Sunday, 29 December 2013

Liberia Into Guinea's Forest Region And Through The Jungle To Ivory Coast!

We arrived late for our first night in Liberia after a long bumpy drive from the Sierra Leone border. We set up our tents close to a beautiful beach and settled down for our first night in the country, very pleased to be the first commercial overland operator to visit Liberia! 

The Beach We Camped At Close To Monrovia
The following day was spent relaxing, taking long walks along the beautiful sandy beaches, swimming in the warm ocean, and catching up with some well overdue washing! We all needed some R&R after the challenging drive into Liberia from Sierra Leone!

The Masonic Lodge, Monrovia
Beautiful Fabrics Ready For Sewing

Shopping In Monovia's Markets
Hectic Monrovia Market Place

We now drove towards Monrovia and spent most of the day exploring the bustling capital, and then further east along the coast to another beach camp. We had endless difficulty explaining to the many police and immigration check points that we were tourists, and not NGO workers or missionaries or Ukranian mercenaries, as one official was convinced we were!!

Our beach camp was a beautiful eco-lodge just outside of Monrovia. The owner was shocked that a group of tourists had travelled overland to Liberia but he greeted us with open arms and agreed to let us camp by the lagoon. We were the only guests staying at the resort so we had the run of the place to ourselves. 
Aminah Squeezing Under The Entrance To Our Beach Camp
It was touch and go whether Aminah would fit into the secure compound due to the low entrance to the lodge. So with a bit of team work, we removed everything from the top of the truck and Nev managed to squeeze Aminah under the rather elaborate archway. 

During out stay here some of us went to see the famous Firestone Rubber Plantation and everyone made the most of the beautiful surroundings to relax and soak up the Liberian sunshine. We had a choice of three places to swim: the calm freshwater lagoon, the colourfully lit swimming pool or, for the braver people in the group, the lively sea. 

Bush Camp At Kpatawee Falls, Liberia

Village Girl, Liberia
Huge Worm At A Bush Camp

Kpatawee Falls, Liberia
After waving goodbye to the eco-lodge we headed north towards Kpatawee falls, and then towards the Guinea border. At our first bush camp after crossing the Guinea border we were lucky to see a variety of wildlife, including a 3 foot long worm who decided to make its way through our camp! 

Our next stop was Nzerekore. Everybody enjoyed shopping in the bustling markets and watching local football games, as well as visiting the artisan’s village. We also visited one of the few remaining vine bridges in the area where we all had fun crossing the spectacular bridge. It's sad to see these incredible structures disappear, but with the building of roads throughout the region they no longer play the role in transporting produce around the region that they once did, so it was a real privilege to see such a wonderful example still being used to this day. 

Al Walking On The Incredible Vine Bridge In Guinea

Sascha Crossing The Vine Bridge
Phil Heading Across The Vine Bridge

A short drive from Nzerekore took us to a village that specialises in making Mud Cloth. Some of the group got to try on some of the rather splendid mud cloth robes!

Alice Modelling Mud Cloth
Ian Wearing His Mud Cloth Purchase

Next we headed into the jungle to go trekking to see the wild chimpanzees. It turned out that our stay at the chimp research centre coincided with an international conference, with guest researchers visiting from as far away as Japan, the USA and Holland! We spent some time looking around the village and watching a game of football, which in true West Africa style was being taken very seriously! In the morning some of the group went on a walk to try and see some of the chimpanzees in the wild. After some confusion it turned out that the chimps were actually high up in the trees, only 50m down the track from where we had been camping, and so everyone got a good view of them from the village track!

The Family Of Chimps We Saw In Guinea
Wearing Masks To See The Chimps
Filling The Water Jerry Cans

Another day, another border crossing, and time to say goodbye to Guinea. Our crossing into Ivory Coast was memorable to say the least! The chief Ivorian border guard decided that he wanted to greet each of the passengers personally so we all had to line up and shake his hand. He then decided that he wanted us to have a drink with him. There was simply no persuading him that 9am was too early to share hard liqueur with him, but most of us relented and shared some local gin. Al got special treatment after strenuous insistence that it was too early for a tipple and got his very own bottle of Beaufort beer; fortunately Nev managed to hide at the back and stay sober for the drive ahead!

Fording A River In Guinea's Forest Region
Aminah Goes For A Swim In Guinea!

Ivorian Kids Peeking Into The Tent
Ivorian Village Ladies Hard At Work

We had several bush camps in Ivory Cost before we reached one of the real highlights of the trip: a small village where we were lucky enough to watch an incredible stilt dance ceremony. The drumming and the dancing was absolutely incredible and the atmosphere electric! Once the main dance was over we all got to join in with the dancing too.

Just as it was starting to get dark, all of the women who were still singing and dancing followed the stilt dancer towards the forest. Once they reached the edge of the forest there was a huge surge as the stilt dancer turned and sprinted off into the darkness. The women carried on singing and dancing and the drummers kept playing throughout the night. An incredible evening of festivities!

After a few more bush camps and a long bumpy road we finally arrived in Korhogo on Christmas Eve. A good number of us managed to stay awake to see Christmas in, helped out by the music pumping out of the nightclub at the hotel. We started Christmas day with pancakes and bloody marys; most of us then went on tour of the villages surrounding Korhogo. We saw rice being harvested, cotton being grown and hand picked, traditional Senofou cloth being woven, garments and bags being made out of the cloth, beaded jewellery being made, and masks and furniture being carved out of wood.

