From 28th of February to 4th of March 2013
Troubles with the Rebels?
One of the things I lack while traveling is gathering information, about borders, about situations. I should use internet for this and as soon as I discover where to find internet I do make good use of it, but for gathering information. So on my last day in Monrovia I’d better cut short on my writing flow as well as rambling through the city with Oliver. I really better follow Yves to the Guinean embassy: there seems to be instability at the border between Liberia and Ivory Coast, just where we were planning to go.
With a new visa, for a staggering price of $125, we are all good on crossing into Guinea again. Brendan and Oliver got a multiple entree visa, not that they had the desire to go back to Guinea ever again but it turns out that their little hang over, while applying for the Guinean visa, served them well. They don’t like the Guineans that much, ‘can’t fucking count’, is Brendan’s beautiful Irish reply. Although I liked Guinea and the Guineans they definitely can not count, and I wonder if they can read? My new Guinean visa is never seen, never stamped. No clue which conditions the border officials have to meet while applying for their job but surely low on understandable reading skills.
Not that one can really blame them though, standing at the entrance of another country, people still ask me where I am going. Not just boys who eagerly want to contact you, also men with slight official jobs asking us ‘where do you go?’ while we really can’t go anywhere else than Guinea, coming from Liberia, crossing a bridge, ‘we’re going to Germany!’ is our reply, and immediately I feel guilty, people just want to be friendly and they don’t know that their very same question is asked a hundred times before them.
After Brendan takes on the Diplomatic Skills of his brother, who we lost sight of again, and start shouting and swearing seriously angry at the border officials who want us to show them our passports for the 5th time, a very annoying time waste, we obtain immediate access through several barriers. Also Brendan does feel guilty for his temperamental reaction, border officials are plain bored and eager to work, a rarity among those African men. I guess we need a break and do so in one of the shacks along the red stony track, a well known omelet sandwich with mayonnaise! One very obvious characteristic of the Guineans is that they are way more charming and elegant, it might be their French accent, but compared to the Liberians, men are polite and threat me with pleasing manners. I am happy to be back, to leave the black-USA-alike culture of Liberia behind me. Liberians seem to be unhappy and bored, their talk often empty while a country like Sierra Leone, neither unknown with a war past, are somehow more of a hopeful nation with a more positive look on life. Liberia lost it’s bonding. It’s a big mess. A slight pleasant forthcoming, despite their sad situation, is their lack of interference, being curious but not a hindrance.
So yes, I am happy to be back in Guinea. All of a sudden things are known to me, except the language, although Liberian English was a mystery to me as well. This part of Guinea is just like entering a grand chapter of Alice in Wonderland, called ‘Untouched Encounter with Wonderful Forestière’. Soon I am completely moved, my perception is rocking, I am stunned at where my bicycle’s leading me to. Or Brendan, as I follow his tire marks on the red earth. Sometimes I forget where I am, landscapes not changing dramatic, me moving very fast through several countries, little difference. But now I am back on a road not shown on any of our devices, nor Michelin map. Cycling in the far southeast corner of this country is simply marvelous although it’s hard work. The route we take is a short cut and does cut right through the untouched forest where tracks are rolling up and down and more up again, with sections as steep as 15 percent. The Fouta Djalon terror is piercing my mind, I have to push the bicycle again and sweat’s dripping from my head onto my legs. But nowhere I complain, as I said, it is hard work but the views are incredible impressive: finally I am in that picture I had in mind while cycling through Africa. Never mind encountering no lions nor elephants. It isn’t going to be better than this, Oliver would say, and it isn’t!
This forest is blessed with hills and streams and although deforestation has taken a heavy toll, there are still parts of untouched forest left. I am sure that’s exactly where we are! Often I have to step of the bicycle and wonder how beautiful it is. I loose Brendan out of sight for some hours but catch up with him when he’s changing his money with a motorbike man who doubles as money changer. There. Right in the forest.
Birds sing so loud it could scare you off. Leaves and branches are not shy and touch each other everywhere. Animals other than birds I can’t see but they surely play hide and seek with me and I have a slight suspicion that Lord of the Rings is recorded here. But well, we spoil the scene a bit by using our dense camp as an outstanding toilet. Brendan and I slide into the few pockets of allowed camping space along the road, a very small perch of ground under a wet canopy of tropical ceiling, leaving us surprisingly dry the next morning.
Give it some thought…
Cycling and it’s basic living conditions forms the mind to long for very basic wanting, fill in the gaps yourself. Possibly, this way of living is so close to nature that earthy feelings sprouting more easily. The closer to the source, the closer we may come to our primitive feelings. I am convinced of that, or else it’s the position of the moon? Brendan and I discuss topics stripped from excessiveness. Not being disturbed by superfluous, luxurious things or issues. My needs are most basic, almost brute, but in a beautiful and simple way.
