Backpacking in Guinea🇬🇳: This Is Africa’s Northern Ireland 🔴✋️☘️

Backpacking in Guinea🇬🇳: This Is Africa’s Northern Ireland 🔴✋️☘️“Move closer; set my mind in fire” – Tim Wheeler.

Backpacking in Guinea🇬🇳: This Is Africa’s Northern Ireland 🔴✋️☘️

You know the drill when you grow up in the outside-monikered country called “troubled Northern Ireland”. You’re asked where you’re from and you tell everyone “I’m from Northern Ireland”. At least I did, I made a point of it, because nobody cared about us. I’m not Republic of Irish, I’m certainly not British (whatever moniker that was given).

“Some might say that sunshine follows thunder. Go and tell it to the man who cannot shine” – Noel Gallagher.

Backpacking in Guinea🇬🇳: This Is Africa’s Northern Ireland 🔴✋️☘️

To the world, we were Irish or British. You were wrong. The world was wrong. And so was England. And so was Republic of Ireland. We are Northern Irish. There you were stuck in the middle with no clue.

Chaz and I on the back of the truck in Laos (2012). Proper Northern Irishmen.

But when you mutter the words “Northern Ireland” in answer to the shit quiz question, “where you from mate?” (Already bad English), the response is generally of low intelligence.Firstly, nobody has heard of Northern Ireland. Except for you, me and Gerry Armstrong (who is already included in both “you” and “me”).Secondly, those who have heard of Northern Ireland usually say “that’s the troubled part”.Sorry. What troubles? Yeah what fucking “troubles”?

Still Billy Hamilton, he's got past Tendillo. And Arconada...Armstrong! 

Still Billy Hamilton, he’s got past Tendillo. And Arconada…Armstrong!

In the 1980s, tiny Northern Ireland qualified for 2 World Cups (until 2026 we are still the smallest country to brace that, goodnight Iceland and TnT who onced it and didnt even get out of the group stage😂, we were twice quarter finalists), won the Brtitish Championships twice, beat the West Germans twice ⚽️ and were cheated out of Euro 84, plus 2 world snooker champions and in history 4 world golf major winners. Not even to mention Van Morrison, Wayne McCullough, George Best or Therapy?Despite all that, we killed each other.Despite all that, we killed each other. Oops the clincher.Yeah sorry about all that, maybe you got it right, you can still call us “troubled Northern Ireland”. But we don’t do trouble. Others actually forced trouble upon us. I’m too intelligent to explain that. Ask me down the pub.“One day we’ll return here, when the Belfast child sings again” – Simple Minds.

Backpacking The World: Glory Days Loyal – Bye to Mum and Dad at Belfast Harbour, NORTHERN IRELAND

So in 2023, when I heard that Guinea had a fatal explosion on the Monday morning, I was due to fly into that city on the Tuesday. Great timing for this wannabe blogging backpacker. Actually yes. I earned my backpacking spurs getting lost in Taidong a brace of decades ago with equally astute Estonian hotfire Natalja. Well she grew up in communist USSR. We would have made a decent couple. Oops, my fault…

Natalja and I enjoying our hot pot in the city of Tainan, 2009

Thenever, Guinea, after an explosion, for an Ulsterman, should be easy, right?Yes, because I don’t give a fuck because I grew up in “troubled Northern Ireland “. Yesterday has gone.

Sunday Bloody Sunday, The Bogside, Free Derry Corner, NORTHERN IRELAND

Sunday Bloody Sunday, The Bogside, Free Derry Corner, NORTHERN IRELAND

Actually when the sun sinks tonight, in your town, or my town, or anyone’s town, we don’t really care. Because life goes on. It did in Northern Ireland and it blatantly does in Guinea. Even corporate liar OBM knew that one.“Yesterday has gone, but time is on my side; when I’m on my own, I’ll find a place to hide” – Mark Morriss.

Sleep can’t hide the thought splitting through my mind – really backpacking Nagorno Karabakh

You know, my weeks as a kid in Northern Ireland were like this…give or take…and more or less…and therefore bliss…Monday – bomb in Belfast. Carry on regardless.Tuesday – Dad at work as normal. Mum takes me to the toyshop for a “bomb damaged sale”. Carry on regardless.Wednesday – Northern Ireland, against all the odds beat someone as good as Romania away and are a point away from qualifying for the World Cup. The rest of the world doesn’t care. Carry on regardless.Thursday – school as normal. Catchy kissies with the girls. Evening shooting in Ballymena. Carry on regardless.Friday – school mourns the deaths then we read Heaney and Shakespeare. Car bomb in Coleraine. I get my pencil and write poetry. Carry on regardless.Saturday – football. Didn’t watch any other news. If I did, I’d carry on regardless.Sunday – church. Nobody wants a war. Carry on regardless.“The boys won’t leave the girls alone” – Belfast Song.

