Guinea’s elections by motorbike part 2
The road towards Ganta got patchier but was still pretty impressive. Once I arrived in town I swung a left, following a signpost that read ‘Guinea Road’ and after a couple of miles of dirt track I discovered the border post. There was a large, USAID-built concrete terminal on the Liberian side and a bamboo hut full of soldiers on the other. In the no man’s land between them, a river festered beneath a mouldy iron bridge.
After half an hour of wretched interaction with the authorities, I was allowed to leave the country and I rode my bike over the clattering iron slats towards the Guinean army. Obligingly they were wearing the berets and chrome sunglasses that I was used to seeing on the news and assorted small arms were lying around. The atmosphere was heavy and grim. Who the fuck was I? The soldiers wondered aloud as they inspected my papers and looked with bewilderment at the Bajaj. One of them asked me for some money. ‘Sorry chief,’ I replied in French, trying to exude the air of a recent deserter from the foreign legion. Mysteriously though, there were no hard feelings and he slapped me on the back and wished me a safe journey.
In the following two or three kms there were four more checkpoints. At each I had to park the bike and go into a colonial-era administrative hut so the police or army could record my details in broad-leafed ledgers. But with each road block the officials grew more welcoming and I slowly began to regain my internal composure. A great deal of planning had gone into the trip and I had no idea what the hell I’d do if they didn’t let me cross the border.
The fragrant countryside soon opened up before me and I passed gorgeous women bathing their children in streams and kind-faced men plodding along with hunting shotguns strapped across their shoulders. Although the war had washed back and forth across the border at times, it somehow seemed tragically obvious that the people I was meeting here hadn’t endured the 14 years of hyper-violence that still echoed behind me in Liberia.
Sometimes you notice these differences more when you leave a disturbed place than when you enter for the first time.
I rode through cool palm and rubber plantations into hills covered with tall, singing rainforest. It was the most enchanted stretch of road the Bajaj had ever known and it climbed the steep slopes dutifully in first gear. It was too heavily-laden to brake quickly on the way back down though and a couple of times the rear tyre swung out and I almost came off. Coming around one bend, I even saw a giant black scorpion lying dead in the middle of the road and had to pull over and take a look.
After a few hours’ drive through the gargantuan trees, the road descended into the deforested area surrounding Nzerekore, the NGO capital of southern Guinea. I asked for directions to l’Hotel Le Mont Nimba, which was owned by the late president Lansana Conté and was empty and cavernous. I washed and sat in the silent restaurant later on, as Special Forces soldiers replete with Kalashnikovs, pistols, knives and radios stood around glued to the state news channel. They were there guarding a high-ranking officer whose cammo humvee was parked out front. After last week’s ethnic/political violence in Nzerekore, the town is awash in soldiers. The electoral run-off is now reslated for November 7th.