I leave the friends behind. And moving on makes me a happy man. Unless I have work to do, working my internet pages and photos, I'd be rather on the move than stuck.
This is Sunday May 18, from Cece beach back to Monrovia past Roberts Int. airport, near Harpel the Firestone plant all the way to Buchanan. 2 check points just around Firestone, also they take themselves so much less serious, traveling is a delight I look forward to the upcoming adventure.
Diallo, the Guinean, has no fridge, no electricity and no beer, I would have accepted a warm one, I am so happy, I have finally moved on. And - once leaving Monrovia, country and people are extremely relaxed and friendly, still poor.
The only place going is the Lebanese Sparks Hotel/Restau/Bar they have the money. But Jonestone and Francis vis-a-vis do their best to catch up with their Old Place, Americo-Liberians. Joneston tells me about war atrocities, the looting around, their march to Ivory Coast 1993, "skeletons moving". Can we fathom?
What sticks out in Buchanan is its cleanness, streets are swept, rubbish bins!!! (the first real ones I come along in Africa) at every street corner.
I hang about its unlit streets till late, speak to so many, they are so curious, sleep in the back of my car just outside the Old Place, no dangers, no annoyances.
Driving away from Buchanan, it starts pouring.
Liberia the green, green, wet jungle. Road to Greenville.
Past the junction to Rivercess, which I pass when it rains heavily, the road becomes increasingly more difficult, especially where they're in the process of building the ditches.
Stuck a second time, this is more serious. Something is rotten, back wheels not spinning. I do not even start digging, cannot hold back the others. Prop shaft is down, U-joint, same one I changed 3 times on last 5000kms.
Another truck arrives, he has no chance making it over the muddy stretch, less pulling me out. We chat, it has stopped raining. He leaves for the village.
"If you see a caterpillar send him over", LCIP and USAID (AllAfrica) are reconstructing the roads, there must be a bulldozer not far. "There is one in the village." The guy replies. Really? I am really lucky! Just I don't have much money. Just 40 USD left.
Mike, Lebanese, married to a Liberian woman, roads contractor, heads up a group of workers, and Mike would turn out to be more then helpful. First he sends for the bulldozer.
They tow me out, but leave the truck where he is. I remove the prop shaft, drive with front wheel drive only to the village of ITI just 2 kms away. Mike has a mechanic. We fit a new U-joint, but the size isn't what it should be. In these conditions it'll break soon again. We'll have to look for another solution in the morning. I have a spare prop shaft. A bit longer. Cut it weld it. All it takes is a good welder with good equipment.
Unfortunately I have seen too many bad welders in Africa with awful equipment.
Let's look at it in the morning. It is getting dark soon and quickly in the tropics. I have not eaten all day, wash, they bring me a bucket of water, find a woman selling rice and spicy (pepe) soup of potato leaves. "African foo(d)? You eat?" Mike asks, only speaks Liberian English.
I am so tired, Mike comes around to look after me at 8 p.m., honks, I am sleeping already. The night sees a bright full moon filtering through the damp skies, promises a great morning, it is rather cold.
Next day, morning. Village of ITI is friendly. ITI was the logging company that operated the camp here, after the company left because of the war, the community kept the name.
Mornings are frosty, a yellow sunrise behind tropical trees, children fetch water from the well. Soon sun is up high, warms, people who have been freezing all night move to sit in the sun, get warm, dry the wet clothes from the last few days. The Land Rover dries up as well. Soon it will be sauna hot and humid and sweat will run down in big streams, shirts wet as if taken a bath. I have two coffees, then go about my work on the Land Rover. In good African manners I don't eat. I cannot see anyone else eating something. Most people not even have a coffee or tea to start their day. I put my hat on. The sun is going to be cruel. I have a Ghanian helper, Otoo, been mechanic on a ship that sank of the coast near Harper, speaks good English.
And Mike - has a welder, Mike has equipment, the welder is the best African welder I have seen. We cut and weld and fit my spare prop shaft, as if this is the most normal thing to do in the middle of the Liberian jungle.
