Friday, July 28, 2006

[Travelogue] A trip to Guinea: part 2

Note: Gambia RPCV Mike Shepard embarked on a backpacking trip across West Africa following the end of his service. Below is an account of his trip to Guinea. The original can be found in his blog along with stories from other parts of his trip. This account is reposted with Mike's permission. Because of length, this will be posted in three parts. Part one can be found here.

A Trip to Guinea (part 2)

By Mike Shepard, RPCV Gambia 2003-05

Arriving back in the village I realized how big the mountain was in front of the village. We arrived during the night and couldn’t see the mountain in front of us. I now saw it in all it’s glory. The top part was covered in fog and you couldn’t see the summit. Maybe the description makes it bigger than it actually was, but it was quite impressive. The town we were heading to, Mali, is on top of Mount Loura; one of highest mountain in Guinea with an elevation of 5,046 ft. (The highest mountain being Mount Nimba at 5748 ft.) Mali is popularly known as Mali-ville so as not to confuse it with the country of Mali.

While waiting for the small boys to finish their breakfast the father refilled our water bottles and Nalgenes. This time the water was crystal clear. We weren’t quite sure what source of water we were served the night before, but the water just obtained was a whole lot better. After some picture taking of the mountains we had to climb we headed out. I had my backpack across my back while the two boys had the girls backpacks balanced on their heads. They were in the lead, following by Gibi, then us three behind. Within fifteen minutes we lost sight of the two boys while we struggled to keep up. The day before was about 60% uphill and the rest smooth plateau or going downhill. We didn’t know it at the time of setting out, but today was going to be 95% uphill. We were not looking forward to twelve-hours of uphill climbing, in some cases on all fours because of the gradient; this was alleviated a lot when Gibi phrased what he said the day before in a different manner. He wasn’t saying it would take twelve hours, but that we would be there by the twelfth hour of the day – noon. Now we could see how he could make it back to Dindifello by nightfall; it was shorter then we imaged, he would be going downhill most of the way, it would be only him, and he had no luggage to carry around.

Halfway up the hill we see the boys resting on a rock waiting for us, at the top of the hill! Women carrying babies on their backs and bowls of food or clothes on their head passed us on their way down, greeting us as we rested after each big hurdle. The boys were playing at the top, running around and joking. The girls realized they’ve been had. This trip up this hill and to Mali-ville was nothing for these boys, or anyone in the village. The next closest village from Chiange is Mali-ville and so the locals transverse these paths everyday. Up the mountain, pass the cliffs, down the steep parts, up wooden ladders, across rocky barriers – all in the days work of these people! And more likely than not they could carry a whole lot heavier stuff than we were. This was proven when we finally reached the summit and the boys were taking a cat-nap, not a bit of sweat on them.

After the first big climb we gestured to Gibi with our hands that it should be downhill from now on. He countered by holding his fingers together in an upward direction. We shook our heads no and held ours in a downward direction. He held his up one more time and then counted: 1,2,3,4,5. We had five more summits to climb! He finally got the point across that none were as steep nor hard as the one we just finished and after the fifth one it would be a smooth walk to Mali-ville. We counted down each summit we finished. At some of the steepest parts, where you needed your arms to pull you up, Gibi would take my backpack from me and race ahead to the next safe landing and wait for us to catch up. The boys, still not breaking a sweat, balanced the girls bags on their heads the entire time while climbing and only briefly would they wear them like backpacks, when the terrain asked for it.

Despite our initial fears of a twelve-hour uphill hike, we arrived in Mali-ville a little past two o’clock in the afternoon. The boys led us directly to a small restaurant near the car-park at the other edge of town. American description of a small restaurant: A ma-n-pa shop, maybe up to ten tables, the owners serve you or maybe they have one waiter/waitress. Guinean description of a small restaurant: A one-man-deal. You enter a room the size of a walk-in-closet. A table is leaned against one wall with a bench on the other side of it. Room enough for four people. Directly in front of the door rests another bench, just by itself. The kitchen is a gas-tank with a burner on top located in the corner of the room. From any location in the room the cook/server/owner can serve your bowl of rice within an arms reach. The door is always open to let out the heat.

