Kek Si Lok temple at night :
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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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.Encounter at dusk, Odienne border, Ivory Cost part (II).
..The Forest Leopard turns, his tail still twitching, and in a sudden movement towards the edge of the forest, it disappears into the thick.
In the time that follows, everyone in the vehicle is silent, deep sunk in his or her own thoughts, figuring out what could have or could not have been, was it not for some greater power protecting them.
The night drags along, with no one moving out of the vehicle, in fear of being eaten by the large cat.
When morning breaks they dare leaving the vehicle, but the fear will never leave them as long as they stay here.
After three days of no food, their stomachs are empty, their moods are changing fast. Desperately hoping for the return of their comrades, each one hoping for a quick end of their plight, to get out of this dense jungle. After the incident with the predator they have no interest to explore their surroundings any longer, they stay near the cabin.
In the morning of the fourth days they notice a movement over the creek. Noticing the familiar features of their comrades, they sigh in relieve, breaking out into jubilation, in typical African fashion. Immediately they set off to fix the welded radiator tank, so they can make their way further to reach the border.
In an hour the car is moving again, amidst the cheering of everyone. They exchange their experiences, without realizing the dangers that besieged them. Great is their surprise when they arrive at the border post, a mere 1 hour drive from where they had the break down.
The danger is past, the guardian saint derided, full of courage they face the Guinean border guards' viciousness for the first time. Unknown to them, the Guinean Customs unleashes the first attack whilst inspecting the goods. Like a predators prey they are now at their mercy.. Same frowns on their faces, same story all over, same tactics used to extort money from the unwary, calling for an amount of 70 000 000 Guinea Francs, about 33000 U.S. Dollars of Duties and Taxes. Quick to demand and eager to extort, the usual procedures begin. Bargaining is the way to survive here.
After nearly four days without proper food, they search now frantically for something edible. The border has some stalls where food is being sold and they go for it.
The negotiations have started, and they do not end for another three days. Without success the Guineans do not budge away from their demands. They remain stubborn, their leader being the root cause. He wants the biggest cut for himself. For unknown to the people, border posts have their own laws and rules. They will not declare the taxes to the Finance Ministry, they will share it amongst themselves. This fact is known to the government in Conakry yet they have no means to stop these mal practices, corruption reigns in Conakry and spreads throughout the country
continued : The confiscation ..
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Mandiana to Niani, Guinea
During the night I feel tense. The devastating effect of the heat radiating from the uncovered Aluminum roof that covers my shabby Hotel room is having its effect. It leaves me drenched in sweat, a torture; unwanted Sauna in the tropics.
I know my car is parked in the unsecured, open yard of the compound that has one watchman who I can't trust. I have my emergency cash stuffed in a pillow I use to support my back from the steady bumps along the horrible road that crosses Guinea from the south to the north, a thousand kilometers full.
Every now and then I toss myself, restless, from one side to the other, trying to find the best sleeping position, in vain. At 3 AM I glance at my watch, lighting my Communicator which serves as a torch, and word processor. I hear a disturbing noise, I am certain from the car, outside the room, parked at a distance of 6-7 meters away. My mind is fully alert, I notice the strange sounds, like someone attempting to open the locks. At the moment you are paralyzed, thinking of the dangers that accompany any attempt in a lawless place such as this, to challenge an intruder
I struggle to my feet, Nokia in hand, still powered, slowly tapping to the door, unlocking it, and I open it in a sudden move. I glance at my car, nothing unusual. The noise has stopped at this moment.
Puzzled, I move towards the vehicle in the dark, the whole town lies in darkness, no source of electricity powers any part of this mining place.
Suddenly the noise again starts, coming from my left. The LED light of my communicator is not strong and I see a movement, about meters apart from where I stand. A torchlight is lit and its beam cuts towards me. I hear the voice of a man and a woman speaking in French. When I finally realize I begin to relax.
A man and a woman standing in front of their 'Hotel room', attempting to kick start the motorbike they use. Here in the middle of Mandiana, a couple had rented a room to find some privacy. He apologizes for the noise and soon they continue before I return back to my room, relieved and exhausted.
This particular scene is always in my memory, it shows that even here, in the last corner of civilization, people are basically the same. I try to catch some sleep, the ambient temperature has dropped now with the morning dew settling on the roof, I am finally dozing off.
.............Mandiana Customs Officials, the arrangement ...next episode. .
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ISFP - "Artist". Interested in the fine arts. Expression primarily through action or art form. The senses are keener than in other types. 8.8% of total population.
The Meetings have passed with ease, our contact is happy with the arrangements made.
Return flights to Accra from Freetown are once a week, we opt to fly out on a Sunday. The weather has been moody, in Freetown it rains every day, the clouds are hanging low over the foamy sea. Last nights dinner was sumptuous, as always, the quality of food outstanding considering the location and the time. Credit to the Italian Management Paolo, and his girlfriend and the fact that we have the right contacts.
Late night we are informed that the Hovercraft is non-operational, and we must fly with a local commuter plane departing Hastings airport to Lunghi International. Also we are informed that the rooms are all fully booked, so we have no choice but to leave. Military personnel from all over, U.N. UNHCR, Peacekeepers, High ranking officials from OAU, CIA, Mercenaries alike, all are lodging at the Cape Sierra, a somewhat funny arrangement, yet without choice. Cape Sierra is the only foreign run Hotel in war torn Freetown.
Early morning we move, after breakfast we say goodbye to our friends, and move with the Car provided by the Hotel.