Later the police come around for the usual questioning, then later again, need fuel for moped and generators. Don't have as (mine) is a diesel. And later when it starts raining they come round again, 3 on a moped, again talk so sweet, ask for a favour, need fuel. Shortly after they steal it of a guy who comes around with two jerry cans on his moped, they harass him, put him in prison, confiscate his fuel, he doesn't have a receipt for "his" fuel, - but who gives you a receipt in this country? A few years ago, I contemplate; they might have shot the guy.
But disgusted by the incident I decide to leave with Mike and his workers for where their base is. Why not do some kilometers tonight in company of a befriended vehicle. It rains and the new prop shaft seems to be fine. The remainder of the road to Greenville is supposed to be good anyway.
We arrive very late, darkness again has fallen. Mike orders spicy chicken soup and rice. First meal in the day at around 10 p.m., a fantastic steamed chicken. His workers go with a banana if anything. I have never seen anyone eating.
There is some more chicken and rice for me in the morning. I eat about a quarter, leave the rest for those who stayed in camp. Within a minute all is eaten. Weather is dry and sunny again.
Road Greenville to Zwedru.
I get to Greenville, a lively and busy place, meet big Ian, the friendly grand Papua-New Guinean, Roland's UNMIL contact, I think he runs the base here in Greenville, "We built this one when Ivory Coast was beginning have its problems years ago", monitor, go in quickly. And he gives me directions.
The road to Zwedru 180km is actually rated impassable by the UN, and I should find out why very soon.
It is only 10 in the morning. We decide that it maybe the best to leave soon, so in case I encountered difficulties I could return to Greenville. "It hasn't rained last night", I say, all is dry now. "Can't see it raining" replies Ian. He must know, helicopters are flying in and out; they must have the latest weather report.
First all is fine - but clearly this is a road that has not yet landed on the rebuilding list of LCIB/USAID.
Adrenalin flushes help me make the right decisions. Often I walk a passage, measure depths of muddy holes, feel if the ground is soft or solid. It is much harder here as there are less tracks to follow. This road is hardly driven, just one vehicle I meet, a SAPO national park Hilux.
Thing is that after every obstacle passed I do not know whether I have seen the worst or if worse is still to come. And the thought makes me weaker over time, after hours I am less able to come up with the necessary adrenalin, "Don't make too quick decisions" I keep telling myself.
My brake lights indicator starts coming on and off. Clearly brake pads are being eaten up in the mud here.
What I start becoming really worried about is to fall over, already twice I have slid along the walls/sides of these huge potholes, with full thrust driving the Landy through and out more leaning than standing. After all I do not want to lose him here, want to bring him home in one piece. After all this may be his last journey for a while.
The Defender was always designed in the following way. As much on the roof rack as possible for maximum comfort inside with the idea to put as much inside if road conditions required it.
Well - seems we have gotten this far NOW. I put my hat on. Sun is cruel. Two young helpers are quickly found; one hour later a few 100 kilos are in the stomach of the Landy instead of in its head. And all is securely fastened again. From experience I know this is important. I am amazed how all fits as I had previewed it 4 years ago. And - I still will be able to sleep inside.
Unloading/reloading was a tiring work in the heat. Soaked through. I put on a new shirt. I have no money to pay my helpers, give them the Lebanese bread Mike gave me this morning and some small amount of mayonnaise that is left in a jar in the fridge. They're more than happy, but now there's nothing left for me to eat.
I am testing my new found capabilities, it feels solid with the bulk of the weight inside; the center of gravity is so much lower now. But I still have that mud hole in front of me.
Here we go, let the engine heat up. While going into the hole I realize that I would have certainly rolled to the side and maybe over into the bush. But then I get stuck, somehow my central differential lock flips out and leaves me hanging in there, in the mud. No reversing, no nothing, one front wheel spinning, why, what is going on? I have known this car for a long time.