Us three took up the whole bench, with our stuff laid out outside. The boys left without saying goodbye. Today was a walk in the park for them, they greeted other kids along the way to the edge of town and even played with their peers before they left. They’ve been here before multiple times and it showed. Gibi sat patiently for the rest of his payment. We bought him lunch, paid him the rest of his money and he went on his way as well.

The volunteers we ran into in Tamba assured us there was a volunteer living in Mali. If this was true, we could stay at their place for the night, have something to eat, clean up, and head out the next morning. A few problems: We didn’t catch the volunteers name or whether they were male or female. Both Sarah and Lisa were asking in their respective languages where the Peace Corps volunteer was to no avail. Then came, “Where is the white person?” That seemed to work and they started talking about this one woman who lived there. This woman turned out not to be a volunteer but some elderly French woman who lived and worked there. Finally, after close to a half-hour trying to ask questions and gesturing to our skin, peace corps logos on our bags, and other identifying marks we could go by it became clear that there was in fact a volunteer living there – but he’s on vacation, in Mali; the country.

Another boy, around ten years old, started hanging around with us and was quite helpful. He spoke only French and so primarily conversed with Sarah. While trying to fiqure out where to stay he led us to the Tourism Bureau. This consisted of one small room in the middle of town. If it wasn’t for the “Office du Tourisme de Mali” sign you would think the door led into a small bidick. We caused a little stir trying to all cram into the room, with local residents huddled against the door checking out the new tourist. The man behind the counter politely asked us to sign in and then proudly displayed some number on the wall. It was the number of visitors Mali received each year, and they were always increasing. I always enjoy a good statistic and asked if I could jot down the number. Without hesitation he proudly said yes and even scrambled to try and find a pen and paper for me:

Nov – Dec. 1999: 28 visitors
Jan. – Dec. 2000: 60 visitors
Jan. – Dec. 2001: 107 visitors
Jan. – Dec. 2002: 218 visitors
Jan. – Dec. 2003: 286 visitors

With our free lodging on vacation in Mali we had a chose of two hotels. One of them was a regular hotel for the tourists; the other was at the edge of town, might not be open, had only three rooms and a bed was all you were provided with. We went with the second choice. The boy who helped us out continued to do so and walked with us to the edge of town showing us where the hotel was. It was called “Auberage Indigo.”

The hotel was separate into two halves. The first, to the left, was the three rooms. The first room had one bed, the second had three, and the third also had three. To the right was the kitchen, and the in the middle was an open-air patio with the manager playing cards and drinking atai with his friends. We chose the room farthest away and put down our stuff. Now came the negotiations for paying for the room. The manager didn’t believe the prices we quoted from seeing in the tourism bureau.

After about an half-hour of negotiations our fare was settled. We would pay 13000GF total to stay there with an additional 2000GF for him to get us dinner. The kitchen had no food and so the 2000GF was for him to go into town and buy a bowl of rice, some sauce, and coffee. The equivalent in US Dollars of each share of 5000GF is about $2.50. The ten postcards I bought at the tourism bureau cost exactly twice the amount I paid for a hotel room and dinner.

The manager prepared hot water for us to take a shower while we each took turns taking cat-naps in the room. After an hour or so the manager came by and asked if we wanted anything. We told him no thanks and he left. Another hour later we’re getting hungry and went to ask the manager where our food was.

“You said you didn’t want anything.”

“We didn’t know you were going into town!”

“I asked if you wanted anything, you said no.”

“You knew exactly what we wanted for dinner. If we would have known you were going into town we would have given you the money for it. You never said you were going into town, and if you knew that was going to be the only time you should have asked for the money”

This continued for another ten minutes. By now it was downpouring! He finally agreed to go back into town, on his bike, to get us dinner. We felt a little guilty making him go out in the rain, but dinner was part of the deal we negotiated hours earlier and the miscommunication of him already going into town was not helpful. Before he left I asked if I could look at the registrar he had. This book, like a regular registration book you see in the states, was over three years old and still not even halfway filled.

