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Published: November 5th 2013
A very warm greeting from the Angolan border, where we are having a day of washing and blogging before turning south. A nearby forest fire in Botswana has burnt itself out, and I have trained an Arrow-marked Babbler, Turdoides jardineli, to eat crumbs from my hat.
We hope this finds you all well, it is hard to imagine a British November currently.
We met a German tourist yesterday who almost fell off his chair laughing as he told us how he mistook the morning grunting and snorting of the hippos in the Okavango river, for the noises his wife makes in the bathroom. As I sit here typing, Jo is doing her morning routine and there are similarities! I think it is mainly the hippos.....
We last blogged from Sierra Leone, after we finished in Masanga. The hospital is now online via a satellite dish, and has Internet, so we have been keeping up to speed with some of the patients, which has been great. We have also been sent a photo of our cat, Asaila, who is now huge.
Soon after we last blogged, we
said goodbye to Rubes, our trusty Toyota who will see out her days shuttling people around the Tonkolili district of Sierra Leone. Given our recent run of punctures on the Namibian gravel roads, we were so lucky with Rubes to make it to Salone with no mechanical problems, and we had such fun raising the money to buy her, choosing her and preparing her for the trip, in Herefordshire. It was a sad moment to hand her over to Dr Claudia at the bus station in Masiaka, but this was one of the main purposes of the trip, i.e. to deliver a working, reliable vehicle to the hospital. Hopefully she will be a good servant to Masanga.
The eastern side of Sierra Leone is still fairly underdeveloped, and the road to Liberia is motorbike only in the wet season. The government-run cable ferries do not run as the rivers are so high the cables are under water, so rivers are crossed in little boats which will take a moto, but not a car. So with a rucksack strapped to the back of the bike, guitar in one hand and holding on with the other hand, we crossed
The moto to Liberia
Lappa guitar case....
to Liberia after 8hrs of wacky moto races, deep mud and flooded rivers with not a hint of tarmac in sight until the bridge at the border. The guitar made my moto almost a wide vehicle, and it was clipped by a toyota near the border, but you can not hear a difference from the standard of my playing!
In true west African border fashion, there was a serious problem with our visas and immigration stamps: Sierra Leone is the only country we have visited where the visa is almost meaningless( despite costing £100!), and the immigration officer gives you a one month stamp on arrival to the country, which needs to be renewed every month, up to three months, when a work visa must be obtained, at a cost of £250. The agreement that Masanaga has with the Ministry of Health allowing volunteers to not need a work permit was not apparent to the extremely officious man on the border, but finally, Jo's tact and diplomacy (mainly pure anger and refusal to pay any bribes) won him over and he let us leave the country...
Liberia has a similar recent history to Sierra
Leone, in terms of civil war, and whilst Sierra Leone seems to be better known for child soldiers and the hacking off of limbs, the war there spread from Liberia, as did the penchant for using drugged children as soldiers, as Charles Taylor sought the diamonds from the mines in eastern Salone to sell to the Libyans to fund his war. It was ironic that the week we were there, Charles Taylor was sentenced, by The Hague, to 50 yrs imprisonment, in the UK, for war crimes in Sierra Leone, but not in Liberia.
This recent history seemed far away as we found ourselves on the coast of Liberia, surfing with a bunch of children in training for the third Liberian National surf championship, shouting "Kwepunha" at the sea ( Big sea wave, Come!) . The world renowned point break at Robertsport in a fair swell was plenty big enough for us without Kwepunha, and we were given a schooling by a bunch of 10yr olds, who could climb the tree and machete a coconut in no time, the ultimate post surf beverage!
Our good fortune in having friendly contacts extended to Monrovia, the
capital, where our friends in Freetown, Tim and Lynn, had introduced us to John, an AGI colleague with an enormous apartment in Monrovia. Within minutes of being in the city, we had been in a comedy low speed accident as our taxi drove into another vehicle as neither driver would give way, then as other people tried to que jump round us, tempers flared, flip flops were removed and a slightly bizarre sight of grown men slapping each other with flip flops and throwing sand at each other ensued, before the women calmed everything down. Then our taxi broke down, worsening the mood of the driver, and necessitating him to exit the vehicle, suck fuel through the lines with his mouth, then restart and continue to the next set of lights to repeat the process. And to add insult to injury, our bags developed a smell from the boot of the taxi, a mixture of stale vomit, old urine and rose air freshener, that permeated deep into the fabric and made us quite the worst house guests ever. Prior to this taxi, we had had a dead monkey residing on our bags from Robertsport to Monrovia, so they already had
a slight aroma. We had to leave the bags outside John's apartment....and they still smell a bit....
Cutting round the ruined hotels, and bustling waterfront of Monrovia on motorbikes was a great experience, and we found the Liberians on the street to be extremely friendly. The AGI team showed us around and gave us the up to date politics on "Madame Ellen" the president, and her cabinet. Monrovia is teeming with UN, every other vehicle seems to be a white Toyota, and we were delighted by the smiling,charming female Indian guards, guarding the presidents's building.
I have had the undercarriage of my trousers sewn together in almost every country we have been to, and it needed another patch in Liberia. Our trip to a street tailor, me sitting in my pants (particularly white thighs on show) while a woman sewed and children stared at the funny white man, was luckily not captured on camera. We have found that having problems with the car, or needing to buy a certain item, or needing to have something fixed is a great way to meet lots of people, and discover slightly obscure places. Sitting around in pants
can be a great ice breaker....