I manage to reverse a little, with only "front wheel drive" to slightly drier ground but still in the middle of the bad stretch. No way with just 2 wheel drive to pull out completely.
But at least now I have room to get underneath in the puddle without using a snorkel. Trying to clean the diff lock lever, the chassis from down under looks muddy brown and water rinses down everywhere, the engine is hot and generates a lot of steam, my glasses immediately get their layer of steam and a few brown droplets, I am still sweaty from the reloading exercise, my back and my head in the puddle, what a mess. I can make out more blind that seeing where the lever sits, in my confusion I use the anti mosquito spray instead of the break disk cleaner, this smells (un)familiar.
Well anyway I get it cleaned and working, click in, click out, click in. Sand ladders underneath and I back out again, the bloody hole remaining in front of my path. What a mess? This doesn't compare to anything I have experienced before in dry conditions in the dunes in Mauritania or the bad roads in Guinea, Senegal or Mali.
I can tell the Foleys brothers now that I have been in the mud. Thumbs up.
I check the diff lock again, click in, click out, click in, I can hear the (normal) delayed click when it locks. Maybe it is not normal. Just go and drive him through, he is strong enough. I put on a new shirt. Still so much mess.
I nearly get through, - most of it, at the end there is a difficult left turn, a bit uphill, you don't want to stay to far right I had figured and again at the most difficult patch my difflock jumps out, front wheel spinning. Stuck; again. I must have been on this spot for 4 hours now. It is getting late. Sun is going down in an hour the latest. Do I really have to spend night here? Back right tire; some differential oil leaks. Must be the hub bearings, but this is not the cause of the problem here.
There is only one way: Get underneath and get the differential lock working! I plunge into the mess, click in, click out, click in, it works. Sand ladders in the mud, a bit of back and forward, out; I press the diff lock lever to the left. Weren't we used to holding it to the left? What a mess? Dashboard, seats, clothes! Just about anything. I am muddy wet all over, from head to toes, inside my boots, inside my underpants.
I drive to the next village and call it - a fabulous! day. Didn't it have all I have been looking for? ;-) I have managed half the way to Zwedru, 90 km from Greenville.
Chebaou town, a guy, name is Teba, "can I park here for the night?" he introduces me to his mother, it is getting dark quickly; the dirty bitch of a vehicle is attracting a lot of attention. But once it is dark everyone goes back home. I can strip, they bring a bucket of water, I find my soap, my flashlight, wash, one bucket for hair, body, sandals. After years in Africa I have learnt how to wash all my body with just one bucket of water. People wash when it is dark, darkness conceals nudity. When I feel again like a man, Teba leads me into his mother's house, - for a meal. Rice and spicy sauce and - pork, 2 small pieces. What a treat? I have not had pork for a good 4 months. I have told him beforehand, "Teba you know, I do not have any money." Still they have served a meal. Shyly I leave a bit, Teba eats it as quickly as he can.
I retreat into my narrow space between the boxes and the coachwork, really my new home is a lot less spacious. Already people knock, they want a lift tomorrow. It is full moon, cloudless, stars out, some blink. In Africa when there is a full moon children stay up as long as they want, dance, play, the old women hum some song/melody, the men discuss matters calmly; this is a friendly village. I sleep quietly all night.
A new day! Again a day with no food in the morning, and then all day long. Though Teba's mother asks before she goes into the bush, many people disappear during the day "for the bush", maybe for plantations, we are in a national park, no plantations allowed, or maybe they are wanted now to face the food crises. I manage to change my last 20 USD and pay his mother some for last night's delicious meal. With my money I can buy bananas during the day.
They wash my boots, my clothes; wash the car's front, the driver's cabin.
Right back wheel, new brake pads, inner and outer hub bearing need changing, I do as if I have done it 100 times, knock the rings out, grate the iron where it has been eaten up knock back in the new rings, the seal ring, grease the bearings, grate and refit all. I can do stuff these days, after 3 years in Africa. - Well maybe as long as we stick with U-joints and hub bearings.
