Thursday, March 1 3:00 p.m. Beyla
I look at my map of Guinea and can see where I am but I can hardly believe it. There seems altogether too much space between Kankan and Beyla. I couldn’t possibly have cycled that. But cycle it I did. I’ve got the war wounds to prove it. My right hand is so smashed and bruised from the handlebars that I can barely hold the pen. My left hand is so weak I can’t even summon enough pinching power to throw the switch lock on my flashlight. My clothes have suffered even worse than my body. They’re black and stiff with dirt and dust. I never realized it before but dust in a large enough quantity has an actual smell. When I walk I give off a cloud of the stuff. I look like Pig Pen from Charlie Brown and I’m willing to bet I smell even worse.
But I’ve landed on my feet here in Beyla, a much larger place than I thought it would be. I was expecting more of a village and the “logement” would turn out to be non existent or be a room in a private house I’d have to share with six others. But even though all my informants gave me different information and names I saw a sign for the Simadou Hotel and kept cycling till I stumbled across it. The room such as it is might give a newcomer to Guinea the sweating horrors. But to a mad cyclist who’s just spent two nights camping in the fire zone of the Guinean bush it’s another little taste of relative paradise. The fact it exists at all is a miracle. And it has a table and chair and even a balcony where I can fire up my stove for some much needed coffee and spaghetti. My room even has its own toilet and shower and all this for less than $3/night. I’m going to be spending at least two nights here and probably more before moving on. That will give me time to recover. And Beyla itself though not in a very dramatic setting has a certain villagey charm. I like the way it’s laid out. I felt so good arriving here at all that I even teased the soldiers at the barrage a little bit. They came up to me at random and individually (one of them chewing on half a fish) demanding all kinds of things but mainly wanting to see my papers. I asked them to narrow it down a bit for me. What kind of papers exactly? I’ve got notebooks with hundreds of papers. I’ve got maps and they’re made of paper. What about some photocopied sheets?
They didn’t think I was funny and wanted to know what I was doing in Guinea. I told them I was a tourist. “Prove it,” they said. I smiled as I pictured myself whipping out a camera and taking pictures or suddenly writing post cards. “Tourist here! Stand back everyone! We’ve got tourism going on over here!”
As it was I just handed over my passport and chided them for not having a better system at their barrages. This offended one of them horribly and he pointed at the makeshift rope strung across the road. We’ve got a system, he was saying. I looked at the rifles slung everywhere over tree branches, more soldiers half-dressed sleeping in the shade, a bunch more chewing fish and shouting incoherent questions at me and the dozen spectators also making it their business to interrogate me. I couldn’t tell who was an authority and who wasn’t. I don’t think they knew either. At other barrages they at least would nudge me and point to a man, fatter than the rest and sitting in the coolest patch of shade, and inform me with awe that he was the chief. At the barrage entering Kerouane I was personally escorted to three separate patches of shade, one containing the “chief” of the army, another containing the “chief” of the gendarmerie, and the third the “chief” of police. They all demanded papers. One (I don’t know which) read the entire inside cover of my passport aloud believing I guess that the declaration printed there was specifically about me. The army chief was very gruff and told me sternly that he would have to write down all my particulars. He had to borrow my pen to do so and to get paper tore a page out of a battered novel which I was surprised to note one of the soldiers was carrying. If nothing else he at least learned that day that a hammock is not a very easy place to write in. I could also have told him that they weren’t the best either if he wanted to appear intimidating. I didn’t know whether I should give him my passport or get him another daiquiri. At the Beyla barrage I just shrugged at the fish-eater’s defence of their system and went back to waiting till they ran out of steam and went back to their various shady patches.