Into the Jungle – The long road north

It was well after 2pm when we left Makeni.  We initially travelled over tarmac road again but on the edge of the town we turned off, across the new railway and onto a wide dirt road.  And now came the real test.  Not only was the road rough , in places boggy, in others rocky and bumpy, but it was interminably longer than you thought.  Every time I looked at the map and though we were making progress I would be sorely disappointed.

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The long dusty road – sometimes muddy

The slow progress did mean I noticed a lot of detail.  As we progressed northwards the vegetation got thicker and more scrubby, and we had risen up onto a low plateau.  The road passed through the middle of a string of villages – most of them similar in construction.  Their centres had quite substantial houses made of concrete or at least locally made bricks.  Although they were often dilapidated and covered in mould, moss and lichens from years of long wet seasons, you could see they were comparatively of high status.  Surrounding these were more modest local brick houses.  One thing I noticed here which I could not remember from trip in East or Southern Africa were washing poles.  Whereas elsewhere people peg out the laundry on lines or lay it across bushes or on the floor, the majority of these houses had thick poles, maybe 20cm across, held in place by two more forked poles, where clothes were wrapped around.  To me it seemed like a very inefficient way to dry clothes – my experience has always been the minimum amount of cloth touching anything else is best to help lower the humidity, but maybe in the dry season the heat generated out of the wood would help to toast the clothes very quickly.  In the current cusp of the rainy season it seemed like they were more useful as washing poles than drying ones.

Into the Jungle – Makeni Stop

We hurriedly reorganised the vehicle loads – from the relative comfort of 4 in each vehicle we were now 5 or 6, plus all the extra kit.  I hoped the other two rental cars could survive the extra weight as so far we had lost one vehicle on the best bit of road!  I had to go in with new car buddies and apologised for making their life uncomfortable.  I brought them Pringles as a peace offering.

An hour or so later we entered the town of  Makeni and headed into the back streets for a meeting with a World Bank project – it was an odd venue.  The project had just been in receipt of about a dozen new motorbikes and a dozen cycles for their extension officers to get around the communities in the bush.  The only place secure they had to store them was the meeting room we now sat in, so we held earnest conversations about biodiversity and sustainability in what looked like a bike showroom.

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Meeting with the bikes

Lunch was the next priority.  Stephanie’s supremely good knowledge of Sierra Leone had encouraged her to ring ahead with our orders so we only had ten minutes to wait for a big pile of rice with chicken, beef or fish on it instead of what could have taken over an hour for such a large order.  We had a few moments for last minute shopping in the last thing which looked like a supermarket for the next four days.  I didn’t need much – I always find it amazing that people will buy things as soon as they see a shop; I’m a bit like my dad in the way I tend to just get by on what I have.  I always laugh when I see people coming back from the field still with half the snacks they bought unconsumed.