Welcome to this week’s Postcard From – the feature where I chat to some lucky explorer about their recent travels.
This week, I’ve been chatting to travel blogger Lady Hobo about a really fascinating trip to Guinea in West Africa. Lady Hobo discovered travelling by way of a study abroad program during her first year of university. After a summer in Spain and Portugal, she was hooked for life. Over the last two years, through a combination of graphic design work and temporary jobs, she has finally discovered a way to make full-time travel a reality. She just finished road tripping all 50 U.S. states and can currently be found traipsing around Central America.
Welcome to Postcard From! How did you wind up visiting Guinea?
A few years ago, I took a temporary job with the circus. I know, what a cliché! But it’s true. While working for the show, I met some acrobats from Guinea, West Africa. The following year, while road tripping the U.S., I met up with the circus again. While working together for two months in Dallas, the Guineans learned about my love of travel and became my good friends. “You ever been to Africa?” one asked. When they found out I had never been, they invited me! Unfortunately because of the Ebola epidemic they weren’t able to visit just yet. Six-months later, I got the call: “We’re going home to visit our families. Do you want to come?”
I spent three weeks in Guinea. Five acrobats were with me for the first week before heading back to the show, and I was left to fend for myself, in a totally strange country, without knowing any of the languages.
How was the weather?
I took off for the capital city of Conakry in early June. The weather was hot and I was immediately sweaty, but I found out quickly, we weren’t in the desert. On a wild moped ride from the airport to the house, we got caught in a total downpour. Guinea has very heavy tropical rains almost every afternoon this time of year. The rains were lovely, but it led to almost-daily power outages and brought out a lot of mosquitoes.
Where were you staying in Guinea?
I stayed with one of the acrobats’ families. His parents, a couple brothers, his twin sisters, plus a couple nieces and nephews all live together under one roof. I felt pretty lucky to stay in such a nice house. Since the family has four additional sons now living and working in the U.S. and Canada, they are significantly better off than their neighbours. I had a big, nice bed, a “real” toilet, and a rain-water shower… luxuries most people in the country don’t have.
What did you get up to?
Well, the circus school, for one! That place was insane. There are so many good acrobats, but it is total chaos. Aerialists hanging from the ceiling, contortionists, jugglers, a bit of everything… all going on in one room! I went down there three of four times: took some dance lessons, learned to drum a bit, jumped on a trampoline. I’m no acrobat, but we had a lot of fun and they always tried to include me in things.
What was the highlight of the trip?
I know this isn’t exactly what is normally meant by a “highlight” but I’m going to pick a person. His name is Yamo. He is the 11-years-old nephew of the acrobat and OMG I love him. He was sick for 5 years when he was younger, so he’s much smaller than a typical 11-year old, but he is SO SMART. I taught him how to use my camera, and he took some great pictures. He taught me words in his native language that allowed me to interact with his family better. He would save little pieces of candy or roasted peanuts for me when I came home in the evening. I even taught the kid to salsa dance! One evening I was talking to his mom who had come to visit from Gambia: “So. My son tells me he’s in love with a white woman.” We had a good laugh about it, but seriously, I love that kid too.
How was the food in Guinea?
The food is surprisingly rich and heavy for such a tropical place. And spicy. As if I wasn’t sweating enough?! We typically ate rice with some sort of a stew on top, normally tilapia, but sometimes chicken or goat, with other vegetables and things. We had this spicy mango soup a couple times. The meals weren’t totally my favourite, but they had the BEST pineapples and mangoes the size of my head. Once my African family realized how much I liked the fruit, they got me one every day.
Do you have any tips or advice for anyone planning a trip to Guinea?
- Bring your patience. Everything is terribly inefficient. One trip to the market will typically take all day. At least twelve people will pile into the car and you’ll probably run out of gas at some point and also get into a minor car accident. We even ran out of gas on a boat trip once! At first, it was frustrating and I kept thinking I wanted to DO things, not spend all day running errands. Then I realized I was already living like a local and this is exactly what they did every day. I was able to relax a bit and view the most chaotic things as just another cultural experience.
- Don’t expect privacy / personal space / alone time. Even though, as their guest of honor, they gave me my own bedroom, I always had people poking their heads in to say hi. Sometimes a whole family would pop in and sit on my bed and stay for hours, even though I never knew what they were saying. They were endlessly patient. Also, everyone holds hands. For three weeks, I never left the house without someone holding my hand. And it didn’t matter if it was a small child (Yamo!), my African mother, a 17-year-old boy, whoever. They are extremely physically affectionate. Also, they probably didn’t want to lose me in the market.
Did you read any new books on your trip?
I was actually reading, What is the What by David Eggers while I was there, which is ironic because I started reading it (a book about Africa) before I had any real plan of going there. There’s one part in the book when they see a white person for the first time and he says something about him having translucent skin and sweating buckets. I was like, “Uh, story of my life!” Not including the airport, I only saw one other white person on my whole trip, and just like in the book, the kids were highly intrigued by my presence in their country.
Did you learn any new skills (or life lessons) from the stay?
I learned a LOT about communicating. They speak mostly Susu at the house, but they all know French as well. I know Spanish and English. Even their hand gestures are so different from ours, sometimes it would confuse me more. But slowly, slowly, I picked up a lot of new words and phrases… French was obviously easier, but they’d really light up when I’d greet them or just say please or thank you in Susu. Several were very adamant about wanting to learn English so I gave a few informal lessons… which ended up benefitting me more than them! “Come eat!” my new students would say. “Are you sick?” They would ask.
And finally – what do you love most about traveling?
I’m tempted to say, the people, but I’m not sure that’s it. I often travel solo and get easily overwhelmed being around too many people (like in Guinea!). I think I might just be a bit ADD and in need of constant stimulation.
NB – all images are owned by Lady Hobo.