Saturday, January 20 8:04 a.m.
My legs are a pleasant surprise this morning. Jason and I went on a six hour hike yesterday that was a bit more than either of us had bargained for and I thought that my knees would be seized up or my leg muscles cramped. But the only aftereffect is a pleasing tightness in the thighs and calves. I have to wonder about Jason though. By the time we got back it was all he could do to put one foot in front of the other. He did the final kilometre or two in such a painful, stiff legged and very bow legged way that he drew stares from everyone who saw us.
The hike was Jason’s idea. He’d visited the local tourism office and they’d sketched out a rough map showing a few local day hikes. Most advertised “sites touristique” in Guinea involve waterfalls in one form or another and the excuse for our hike was a waterfall called Gariya located in the valleys west of Dalaba.
Jason and I set off around 10:00. It was a bit later than we’d planned but we went on a small detour to the post office first where Jason purchased three sets of the extremely bizarre “Lost In Space” series of Guinean stamps. The nine stamps showed various monsters and creatures the Robinson family encountered on their travels in space, including the carrot creature and the green triple headed speak no evil, hear no evil and see no evil creature. How such stamps came to be in the Guinean postal system is best not thought about too much.
The road we sought began on the left just before the barrage outside Dalaba on the way to Pita. It was Friday and we encountered village men and women on their way to the mosque. Jason had prepared for the day’s exertions by drinking a vast amount of water before departure. Now he had to respond to an inconvenient number of calls of nature, calls that he had to time carefully between the appearances of mosque goers on the trail.
The road was a rough dirt and stone affair but wide enough for a single vehicle. It descended rapidly from Dalaba’s 1200 meters and meandered through the hills. The land was covered in bush and large trees and was largely unpopulated. I saw only a scattering of thatch roofed huts. I remarked to Jason that I still had no clear idea how these local people survived, what crops they grew, how they lived, what the pattern of their lives was. During our hike my knowledge didn’t increase much except that I learned that they grew a kind of sweet potato. A young girl smiled and handed each of us a small sweet potato still hot from a baking fire. And the civility of the Guineans away from the main roads, if anything, increased. If Jason and I hadn’t absorbed ourselves in our own conversation we probably wouldn’t have made any progress at all having to stop and shake hands endlessly. I didn’t think one older man (in his Friday best like all the others and with large glasses giving him a scholarly look) would ever give me my hand back. He’d gotten hold of it and was going to keep it. These men would mix French and Fular greetings, but from the women it was strictly “Ondjaarama” said in a lilting fashion, up to the “on” where there was a pause and then the voice tumbled down through the last syllables like water over a waterfall. The accepted response was the same. If anything followed I was told by a local Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) to simply say ‘Djamtum’ (fine). This worked wonderfully the few times I said it and kept the women laughing appreciatively for a few seconds after passing.
The route to the falls was by no means obvious and we stopped often at forks to wait for the small boy network to kick in and show us the way. As always the small boys knew where we were going even if we didn’t.
The road finally stopped and dissolved into a series of footpaths. Jason went through the gate of a family compound and secured for us a guide. It was a good thing he did because we never would have found the falls on our own located as they were at the end of a final steep descent to 670 meters and then a short scramble upriver through the thick bush.
By the time we reached this final stretch I began to wonder if seeing a waterfall was worth all this effort. I was all too aware of the three to four hours of hiking back up during the hottest part of the afternoon that still faced us. But when we broke through the final screening curtains of vines and branches we entered a beautiful and cool enclosure with a falls made of geometric rock that was so perfectly pleasing you’d think it had been designed by the staff of Disneyworld.
We stretched out on the rocks at the base of the falls and broke out our supplies of peanuts, bananas, sandwiches, and purified water. I’m sure our young guide and his two younger friends (trying to pick off birds with a sling shot) figured only portos were crazy enough to bring water to a waterfall. I took advantage of the place to expose my legs and body to the sun, something they hadn’t seen since arriving in Guinea. It would be hard to imagine a more perfect idyll ducking one’s body under the ice cold torrent then leaning back to bake on the rocks. I appreciated Jason’s company not the least that by myself it’s unlikely I’d have found the energy to visit such a place. The rewards don’t appear to justify all the trouble. But having a companion makes all the difference.