In travel, there are times that you think, wow, why didn’t I get out here and do this sooner? But it seems that just as often there are times you find yourself saying, what the hell am I doing? As I sit squished into the trunk of a Peugeot 505, black fumes rushing up through cracks in the floor, I definitely am definitely wondering the later. The journey to Man, Cote d’Ivoire wasn’t going to be an easy one.
I left Monrovia, Liberia yesterday morning. With the border between Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire closed due to the killing of a group in the area from the UN, I needed to head north to Guinea, and then across to Cote d’Ivoire from there. The truth is this was meant to be the easy way out, my other option was to spend 4-5 days travelling to the town of Harper. But yesterday was far from easy, and today is much of the same.
What was meant to be an 8-hour journey yesterday ended up as 19 hours of rough trails, checkpoints, roads blocked by overturned trucks and getting ourselves lost in the forest trying to find ways around it all. Rather than arriving at 4pm as I hoped, I finally arrived in N’Zerekore, Guinea at about 3am; safe in the cheap confines of a Guinean “pay-by-the-hour” hotel.
Despite pumping music and the constant in and out traffic to the hotel from people obviously taking advantage of the hourly rates, I managed to grab 2 hours of sleep before setting off again this morning.
If I had thought that the road from Monrovia was rough, I was in for a bit of a rude awakening today. We spent the entire morning waiting for vehicles to get unstuck, unsticking our own vehicle, and any time we were actually moving it bordered on painful as the road was an absolute mess.
Still, we reached the border to Cote d’Ivoire around noon and the joking and friendly military officers provide a stark contrast to what I had become used to in Guinea. But if my spirits were lifted momentarily, the fact that the last spot available in the sept-place taxi (seven-seat taxi) was in the trunk would obviously dash my mood.
As we stop at a point on the road where we need to walk across waist-high water, and the car somehow manages to float across, I count the number of people who have joined me in the seven-seater. We are 12 full grown adults and 8 children, not to mention the 3 people hanging on to the car from the back bumper. I immediately realize how clowns all manage to fit in the car at the circus. I laugh as I realize the ridiculousness of my life. Who else in their right mind would have stuffed them self into the back of this car?
We continue down the road, occasionally emptying the clown car to climb steep hills, cross deep rivers, or to fix flat tires. At one point, I’m stuffed in the middle of the car under the feet of other passengers. I’m told that there are some former rebels that have set up a checkpoint on the road and are basically robbing anyone with money. They are hiding me because they are worried for my safety. Luckily, we cross the area where the check point was set up without a hitch. Of course, no one travelling in the way we are could possibly have a lot of money.
We arrive in the town of Man in the dark after about 16 hours on the road once again today.
My face is covered in dirt from the fumes, and rings of black around my nostrils have formed. On my head, I’m sporting a couple new lumps, and my leg has an open wound covered in diesel. I don’t even shower, I just toss myself on the bed above the blankets and pass out from sheer exhaustion.
In the morning, as I wash myself off with cold bucket water, I begin to question my travels. Money is getting low, I am getting farther and farther from my friends and family, and my spirit – and my body – feels battered and bruised.
However, as I pull myself from the comfort of my room and step into the open garden of the hotel, my spirits are immediately lifted by the sight of stunning mountains which pierce the skyline like green whales popping up for air. Trails of earth zig-zag through the green foliage so bright they seems to have been soaked with red dye. I swipe a breath of the humid air and look around at Man, a town that was, up until quite recently, rocked by war and conflict. This is why I travel, to discover the unknown, to add new perspectives, but most of all to push myself to becoming stronger and wiser. It’s tough travel like this that gets me there.
For the next couple days in Man, I will hike one of the highest mountains in West Africa, I will swim beautiful waterfalls and I will witness the incredible stilt dancers of Western Cote d’Ivoire, and believe me when I tell you I’ll be doing it all with a smile on my face.