Next morning I felt sticky and dirty and decided I must shower. It was a slightly cool morning for the tropics, late night rain was now steaming from every surface and the grey cloud above us made the scene rather miserable. I filled a bucket from the containers which in turn had been filled up by the local STEWARD staff the evening before, and took my washkit, microtowel and water down to the “bathroom”.
In theory this was no problem; I’ve bathed in several of these open rooms before, but this one was in amongst the houses of the town, and the grass fence was made for Guineans who were shorter than I. I am no giant, but my chest was above the top of the fence, and I drew quite a lot of attention from the people around as they didn’t often see such an amount of pale skin. It was worth showing it off as afterwards I did feel better for dousing myself in cold water and becoming at least a little more fragrant than the night before.
We breakfasted back at the Guesthouse, and one of the USFS colleagues, Susan, showed us her roomy for the night. In the top corner of her bedroom was the most enormous spider, not just long legged but with substantial bulk. I’d have been happy to have a buddy like that in my room, the number of flies that had been buzzing around.
The cleaners moved aside temporarily as the ferry glided into position against the ramp. The ferry was powered only by hand, a cable strung across the river was fed through a couple of feeds on the infrastructure of the ferry, and two or three guys would haul the ferry into motion. Once underway it needed only simple guidance and a light touch once in a while to keep it moving towards the other shore, there being hardly any friction and the cable stopping the craft from escaping downstream.
The first vehicle heads over
The villagers continue their cleaning
The ferry returns
The ferry itself was made of two metal floats held together by iron girders which in turn were covered by wooden planking. Four corner girders held the cabling in place. Heading back and forth twenty times a day had taken its toll on the ends of these planks, and each time the ferry came close to shore, someone had to build a jigsaw of stones and planks to make a suitable runway for the vehicles to board and disembark. Even with this put in place, it was a skilful job to get on board, it needed enough oomph to step up onto the planking, but not too much to send the ferry scooting back across the river sans cargo.
The ferry could only take one vehicle, and we were three. Haba went first with the STEWARD vehicle. Once aboard, the process was peaceful and we spent five minutes watching the ferry glide over to the northern bank. More time to listen to the bird life along the river, watch the fishermen paddle gently downstream, and eavesdrop on the women chattering and the kids playing around the bowls of clothes on the ramp. We watched the STEWARD vehicle reach the far side and heard the roar as Haba bounced the car off the planks and thunder up the steep incline to relative flat in the village just in a break in the trees.
Back came the ferry carrying a motorbike and cycle and a couple of foot passengers and we were second on for the northbound service. They teased the ferry with a plank to line it up perfectly with the concrete ramp and on we drove. I could tell our driver had never boarded a ferry before and although he missed the guiding planks first time, he was quite pleased with himself to be on the ferry second chance. With no motors gliding across that river was sheer bliss. The sun had almost set and was firing red tints to the linings of the clouds, and their reflections rippled in the gently moving river. Three guys hauled quite hard on the metal cable to set us running; as I saw them up close I saw one was blind, and the two others would guide his hands to the rope, ensure he would not trap his fingers against the girders, but then he would pull as hard as the rest.
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.
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.