We left with fond memories of Liberia and a new found knowledge of the rubber making process from the Firestone plantation, leased to the USA for 99yrs at 1 cent per hectare, or something equally menial, and home to one of the two golf courses in Liberia. Being a hockey player has never been great for my golf swing, as was demonstrated to the amusement of the local "pros" as I hooked and sliced off the tee. You had to pay a man to collect the balls off the driving range, and my chap certainly earned his money!
We leapfrogged the Côte d'Ivoire for various reasons and found ourselves in one of the old slave forts in Ghana in no time. As we now know, the British entered the slave trade 200 yrs after the Portuguese and Dutch started the trade, with a demand from the USA, Caribbean and South America for slaves, and with Africans enslaving other Africans to sell to the British in West Africa. Wilberforce then abolished slavery in 1805, and the Royal Navy was key in policing the slave routes.... However, despite this, the
guides on the slave tours implied that the entire 400yr slaving history and all the atrocities that were committed were performed by the English. The tourists were mainly black Africans and black Americans, discovering their roots, and there were suitably incensed by the evil English, so we kept our patronage quiet!
We re-visited African public transport proper in Ghana, the guitar again proving an invaluable asset in a minibus designed for 12 carrying 22 people. On one occasion I paid for an extra seat.....worryingly, I am still not very good at playing it, proving a huge disappointment to my fellow passengers.
Through no particular planning, we ended up staying at two eco-vegan-Rastafarian lodges, living off moringa and other super foods that do not quite hit the spot as much as a steak (however Jo now embracing less meat), and falling asleep to the dulcet tones of Bob Marley. I did develop quite an interest in the Rasta religion, as I had not realised it all stems from Haile Selaisse, or Ras Tafari, as he was called before he became King of Ethiopia. Jo, meanwhile, developed an interest in eco houses and is planning our
dartmoor eco house.....
After a short spell in Accra, we said farewell to West Africa, and had the slightly surreal experience of flying via Dubai, to Cape Town. We were a little out of place in Dubai airport, surrounded by shops for expensive watches and jewellery, but the DVDs on the plane were a welcome return to western comforts.
Jo's extended family, Richard and Kerry very kindly took us under their wing in Cape Town. Richard and Kerry run a safari company, and they could not have been better people to advise us on "phase three" of Pottering around Africa.
We took possession of our home for the next few weeks, another Toyota, named George, this time with a roof tent, and headed north, to the Cederberg, the Kgaligali, and then to Namibia. Crossing borders in southern Africa is a positive delight with not even a chocolate biscuit needed as persuasion.
We have found Namibia to be a truly beautiful country, and have embraced the outdoor living, early starts and mesmerising scenery. Having only gained independence in 1990, it has a fascinating colonial history, firstly German, as German
South West Africa, which is still reflected in the number of German tourists here, and the slight oddity of hearing indigenous people speaking German. It was then taken by the South Africans with British persuasion in 1915, and this governance formed the basis of the war with Angola, who had Cuban backing, which lasted 30 years until the mid 1980s.
It is a bit of a cliche, but we just kept on having wonderful experiences which were bettered the next day. The Dunes at Sossuvlei were simply breathtaking, but we were then thrilled by the flamingoes at Walvis Bay, which was topped by the dolphins round our kayak, then the hot air ballooning, then the rhino tracking..... We followed Richard's advice to " head down the Hoanib river" in northern Namibia which is teeming with wild desert elephants and other megafauna. Seeing wildlife in the national parks is always exciting, but seeing it in the wild, under your own steam whilst navigating round dry river beds is just a little more satisfying and unforgettable. Regarding the navigation, these river beds can look so similar to each other, and we had a little bit of excitement finding our
way out, but with the mantra of "heading East", and some high tech use of our compass, we returned to Sesfontein, and then to Etosha. (Jo insert.....we got lost!)
After so many good experiences we were due a mishap or two, and our bad luck certainly happened in threes. After 6 punctures on the gravel roads, we had to buy a new tyre as they were puncturing through the repairs, but we couldn't obtain the correct size, so had to buy two new tyres in a new size, at considerable expense. Jo, meanwhile, had been suffering with a painful infection around her lips, and was sleeping badly. Whilst in the garage, on the Angolan border town of Rundu having the tyres changed, our camera was stolen from the back of the car. This is a well travelled camera, having broken in Sierra Leone, travelled back to England with Lynn, been fixed at considerable hassle, then travelled back out with Annie, we were really enjoying some photography of animals, birds and the fabulous scenery, so to lose it was very disappointing. Luckily we did not lose to many photos, thanks to Jo's good admin in downloading them.
However, shortly after the bad things, three good things perked us up, firstly a photo of our cat from Sierra Leone, thanks Laura, then a wonderful river cruise on the Okavango where we saw four types of kingfisher ( exciting for us, now that we have embraced bird watching....), and then a marvellous campsite with a unique old style bath tub overlooking the river. Once we had the fire hot, the water hot-ish, and the candles lit, losing the camera did not seem too bad. Typically, having become keen bird watchers, the Okavango is teeming with birds, but we can not take pictures..... We will buy a new camera in Botswana. Tediously, we also lost the lead that connects my camera to the iPad, so we cannot download any more photos, so the blog may be bereft of visual stimulation if we can not find a lead..... So tomorrow we head to Botswana, then to Mozambique, then back to SA and the Western Cape.
As ever, if you have made it this far, thank you for reading our blog, and please leave us a little message, it really is wonderful to hear from home.
75,000 people living on a sandy spit
Lots of love
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