We went to visit a vine bridge of spiritual significance! Our guides Philippe and Z took us on a gentle hike to the river in the scorching midday sun and we had a chat about life. Z is the local chiefs son, is 18, already has two kids and it won’t be long before he is running the village. The bridge is incredibly important to the village but when I asked for details Z said he couldn’t explain. I suspect because it isn’t babu’s business.
I was bored waiting for everyone to cross back over the bridge so started running back and forth along the trail, and managed to get my 5k run in for the day, albeit in the stinking sun. I felt a bit sorry for Steffi who had to sit next to me on the truck on the way back to town, but I apparently wasn’t the only smelly one! There are a couple of serial stinky offenders on the truck. All of us get a bit whiffy from time to time, but most of us scrub up and launder in towns. However not everyone is willing to invest in doing the laundry and the rest of our noses are paying the price.
We stopped in town again for cook group shopping, and a couple of us managed to scrounge up some internet for free, piggybacking on someone’s phone. It has been two weeks and i have only had patchy internet for three days in total. Apparently Fidel Castro died a week ago and I have just figured it out (for those of you who wonder about the posts, I upload them when I have Internet and schedule them to post every day or so). It is actually quite delightful to not know what was going on in the world, and of the 90 emails I picked up this morning only about 6 were important.
Jason has to fix the truck this afternoon, so the cook group won’t start cooking until 7pm and therefore dinner is planned for 9pm. I invested the €5 to have steak frites and pepper sauce at 7pm and go to bed early. Heading to Côte d’Ivoire tomorrow
We are all resting up in Nzerekore today. A few on the truck are quite battered and bruised and we are all in need of a break. We are really lucky that we have a formidable nurse in board who has spent years in Africa and is sorting out everyone’s ailments. Two people have infected feet, our driver is covered in bee stings and blisters, quite a few have head colds and a lot of us are just buggered. The truck (Amineh) could also use a bit of TLC as she has had a rough time in the past few weeks. Jason gave her lots of love today.
I was on cook group again tonight which is fun as it gives a purpose to having a good wander around the market. We ended up buying a 6kg side of beef, from a butcher with a bloodstained apron and no refrigeration. It was almost enough to put me off eating meat. Thankfully I am with a professional chef who is happy to figure out how to butcher the meat. We went all out and planned to do garlic bread, tomato/cucumber salad, coleslaw, avocado and steak, followed by bananas roasted on the coals with nutella. The ladies in the food market (and yes it was ladies) were mostly friendly but few of them wanted their photo taken. It is a mostly Muslim town, so most people say no to photos, and actually shout at you if you look like you might be taking a photo.
The market was hectic and frenetic but fun. There are few tourists here, we have only seen the Czechs from the border a few days ago, so we attracted quite a bit of attention.
We visited the mask market and I bought a Nimba – the national symbol of Guinea and also of fertility. This is probably the cheapest place in Africa to buy masks, but there is only so many masks you can get in a backpack.
After that, it was an active overlanding afternoon of laundry and lying on the bed in our underwear watching Star Trek on the laptop (it’s too hot for clothes), followed by a quick swim. What a perfect way to spend the day. The only thing that would have been better would have been if the electricity had been working so we could have been chilling in the aircon (the power is only on from 7-7)… oh well, electricity is a luxury I am learning to live without. We were also well amused by our howling toilet which makes a haunted screaming noise whenever we flush it.
On laundry day we all wear our emergency clothes. Air France lost one of our group’s luggage on the way to Freetown, so we bought him a delightful local shirt, which he has refused to wear until now, when he has no choice…. I particularly like the mesh sleeves and ‘hwos your daddy’ logo.
Dinner went well in spite of a howling thunderstorm rolling in as we were prepping and before we got the BBQ on, so the garlic bread was deconstructed, and the ‘roasted’ bananas were raw, and we told people to use their imaginations.
Nzerekore November 30, 2016
I had a wonderful wander through the forest this morning with some wild chimpanzees in Bossou forest and our two rangers Bonifacio and Laurey from the research facility. They threw sticks at us and played about. My photos are pants as the light is never fantastic in the forest, so the black blurs are cute chimpanzees frolicking. It was worth a visit if you happen to be in the region and at $55 is a bargain versus similar experiences in East Africa.
