and see the ground your traveling over through holes in the rusted-out floor boards.

Air conditioning? Sure, just crack the window; the AIR outside is CONDITIONED to make you sweat. And, in order to roll down any of the windows, driver’s side included, the driver will pass around a screwdriver (tool, not a community cocktail) so that you can crank them down. Seems the standard window crank handles that come with most cars were missing when this one was “imported.”

Add to all of the above, most cars, vans, trucks and scooters aren’t in the best mechanical shape to make the 600 km trip without breaking down at least once or twice. Creole Boy, sensing something didn’t sound right under the hood along the route, had the good sense to pull in to a makeshift garage and get a quick “tune up.”

Livestock on the Kankan-Conakry road | ©Tom Palladio ImagesGenerally, drivers in Guinea tend to be poorly trained and routinely ignore road safety rules. Guinea’s road network, which is only partly paved, is underdeveloped and unsafe.

Roads and vehicles are poorly maintained, road signs are insufficient, and roads and vehicles are frequently unlit.

Livestock and pedestrians create constant road hazards during the day and make nighttime travel inadvisable.

It stands to reason that roadside assistance is not available nor offered in Guinea.

At the very end of the movie Back to the Future II, Doc Brown arrives in a panic to collect Marty and Jennifer to take them into the future to see how their offspring are doing.

Photo courtesy © 2010 Universal Studios Home Entertainment

Photo courtesy © 2010 Universal Studios Home Entertainment

Marty, noting how little Doc backed the DeLorean up out in the street, suggested they might need a bit more road to reach the magical 88 mph.

Doc, casually pulling down his one-way chrome shades and looking straight ahead, tells Marty, “Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need…roads.”

That quote, although not delivered by Creole Boy, was implied as he managed to navigate that bush taxi with hardly a paved road underneath all the way back to our future (Conakry).

Enjoy the short video of some of the roads, paved and unpaved, that we traversed during our Guinean adventure.

©The Palladian Traveler | ©Tom Palladio Images

The Palladian Traveler's Borsalino over cobblestone | ©Tom Palladio Images

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