Going to sleep after a day of hard, hard work is plain bliss. I feel satisfied and thankful. The day may be hard and harsh but the satisfaction derived from it is a beautiful fine feeling. Never is there any need for anything else than what is. And boy! What all is there for me? A lot. Besides a good health, a strong body, an even stronger mind, a very strong bicycle, cycling in a forest, great food and a lot of fish, friendly people and warm sunny weather, there’s also the company of three men who all add something special. I feel very blessed to be in their company, it’s like a little worldly family without any unbalance. Brendan and I philosophize, well balanced Yves and me share the exact same travel spirit and with Oliver it’s fondness.
Oliver carries my bicycle upstairs, with all it’s 5 Ortlieb bags strapped to it, because I simple can’t. He goes out to the market and buys me pliers and a screwdriver, carries purchased goods, buys whatever he think I need for cooking, get ginger for our tea, scissors and thread, a new hat because the one I wear is falling apart, he brings a lot of milk and food items. Brendan provides me with an endless stream of fresh fruit, carries my bicycle upstairs too, but mostly his soft and comprehensible solicitous look does good for me. I know he feels sorry for me now and then. Yves, his French accent hiding perfectly well behind his charming American tongue surprises me with handy presents, like a real slingshot. Plus we got the same kind of humor!
A New Born Form
Seriously, there’s nothing, nothing at all missing in these guys. We are like a prefect marriage. I soon becomes The Wife, and Oliver, Brendan and Yves the Husbands. If only according to the checkpoint guards, border officials, passerby’s and everyone else who sees us and give us directions. Some people just warn the husbands, whoever is closest to me: ‘You should stick to your wife, she’s very far behind you! Go back and ride with her!’
Cycling on into this grand forest we reach Nzérékoré. Brendan awaits me at a food stall where we eat thick fat rice out of a bowl we would let eat our dogs from and then we start searching for Oliver and Yves. Knowing that they stay at the Catholic Mission we soon find them relaxing at the green grounds of the believers, where I am surprised to see everyone drinking beer! There’s even a beer lady who serves them all.
Our little travel family reunited, Yves greet us with warm French charm, his masculinity embracing the female tiredness. Yves got only two sets of clothes and his cycle set, complete with faded brown turban makes him as attractive as Ralph Fienes in the movie English Patient. Ten minutes later Oliver come greet us, his greenish eyes matching the minty green wall behind him. The roughness of his masculinity, the reddish stubble of his beard and the dark hair make his face a very handsome image. I love to watch him, even when he scratches his crotch like my father would do.
Off to Mount Nimba
We are now with four people, four different paces and likings. No one really agrees with mine although Brendan comes close, if he does some effort. Oliver is dying in the midday heat and he will start the day together with Yves, waking up at 5.30 when it’s still dark. While Brendan and I start the cycle day a little bit later, 2 o’clock is definitely too late! After two breakfasts, some internet and market purchases, I know I’m never going to make the 70 kilometers in daylight to Mount Nimba. Brendan is a sportsman and with his light loaded bicycle and his strength it’s not an issue for him. For me, it becomes a struggle. By the time I reach Pakoré, where we make our base to go up the Mount Nimba, I decided long before that I ain’t going there! I am fucking tired! The pace is way too high for me, keeping up with 3 husbands wears me out. I can’t do this. I need a break.
The road is sealed and in an excellent state but it goes up and down constantly. It is hot and I am mostly trying to cycle closer to Brendan, something which is like following a fired rocket. I can’t and I am not enjoying because I don’t succeed in coming closer. The road continues in a track and leads me through some more very dense scenery, tropical forest being deforested and a few huge trees. The track is red again and the sky becomes dark, and when the wind sucks it’s breath in, it does so with vigor. Then it blows out and does several attempts to sweep us all off the red earthen track below her. I have to press the handlebars some more, take my had and sunglasses off and protect the money, I carry in my bra, against becoming wet. All the locals run and rush to get protection from a shelter. I love to be cooled down and only now I start to feel the happiness I missed out on all day! I cycle hard and smile simultaneous.
This mood doesn’t last. When the track transforms to a hard washboard and becomes uncomfortable and when there’s no sign of the village where Oliver and Yves should be, and when it start to become dark, and when I am even more tired and definitely, certainly never ever going to go up this Mount Nimba (why should I actually want to climb a mountain if I am already cycling? What do I try to prove? Why do I follow the 3 Husbands like a dog on heat? I am going to sleep all day! And drink masala chai!) Then Oliver appears out of the dark, his whiteness erecting out of the slow waving bamboo forest where we are embraced by, he sings a song, he’s happy and I am surprised. Oliver’s songs are usually cursed ones. So I get even more angry and absolutely for sure I am not going on that fucking mountain, which is by now hovering tall, fat and impressive behind me. And that’s the first thing I tell Oliver, continued with some furious cycling right through deep pools of water. I don’t care.
