Another half hour passed and Haba was looking pissed – he had to get back to Madina Oula. The afternoon was well advanced when this guy came back. He never gave us a full explanation of what he had been doing, but claimed that he had been waiting in another place and didn’t know we had arrived. We didn’t argue for long, we needed to keep him sweet enough to get us back to Freetown. This time we did not have the security net of the convoy, we were travelling through the bush all alone. We said our farewells to Haba who was also in a hurry to get back across the border.
At least we knew the road this time, so we could gauge our progress, but the weather closed in hard on us for the first hour or so. At times the driver could barely make out the road ahead through the windscreen even with the wipers on max. He hissed and sighed a good deal, especially when he went through a pothole too fast. Most of the people were under cover as we passed through, but a few were still out carrying wood on their heads, trying to stay away from our splashes as best they could. With all this rain, the one place I was really concerned about was the ropey wooden bridge near Sumata. With the rain pouring the gully might be filled, and the slopes would definitely be slippy.
We could spot the bridge from about a 100m away, and decided to risk the gully route over the rotted planks one. Going down into the gully was no problem; the slope was gentle and although muddy still firm enough to get a grip and the gully itself was fortunately not yet in flood. The up side was mostly rocky outcrop and much steeper and the rain had made it incredibly slippy. Our driver took the best run he could at it, but his wheels spun and we went sideways, almost at one stage going dangerously parallel to the slope. We slid back down to the bottom. He got out in the rain and reccied the road ahead; it was difficult to see whether one patch was more favourable than another. He took another stab, and amidst a lot of smoke, wheelspin and engine noise, we reached the top. We gave him a lot of credit for this. It was already dusk, made darker by the heavy clouds, but we only had a few more kilometres to get to Sumata then another hour to Fintonia and our stop for the night. The relief amongst all four of us was palpable.
About five minutes later we were passing through a dense piece of forest, the rain still lashing down and the light fading fast. We were chatting quite freely after the tense moments at the bridge. We drove round a corner to find our way completely blocked. The rain had brought down a tree, about 15m high – right across the track and into the herbaceous scrub to our left. We got out the car and took a look – it was far too large for us to bodily move it, the roots on one side, the shrubbery on the other too thick to divert around it, and even if we tried, who knew how soft the ground was there and whether we could get back on the track again.