Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Perilous journeys and additions to the family

For the few of you reading my blog, you know that I travel a lot in to the interior. Some of you also know that Liberia receives one of the highest rainfalls in the world. Traveling during rainy season is quite painful. The tracks are rough, the small portion of paved road is washed away, and the roads look like meteors crashed everywhere. Work and life doesn't stop because of the rainy season...we keep chugging along! Monrovia receives the most rainfall compared to any capital city in the world. Liberia, being the last vestige of the West African rain forest, receives an incredible amount of rain. I have lived in tropical countries before, but I have never experienced this kind of rain. Imagine a heavy downpour for 9 days NONSTOP! Not even a short beak, it pours incessantly for days at a time. And it is not even a drizzle, it is serious downpour. In one week, the paint on buildings washes away, shanty towns collapse and submerge in water, and you feel like you are going to be washed away in to the sea. It is beautifully cathartic in a way...the incessant rain washing away everything in its way.

The latest trip was particularly painful. It took us 14 hours to travel 250 miles. Thank goodness for Toyota! We would never get anywhere if it isn't for these trusty Land Rovers. Besides getting stuck in 6 foot deep mud pits, we had to wait for the trucks to pull themselves out of the mud so we can keep going. I am posting a few pictures that show the road condition. Look at that mud pit! A car dropped in to the pit just before us and it was struggling to get out...that's the smoke you see in the picture.

Despite these road conditions, people still travel in the interior. They have to, in order to sell their goods, produce, livestock. Note the goats and chickens sitting on top of a truck in the picture below. The truck was waiting along with us for clearance because the van in front of it is stuck in the mud.

Note that the goats are sitting on top of a hospital vehicle. Isn't that funny? Here is a close up of the goats waiting patiently on top of the same hospital vehicle. Can you tell I like goats? Of course, this picture is not for the PETA-loving folks!


How does Dr. V manage through this mess? Well, stylishly of course! Look at me waiting for a truck to clear itself out of the mud... what's going on with my hair in this picture?


However, this stylishness disappears once I get in the mud and start digging our trusty Land Rover out of a mud pit in a heavy downpour at 9pm in the middle of the jungle. Yeah, that happened last month! I took off my pants, jumped in to rain gear and started digging along with my driver. What else are we going to do, sit there and wait until someone appears and pulls us out? That could take all night! We took matters in to our own hands and got out of that pit. Sorry, no pictures of that incident. No picture taking when you are covered in mud and soaking wet from the rain. I looked like I am having a mud wrap, not in a fancy spa but the Liberian jungle.

At times we wait for hours because the vehicles in front of us get stuck and there is no way to pass. Two weeks ago (before the fateful tear gas incident), I went to Voinjama. It is a town on the far north end of Liberia, about 10 miles from Guinea. In fact, most people in Voinjama buy their goods at the markets in Guinea because of proximity. It took us 14 hours to get to Voinjama with only pit stops. On the way back we got stuck behind a truck that was carrying people and goods from Guinea. As with most transport in West Africa, it was carrying more than it could/ should. Combine the load with the road conditions in Liberia and you have a disaster. The truck got stuck in the mud and all the people traveling on top of the goods got off and started pushing. See picture below.

Truck stuck in the mud

Now you may wonder why the truck is so deep in to the road. Well, the truck was so heavily loaded that it sank in to the mud and the revving only pushed it deeper in to the ground. The goods you see in the truck are after they unloaded almost half of the original load. Notice the bags of onion in front and white rice bags in the back?

Then there was another truck that was coming from the opposite side and got stuck next to this one, effectively blocking traffic on both sides.

Blocked traffic

While there is usually no upside to getting stuck behind a truck in the middle of the jungle, I managed to find one. One of the ladies traveling on top of the truck, who got off the truck because it is stuck, was going to the market to sell her "goods". Goods meaning jungle tortoises. LIVE!! I saw her sitting on the mud road hoping for the truck to clear so she can make some money by selling her tortoises. At first I didn't believe that they were live and then I noticed their little heads poking out to see what is going on. I jumped in joy and immediately bought all tortoises she had (only two). The locals eat them...they would have ended up on somebody's dinner plate. Instead, they are now at Coconut Plantation House #12, safe and sound. Michael named them Samson and Delilah without knowing which one is male/ female. We realized the next day we named them correctly when Samson was looking for love from Delilah (I will spare the details!).

My local staff tell me that both tortoises are at least 50 years old considering their size, color, and rings on the shells. They are the West African Hingeback tortoises. Here is a picture of Delilah peeking out of her shell. Samson is camera shy. They like walking around the house and hiding. Who knew tortoises are fast?!

I have a feeling my internal organs are displaced from traveling on these horrible roads, but they all seem to be functioning well. So, that's it for now. I will give the tortoises a bath while you enjoy the pictures. 

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