The rest is all ok, even the central differential lock. Howevere I will hold the lever to the left always in rough terrain.
We leave at 3 o'clock, nothing eaten apart from bananas. Abdenego has made the ticket. I am happy to have someone with me on a road like this.
And this ride up to Zwedru is the best I have ever done in my Land Rover, a powerful 6x6 beast with a low center of gravity it is now. My co-driver gives me good directions, and we never ever get stuck, manage really difficult patches, on his 6 wheels, he just keeps crawling when the mud wave spills over the bonnet and inside the cabin by the side window. And it cannot fall over, which means I can drive him so normal, or better a bit aggressive.
Best ever experience; truly amazing.
We arrive after darkness. Zwedru is lively, lots of brightly lit cafes, bars, restaurants, it doesn't seem poor. "The good thing about the war is that a lot of people have come home with different ideas. Before we did not really have a cafe, or fast food culture, - like Cote d'Ivoire," someone in Harper would explain to me.
I have changed money earlier, Abdenego organizes beer, the all too delicious Club beer from Monrovia Breweries Inc. in 66cl bottles, a bucket of water, I wash under the cover of the night, his sister prepares food, he washes my boots and some clothes, a pair of trousers I would forget the next morning, never mind.
Again I am so tired; sleep in the car just outside the compound where his sister lives, in the center of town. No special security required, Liberia is a save country.
A tire needs changing, repairing in the morning, then I am on my way.
To Harper, Maryland, Liberia.
First 120 kms are good newly Chinese rebuilt roads. I change another set of brake pads soon, this doesn't take 20 minutes. Then the road is getting a lot worse again, it'll take me the whole day, it is beautiful driving of mad stretches, with the weight inside no problem, - and the diff lock lever I keep holding. 3 weeks later in Bamako my mechanic would explain me the cause; a defect bearing in the transfer box.
In the end when evening falls again nearly all the wheels cry in agony, where there had been brake pads now metal scratches metal, but there are no spares anymore. In the end the alternator stops working, lights stop working. A piece of the high jack lift mount falls off.
I ride into Harper late, I am happy, I have made it through 800 kms of Liberian jungle in 6 days.
One diesel filling from Monrovia, no money, no food, lots of repairs, desperation. The Landy has performed like never before.
Immediately I like Harper. Where I park the car the first evening I stay and sleep, opposite Sophie's Spot in Mechlin Street outside Ibrahim's carpenter's shop not far from Black and White, Ivorian owned night club.
I shake hundreds of hands, and hundreds more in the next few days. I meet Jeff, Kate, Ibrahim, Sunday, Vlad and Sasha, Patrick, Felimen, Mohamed and so many others, countless nationalities, from Fiji to Russia, UN, NGO, Lebanese, Guinean, Senegalese, Ivorian, and so many Liberians, Samy and Howl, Aaron and Alfred and Julian, Antonio, Jimmy and Bobby. Rubber farmers, journalists, members of the Tubman family.
Vlad, Russian UN computer specialist, 6 years in Liberia, his brand is a parrot on his shoulder takes me swimming. I mean where else in the world can you be a nice guy, hard working computer specialist that keeps the networks running at the UN and live your dream, your bird on your shoulder. Not in NY, not in London. I subsequently shower in a heavy rain shower. Isn't the name meant to be for what it could serve as.
Late at night I usually get drunk on Club beer in the Black and White night club. And on Saturday I see them all there George the Lebanese, Sasha the Bosnian, their seats are behind the bar, what an honor! And Ivorian music gives me a sense of foretaste, an avant-goût, a longing for la Cote d'Ivoire, my next country.
Children in Harper.
Fish in Harper.
Harper, Maryland, Liberia. President Tubman, 1944 to 1971 was from here.
William Tubman (wiki), from the ruling minority party which never represented more than 5% of population, at the time of one party rule. Freemason and autocrat.
Still, he was the only president who had ever done something for the country, widely regarded as father of modern Liberia.
Born in Harper, his hometown received special attention.