GUINEA CONAKRY, LIBERIA & SIERRA LEONE
A new, intense, adventurous and refined itinerary in pure TransAfrica’s style will bring us at the heart of the African continent. We will discover lost villages, clay bas-relief, high waterfalls within the steep savannah of Fouta Djalon, the largest mountain massif in West Africa. In a large clay building with a decorated conical thatched roof, we will be guest of the elder council descendent of the oldest Fulla Kingdom (known also as Peul Kingdom). Driving forgotten tracks to experience masks dances and tam-tam echoes across the sacred woods. Crossing the longest liana bridges in the forest to discover the birdmen hidden villages.
Monrovia is the capital of Liberia: “Land of freemen”, the only country that has never been either a colony or a protectorate.
Freed slaves from the Americas developed the powerful Krio culture. Between Liberia and Sierra Leone, we will experience Krio culture, its metaphysical symbols and unique stone and wood architecture.
Circumnavigating the scenic Banana Island we enjoy its remote villages, tiny gulfs, and an untouched forest facing the blue of the ocean. The itinerary ends in Freetown, its peninsula is considered the best coastline of West Africa: wild beaches, calm ocean, sand banks and estuaries: the ideal relax after this intense odyssey.
DAY 1: CONAKRY
Arrival and transfer to hotel.
DAY 2: THE CAPITAL (140 Km, driving time 4 hr)
Brief visit to the capital and to the interesting small museum. After leaving the traffic jam, we will head to the first mountains of Kindia village.
DAY 3: DALABA (280 km, driving time 8 hr)
The road will bring us at the heart of the Fouta Djalon Massif. Arrival at our hotel and lunch at Dalaba at 3,900 Ft. (1,200 m.) of altitude. In the afternoon visit to Dalaba, a small and quiet town. Of an interest is the “casa a palabra” (the house of words) with fine bas-relief showing a Peul style. Here the chiefs used to get together to meet the colonial administration.
Visit to the villa built by the colonial governor and later used by the first president of independent Guinea. The leader of the independence was Sekou Touré, one of the most radical activists against the colonialism; he kicked out the French and joined the Soviet Union’s side aligning with Ceausescu. Under Sekou Touré, the country became more and more isolated, and the government turned into a dictatorship. Some villas used by the ministers and by the guests of Sekou Touré are reminiscences of that time. In these villas Miriam Makeba met and married Stokley Carmichael, an exile who was among the inspirators of the armed wing of Black Panther in the US.
DAY 4: FOUTA DJALON (180 km, short drives)
Morning departure. Today we discover the largest mountain massif of West Africa: Fouta Djalon where the mountains meet the savannah and in the deep valleys the forests. Here the highest waterfalls make the landscape more beautiful and site the “water basin” of West Africa. Thanks to a fresh climate, this region had been the most appreciated holiday site during the colonial time. The origins of the Fulla people (known also as Peul) come from this region; the Fulla are known for their extraordinary beauty and for being the best zebu breeders in West Africa.
A 1.30hrs walk in the forest to discover the Ditin waterfalls which are the highest of the region (100m.). After having been introduced by our connections to the elders, presenting traditional gifts as cola nuts, we will have the honour to be received by the chiefs and the dignitaries sitting in council. In a very large round clay hut with a decorated roof of grass, dressed in traditional costumes, the descendant of one of the oldest Fulla Kingdom will tell us the history of their people and accept to answer our questions about the origins of their tribe and the traditional rules still practiced.
Evening arrival in Mamou
DAY 5: STONE GODS (320 km, driving time 7 hr)
Transfer day. We leave the mountains to cross the arboreal savannah. The Kissi cultural group is known for praying stone gods called Pomo, which have been mysteriously found in the forest. Kissidougou (the city of Kissi) has a small but interesting museum which shows the ritual objects of the region.
DAY 6: TOMA ETHNIC GROUP (170 km, driving time 5 hr)
This region is rich in markets, the Guekedou one, on the border with Sierra Leone, has been considered one of the largest of Africa, surely it is the most crowed and sadly the starting point of the Ebola epidemic in 2016.
Arrive in Macenta for lunch. In the afternoon we will assist to the Toma young girl initiation dances. The dance celebrates the end of puberty rites, when a girl will be considered an adult woman ready to be married.
DAY 7: DISCOVER A FOREST (140 km, driving time 3 hr, various drives)
After a short drive through a spectacular mountain and forest landscape, we will begin a 2-hour walk in the shade of a lush vegetation, escorted by local rangers, to discover Ziama, a unique tropical rain forest with its sevral giant trees, lianas and rare large ferns and butterflies. Lunch: experience a variety of local gastronomy prepared by the women from the village.
Visit to the small Toma villages.