Flipping through the pages I saw tourists from a half-dozen European countries, a few African countries, and of course America. All of the Americans were volunteers from other countries, except of course their friends or family from back home who came along. We spotted a few names we recognized, some dating three years back. To tell how we knew them, Sarah just completed her two-year service a few days before we left for Guinea; some of the names on the registration were volunteers who helped with her training.

Another interesting name we saw was Tom Morgan, the previous Country Director for The Gambia! That was a pleasant surprise to see a country director roughing it as much as the volunteers. This hotel had no bathroom, no showers, no food, just beds and maybe lights if the electricity worked. Not only that but he had to get here somewhere and that’s no easy feat by itself.

Finally the manager came back, soaking wet, with a bowl of rice and individual serving size portions of Nescafe. We invited him to eat with us but he refused saying he already ate when he was in town the first time. We didn’t say anything when that made us think “When he was eating, didn’t he think we needed food?” I’m shivering while eating my rice and drinking the hot coffee. Who would have thought to bring a long-sleeve sweatshirt to West Africa? I’m drapped in the bedsheet. Having a cold bucket bath earlier in the night didn’t help either.

The next morning our alarms woke us up at 5:45 in the morning. We wanted to on the road by six to reach the car-park by 6:30. The cars usually leave around seven in the morning. By a quarter after six we’re finally on the way out, with me having a cold. The car going to Labe was waiting in the car park for more people to show up. The car is made for eight people: a driver, a passenger, three passengers in the back, and three more in the way back. We left with eleven. The driver, two front passengers, four passenger in the back (including us three), and four more in the way back.

After paying the 10,000GF each for the ride and bags, and being squeezed in like a can of sardines the car did the stunt-driver-like ride down the mountain. The road was as wide as maybe one and half car widths. Upon passing cars and trucks going the other way we screeched past each other with only inches to spare – on both sides. On one side was the passing car, the other side the edge of the road down the cliff. After about twenty minutes of keeping our eyes open to the max in a panic we relaxed, as no other person in the cab was the least bit concerned. For the rest of the ride we either just talked, played Boggle, or took naps without worrying what was two feet to our right. The two and half hour car ride ended with us pulling into Labe.

Labe is the 7th most populated town in Guinea. The first six are Conakry (the capital), Nzerekore, Kankan, Kindia, Mamou, and Siguiri. The main road in was dirt, with pothole similar to the size in The Gambia; however as soon as we reached the main road in town it became paved. By this time I’m too tired and sick to move much. I sounded like I not only had a frog in my throat, but he had a frog in his as well. It reminded me of the mythology question of what holds up the earth? An elephant. What holds up the elephant? Another elephant. And what hold up that elephant? It’s elephants all the way down! Well, for me it sounded like it was frogs all the way down!

There was an Internet café two blocks away, around the corner of the car park. Having been worried for the past few days about the extra vacation days I wanted to let Yamai (my APCD, and therefore my direct supervisor at Peace Corps) know. Unfortunately, the Internet wasn’t working and therefore all three computers were taking up by Guineans playing Solitaire. Walking back to the garage we passed this one shop in which three old men were watching television. They were watching a French-dubbed version of the 2002 movie “The Tuxedo” starring Jackie Chang and Jennifer Love Hewitt. We couldn’t help ourselves but watch for a while. This was only a problem for Lisa. I already had seen the movie, and Sarah understood French.

Right next to the television was an assortment of candy and chocolates. After hiking for a few days and now being surrounded by sweets we all searched for a Snickers. None to be found. Our choice came down to either Mars bar, or a generic rice-crispy type chocolate which had a three-for-one special; perfect for the three of us! And so we bought the generic chocolate bars. Bad mistake. As soon as each one of us took our first bite we realized this wasn’t chocolate. It looked like chocolate, but it sure didn’t taste like it. We looked at the ingredients. No chocolate, or cocoa or any variation of chocolate was listed; in any language! What kind of candy bar is this! It didn’t make my stomach any much better and I just sat in the car watching our bags as they went shopping for the next hour while waiting for the car to Pita to fill up.

