On the morning of the 29th, I woke up groggy and tired from a very fitful and restless sleep. That day we had some more heavy miles to cover before reaching the town of Gueckedou – only made famous as being the site of patient zero during the Ebola outbreak of 2015 when a young boy got bitten by a bat and came down with the virus. Additionally, we were staying at the Hotel Fatou Rose which was set up as the logistics central point for dealing with the crisis in the town. Our guides told us that the hotel used to have a swimming pool, but during the Ebola outbreak, scared and ailing victims hurled themselves into the pool seeking relief from their burning symptoms and the pool had since been covered in concrete.
Unfortunately, I found myself coming down with a nasty cold, probably hastened by my very cold night two nights before. After checking in, I gladly took a bucket shower and crawled into bed. With my symptoms worsening, I decided to spare my roommate the prospect of sharing her bed with me while I was hacking and sniveling and chose to upgrade to my own room for another $20 USD. After the hotel in Faranah, this place was a palace, but I still had a hard time getting the staff to give me the basic necessities that one simply takes for granted as being included with a hotel room for the night:
- A top sheet (it is very rare in West Africa for a bed to have a sheet underneath the top blanket/cover)
- A bucket of water (most hotels in Guinea don’t have running water)
- A bin for rubbish and toilet paper since the toilet didn’t flush
- A fan
- A different fan because the first fan I was provided didn’t have a power cord that fit any of the power outlets in the room
- A towel
- A key that can be removed from the lock (yup, you read that right)
It has since become habit to check for all of these items when one arrives in a hotel room in West Africa. And if you’re lucky enough to have air conditioning, it is additionally important to check for whether there is a temperature setting, or whether the only recourse when you are awoken by arctic frigid conditions in the middle of the night – because it just keeps spitting out progressively colder air like a refrigerator – is to yank out the plug.
That evening, a wedding reception was held in the hotel’s grounds and a particularly beautiful woman dressed in an exquisitely beaded gown walked into the bar area. Another passenger and I introduced ourselves and complimented her on her dress before my friend asked if she might take her photo. Her girlfriend seemed non-plussed and ran off and got the attention of a man who promptly walked over and informed us that he was this woman’s husband. “Ok…”, I thought, “What does that have to do with anything?” He then proceeded to explain with a great deal of agitation that if we wanted to take a photo of his wife, we would need to ask his permission. This is the kind of behavior you read about happening in remote muslim-practicing areas of the world, but it is another thing entirely to come into direct contact with it in such a way. I chose to say nothing and remove myself from the situation, in case the wife was “blamed” for attracting attention, but my friend chose to give the man a piece of her mind. While he didn’t speak English, her tone left him in no doubt as to the injustice and disrespect she believed him to be showing.
After a brief dinner, I passed out around 8pm feeling quite sorry for myself, but grateful at least that my experience at the Fatou Rose Hotel wasn’t of life threatening Ebola-like symptoms but just a common cold.
The following morning, still sick, we headed out after cook group shopping toward Nzerekore where we would be spending two nights, and ring in the New Year! We had a lovely stop en-route hiking to a 100-year old Vine bridge that we each got to cross across a river. Despite being ill, it was so nice to be off the truck and getting some fresh air and exercise. The countryside was jungle-like and beautiful albeit very hot and sweaty.
Guinea is definitely the most economically impoverished countries we visit on this itinerary. In some places, we were able to purchase a small local bottle of beer for about $0.60. The currency, like in Sierra Leone, only afforded really small value notes – at 20,000 Guinean Francs, the largest note only carried $2.10 in purchasing power. Compare this to Cote D’Ivoire (where I am writing this entry from) where the Central African Franc, guaranteed by France, has its largest note as $10,000 which is worth just over $18 USD. That’s almost ten times the purchasing power of the largest note in Guinea. What ends up happening is very interesting in psychological terms. It is similar to the original transformation all westerners go through when they first arrive in West Africa and begin converting prices from their home currency to the local one. While haggling, you inadvertently sometimes are arguing over pennies rather than dollars. As soon as you arrive in Cote D’Ivoire, it becomes much easier to spend larger amount of cash, and prices are roughly 2.5 times what they were in Guinea.
In Sierra Leone and Guinea – sometimes to pay for a larger item, such as a hotel room, one had to count out multiples of 10-30 notes to pay for something because there were no larger worth notes. In Cote D’Ivoire, the problem is reversed – Notes signify more money, but getting change for small items is next to impossible.
It’s an interesting issue to have juxtaposed as we progress through each country.
In Nzerekore, I opted to upgrade to my own room so I could really focus on progressing to a full recovery – and it turned out that I got a lovely two-room suite to myself. We had some drama among the ladies of the group due to who our leader paired up each of us with each night – and it certainly was something I could have done without and was quite stressful.
I really needed a few restorative days and while many left to go on a hike the next day, I chose to sleep in, write some of my blog, and get lots of rest and fluids before our New Year’s Eve party. Sinead had made fajitas, and a pineapple rum punch. It was lovely and there was dancing and some celebrating to be had. Tried as I could to stay up till midnight, I ended up retiring around 10:30pm hacking away and still needing more sleep.
The vine bridge looks amazing. I’m sure that was a fun hike. The prospect of not having a top sheet as something normal is baffling. anyway it is hard to imagine these places calling themselves hotels when everything is not even at basic level. so if there’s no running water, how does the toilet work? or is that just a hole in the ground or something? my imagination runs away with me. LOL!
Seeing photos of huts really brings it home that this is how people live — with no water, electricity, no phones, no internet, nothing that we consider normal. it just boggles my mind! I wonder if they are subsistence farmers? do they have jobs? it would be interesting to know more, how these villages function etc. You really should write a book, but I’ve been saying that for years!
the money issue was very interesting, I’m guessing if you can buy a beer for $0.60 the wages must be next to nothing.
Sorry you weren’t able to stay up to see the New Year in. I hope you are feeling a lot better now.
Great blog, always a pleasure to read!
The hotels have running water it’s just not always functioning. So you have a normal toilet but you have to use a bucket to flush.
Yes- beers are cheap but you have to also imagine that petrol is $1 a liter so driving is prohibitively expensive for locals.
As for your question about villages…all of the above apply. And some have solar panels and, say, a community bar with one tv and a radio…some are, yes, subsistence farming as best they can with village members using public transport to get to the nearest town to shop for anything they need or can’t grow.
Many of them do have jobs as well – or businesses in the village- or travel to town to work. It all just depends.
But yes- it does boggle the mind UNTIL you alter your perspective, Monica! The vast majority of the worlds population live this way! WE are the exception and how WE live boggles THEIR minds…..
That is why I travel. To be reminded of that basic principle.