One of the truckmates is struggling with group dynamics so today he started drinking large beers at 8am, and he had knocked off 6 by 10am. Amusingly for the rest of us, he opened the beers with the ‘toilet trowels’ a.k.a the ‘shit shovels’ which we use to dig our individual loos. Odd! He promptly fell asleep when he got on the truck today which did save us from his ongoing monologue about his potential conversion to Islam – fuelled only by his desire to visit every county on the world, including Saudi Arabia. It takes all sorts!
We headed off to Nzerekore via Lola. The direct road to Lola is 18k, the long way is 40k, and apparently the direct road is impassable. When they say a road is impassable here, they really mean it! After Lola apparently there is that rare occurrence of a tarmac rd, we are looking forward to that.
We made it about 8k on the longer road and then the truck slid off the road. The road had looked fine but was deceptively slick. It took us about an hour and a half to dig ourselves back onto the road. It is like a bonus workout digging and lifting buckets of gravel to put under the wheels. For the first time everyone on the truck pitches in to help (historically there have been a few dirt avoiders).
The whole neighbouring village turned out to watch, I don’t think they are accustomed to seeing grubby Europeans digging up the roads as the only Europeans they see up here are aid workers in flash 4wds. Jason (the driver) is a legend, he is terrifically strong, always does 10 times more digging that anyone else, and stays upbeat in spite of all the unsolicited feedback he receives from other drivers and random passersby on how to best extricate the truck.
We made another 5k and came to a section where a truck had been stuck overnight. So, another three hours of digging. A great workout! We interrupted a bees nest so a few bites were had, Jason was stung 7 times and was still smiling.
The highlight was the view of Mt Nimba out to the left. We got going again around 4.30 just as the daily thunder and lightening storm kicked in. We raced the rain for the next hour flying over the bumps in the road. You definitely don’t want to be on the dirt road when the thunder storms come in, as we won’t be going anywhere …. Jason gave us a shout out periodically to warn of the bumps – we rate them as ”bumpy’, ‘bumpy bumpy’, and ‘bumpy as fuck’. We let out a celebratory cheer we 4.40 as we passed 15k distance for the day, beating our lowest day ever. Again, I could have walked further and faster :-), but that would have been less amusing
We finally hit some villages and the people were delightful, just like being back in Sierra Leone, except now they are shouting ‘Babu’ (which is my new word for white person), and everyone waves and smiles
The great joy of this way of travel is that you have to be entirely zen as nothing is in your control. You get to where you are going when you get there, maybe today, maybe tomorrow, maybe the day after. Worrying about it is entirely pointless and has no impact on the outcome.
By 6.30 we had reached Lola, and decided to push on until Nzerekore in spite of the dark. We reached the hotel Nimba at 8.30 and ordered dinner. It eventually arrived at 11.30, and was pretty good! There is a downside to being in a group of 19! Becky and I agreed to pay the extra 10 euros each for an ‘upgrade’ each night, and the room isn’t much of an upgrade…. apparently there is hot water but I am too scared to plug the tank in. It’s nice to sleep in a bed though.
An early start as we are crossing the border to Guinea. It took a couple of hours to drive slowly down the slippery roads back to Yekepa, and a couple of wrongs turns (the gps doesn’t work here) before we arrived at the Liberia border post. The are highly unused to tourists here, and today they had 19 of us plus a group of 8 Czech tourists. The details of every passport had to be manually recorded so we sat in a grubby hut waiting for the officials to fully satisfy themselves that we could be allowed to leave. That took two hours!
Then we had a checkpoint, Guinean immigration and another check point. Another two hours. The highlight of the day was buying a woman traders entire stock of bananas at the border with our left over cash. Everyone here is pretty honest with prices of food as they are totally unused to tourists. 20 bananas for $1
We finally got into Guinea and promptly got stuck in the mud 1km from the border for an hour. There were many helpful offers of advice from the assorted officials and passersby, and one of them even helped digging. I can’t fathom how Jason and Zoe have the energy reserves to dig out the truck, deal with officials and local hassle, and manage the passengers. I continue to be amazed by both of them
We arrived in Bossou by 4pm and pitched camp at the chimpanzee research facility who are taking us to see the wild chimps tomorrow. Consistent with past days it was gloriously sunny at 4.30 and then the thunder rolled in and by 5pm it was torrenting down.