After a while they came back empty-handed and we sat in the car, again waiting for three more people to show up. In the meantime I’m worried about Administration and those three extra days, making sure they know of it beforehand. Sarah finally convinces me to call them. An international call; just exactly what I’d like to make using my vacation money. Nonetheless, she gave me the Peace Corps office number and I crossed the street to the telecentre.

The telecentre consisted of one lone employee with one phone, with three chairs in the room and he’s sitting on one of them. I gave him the number I liked to dial saying it was “Gambie”, French for “The Gambia”. He told me it would cost 3000GF a minute, or roughly $1.50. I hoped it would only take a minute or two and approved for him to make the connection. Little did I realize that I had my calling-card information in my backpack, but the odds were against me for two reasons even if I had remembered. I didn’t know the access number to connect to AT&T from the Guinea (only The Gambia I knew); and I doubted this guy knew it.

For some unknown reason, in order to make an international call he had to dial 1-4 a half-dozen times. His fingers are going back and forth; 1-4-1-4-1-4-1-4-1-4-1-4. No connection. He tries again, 1-4-1-4-1-4-1-4-1-4-1-4; again no connection. Four more times he tries this 1-4 combination until finally he hears an international dial tone. As he is now dialing the number I gave him Lisa yelled to me from the car saying three people just showed up and the car is ready to go. Instead of everybody waiting for people to show up, they are now all waiting on me to make a phone call which, technically, hasn’t even been connected through yet. I yelled back to Lisa “two minutes!” before turning to the telecenter operator. He finished dialing the number, waited a few seconds and announced “Busy.” Before he had a chance to try again on the 1-4 combination I quickly thanked him and ran across the street to jump in the car. No less than five seconds after I’m in the driver shifted the car into first and we were off on the hour ride to Pita. The ride cost what would have been a little more than minute on the phone, 3500 GF.

Sarah and I passed the time along by playing Boggle, while Lisa read her book “Angels and Demons”. The author is Dan Brown, which is the same as “The Da Vinci Code”; in fact, “Angels and Demons” is a prequel to the popular Da Vinci code book. Both Sarah and I had read “Angels and Demons” and would tease Lisa by asking such questions as “Has the clowns appeared yet?” There are no clowns anywhere in the book and we made sure not to give anything away, but still had some fun with it.

One thing bugged me when playing Boggle. During one game the word “ROSE” counted, but four games later it wouldn’t count it as a valid word. Something odd was going on I thought. If the game truly had an internal dictionary then the word should have counted for both games, not just for one. I shrugged it off until later when I had time to either figure it out, or completely forget it about and not care.

By the end of the hour and roughly the same time we arrived in Pita I was more like a zombie. I just wanted to go to sleep, lie down for a bit and get this cold over with. When we arrived in Pita I felt like I was observing the world from the outside and just going with the flow.

“Oh, they’re getting out the car. I better follow” I thought as we stopped in Pita. While just standing there I noticed another thing: “Ah, they are paying him. I must do the same” My conversation skills just dropped an order of magnitude and a very good comparison to Frankenstein walking around moaning could be made – granted, with a frog in his throat.

The main street in town was filled with these little one-room shops. Some had fabric, others had spare parts for automobiles, while some where small restaurants or coffee-shops. After we dropped our bags down at one of the coffee shops Sarah watched them as Lisa and I walked down the road to find a telecenter to call Peace Corps. I’m still out of it and almost a few times walked myself into a ditch. We passed sandwich ladies along the way, and men selling anything and everything from mirrors to toothpaste to bread and other edible items.

After Lisa asked a few times in Fula where the telecenter was we finally found it on the edge of town across the street from where we were. I walked in while Lisa found something to eat. A lady was sitting in the customer’s chair, while I sat in the waiting chair. We were both waiting for the owner to show up from somewhere, most likely from lunch. After fifteen minutes it started it rain and within a minute the owner showed up running through the door trying to get out of the rain.