Hastings airport http://www.world-airport-codes.com/sierra-leone/hastings-2404.html is about an hour drive from Cape Sierra http://www.visitsierraleone.org/featured_hotels/cape-sierra-hotel.asp, we pass the U.N. Security barrier, the OAU barrier, slipping through devastated Freetown in the middle of misery and carnage that befell this city. We can see houses destroyed, tin roofed buildings in desolate condition, people without hope. Yet somehow, life goes on. Talking about it brings back memories that are not at my top list. I try to forget the kids without limbs, but somehow the sight keeps coming back. A pity to see small children in their misery, for what ? Power, greed, money. Same story happens today in another part of this planet, without making direct reference.
When we reach Hastings airport, the rains pours down in full force. Nigerian OAU troops are guarding the airport, their Captain shaking our hands, welcoming us. We sit down on a wooden makeshift bench, one hand holding our valuables in an attache case, the other bag with our necessities.
We are told the plane coming from upcountry is due to arrive shortly and will take us to Lunghi Int'l. I wonder, with a visibility of 50-100 meters, the clouds so low that you can almost touch it, it needs a special Pilot skill to land in such weather. Although the ILS is working, the Pilot cannot see the tarmac till he almost touches down. We are conversing with the Captain about the war and its repercussions on the civil population. One thing that strikes me is the explanation that behind all the carnage in Sierra Leone is one man, Charles Taylor http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Taylor. He supplies arms to the main rebel leader Fodeh Sankoh and his URF United Revolutionary Front http://www.sc-sl.org/ruf.html in return for Diamonds, which both should make them rich. However, for every seller there must be a buyer. And I know that De Beers has its offices in Freetown, throughout the war. We can debate the negative ness of this, but one thing is sure, that I won't buy anymore diamonds for anyone as long as I live. (I already have, anyway).
We hear the distant rumbling of a planes engine, a turbo prop twin of Czech origin drops out of the sky, lands safely, taxiing to the main tarmac.
Hastings is a small airport, we can follow all the movements precisely. We grab out bags, and walk towards the parked plane, to take a ride to Lunghi. Njet, Njet says the Russian pilot. No way he flies again in such weather. We stand like paralyzed, trying to convince him to take us. The OAU Captain does its best, to no avail. The guy remains stubborn, nothing will make him move this plane again today. as long as the clouds hang so low. We glance at our watches, the time close to 11.00 AM, our Ghana Air flight departing at 13.00 PM from Lunghi.
We are sitting on needles, I turn to the Nigerian Captain, asking him if they have choppers stationed here. He nods, but says he can't ask them to take us. I say: 'Come on, help us, if we can't leave today, we won't be able to leave till another week'. He moves away to see what he can do, but returns with resignation, no way.
I do not know what happens on this day, except that somewhere some angel must guard over me, for in about 20 minutes I hear the distinctive whirl of a chopper, a large Transporter or fighter, we cannot see because of the fog. It comes closer and gets louder by the second, then the craft slips out of the sky like the twin before it, I notice the distinctive marks of a MIG 8. The MIG rolls along the runway, turns towards the Hangars, its Rotors spinning in near half throttle, anyone would know he does not stop here.
Our Captain gets into action, runs towards the monster, now turning its tail 30 degrees towards us, the Captain exchanges a few words with the pilot who opens his cabin and leans out. A mighty white, hairy arm waves towards us, come on and hop in, the Captain now running back towards us, waving us to hurry up. Needless to say, we grab our bags, and run with our business attire towards the chopper. The captain receives a buck from us for his troubles, and advices us to tell the Pilot that we love Cuba. We reach the chopper, after waving goodbye to the soldier who helped us, and we are both helped into the vibrating aircraft, its Rotor blades now picking speed we can hear the from the turbines sound.
The Interior is a junk yard and a warehouse, two machine gunners with heavy submachine guns guarding both entrances, open door, we lift off almost instantly.
Flying very low over the Mangroves that occupy the are between Hastings and Lunghi, I wonder what it would be like to make a hard landing in this waters below us. I have time to study the interior, they carry supplies to the troops, from rice in bags, to toilet paper rolls, all is stuffed in the craft, and so are civilians who are sitting in the back. I am amazed to see how much stuff goes into that craft. Vibrating, with the gunners watching carefully the Mangroves below, we fly towards our destination, a mere 10-15 minutes ride, our lifeline to the outside world.
And when we reach Lunghi, I see the Ghana Air F27 approaching and land on the runway. The Pilot moves the MIG to a close area near the main building, and we thank him, amidst the noise jumping out of the aircraft, and running to the main building. The departing passengers give us a curious look, because from where we come not other passengers appear. Immigration, Customs are passed quickly, leaving our last Leones, the main currency. The plane meanwhile has parked and we are the first, occupying seat Nr. 1 + 2 in the front. I recognize another friend who is a member of the security forces of Ghana, accompanying the plane from Banjul, Conakry, Freetown on to Abidjan and Accra.
Long after taking our seats, the plane has taken off, I realize how fortunate we are, for if this chopper hadn't taken us we would be still waiting for another week in this forsaken place, but with uncertainty where to sleep, as all the rooms are booked out. We sip on our welcome drink and try to relax.
In the news a week later we hear that Freetown has been overrun by the Rebels again, and we know that the favorite place of the rebels is the Cape Sierra Hotel, the Hotel staff explaining to us whilst we are there. If this is not luck, then what is....
We thank those brave soldiers of the Nigerian peacekeepers for making our return possible, to the Pilot of the MIG; and I pray for those children who lost their arms, that they will find a somewhat normal life again. It remains a vague hope though, because one can imagine what it means to live without his right or left hand, or both. God bless those who can.
Freetown, Sierra Leone, part 2. .
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