Faranah & Haut Niger National Park, Guinea:
The journey from Bamako in Mali to Kankan in northern Guinea was already an adventure in itself (for a map of the entire trip click here). As usual, the shared taxi was overcrowded – but this time, there was a Nigerian passenger without a passport! The border crossing was therefore going to be complicated: In fact, the taxi driver stopped a few hundred metres before the border checkpoint and the Nigerian changed onto a waiting motorbike. While we crossed the border officially, the Nigerian used the bike to get around the checkpoint to meet us later on down the road. While we waited for his arrival, we heard that he got captured! However, after a hefty bribe, we could all-together continue our journey…
After a night in Kankan, we took another shared taxi to the small town of Faranah, which is the main gateway to the Haut Niger National Park (alternatively: National Park of Upper Niger). Here, we organized permissions as well as our individual transport into the park. In the end, we found two guys who knew the way and would take us on the back of their motorbikes. Before we left, we took a walk through the town and its lively market. People asked me to take their photograph here and there, but after about 15 minutes a plainclothes policeman came and requested us to follow him to the police station. Once there, our passports were examined and we were accused of being spies etc. After a litany of about 30 minutes including threats of deportation from the country, we were let go. Welcome to Guinea!
On the next morning, we started early towards the Haut Niger National Park! Our guides stopped on the way in the tiny village Sidakoro, where the first president of Guinea, Ahmed Sekou Touré, was born in a small hut. During the late 1990s, development projects were started to draw more tourists into the region. However, the political turmoil in Guinea during and following the last years of the reign of President Lansana Conté led to a deterioration of the park’s infrastructure. Today, most of the buildings are abandoned and begin to disintegrate. Continued poaching decreases the number of wild animals in the park – and in fact we did not see any larger mammals, although rumours speak of lions, different antelope species, and even manatees in the Niger River.
Nevertheless, our aim was to visit the Chimpanzee Conservation Centre (CCC) at the core of the park at Somoria. This project started in 1997 and aims to rescue captive chimpanzees and return them into the wild. A dedicated team of national and international employees and volunteers works together to provide the best possible care for the animals. Before our visit, we were told by locals that there are huts available to visitors at Somoria, but in fact these were completely neglected and there was no running water or electricity. We nevertheless stayed in one of the open huts overnight washing ourselves in the Niger River while watching out for crocodiles. Even though we could not spot any wild animals, it was great to meet the people of the CCC and see the great work they are doing for the chimpanzees!! You can check out their website and might think about supporting their work with a donation!
After a short night in the bush, we returned with our two guides and motorbikes. The ride was long and bumpy, we had flat tyres and occasionally a bike got stuck in the sand – but the entire adventure was worth all the trouble! From Faranah we finally continued onwards into the hills of the Fouta Djalon in western Guinea. You can read more about this part of the journey in the following post!