The woman waved for me to go first and I handed him the number I wanted to dial along with mentioning it was to The Gambia. He smiled at the prospect of making 3000GF a minute for however long I was going to be on the phone and most likely hoped I would just chat away for a half-hour or so. I intended the conversation to be short as possible with as little as chit-chat as possible.

He repeated the 1-4 combo again and typed in my number. It was ringing! He handed me the phone and clicked the timer when I connected. The connection was terrible and the receptionist couldn’t understand a word I was saying. I’m repeating everything a minimum of three times. Finally the receptionist gets Famara on the phone. He’s the main receptionist during the day and his English is perfect as he went to school in the US. I again asked to speak to Yamai and he immediately understood, apologized for the delay, and made the connection. Yamai wasn’t in. Not wanting to waste anymore time I ask then to be transferred to the volunteer lounge to just get the message across to a volunteer to have them tell her later on. Famara transferred the call to the lounge and after a few seconds someone answered.

“This is Mike calling from Guinea, who’s this?”
“This is Mike. Who is this?”
“Kate, can you tell Fatou that I will not be coming back the third but on the sixth”
“Tell Fatou what?”
“This is a terrible connection! I won’t be coming back on the third but on the sixth”
“Mike, all I heard was ‘I won’t be coming back on the third but on the ……’ “
“Yes! Six!”
“Yes!! Also, tell Barbara to reschedule my dental appointment for anytime the following week.”
“Tell Barbara what?”

I groaned at the prospect of not only having to repeat myself because of the connection, but also because I looked at the clock and three minutes had passed. Finally, after another minute, the entire message was delivered, repeated and confirmed. I hung up the phone with the thought that that was the worst connection of a phone call I had every had. The man behind the counter smiled as he took out the calculator and multiplied 3000GF by 4 minutes while I pulled out all the money I had in my wallet and went through my bag trying to find more.

Although only $6 that money can go a very long way. I only had about 7000 GF in my wallet, after the car ride, thinking that would be enough for the next car ride and maybe a snack in between. I’m not good in economics but I found an interesting fact while living here in West Africa. Most people, especially when traveling mostly through Europe, encounter a smaller degree of purchasing-power but we have an order of magnitude more in-your-face obvious acknowledgement of it. For instance, one American dollar is worth roughly 30 Gambian Dalasi. However, on the streets of Banjul that thirty dalasi can buy you more here then the equivalent items in America. Across the street from the Peace Corps office is a little chop-shop called “Omar’s”. We can order a plate of rice, with sauce, and a piece of chicken on top for 17 Dalasi. You couldn’t buy the equivalent of that in the US for fifty cents! With the equivalent of the $6 I gave him for my phone call he could probably buy dinner for his entire family. While talking to volunteers when I returned I found that a popular, and quick and easy, way to figure out the purchasing power of a country is to use the “Big-Mac”-index. I hadn’t seen a Big-Mac since leaving DC!

I left the telecenter shaking my head with a frown on my face while he waved me goodbye, smiling, telling me to have a nice day in a language I didn’t understand. Lisa was just outside under the over-hang not trying to get wet from the rain. I explained why it took so long while we dashed across the street to get back to Sarah and our supplies down the road. A few minutes after we arrived at the coffee-shop it really began to downpour. We ordered three coffees to just wait out the rain. The shop was open-air and only the huge over-hang was keeping us dry as we sat drinking. Sarah was busy reading a West African guide book by Lonely Planet, while Lisa kept on reading her “Angels and Demons” book while I zonked out, despite the extra potent coffee, and took a nap just sitting there.
Within a half-hour the rains let up and the sky cleared for while, until the next batch of rain would come later on. We took this to our advantage and went to find the car park. Local taxis asked where we were going and when the reply of “Doucki” was given they gave the reply that no cars are going to Doucki and therefore we have to rent one of them out. They are hoping you either don’t know about the garage park, or don’t know how to find local transportation to where you want to go, and so would rent them out for a tourist price. We knew better. I fell for it once my first month after being sworn in trying to get to Banjul of all places. There is always some car going to Banjul!