It was an uneventful day in overlanding, we are now about 6k as the crow flies from camp last night and it took us 8 hours to get here.
Lunch was lentil salad, dinner is lentil salad…. I can’t wait to get to a town with a steak, which I reckon is at least a week more.
Today’s high brow after dinner gossip revolves around butt cracks! Two of the guys are serial offenders! One in particular, at the royal age of 48, has not learnt how to pee standing up without letting his pants hang all the way down at the back, treating the whole truck to a view of half his butt (and yes his pants have a fly so there is no excuse)! Not pleasant. This is a source of much irritation on the truck, but of course no one will tell the offender but we will keep grumbling amongst ourselves. Oh the joy of truck dynamics and it has only been two weeks
On a typical day you wake up early, either when the generator kicks in or when the sun comes up. Scrabble around in the tent, decide whether or not your clothes stink enough to merit a change, or whether you can endure one more day in the same gear. Pack up…. Deflate the thermarest and wrestle it into the bag. Fold up the silk sleeping sheet which was not necessary in the steaming night. Round up your still damp laundry from the night before and shake the spiders out. Squish everything into the backpack battling to keep the roaches out of your pack. Fold the tent, carefully!, making sure there are no passengers (roaches and large spiders) and that the tent is as flat as possible so it folds easily. If not folded properly it takes 15 goes and a near hernia to get it back in the tent bag. I am a master, mine always goes in first time.
On to breakfast. The cook group will have inevitably made eggs and bread, on rare occasions we are treated to cereal (very expensive here). Inhale large coffee (actually more like dirty water than real coffee but it is the best we can do). Then make lunch for the truck – more baguette, more eggs, sometimes tuna, sometimes pasta salad, sometimes a pink mystery luncheon meat (blech), on a good day some tomatoes and avocado.
Pack up the truck, everything has its place down to the sanitiser by the door. We squish ourselves into the truck, navigating around everybody’s washing strung up from the ceiling. Loud chatty people down the back, quieter readers up the front. Negotiate your place in the charging queue for your device (occasionally contentious). Drive, drive, drive some more.
Stop every two hours or so to pee in the bush – guys to the front, women to the back (keeping the paper to put in the truck bin and reduce pollution). At some point we start the inevitable snacking, sharing squashed biscuits and half melted chocolate. Drive, drive, drive some more. (Repeat as required)
Pass a small village where pale skin is seldom seen and enjoy the fact that the kids run after you and adults wave, and unlike other parts of Africa, they arent begging, they are just surprised to see you. Drive, drive, drive some more. (Repeat as required)
Pause for Zoe to get out of the truck to see if we can make it through the enormous puddles and/or for Jason to check we are on the right road. Drive, drive, drive some more. (Repeat as required)
Eventually eat your squashed sandwich and fantasise about yummy food from home. Try not to acknowledge the growing stink from your neighbours. Drive, drive, drive some more
Navigate a checkpoint. All involve a big smile (from us) and a friendly ‘how are you’. Some involve a stop and a protracted set of questions. All involve the ‘officials’ checking out Zoe’s legs. Drive, drive, drive some more. (Repeat as required)
Eventually, at some point when dark threatens, we make camp (normally somewhere the guys know). Ideally there is water and power. Often not. By this time we might have been on the road for 10 hours but only managed to go 100km on a good day or 20 on a bad day. Put tent up (avoiding snorers). Try and find some water to clean yourself and wash your smelliest laundry. Hang up yesterdays laundry which still hasn’t dried. Make some tea. If you need the loo, don’t forget to take the trowel. Hang out and wait for dinner (keener ones will do bootcamp of squats and sit ups). Depending on the cook group dinner will be at 7 or as late as 9.30, but will always more or less be pasta/rice and some type of tomato based sauce. Have more tea. Go to bed and dream of having a hot shower.
It sounds pretty grim, but it’s not. While it isn’t luxurious it is quite fun. For sure this will be my one and only overlanding experience as I am too much of a solo traveler, but it is fun and you get to see things, places and people you would not see on normal trip. And if you are going to have a proper overlanding experience (no internet, no phone, no other trucks, wild camping), then west Africa is the only place to do it