Christmas dinner was the best I’ve had on an overland trip. We gathered around the fire and used our camp oven to roast several chickens, with a nut roast for the veggies, roasted pumpkins, stuffing, and onion gravy; a fantastic feed finishing off a great day! We had great fun with an Australian twist on 'Secret Santa', letting you ‘steal’ someone else's present when you came to unwrap yours if you weren’t happy with your gift. The Ivorian football kit and various pieces of locally produced cloth were ‘stolen’ several times, though strangely the Nollywood movie and elaborate wig proved harder to shift!

The next update will be from Accra, the end of this adventure, with news of our time in Southern Cote d’Ivoire, Ghanian national parks and beaches, and the Ashanti town of Kumasi.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

The First Ever Overland Truck-Based Trip Through Liberia!

It's been a long time in the planning, but we've done it! We're proud to be sending this latest blog entry all the way from Monrovia, Liberia! It's a great feeling to have made it here, the first ever overland truck-based company to have done so! What a fantastic country Liberia is, we've been enjoying a very warm reception from everybody we've met. As you can imagine, such a large group of travellers passing by in Aminah causes quite a reaction from the Liberian people!

The First Ever Overland Truck Based Trip Through Liberia - December 2013!
After leaving Freetown, where this latest leg of the trip started, we headed up-country to Kabala on the recently upgraded road. We planned a bush camp en-route but ended up camping for the night in the grounds of a Catholic church, where we were warmly received. In retrospect, Saturday night was not the best time to camp outside a church for those among the group who do not appreciate dawn starts!

The climate in Kabala was a welcome change; maybe not quite cold as the locals claim, but certainly less humid and with some relief from the heat in the evenings. Many of the group enjoyed hiking in the nearby mountains, and some visited the cloth weavers and dyers. This is a skill that was rather lost during the war years, but one that is making a comeback through local initiatives combined with support from a number of NGOs to give viable employment once again to many of the people around Kabala.

Loading Up The Canoes At Tiwai Island
Bush Fires (Photo From Ant And Narelle)

Al Meets The Village Elders At Tiwai Island, Sierra Leone 
Building A New Shelter, Tiwai Island

Ready For A Canoe Safari, Tiwai Island
We passed through Makeni on the way south from Kabala, and all enjoyed watching a car without wheels causing traffic mayhem as it was pushed sideways down the main street on a trolley!

Our next nightstop was Sierra Leone's second largest city of Bo where we camped at a nightclub. Fortunately being the only guests, the music went off early and we were happily tucked up in bed by 9 pm as per usual when bush camping! 

From Bo the journey continued to Tiwai Island, where we unloaded our luggage and camping equipment onto a boat to transfer across to the island nature reserve. We spent 2 nights here, relaxing in the shade during the day, and choosing between wildlife walks and boat safaris in the early mornings and late afternoons. One boat safari was cut rather short when the outboard motor failed; this also made returning us and our equipment to the truck rather more complicated, so we had to use a series of small and delicately loaded canoes instead! We saw a wide variety of primates and birds during our time on the island, but the pygmy hippos which the island is famed for remained elusive.

A great time had by all, many thanks to all the staff at Tiwai Island for making us all feel so welcome!

Upon leaving Tiwai we were invited to stay in a local village, where the village elders told us many stories about their culture and traditions. We were also taken on interesting tours of other surrounding villages. The local food we were fed was excellent, mainly fish in pumpkin or groundnut sauces, with locally grown rice or pounded cassava.

From the village we headed for Kenema, and experienced some exciting driving on incredibly narrow and overgrown tracks taking us into the far east of Sierra Leone. Here we stocked up on supplies in the busy market, and spent the night at a beautiful camp spot in the spacious tree-filled grounds of a local mission.

The road south from Kenema to Liberia was as bad as we expected; we averaged about 12 km/ph as we headed into the jungle terrain, battling bog holes, large pools of water, deep ruts, suspicious bridges and some unusual holes caused by water washing away the road. We saw very little traffic on this route, though there were a few overloaded taxis. At a bush camp en route we were payed a visit by a night fisherman, who was as surprised to see us as we were to see him!

Sierra Leone To Liberia Highway! (Photo From Hilary Wheeler)
Finally we made it to the Liberian border where we were met with a mixture of surprise and excitement. The immigration officials were very friendly and helpful but also intrigued by our 'mission'. It took quite some time to persuade a number of officials that we were not missionaries, nor aid workers, nor the military, but indeed tourists, keen to see their country, meet their people, and share their pride in a nation rebuilding itself after so many years of hardship.

R&R in Monrovia - Overlanding Luxury!
Will, Narelle, And Nev On The Beach
Group Bushcamping At Kpatawee Falls, Liberia
Not A Bad Camp Spot!
Beautiful Kpatawee Falls, Liberia
Everybody absolutely loved the few days we spent along the Liberian coastline. It truly is a fascinating country starting to rebuild itself after an awful chapter in it's recent history.

Now we head north in Liberia towards Guinea and onto Ivory Coast. Expect another exciting blog entry in the next few days. Happy Christmas wherever you are in the world!

The Beautiful Beaches Around Monrovia, Liberia (Photo From Alice Hubbard)