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Driving through the Jungle Night with no Lights On

Monrovia-Harper Round Trip part IV

semi-overcast 28 °C
View West Africa on askgudmundsen's travel map.

Part I, Part II and Part III here.

Post-flip

Post-flip

Spending the night in the village teacher’s house, I didn’t return to our car until it had already been pulled out from the mud. My fellow passengers were busy strapping all the luggage onto the roof. To my surprise as we didn’t take it down last night. What was up?
As the car was dragged free, it had apparently flipped over, landing on its side. No one got hurt; only the driver was inside the car. But all the luggage had to be taken off before they were able to push it upright again. The car had gotten some nasty scratches and the inside – where I thought my backpack was safe – had gotten a mudbath as mud and water entered through the open windows. Lovely.
Not that it matters. The important thing is that we are moving again. Everybody is pretty eager to get out of here. Though I am regretting not being able to say the teacher a proper goodbye as we race past his house.

Pulling out the lorry

Pulling out the lorry

Our next endurance is so typically Africa travel that it’s hard to describe: Rolling up to a bit of road too muddy for anyone to pass, a small diversion through the jungle has been made to get around the hard bit. Alas, yet another truck has gotten stuck in this deviation. Here are cars waiting in line on both sides of this mess. But as the truck is closest to our side, and we got the most capable vehicle this side of the mud pit, it’s up to us to pull it out. It’s a small lorry, so after a short struggle, we manage to get it out. We don’t even get the pull rope off before – out of nowhere – a second truck is blasting past the waiting cars opposite us, racing into the diversion and gets completely stuck. Totally unhelpable stuck.
The driver figured he better try his luck before all the powerful four-wheelers had gone past. If we all makes it nobody will be around to help him. Regardless, nobody can drag him out. Nobody wants to try. We’re letting the complaining driver cry about us not helping him. Most of us are relatively happy that he will now have to spend weeks sleeping here in his stupid truck. Instead, we’re beginning to chop down trees, building a new road around the lorry.

Building our own road

Building our own road

We’re actually forced to make a new road. It’s taking us most of the afternoon, but nonetheless, we’re able to chop enough trees down to pass. Leaving the driver and his truck behind; not without smug smiles on our faces. Karma – not that I believe in that bullocks – soon catches up to us, though. Rather suddenly, the cooler starts to leak from two small holes. Now we can’t drive any further because the engine keeps overheating. We’re in the middle of nowhere. Kilometres from the nearest village. Almost routinely now, we put our driver on a passing mototaxi and sends him to the nearest town to bring back help.

Motor Trouble

Motor Trouble

We would later learn that instead of getting help, the driver simply went home to his mistress in said town. Obviously, we wouldn’t be pleased.
On the road, dusk is coming. This close to the equator, twilight lasts for mere minutes. Not in the mood to spent another night in the jungle, I pop the hood. It is here worth to mention that I know nothing about cars – let alone anything about fixing engines. But I am the only person left with a driver’s license, so Alex and my fellow passengers cheer me on. Pouring more water on the cooler two clear sprays of water shoots out. Clearly, we’re not going anywhere like this. Thinking back to some stupid TV commercial about the sucking ability of tissue, and still not knowing what the hell I’m doing, I pluck the two holes with my emergency toilet paper.

It fucking works! Unbelievable!

Struggling

Struggling

We’re still leaking water, but only by a fraction of the speed. Alex and I agree to give it a go. No spending the night here. We are quickly figuring out that we’re able to drive for 10-12 minutes before all the water has leaked and the engine is getting too hot. Refilling the water and waiting for the engine to cool down again is taking another 10 minutes. But even by this speed, we should be able to reach the town to where we sent the driver in about two hours. So off we go. In a car, I’ve repaired with toilet paper…
Luckily the road condition is improving. But we have a new problem. The battery still isn’t charging. Driving with the headlights on I’m draining the battery quickly. The lights are slowly dimming. Finally, half an hour from the town they set out entirely. It’s pitch black around us now, and I’m still driving. The battery is so drained that I don’t even have light in the dashboard. With the exception of three red warning lights, that is, one of which is telling me that the battery’s power. Thanks.

View through the windshield

View through the windshield

We’re too close to town to give up now. Too damn close! Africans tend to be more innovative than Westerners, and Alex is quick to come up with the solution. We’ll simply put the teenage kid, who’s with us, on the roof with two small flashlights. It’s not enough light for me to see anything else than two small circles of light on the road, but at least other cars can see us (not that there are any other cars). Thus, I continue forward at a crawling pace. All I can see are the two small circles of light, nothing else, so we agree that the kid on the roof(!) will just keep the lights pointed on the middle of the road and I’ll try to drive wherever he point the lights.
Incredibly, we reach our destination a place called Fish Town, without too many mishaps, at 10 pm. Here’s no fish (we’re still in the middle of the jungle) and there’s barely a town. But we’ve made it. In a car, I repaired with toilet paper and drove through the jungle night with a teenager on the roof holding showing me the way with two flashlights. I feel genuinely proud of this achievement!

Harper!!

Harper!!

It takes the mechanics four hours to fix the car the next morning. Four hours to repair the wreck I drove into the town. The good news is that the road improves from here. Massively. A Chinese company is paving the road. They’ll supposedly be done at the beginning of the next decade, but the gravel is fresh and flat and here’s no mud. At some point, we even manage to drive 500 metres without hitting a pothole. A rarity on any West African gravel road! Almost unbelievable. On Day 4, we’re at the end of the road and reach Harper – the last town in southern Liberia. It’s 7 pm and dark, but Harper still feels like a treasure reached after a long adventure. And I’m pretty sure that it is. It is certainly a personal victory! I send one of the boys from the guesthouse out to get me a beer. Drink it in my room. Fall asleep.

The last thing I want to think about now is how the hell I get all the way back to Monrovia. I don’t want to spend another four days one these roads. But is there another way?

Progress reports: Day 3, 161 km in 15 hours. Day 4, 129 km in 9 hours after 4 hours of mechanical work.

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Posted by askgudmundsen 02:07 Archived in Liberia Tagged travel transport road bush travelling liberia west_africa harper adventure_travel monrovia rainy_season fish_town

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