The rain was easing by now but it had already done the damage. The ground had become sodden and it must have only taken one sharp gust of wind to dislodge the roots from the soil; once it started tipping there was no going back.
We went back into the car to think through our options. There was no real point in trying to drive back – the nearest substantial village was a couple of hours away and we would have to get through that gully again. We could stick it out in the vehicle all night and see if anyone else came along, or walk forward to Sumata which by our estimations from GPS was about 8km down the road. At one point we thought we might split up sending a rescue party out while two stayed at the vehicle, but given it was now dark and there was no chance of clearing the blockage that night, we decided we should all walk. We looked in the boot and packed small overnight bags with essentials, mainly water, snacks and our torches, and locked the car up. Reluctantly but necessarily, we headed down the road.
We kept our torches off for the most time, and only used one at a time, but there was a dim glow from the starlight and somewhere a moon was beginning to rise behind the clouds so we could discern some shapes. There were no houses out here; no glows from fires where dinner must be on the go, and we met no-one on the road. The frogs were calling out but the flies were not too bad and we kept moving so they did not congregate.
I noticed the surface of the road kept changing – you tend to focus in on some things when your view is restricted by dark. In some places there were pools of water but the soil was generally sandy and, although firm, it was not sodden. We passed over some rocky areas, and there were times when the grass grew down the middle. We went up some steep slopes, but all we could see from the clearings at the top was more forest.
The road eventually flattened out and we realised we were walking next to a soccer pitch. We were at the junior school outside of Sumata, still about 1km from the village. But we saw some light in one of the buildings and when we reached a junction marked by white painted stones, we turned off and approached cautiously – we didn’t want to frighten whoever it was. It turned out to be a family of one late middle aged man, a wife, a couple of teenagers and several more kids down to a small baby.
Our driver was from Freetown and did not speak Susu, but the man had a smattering of Krio so we were able to tell him our story and find out he was the school caretaker. He offered us a seat, even in the dim light I am sure he could see that we were shattered. We sat and sipped our water, passed our snacks around; we were not offered any food and it would have been unexpected if we had – we had turned up mid evening to this remote place without any warning.