DAY 8: BIRD MEN AND LIANAS BRIDGES (160 km, driving time 4 hr, various drives)
The Toma, locally called Loma, have also several masks living in the sacred forest. We will assist at one of the more spectacular, and less known, sacred dances of West African forests. The Bird Men with the face painted in white kaolin and totally dressed in feathers belong to a special initiation, that has passed secretly from father to son during centuries. Believed to have magical powers that can make him invisible. During the tribal wars, the bird men are the best messengers, able to cross the enemy lines. Tom-tom drummers and all the village will participate to the event.
These remote mountains with an impenetrable vegetation hide more secrets. A small track in the lush vegetation will bring us to a remote village and a walk to a spectacular liana bridge that cross a large river in the jungle. Liana bridges are masterpiece of a “tribal technology” and can measure 70-meter length. They are built only with vegetal materials, as wood and lianas without the use of nails or rope nor other materials foreign to the forest. Only the initiated can harvest the liana and wood and leave it in the forest, it is believed that a powerful spirit will build the bridge in one night. During the preparation of a new bridge neither women nor non-initiated are allowed in the forest, to guarantee the secrecy of its technology. Arrival in Nzerekore, the capital of the forest region.
DAY 9: EVEA, THE RUBBER TREE FORESTS (200 Km, driving time 7 hr, various drives)
A day driving on rough roads through a spectacular forest. Stop at the large Hevea wild plantations that cover hundred miles of forest. Hevea large tree belongs to the Euphorbiaceae family and grows in a tropical and sub-tropical climate that can offer more than 1,200 mm. (50 in) of rainfalls per year. Incisions across the bark are made to harvest the latex, that is collected in small buckets. Stop over to visit villages and markets, arrival at the Liberian border.
DAY 10: LIBERIA, THE LAND OF FREEMEN (270 Km, driving time 7 hr)
Liberia is the only country that has never been either a colony or a protectorate. It was founded by the Krio, the freed slaves returned to Africa from the United States, hence the name “Liberia: the Land of Freemen.” The Krio are 5 percent of the population and control much of the economy and politics; they are considered the creators of the nation and the modern economy. Eighty percent of the population speaks the Krio language, a kind of “pidgin” English.
In the late afternoon, arrival in Monrovia. A comfortable, ocean-view hotel on the West Point of the capital will be our base for two nights.
DAY 11: MONROVIA AND BUNDO FEMALE MASK
Our hotel is the best starting point for sightseeing. On foot, we will visit one of the main symbols of the city: the Temple of the Masonic Lodge. The temple is the most significant symbol of Krio culture and its economic power. Another symbol of the city is what remains of the Ducor Palace Hotel, the extreme luxury hotel with a pool overlooking the ocean. The hotel hosted the local political elite and their parties. According to legend, Idi Amin swam around holding a gun in his belt while his friend Miriam Makeba sang. After being looted several times, the hotel is now abandoned. In 2008 the government had made a deal with Qaddafi to rebuild this hotel, but the project, like many other Libyan development projects, was never completed because of the war that Europe and America started to overthrow Qaddafi. The National Museum building is itself an exhibit of Krio architecture, contains a large collection of masks and ritual objects, and a photo exhibit on the civil war that took place from 1989 to 2003. Lunch at a restaurant.
In the afternoon we will reach a village to witness unique mask dances. In most of Africa, masks are the prerogative of men, but among the Mende people and neighbouring peoples, Bundo masks are the domain of women and play a crucial role in girls’ initiation rites. The dance is an event that calls for a colorful and enthusiastic crowd.
DAY 12: BORDERS, RIVERS AND FORESTS VILLAGES (310 km, driving time 7 hr)
The Mano River is the southern border between Liberia and Sierra Leone. After crossing the border, we visit a traditional village escorted by our local friends who will be proud to introduce us to their homes and way of life. A new road will take us through a landscape of lush rainforests and large rivers, we are entering the diamond-rich area that has made this country famous.
In the afternoon we arrive in Bo, the country’s second largest town. Bo is a friendly town with colourful markets and the “Diamond Shops”, where you can buy shovels, sieves and all the equipment needed to “dig diamonds.”
The diamond stores are also licensed to buy diamonds. With luck and through our relationships, we will be able to see rough diamonds.
DAY 13: DIAMONDS (260 km, driving time 6 hr)
The search for diamonds is as addictive as gambling, and the possibility of finding a “fortune” becomes real only for the lucky few. Diamonds played an important role in the past civil war. The quantity and quality of “stones” yet to be found is important. We follow a trail to reach a village with clay and thatched huts. After greeting the chief, some villagers will accompany us to the site where we can meet diamond seekers in action. A villager will explain to us the techniques of artisanal mining and “sand washing.”
From Bo we head to the coast to reach the village of Kent, where a local boat is waiting for us to cross to Banana Island.
