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Berlin, Germany. First week of October 2023, my excitement faded as I learned that my Senegalese visa wasn’t ready, jeopardizing my travel plans. The lack of diplomatic relations between Panama and Senegal meant that my Senegalese visa had to be approved directly in Senegal, not at the embassy, making the process longer than expected. Undeterred, my eyes were set on the Gambia, where the group expedition was set to kick off on October 31st, crossing into Senegal by road thereafter. Faced with this visa dilemma, I had only two bold options: plan A: try getting the visa at the Gambian border, risking rejection and then later catch a flight to rendezvous with the group; plan B: fly directly to Guinea and join the expedition there. But the thrill of spontaneity won out, and at the last minute I decided to tempt fate at the border, only to find myself later on a flight to Guinea.

But Plan A and B weren’t just spur-of-the-moment decisions. Weeks before, in preparation for my potential solo stay in Guinea, I immersed myself in research about Conakry. I also turned to a trusted traveler platform I am a member of for information, and it bore fruit when I stumbled upon a traveler from Guinea. A few clicks later, I found myself in a conversation that moved seamlessly from the platform to Instagram and later WhatsApp. In a twist of fate, this new-found friend extended a generous helping hand by arranging for me to be picked up at the airport and dropped off at my hotel in Conakry. He also recommended the driver who took me safely to Kindia after the turmoil in Conakry. Oh, and did I mention that he did all this on a short notice from Paris? yes, he was not even in Guinea at the time.

That day, enroute to Kindia, another problem arose. I had lost contact with the expedition leader as they were in a remote part of Guinea with no mobile signal, so I couldn’t get the address of the hotel where we were supposed to meet. But no worries, my driver, who knew Kindia by heart, made a few calls and literally minutes later, voilà, he found the hotel, so crisis averted. But once in the hotel, this rollercoaster of a trip threw me one last curveball. That very day, the entire group’s passports were due to be sent to the Liberian Embassy in Conakry to secure our visas, which were essential for the expedition’s entry into Liberia after Sierra Leone. Due to a slight delay, the passports had to be sent ahead without mine, raising concerns of another setback as the tightly scheduled itinerary was at stake. They couldn’t contact me to pass on this vital information because we had lost contact.

But here comes the plot twist: the hotel receptionist became the unsuspecting hero. He had a casual call that afternoon with one of the expedition’s local contacts, who happened to be the one coordinating the passport journey to the Liberian embassy. This local contact knew that one passport was missing – mine – but he had no idea that I was in the hotel, because up until that moment nobody knew. The receptionist – unaware of the whole situation – told him, by the way, one of the travelers from today’s group had already arrived at the hotel. It was at this moment that the local contact realized that it was my passport the one missing. He instructs the receptionist to tell me to have my passport ready as they are on their way to Conakry and will be able to pick it up later.

An hour later, a white Toyota from the early 90s, with broken windows and carrying five young Guineans, probably in their mid-20s, wearing shorts, flip-flops and brightly coloured T-shirts, pulled up in front of the hotel. The driver shouted in a friendly French accent, “Passport, Passport!” I was standing in the street next to the co-pilot’s door, the receptionist was next to me, making sure they were the guys who were going to pick up my passport. He confirmed they were. On a leap of faith, I handed my passport to the co-pilot on the street. He quickly opened a bag, tossed my passport in, sealed it, and said “merci” as the car sped away. Later in the evening when the group got mobile signal again, it was already all done. Days later our passports were returned with the stamped visa and we were ready to continue the journey.

As my stay in Guinea unfolded with the support of my newfound connections, it left me with a few thoughts that may serve for those brave enough to travel to the far corners of the world:

  1. Stay calm: In moments of turmoil, be the eye of the storm. If this is a skill that eludes you, you may want to reconsider some destinations.
  2. Fact-check: Verify information only through trusted channels before taking action to avoid poor decision-making.
  3. Bridge the gap: Arm yourself with basic phrases in the local language. It’s a real game changer and a secret sauce to a richer travel experience.
  4. Things can always go wrong – even with planning: If you’re thinking of traveling to a country with a fragile political system, always (always!) have a Plan B and maybe a C.

Prepare the best you can before you travel, then it may happen as Paulo Coelho once said — the whole universe conspires to help you achieve your goals, in this case while traveling.

 

 

Eduardo Ríos Lasso

Eduardo Rios Lasso emerged as a writer alongside his doctor's development. Born and raised in Panama City, Panama, his journey has taken him around the globe to dozens of countries. Along the way, he found a passion for inquisitive travel writing – storytelling designed to explore and seek out positive life experiences while also sharing the common interests and challenges that bring different cultures together.

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