After walking down the road for a block or so, and asking directions along the way we found the garage park. Sarah and Lisa did the negotiating, as usual, in their respective languages while I stood there going with the flow. A car would be stopping at Doucki on its way to Dalabi but it was for 5000GF. They tried to convince him that Doucki is only half-way and so therefore we should only have to pay half the amount. No deal. Elderly women were creeping into the car taking potential spots, filling the car to near capacity.

Throughout the entire negotiations I hadn’t said a word (Frankenstein with a frog in his throat, remember?) but decided I better point out that the car is nearly full and we better get going and just pay the 5000GF to guarantee we would get to Doucki that day. And so we all bit the bullet, paid the man his fare, and tried to find a seat. Sarah and Lisa somehow managed to get front-row, along with another person and the driver. Sarah was the closest to the door with Lisa to her left. I, on the other hand, was behind Sarah crammed with four elderly women in a space meant for only three people.

The rain had let out but the roads were still swamped with mud. The windows to car were broken and were stuck in the down position. When you try to grab the windows and pull them up they would stay for a second and by the next bump crash down again. There were no handles to roll down the windows, as they probably broke off years earlier. Along the way to Doucki the front-door burst open as we went over another bump. Sarah screamed as her and the other bodies in the front seat, with nothing holding them back, began to be pushed out of the car. She grabbed the arm handle of the inside of the car, and with the other hand quickly grabbed the door and slammed it shut before they all flew out. The elderly women in the back gave a big laugh before giving a little cheer for her quick thinking.

The two hour car ride ended right on the outskirts of Doucki. The car would be continuing without us but this was our stop. The tent that we had so grudgingly been tagging along we almost forgot to get it out of the van. It wouldn’t have been so bad if we had actually used the tent once; but carrying it everyone became a joking burden that we started taking turns.

At the junction the van sped away while we stood there trying to figure out if the road we were now looking at was the correct road to take. We were told that Hassan Bah, or future tour guide in Doucki, was a short kilometer walk down a dirt road where they dropped you off. The road we looked down was dirt, but it had a huge gate going across it, with planks of wood on top of that, with vines growing around it. Not too inviting. We were assured that was the correct path to take by some Guinean man sitting by the road who smiled, acknowledged non-verbally that he understood we were tourists looking for Hassan, pointed down the road, nodded, and then waved his hand around as if shooing us away. With that being a positive confirmation we climbed the fence and walked down the path.

Ten minutes later Hassan Bah greeted us at the entrance to his compound. With only a few greetings being exchanged he had us placed. “You are from The Gambia? Peace Corps, yes?” The Peace Corps guess the odds were in his favor, but the country of origin took some understanding of dialects. The dialect of Fula that Lisa used was Gambian, which differed ever so slightly from Guinean. Hence he was able to place us. Later I found out he was fluent in many language, with English being one of them. French, Spanish, Fula, and Creole being the others.

Hassan showed us to the main hut. It was about fifteen feet diameter with five hammocks surrounding the inside perimeter, similar to a hexagon with the sixth side being the entrance. In the middle was a small table and three chairs. In order to get into the hut you must bend down so much that you think the weight of your bag would flip over your head and make you complete a summersault. We dropped our bags and collapsed on the hammocks. We didn’t know it at the time but the hammock we each chose would be the same hammock we’d individually used throughout the whole week. It’s primarily the same principle of picking seats the first day of class and not having a seating-chart, most students just pick the same seat over again. I had the one directly across from the entrance while Sarah was to my left and Lisa to my right.

