Encounter at dusk, Odienne forest, border Guinea
The Renault truck was loaded to the brink, 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 . On the first night they slept at the border, in order to complete formalities 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 customs head at the border point invited them to dinner, consisting of Fufu (mortar pounded Manioc, plantains and yams), and a delicious peanut butter stew.
The days that followed were in stark contrast to this. The vehicle 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, former president of the West African State.
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.
An attempt to inform their whereabouts was futile, as no telephone line was available to contact me who was waiting for news.
Next morning the truck moved north towards the regional capital of 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 roads, 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 was reduced to a few meters. The driver doing his best to control the situation, he was aware of the many dangers that lurk in this thick, green hell. They must make it to the border post. Rain still gushing down on them, he was crossing a creek overflowing its embankments.
Floods, dark red painted by soil of the rainforest, the driver could not see the huge rock that was laying in the middle of the torrent, covered by the floods. All he feels is a heavy jolt on his truck, he forces the car to move out from the creek to stop on the other side in order to 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 some bread with them. A negligence, as 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, enabling 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 only lady, to the rear of the cabin in order to take her shower. 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 a shower.
The water is fresh and invigorates her after the hot day. Proceeding with lotioning her body, using a perfumed body lotion to smoothen her skin, she suddenly hears a growling sound from the side of the road behind her.
She calls the attention of the vehicle's owner and points to the shadow that moves slowly towards her. As dusk has set in she is unable to see clear, yet she notices the abnormal size of the shadow coming towards her. She tshouts to Paul in the front to look at a 'large 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 in fact a lion.
Her Adrenalin rising in a flash, her 240 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, with a deep growl.
At this moment no one could figure out, why the Leopard did not attack, our believe is the the strange scent of perfume, was an unknown odor to him, and this saves the life of the woman. They see him and hear him clearly, a few meters away from the vehicle, expressing his annoyance with a deep growl, its spotted skin visible in the now dark surrounding.
They had crossed the path of a Forest Leopard, 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 more time in a deep, catlike outburst of dissatisfaction, till he finally disappears back into the jungle.
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