Oliver leads us to the camp where we can put up our tents for free. Yves welcomes me in this lush patch of nature, tells me ‘sleep a night and see how you feel tomorrow morning.’ Oh… my enraged mood start to melt. Of course I am able to protect my mood only because they are here. And when I realize how unfair that is, I become the caring Wife I want to be.
Mud wrestling at Mount Nimba
According to some official who visit our little camp we were not allowed to climb Mount Nimba* without a permit, obtained in Conakry, some hundreds of kilometers away. How dare we: this is a National Park and it is a protected area! We just come back from a pleasantly hot struggle up to the steep slopes of this not so elegant bulge of nature while this official want to show off his authority towards the two white people who sponsor his organization. Yves’ reply is honest and direct, a national park? Where mining is going on? Where animals are being hunted? Where is no tree to be found because of deforestation? Is that how you care for your National Parks?
And off he is. With the two white people rolling their eyes towards him. What does he, the black man, care about nature? Most wild animals are not more, all being killed and eaten. Signboards telling the people not to buy chimpanzee meat. Wood is way more interesting when cut and sold to the never ending demands of Europe and America. Animals are better when sliding down your own throat and empty earth way better to use than forest, hence the environmental condition we are in.
Here’s another Thought about Africa!
Is it our fault? Is it the responsibility of the West?
It’s the topic of several travelers I meet: is this our fault?
Are we to blame? Can you blame one person when there’s a dispute?
Isn’t it so that Africa would develop anyway, like Europe did on it’s own. Isn’t that a natural happening: to grow. Can we say that Africa is spoiled because we help them? Do they want televisions because we give them televisions? Did we give them televisions? Would technology not come if Europa never set out on a questionable Save the Nation tour?
Sure, we are mostly helping because Africa is on rich soil. Is our help genuine? Seeing unfortunate men missing a leg, begging, people missing out on primary needs, seeing humans as tiny ants, overshadowed by the problems of this continent. Don’t we all have our problems?
It’s an developing process. One day Africa knows what they did and why they did it and how to fight it and maybe that one day will be when the world is still existing?
No, these thoughts don’t make me dispirited. I notice them and let them go…
Just as I let my tiredness and mood go. Of course I go up the Mount Nimba. Although I sleep late, and wake up early, and suffering some ear problems which put me off balance a bit, I have enough energy to go up Mount Nimba. This mountain with it’s 1752 meters height is the highest peak from where you can see Liberia, Guinea and Ivory Coast at the same time. The guide, who’s mandatory, leads us up as far as we are allowed and when he ask for extra money in the first minute, before having said anything else, we decided to be fed up with him already.
The route, if there would be one, takes us through truly unspoiled forest, over slick steep muddy trails so slippery that my shoes have no grip on it. It’s deep, capsulated and dark in here. I take off my sandals and continue bare feet. The mud pushing through my toes while my hands grip the plants alongside the non existing path. So sharp it will cut my fingers. Blood will drip down my hand. Our pace is, once again, fast. Steeply and steadily ascending above the line of trees where scrubby bushes and short grassy plants grow. Suddenly swarms of flies stick to my neck and would love to crawl onto my face, but I am covered in a cloth and so I reach the top of Nimba with only my neck black of sticking flies. How adorable.
The view is grand and real impressive. The descending fun. So steep I can let myself slip down, just like a child on a slide. Oliver also takes his shoes off and soon we all tumble over each other while we try to get a grip on the steep slick mud below us. It’s really fun! Especially because Oliver doesn’t want to have fun, his moodiness maybe caused by the cuts and wounds on his feet. Yves is making authentic monkey sounds, even the guide wonders all of a sudden. His way of marking where they are when Oliver thinks he doesn’t need a guide to show him the trail, until we are stuck in branches and literally clutching nature.
Then, as the fairy tale continues, we walk to the river, dip in, splash and wash. Our way through soft green bamboo, slowly pressing against the sandy sides of the path, together with the sounds of the forest it feels like an embracing blanket wrapped around my chest. The path dotted with butterflies, all asking for our attention, colorful as they are. All beautiful, just like my clean feet. No luxury shower can make me feel more fresh than this little sparkling stream. My body is utmost clean, my mind balanced.
Let’s go to Ivory Coast!
*Since 1944 the area, excluding Liberia’s portion, has been a nature reserve. Currently covering 180 km², the Mount Nimba Strict Nature Reserveis classified as a World Heritage Site, including both rainforest and savanna. It is a “strict” reserve, forbidding tourism. Sorry sir…