A few minutes passed before Hassan showed up again to show us our rooms. I’m nearly passed out on the hammock and was slowly getting up. Sarah told Hassan “Mike is sick” in which he replied “Ah! M.I.S.” We just opened Pandora’s box of his acronym style of talking. I agreed to M.I.S. and followed along behind him. We walked the twenty feet to the next hut, in which he pulled a key from his pocket and opened the lock. Inside was a bunk-bed set-up with each bed being a double. The ladder barely fit in the circular room and was squeezed against the wall. Sarah and Lisa took the top while I had the whole bottom bed to myself. As we thanked him he turned to look at me and said:

“For what?”
“Number six.”
“Lance Armstrong, number six” he said as he pointed to my USPS hat I had on. I didn’t know Lance Armstrong had won the race until he told us. I accepted the undeserved compliment before again crashing on the bed for a while.

After resting a bit we walked back to the resting hut where we met another tourist named Ton. “It’s sounds like Tony, but without the ‘y’” he said. At first we thought it was spelled Tone, but no ‘e’ in his name either. He was from Europe somewhere and was leaving the very next morning. No other people were there besides us. Dinner was served within the hour, a bowl of rice with sauce; before I called it a night at an early time of seven-thirty.

As I was sleeping Sarah and Lisa talked to Hassan for a while and he eventually brought out his photo-album of pictures with guests and explanations of the hikes. Although I wasn’t able to read them until the next night, here is what they read:

Who is Hassan Bah?

Hassan Bah, your host and tour guide during your stay in Doucki, was born in 1962 in Sierra Leone. His family’s roots are in Guinea, though, and his father was born and raised in Doucki. In addition to completing high school in Sierra Leone (where his teachers included Peace Corps Volunteers), Hassan also earned an auto mechanics certification.

Leaving Sierra Leone in 1983, Hassan worked in hospitality for the Zaire Embassy in Mauritania for just over a year and in the process learned French. He then embarked for the Canary Islands where he spent the next 7 years as sea-going mechanic. His seaman’s life gave him the opportunity to travel to Morocco and Norway, as well as to learn Spanish (his favorite language).

In 1992, Hassan joined his family, who had since resettled in Doucki. He began his work as a community health agent at this time, educating himself in disease prevention through reading. In addition to health education, Hassan regularly visits Doucki’s valley, where he provides medicine to those with very limited access to health resources.

In 1998, Hassan met Adam Lebou, a Peace Corps Volunteer working in Donghol Touma Center, 13 kilometers from Doucki. Adam later moved to Doucki, where he built the hut that many Doucki guests stay in during their visit. The seeds for Hassan’s tourism business were planted when he gave Adam and many of his Peace Corps friends and American guests hiking tours of Doucki. Word of Hassan’s hospitality and Doucki’s beauty spread, and now Hassan welcomes visitors throughout the year.

Hassan’s family is also an integral part of his tourism efforts. Brother Theirno Maju coordinates transportation from Doucki’s carrefour. Brother Abdoulrahim is an assistant tour guide as is his nephew, Alhassane. Also critical to Doucki’s success are the chefs! Hassan’s wife, Moimouna, mother, Oumar Sudo and sister-in-law, Mamadou Binta prepare the meals. One can easily predict that Hassan’s son, Mamadou Taibou, born in 2000, will grow up hiking!

Hassan’s vision for your stay is for you to feel “at home, man” and to be part of the community. He greatly enjoys visiting with his guests and not only during the hikes, but also while just relaxing in the hammocks, exchanging ideas and experiences.

Enjoy Doucki and enjoy getting to know Hassan and his family!

The Grand Canyon (Leye – Sere)

4km Round-Trip. Easy Hike but with some steep terrain A must-see, especially if you only have an hour or so to spare!

The Valley (Eiendeh)

20km Round-Trip. Count on a maximum of 3 hours to hike down. Difficult hike. Especially beautiful in the rainy season when the Kokulo River is full.

Hyena’s Rock (Tountin Bonodji)

4km Round-Trip. Easy Hike. Lots of large rock formations to discover and name.

The Bob Marley Stage (Fawre Kare)

14 km Round-Trip. A moderate hike, which brings you about half-way down into Doucki’s valley. Features waterfalls, stunning overlooks and a small cave. Good camping spot.