DAY 14: BANANA ISLAND
Our boat will take us on a leisurely circumnavigation of Sierra Leone’s most mythical islands. The mountains of Banana Island are covered by primary forest. Navigation on a wooden boat takes us through spectacular scenery, small inlets, Crio fishing villages with an old Caribbean feel, afternoon return to our comfortable camp and its well-appointed open-air bar.
For the more adventurous, the chance to experience sailing and a two-hour walk in the shade of the forest.
For those who want to relax completely, there is the option of staying at the camp, enjoying the shade of the forest, the ocean breeze and the calm water of a small beach.
DAY 15: FREETOWN PENINSULA (30 minutes navigation plus 50 km drives, driving time 1 hr)
Once we reach the mainland, we will travel along the coast along the mountain slopes of the Freetown Peninsula, from which the country got its name, the Sierra of Lions: the sierras (mountains) of lions.
After 14 days of trails, through savannah, forests and islands, one day will be devoted to relaxation or soft adventure. The beaches of the Freetown Peninsula are considered the best in West Africa. Stop at the wild beaches of Bureh Gulf and arrive at River Number Two wild beach for a delicious lunch. In the afternoon you can choose between relaxing on the beach or a short walk to discover a wild coastline, sandbars, natural pools and an estuary. Drive to Freetown.
DAY 16: FREETOWN: A LONG HISTORY
In 1786 the first 308 freed slaves came to Sierra Leone from the United States where they had fought for the British in the independence American war. After having lost the war the British sent them to Sierra Leone. Few months after their arrival, the newcomers were starving, getting new and unknown diseases and fighting the locals, who hardly stand them.
Freetown (the city of liberated peoples) had been funded in 1792 by the United Kingdom and just two years later, during the Napoleonic wars against the British, it was attacked by seven French military ships that destroyed it. Few survivors managed to escape on pirogues sent by the…slave traders. In 1807, following the abolition of the slave trade in Britain, slave trader ships captured by the British navy began freeing slaves in Sierra Leone. In 1808 Freetown became the capital of the first British colony in tropical Africa. At that time, the Krio, or former slaves, numbered about 50,000 and constituted an elite pushing for better education from the colonial administration; the cultural level achieved, had led Freetown to be known as the “Athens of West Africa.” Today, perhaps to forget its dramatic origins, civil war and Ebola, Freetown is a bustling city known for its parties and where nightlife goes on until sunset. On foot we visit the interesting museum containing the masks and objects of different ethnic groups; the Cotton Tree inhabited by thousands of bats near the luxurious Supreme Court building; the interesting St. George’s Cathedral; and the downtown market.
We will leave the town by ferry to arrive at Lungi International Airport. Day rooms available at Lungi Airport Hotel. Transfer to the airport.
VEHICLES: comfortable 4X4 with A/C. The sailing at Banana Island will depend on the weather condition.
DISTANCES AND TIME: distances and journey times are approximate and may vary. Travel times do not include stops and visits and indicate periods spent in vehicles.
Yellow fever: Mandatory, the vaccination has been declared lifelong by the World Health Organization.
Cholera: it is not mandatory at the time of setting this itinerary, anyway it is recommended to verify it before the departure
Prophylaxis anti-malaria: highly recommended.
Guinea Conakry: mandatory. E-Visa: https://www.paf.gov.gn/visa
The site’s responses (or not response) could be out of our control, in some cases it will be necessary to have a person to intervene directly in Conakry to unblock the situation with a possible additional cost of 60 Euros.
Since this visa could be sometimes complicated to obtain, please, when you have completed all the forms and inserted the required documents, before making the payment, provide us with the ID code of the application and the Password to access and we will be able to double-check that the documentation is compliant.
Sierra Leone: mandatory. It can be obtained at the border, costs: 100 USD
– lunch: cold meals (picnic) or at restaurants (pre-selected menu),
– dinner: at the hotels, pre-selected menu.
ACCOMMODATIONS: in the main cities, international standard hotels, in the countryside, the best hotel available, mostly have self-contained rooms with A/C. At Banana Island fixed tented camp.
INSURANCE: mandatory for medical assistance, repatriation, and damages.
TransAfrica is not responsible for diseases, accidents, damages that might occur during or after the trip, whatever the cause might be and whoever might be responsible. The bill from the insurance must be delivered to us before the departure.
PARTICIPANTS: max 16.
NOTES: Due to the nature of this journey, the itinerary, visits, and overnights might be modified based on the unquestionable decision of the tour leader who will do his upmost best to stick to the program.
The itinerary is made to discover places where foreigners are not yet common. Understanding and flexibility are necessary for a trip “outside the beaten tracks”. Thanks to the right attitude we will profit from a unique experience and appreciate the beauty of the landscapes, the hospitality of the locals, and the ceremonies that local people will shared with us.