11th of July – 19th of July 2019:
From a couple of villagers, we heard about the time during the civil war. The government burned down all their houses and many people flew to the neighboring countries or into the bush. In the bush, the people had to live of roots or wild fruits to survive.
Luckily, the Chinese levelled parts of the road last year and therefore, we made at least some progress. One of the main traffic arteries was unpassable for two weeks last year and therefore shortness of supplies started to be a problem.
After we crossed a large river, we cycled past some muddy sections and suddenly saw a huge line of trucks in front of us. We immediately knew that the road had to be in an impassable condition. In reality, all the trucks waited in this village, since two trucks each on one side of the road were stuck and sank already more than a meter deep. To dig those trucks out was for our eye just impossible, for Africans it’s a little bit difficult and a question of time. One of the trucks was already here for a week and minimum two meters deep in the mud. For all other vehicles, there were several alternative routes through the village, where the locals built barriers to collect a toll fee.
About a week ago, Adrian got Malaria and the health stuff recommended doing another test, to check if there are still traces of the infection in the blood. In a larger town, we even found a clinic, registered, had a conversation with a doctor, made a blood test and got the medication after another talk with the doctor. This procedure took around two hours. The same test took around five minutes in the pharmacy. At least, the consultation including the medication was free, since all services in the clinic are free. Eventually, the result of the test showed that there was still Malaria pathogens in the blood and another treatment was necessary.
The newly dusty, instead of muddy road, crowded with potholes led us through unpopulated forest and the region was thinly populated. Every few kilometers, there was a larger village. Sometimes, we were almost horrified, when we saw the large towns, since we did not expect anything like that.
Zwedru was one of the last bigger cities in Liberia. A woman offered us to sleep in a room in her house, after we were asking around for a while. We expected that her house was closer to the city center, but this did not make the offer less heartwarming. The heavyset corncob seller proudly showed us the simple room and we enjoyed the infinite hospitality another time.
Before we continued cycling, the cute family cooked for us and we left the house together. The daughter had her school year graduation and had to cry when we said goodbye.
The wet dirt road was good enough to travel on, but still we got lot jarred and our bicycles suffered any longer. The road led us through dense jungle and got hillier and hillier, which demanded everything our tired legs got. Finally, we pedaled into a storm and reached a village already soaking wet. Since the rain did not stop, we decided to spend the night in this village. The present men were already celebrating the end of the workday and drank ultra-strong, homemade sugar cane liquor.
The tiny village chief and his middle-sized family showed us their rice fields in the middle of the forest and before we said goodbye, the family invited us to a traditional rice meal.
We were both heavy-legged from the hardships of the last days and therefore decided to sleep in a larger village. Adrian felt additionally weak because he never fully recovered from his malaria infection and was therefore extra weak.
After a longer search for the town chief, he assigned a room to us three hours after we arrived. The 59 years old men had nine children and said openly that he was only a farmer and could neither read or write. Up to this point he was surely the most conservative and uneducated village leader. However, he celebrated the tradition to share kola nuts with his guests, before they are officially welcomed in the village. So far, we only heard about this ritual.
When we only walked around the village to eat, we had many conversations with interested Liberians. First, they always wanted to know where we came from and where we plan to go. Many times, these conversations are despite the English language rather tedious, since the logic and the way of talking can be very different. Because of that, we withdraw ourselves sometimes to recover from the various exertions and to avoid the repetitive conversations.
Often, a conversation ends up in politics and the locals know surprisingly a lot. Liberia has an interesting and rather sad historical origin. When the USA abolished slavery, the Americans thought it would be a good idea to ship those former slaves to Liberia. Surprising to us was that those former slaves enslaved the natives of the newly founded nation of Liberia and therefore unofficially founded a colony of the USA. Despite that Liberia often counts as one of the only countries that was never colony in Africa, the truth is obviously different when looking at the facts.
Likewise, a dark chapter in the history of this small country is the civil war, which lasted for 14 years and only ended officially a bit more than ten years ago. Many child soldiers fought the war under the influence of drugs. Every tenth minor was 15 years old or even younger.
In the year of 2006 was Ellen Johnson Sirleaf elected as the first female president in the history of modern Africa and could achieve many improvements in her term. Already when we crossed the border into Liberia, we noticed the many female police officers and officials.
We left the small village again, despite Adrian still complaining about heavy legs. At least the terrain through the dense, humid forest got rather flat and we could cover more kilometers as during the last days.
Shortly after Fishtown, there was truly a tarred road. We had heard about this road since a long time and wondered if it really existed. We enjoyed the smoother way of cycling in comparison to the recent bumpy gravel roads. In the evening, an extended family warmly welcomed us and we ate together. After dinner, someone had the idea that we had to taste an African chicken and palm wine. Therefore, some boys slaughtered a chicken right away and palm wine was organized. Accompanied by a firefly-disco, we had interesting discussions until the previously still cackling chicken was ready to eat.
Equipped with five coconuts and another enriching encounter, we left the attentive family. We hardly got used to the tarred road again, when we entered a part of the road where the Chinese road construction company was still busy and we were jarred neatly. The scene is always the same: A Chinese person with a building-site helmet stands somewhere elevated and observes the African workers.
Everywhere, there are women walking along the road, loaded with 20 liters of water or huge bundles of wood on their heads. A teenager carrying a machete walked passed us as well and we wanted to ask him if he could open some coconuts for us. Unfortunately, he was so scared of us that he run away as fast as he could.
In a larger village, we wanted to eat something and asked around if there is a woman who cooks for the community. Surprisingly, there was no more food left. Luckily, there was a woman who helped us, we even got two meals, and she would not accept our money for it. The second meal we ate in a typical African manner with six strangers out of the same huge pot.
The day before, we discovered a larger Problem at Adrians bicycle and he had difficulties to continue cycling at all. The chain span cogs was worn out in such a way that the chain was not smoothly led through the rear derailleur anymore and this made changing the gears almost impossible. In addition, the chain did not catch the cogs of the bottom bracket anymore and therefore steep ascents were impossible. Finally, we could bypass the problem by mounting an old chain that was less used. The next problem appeared not long after and was the shifting system. Presumably, all the mud exposure of the last few days affected all the components of the shifting system in such a way that we cannot fix it with our amateur knowledge of bicycles. The plan is now to fix one gear and hope that we are able to reach the large city Abidjan in Ivory Coast, which is more than 500 km away, to find a bicycle mechanic.
In the pharmacy, we found the reason for our weakness of the previous days. The malaria test showed clear signs of an infection for Adrian and still a weak positive mark for Fabian. With a new active agent, we will try to get rid of the parasites in the next week after all.
Strengthened with plantains and mashed manioc with lots of onions and chili, we cycled towards the border with constant velocity. In Liberia, we saw funny village names many times and today we added “Old Lady Town” to the list of our favorites.
At the Liberian border, the immigration officers were friendly, had a good mood, and even bought our SIM-card. Therefore, we left an intense and interesting country with extremely open and hospital people behind. The many lovely acquaintances, especially in the South East of the country, will be in our mind for a long time.
After the crossing of the boundary river with a ferry, we realized immediately that the people from Ivory Coast had a higher standard of living and therefore the border officials worked more professional. Despite that, the well-built men asked for our Facebook contact after all and we became aware that we were still in Africa.