Chutes n’ Ladders (Balan)

16 km Round Trip. Difficult hike! Not for the faint of heart or foot! Most beautiful in the rainy season but also the most challenging – slippery ladders! It will bring out the Indiana Jones in you!

Vulture’s Rock (Petteh Djiga)

9km Round-Trip. Easy hike with a dramatic waterfall and rock formations. Enjoy a refreshing swim between the months of June and December!

Indiana Jones World (Chanji)

5km Round-Trip. Moderate to difficult hike, depending on the Indi in you! A trip into Doucki’s rainforest – swing on vines, crawl between boulders and enjoy a swirl in the Jacuzzi pool!

Wet n’ Wild (Sampirin)

13 km Round-Trip. An easy but long hike. Water, water, water! Lots of fun whether you want a long swim or just to get your feet wet. Meet King-Kong along the way.

The Caves (Lento)

8km Round-Trip, moderate hike. A limestone world of rock formations. Peer into and/or explore (if you dare!) caves of various dimensions.

After reading the whole descriptions of the hikes, they decided to do the Grand Canyon and Valley hike the next morning. Depending on how I felt would determine if I joined them or not. The next morning I knew the answer would be a no. Although better than the day before I needed one more day to rest. As they prepared for their nine o’clock hike I pulled the covers in more and slept in. Two hours later I awoke and just stared at the ceiling. I was too sick to go on a hike, but well enough to get bored of being sick. Needed something to do. I thought about the Boggle game and how ‘ROSE’ was accepted in one game but not another. That bugged me to no end and had to figure it out now that I had the time and so I reached for the Boggle game, a pad of paper and pen.

For a one player game you can hold down the left-hand button for a few seconds to end the game prematurely. The computer would then tell you what the maximum number of points were possible for that board and show you a preview of the list of words you missed. If I ended every game prematurely I could get six games done in one minute as opposed to one game for every three minutes when the timer buzzed you out. All I needed was the maximum points for each game, to see if there was a pattern or not.

After keeping track of over 800 games throughout the next few hours I had it figured out. The Boggle Electronic hand-held game, while seeming to have an endless array of boards is actually quite restrictive. No internal dictionary is present and no randomization of letters happen. There are, in fact, only 200 distinct games that can occur. Each game is preprogrammed in order with acceptable words alongside. A valid word in one game may not be acceptable in another. For example, the word “ROSE” is valid for both of the following boards that can appear:


However, the word “ROSE” is accepted for the former board, but not the latter. This also turns out to be quite odd as the latter board is the board with the highest maximum score of all possible boards preprogrammed, with a maximum score of 313 points. Among all those valid words, “ROSE” is not among them. (A side note: After I got back to Kombo, I found on the Internet an on-line Boggle solver. The game to the right has technically 254 words you can make with total points of 583, almost double the electronic game board maximum points. This includes both the missing word of “ROSE” and the nine-letter word “REGISTRAR”)

Despite being made up of 200 distinct boards the game actually cycles through 201 games. This happens because one board, namely


Is preprogrammed twice side-by-side.

Even though there are eight isomorphic arrangements of letters for each board, without changing the structure of the board (i.e., rotations of 90 or 180 degrees, and/or reflections) only two such arrangements seem to happen. A given board, from the table of 200 possible boards, may differ from the board on the screen by either a 90-degree rotation clockwise or counterclockwise. The possible rotations of 180 degrees and mirror reflections were not noticed in any game.

The cycling of the boards was not interrupted by the game being turned off; a board being reset; the board being played twice; switching from one player to two player (or vice versa). The only thing that affected the order in which the boards appeared was if the entire game was reset with the button on the back of the console.

Of the 200 distinct games, the highest maximum score is 313 points; the lowest is 6, and the average is about 80 points. The top five letters that occur are (in order) E,T,O,A,I; with the bottom five being Q,J,K,X,C.

When you have nothing to do, and a lot of time to do it, you have the time to do something that in any other circumstance would be a complete waste of your time. For example, cracking the Boggle game board. I have no apologies.

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