Backpacking In Guinea: My Stay At Hotel Du Golfe, Conakry, Guinea

Backpacking In Guinea: My Stay At Hotel Du Golfe, Conakry, Guinea

With all that in tow, I arrived in Guinea the day after the explosion, and backpacked the sights of Conakry in the middle of a fuel crisis, where sporadic attacks and protests were rife, just like even the “fake western news excrement exits” writings that “regular kidnappings and shootings occur on the streets, Guinea is unsafe”. Caught you out, lads…you lied.Was Conakry Belfast in disguise? (In the end, no, it was Belfast as it is, in Africa without a need for disguise, or fakes).

Remember Belfast doesn’t do disguise. Even yer man wearing a balaclava that killed themmuns was only wearing that for fashion. Nobody shot CCTV cameras in Castlecourt, Buttercrane or Springhill. The UVF admitted they planted the car bomb. The IRA called from a phone booth to evacuate Connswater. There was somehow an honesty in a brutal Northern Ireland world. I still love that.“I distract myself, in the bewildered herd” – Therapy?

greysteel bar rising sun

The ill-fated Rising Sun Bar in the village of Greysteel, Northern Ireland.

I arrived into the international airport at Conakry, after a somewhat wacaday journey. 5 countries in a day not without drama. My evisa had been approved the day before, the same day as the explosion. I was still unsure they would let me in, to Guinea. Who was this unassuming Northern Irish backpacking writer?

Jose Kante Legia Warsaw

Guinea international Jose Kante at Legia Warsaw

I was Jose Kante loyal after his stint at Legia Warszawa, so immigration would be a breeze surely. I can’t begin to mention how football knowledge helped me backpack 200+ countries. Football makes the world go round. It unites. If they won’t let me in, I’ll replicate Jose Kante goals. There was zero chance of a decline here. I knew more about Jose Kante than the immigration team. Gorgeous Guinea charmed me from first sight. 😍

Arrival into Guinea

Arrival into Guinea

After a 2 minute walk from the aeroplane to immigration, the border guard stamped my arrival before even checking the visa. But in Belfast style, that’s a wee decoy. He awakens his female colleague (yes she was asleep on the floor) asking her to check the visa. She awakes, Belfast fashion, after a night on the rip, checks the details, asks zero questions except for “where are you from?”.I ushered “Bangor”. Then I paused, “The Northern Irish one. It’s near Belfast”.“You’re Irish, Welcome to Guinea”, she murmurs, clearly unaware of where (or what) Bangor is, never mind Belfast. I added the word “Northern” after her shy “Irish”, followed by the trademark “Irlande Du Nord”. Now, she knows. She even smiles. She’d actually heard of Belfast, but she was too smart to venture the “that’s the troubled one” sentence. A wink, a nod, I’m easily in Guinea.“It even made O’Driscoll smile. Cherries are the team for me” – AFC Bournemouth fans.When I’m finally out in the open air of Conakry, the day after the explosion, I meet my driver who immediately says “welcome to Guinea, don’t worry about the media bullshit, you’re welcome here”, then he follows with something like, “and they lied”.I pinched myself, thinking I was in Cookstown or Magherafelt. Same world, here.The sky is dark, smoky and smoggy. Well it would be. It’s nightfall. Stupid Ulsterman.It takes 23 minutes to get to my hotel. Nothing is scary. Hotel check-in includes a trip to the local bar to pick up a beer. That was my fault, as I asked for a welcome beer as I was bouyant. Plus they do know I’m a blogger, a writer, a football fan and a beer geek.Barry on Reception takes me to the bar. Hold on, his name is Barry.Stall the ball.

Barry is not only a popular name in Northern Ireland, but it is the name of our country’s most enjoyable “Theme Park” – BARRY’S PORTRUSH.

The Ghost Train at Barry’s (Curry’s) Portrush

So Guinea is Northern Ireland’s Africa. Guinea is Africa’s Northern Ireland.

Backpacking in Guinea🇬🇳: This Is Africa’s Northern Ireland 🔴✋️☘️

Backpacking in Guinea🇬🇳: This Is Africa’s Northern Ireland 🔴✋️☘️

This is my entrance to the country.The next hattrick of days would sell humble Guinea to me.

Backpacking in Guinea🇬🇳: This Is Africa's Northern Ireland 🔴✋️☘️

Backpacking in Guinea🇬🇳: This Is Africa’s Northern Ireland 🔴✋️☘️

It’s easily my favourite country in Africa. Not a single hassle (grow up Kenya), no questioning (wise the bap Algeria), no fake pricing (a motorbike driver gave me discount as he knew I didn’t have enough cash), zero racism (Guinea doesn’t do racism), turmoil yet smiles (only Northern Ireland can do that), disaster yet party (only Guinea and Northern Ireland can do that).Guinea is Northern Ireland. I loved Conakry, Kassa Island, the bars I visited, the local barbecued chicken and my hotel.My quest was to backpack 250 countries I recognise. Guinea was 221. But here was a moment in my heart amidst all that mayhem…

Backpacking in Guinea🇬🇳: This Is Africa’s Northern Ireland 🔴✋️☘️

One girl was missing, but I know who she is. I guess I stepped off that train again…“Stepped off the train, walking down your street again. I miss you. Like a desert’s 🏜 missed the rain”  -Everything But The Girl.

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