December 2012: ‘Labé, the capital of the Fouta Djallon, Guinea-Conakry, is motorcycle city. The streets are overrun with thousands of cheap Chinese-manufactured bikes and ‘moto- taxis’ are the way to travel, carrying a minimum of 2-3 passengers. As we walked around the town, we constantly darted out of the way as a ‘moto’ zoomed towards us, at maximum speed – within inches of us – “à ton, à ton!”. The expression ‘take no prisoners’ seemed rather fitting, on the frenetic, horn-blaring, streets of the capital, as we leaped and scurried out the pathway of motorcycles, coming from all directions!
“In Labé, there are too many accidents every day.”
“In Labé, there are too many accidents every day.” Saif, our local fixer, told us as he led us through the clamorous, dusty, stinking, litter-filled streets of the downtown area. Despite the moto-taxi dodging, and the putrid aromas, Labè is a vibrant, animated, friendly place – ‘Jarama‘s (local Pula language greeting), ‘bonjour‘s, and ‘ca va’s abound, from every smiling, curious person we pass, as intrigued by the two ‘portos’ (white people/travelers/tourists) as we are of the streets of the West African city.
Little did we know then, the River Gambia Expedition team would spend almost 10 bone-shuddering hours hurtling down mountains from the source of the River Gambia, in the highlands of the Fouta Djallon, on the back of our respective moto-taxi riders bikes! A story for another day.
Words by Helen Jones-Florio – extract from the River Gambia Expedition. Images ©Jason Florio
‘River Gambia expedition‘
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