Saturday, May 19, 2007

Encounter at dusk, Odienne forest, border Guinea

Encounter at dusk, Odienne forest, border Guinea

The Renault truck was loaded to the top with no room left to spare. 30 tons of merchandise consisting of packaging materials and other goods had crossed from Gonokrom, Ghana towards Ivory Coast, Agnibilekrou http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agnibilekrou. On the first night they slept at the border to complete formalities to obtain transit documents, a cumbersome affair.

They had made friends with the border customs officials in order to facilitate the process faster. The wife of the head of the customs border point invited them to dinner, consisting of Fufu (mortar pounded Manioc, plantains and yams), and the delicious peanut butter stew.

The days that followed were in stark contrast to this, the truck transiting Ivory Coast from the north to the south, just 150 km before Abidjan, and then turning right towards Yamoussoukro. It took 3 days before Yamoussoukro was reached, and heavy rain poured down on them in the center of the metropolis built by Houphouet Boigny, the former president. http://www.infoplease.com/ce6/people/A0824299.html

They slept the night in their vehicle, the crew of 4 and the woman in charge of the goods. It was cramped, uncomfortable and sticky hot, but they had managed all through out their journey the conditions were similar.

The made an attempt to call to inform their whereabouts but no telephone line was available to contact those waiting for news.
Next morning the truck moved north towards the regional capital of Odienne http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9056764/Odienne, and the driver took the decision to cross the rainforest into Guinea, without knowing the road and its condition.

Being on African roads is a danger in itself, with vehicles parked in broken down condition during nightfall, blocking the roads, and without a warning triangle as the norm. Many people lose their lives this way, from passenger cars ploughing into those trucks on the road. Thousands of people die as a result but nothing is being done to alter the situation. No government since 50 years has ever been able to control this number one cause of road accidents.

The road through the forest is unpaved, a stretch of 50 miles of green, impenetrable jungle awaits them, only cut by a narrow, laterite road that serves as the main route to the border with Guinea. So narrow is the path that no two vehicles would be able to pass each other would they meet. On some areas the road is wider, and this would be the only way to allow two trucks to pass side by side, leaving only inches of room.

The truck could not move at more than 10-15 mph due to the bad condition of the road. In the afternoon the torrents pour more water on them, the jungle becoming a morass.
Visibility is reduced to a few meters. The driver does his best to continue, he is aware of the many dangers that lurk in this thick, green hell. They must make it to the border post. The rain still gushing down on them, he was crossing a creek overflowing its embankments. The floods are dark from the soil of the rainforest, and the driver can't see the huge rock that is laying in the middle of it. All he feels is a heavy jolt on his truck, and he forces the car to move out from the creek to stop on the other side and inspecting his vehicle. He had unwittingly damaged his radiator whilst running over a big bolder of rock hardly noticeable because of low visibility and the dark brown floods.

Desperation overcomes them when they see the damage. No way could they continue till the water tank had been repaired. They decide to stay over the night and remove the tank the following morning.
It was late afternoon close by the time they had crossed the flooded creek. Tropical rains happen to be a regular menace to drivers and as fast as they come they will go. At 6 PM all was over and the forest was getting dark, quickly.

They prepared for the night in their cramped vehicle once again, only this time in the middle of the jungle, and without knowing their exact location.
After the rain the canopy over them turned into a lively neighborhood with green monkeys jumping from branch to branch, amidst loud screams they were protesting the human presence below them.

Night fell and the jungle voices rising, myriads of mosquitoes descending on them. Windows could not be closed completely unless they would suffocate, so they fell prey to the blood sucking insects. It was real hell, no food except a few loafs of bread was with them. A negligence they realized at that moment.
The night creeping endlessly, with the occupants feeling prisoners in their tiny cabin which had two bunks infested with another insect, fleas. In addition to their already dreadful condition, the fleas attacking them in the bunks and menacing them.

When daylight comes they are relieved, move out from their vehicle and disappear in the bushes behind. The creek is now at its normal level and the rock can be seen clearly. Nobody will move it except by nature's force. After a meager breakfast of a few chunks of 'tea bread, water from the creek, the driver and mate remove the radiator, a task of two hours. It is near 10 AM when they depart back to where they came from, carrying the heavy tank on the drivers head, the African way.

No one knows how long it would take them to return. A pathetic thought in the middle of nowhere, only a breakdown in the desert could be of similar magnitude. So they wave goodbye and pray to return safely.

The day passes slowly, the jungle steaming with the day heat, the sun now over the canopy they melt in this near 100 % humidity environment. They watch the monkeys over their heads, and pass the time with telling their own problems to each other.
The owner of the vehicle was a laborer in London, UK and saved up in many years to be able to acquire this truck to enable him to make a living back home. Many tales are told on this day, for there was no other means to beat the time.
They wonder where their companions may have reached, their hopes are dim, knowing the condition of the road.

Afternoon brings again the daily rain. Everyone is waiting for the storm to finish before preparing for the night once again. A bucket of water is carried for the woman to the vehicle to the rear of the cabin to take her bath. She has no choice and uses her African printed cloth to wrap it around her big bosom and cover herself from the view of the others. Sitting on the back on the top of the spare tire, she manages to take her shower.
The water is fresh and invigorates her after the hot day. Proceeding with lotion her body, using a perfumed body lotion to smoothen her skin, she suddenly hears a sound from the side of the road behind her.
She calls the attention of the vehicle's owner and points to the shadow that comes towards her. As dusk has set in she is unable to see clear, yet she notices the abnormal size of what comes towards her. She tells Paul in the front to look at this big dog. When the remaining mate sees it he is shocked and calls in a quiet voice, she should move into the cabin, as this was not a dog, that rather it was a lion. With her Adrenalin rising in a flash, her 220 pounds of flesh moved as fast as in no time before. She jumps to the cabin like a 14 year old schoolgirl, slamming the door behind them. They see the Forest Leopard standing behind, whacking his tail nervously, confused. The scent of perfume is an unknown odor to him, and this saves the life of the female. They see him and hear him, a few meters away from the vehicle, growling deeply, his spotted skin vaguely visible in the dark.

They had crossed the path of a Forest Leopard http://www.africaguide.com/features/trvafmag/015.htm, and escaped his attack by a margin. The margin was the body lotion that sent the Leopard into confusion. God was on their side. The Leopard still standing, and growls on more time in a deep, catlike outburst of dissatisfaction, till he finally disappears back into the jungle.

Continuation : Bougoula border, Guinea........



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