Guinea

Mamou - Guinea Conakry

 Currency = FrG  
£1 = FrG 4200  
US $1 = FrG 2400
1 Euro = FrG 2900
March 2004     

Mamou - the word means something big and important - was founded by the French in 1908 as a collecting point and fuel depot on the 662 km of 1-metre gauge railway track between Kankan and Conakry City (125 miles / 201 km by rail to the Southwest). With its development came the transfer of the Fula chieftancy from the town of Timbo, despite fierce local opposition.
Thus Mamou became the administrative centre for much of the Highlands until the mid 1940s.

Today, although its railway lies sadly neglected .. it thrives as a major transport hub with an agricultural college, meat processing industry and the centre of processing of cattle, citrus fruit, bananas, tomatoes and mangoes which are grown in the surrounding area.

A couple of kilometres outside of the centre is the Balys Hotel, recommended by The Rough Guide to West Africa as one of the country's best midrange hotels. Quite new, with the top third floor rooms and  the new outside discotheque still in various stages of completion.
I was lucky to get the only vacant room on a busy Saturday night ..
FrG 35,000 not including breakfast. It was clean and comfortable with a good restaurant, excellent service and very friendly staff. From the general manager downwards, nothing was too much trouble in ensuring my stay was very enjoyable. I was told that government ministers and foreign dignitaries usually stayed at the Balys when travelling through the area .. I can well understand why.

Alaghi, who had many friends in town, left to visit them and I went into the restaurant for an evening meal. The meal was appetising enough, despite being overlooked by a 4.5 metre Rock Python skin, covering most  of the wall opposite where I was sitting. Commenting that I wouldn't like to meet that coming towards me in the bush .. the waiter casually remarked with a smile, that that was nothing .. they regularly get to 7 metres and the  poisonous ones to over
3 metres long in the countryside around Mamou. Enjoy your meal and your stay monsieur !!

To see these pictures in conjunction with reading their appropriate text ..
Read on until you come to a
Link * then click on the thumbnail with the same number of *s

The Balys Hotel

The Family*

The Town**

Lunch***

Next morning we visited the family* compounds of Alaghi's friends in an older part of town where seemingly everyone had at least 10 children .. many of whom approached, eager to know who the Toubab was. At first camera shy .. an enthusiastic crowd of potential models soon formed once the first picture was taken and they could see themselves on the screen.

Later we went on a tour of the town** it was market day and thousands of people were out  shopping in the hot sun. Shoemakers and leather workers using local hides and snake skins were making designer shoes, sandals, wallets and purses. Hundreds of stalls in one covered market were so close to each other, that is was difficult to find a pathway between them.

Lunch*** was taken with friends in a market restaurant. The contents of a brown greaseproof paper packages, slowly cooking over a large charcoal-fueled grating and nicely cooled Cokes were on offer. Alaghi ordered a package which was unwrapped and set-about with savage enthusiasm by the chef, using a meat cleaver. Memories of a midnight feast in the middle of the Mauritanian Sahara ( ref.) came flooding back .. as the dismembered but beautifully cooked skull of a sheep was placed before us. Little was left when we (er, they) had finished. I still have not developed a taste for anything supposedly edible contained therein !!

Having followed the old railway line off all the way from Conakry .. I was keen to see the station and its early 1900's buildings, which I had glimpsed on our arrival. Although not a railway enthusiast, it was a moving moment standing on the redundant tracks looking at the French colonial architecture and discarded machinery and trying to imagine it in its bustling heydays of the first half of the 20th century. Despite researching on the Internet, I can find
no trace of any historic pictures .. if you know of any on
display , I would love to see them.

Thankfully all was not deserted, with drying washing, evidence of some inhabitation of the station itself and an assortment of artisans and craftsmen in the sheds and former workshops.
Considerable  investment would be needed to restore the line to working order .. but with the number of people constantly travelling cross-country, surely many would be ready to fill the carriages and ease their journeys between Conakry and the River Niger, the original route.

The Station

Treasure Trove*

Taxi Garage / Zoo**

Wedding Party***

Next we visited the jovial Maitre Moussa Diallo - Vice Président des bijoutiers de Mamou Centre -
to give him his full title .. the renowned local silver and goldsmith, at his Bijouterie Moderne.
This shop is to be found on the left hand side side of the road, as you enter Mamou from the Conakry direction and contains a
treasure trove* of beautifully designed and made silverware. Commissions using gold or silver are warmly welcomed .. he asked me to pass on to you !

Our onward route to Kankan was somewhat further than Conakry to Mamou, so we had  decided to attempt to get a mid-afternoon taxi for late evening travel. Confident in The Rough Guide to West Africa which states: Mamou is such a major transport hub that moving on is rarely a problem, the town's three taxi and bus parks are hives of activity from dawn to dusk.

Arriving soon after 3 pm, we found the Kankan-bound Peugeot 505 estate awaiting loading and departure .. with a few people already sitting in or on it .. this  looks good, we thought. That was until we talked to a young student of Kankan University, who had already been waiting for
7 hours and was the only one to have actually bought a ticket ! Perhaps there will be a late afternoon rush for places, we naively thought .. and settled down to await developments.

The minutes and hours ticked by .. Mamou's Kankan taxi garage is far from photogenic .. resembling a recently exploded bomb site. The wildlife** scrounging through the rubbish was far more interesting than anything else. Hot drinks, cold drinks, snacks and chats .. wandering around with the camera, buying sweets for the young children and one or two of their mothers, all helped to pass the time. Suddenly the air was filled with singing from a host of voices.
Along the road behind the garage .. a hundred or so ladies in a long queue, all dressed in their very best costumes and all chanting, singing, dancing and laughing .. came a
wedding party***.

After running up the road to get ahead of them for a good picture .. and against my normal calm and quiet persona .. one of those moments occurred when you just cannot resist getting swept away with the mood of the moment. The sight of a Toubab, camera in hand, silly grin on his face .. cavorting and jiving down the road in similar dance steps to their own .. almost reduced their  pretty parade to a shambles .. such were their cries of encouragement and merriment !!

By 7 pm, with the taxi only half full, we gave up hope. Luckily we had no tight time schedule, unlike the poor student who was in some panic as he had exams to sit at the University the next day. I do hope he somehow made it in time. So plan B was put into action .. a taxi back to the Balys Hotel for another night .. much to the sympathetic amusement of the manager et al !

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