Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Another Cargo Boat Journey

Once upon a time we thought cargo boat travel was cool. Well, if you look at our past history crossing the Caspian and Black seas, it wasn't too bad and was almost comfortable. Not so this one. We were dropped off at the pier at 6am on the day of departure only to learn that we were still waiting for fuel. They'd been waiting a week at least for fuel. Luckily the tanker came by at noon to fill us up and we watched while for the next two hours they not only filled the boat's tanks but also a number of plastic drums for cargo, all the while trying to defend themselves from a bunch of guys trying steal the fuel in little buckets, plastic bags or just running off with whatever they could grab lying around. Our boat finally loaded, we set off at around 2pm and quickly realized we weren't going to get anywhere very quickly. We were fully loaded with rice, fuel and cement on the usual low riding 50m cargo boat. We'd been given the place of honour on the very top of the boat, on the roof above the bridge, in order to avoid the filth and other people riding the lower decks. We were totally exposed to the sun and wind but found that even with the forward motion there was almost no wind. We also later learned that we couldn't make it to the port by closing time the following day so they were going to slow down a little and arrive when it opened the day after that, giving us a grand total of 41 hours of sailing time on a boat that some of us couldn't walk around on (or even really sit up on) without feeling seasick. That kind of thing is not supposed to happen to me but there I was lying in misery for most of the ride.
We had just enough space for a couple of chairs or to all lay down in the evening. The boat kept a steady 10 miles from shore so we really didn't get to see much of the land, but we did enjoy finally moving on and watching all the dolphins and flying fish everywhere. Flying fish are so cool and it was a first for both dad and Sky, who thought they were great as well. There's just something awesome about watching 50+ fish suddenly all jump out of the water ahead of the boat like a bunch of little rockets. We were extremely lucky that we had no rain as we slept outside. We could see huge thunderstorms on land each night but other than a few drops, we were far enough out to be dry.
We were also lucky to have a great crew that treated us well and even found some food to keep us from starving. One of the guys even got off with us and walked us past the pier (covered with raw rubber. It feels like rubber but is a yellowing, brownish goo blob.), through the town of Harper and helped us get onward transport to the border. Harper was the hometown of one of the better presidents of Liberia and so was well built up at one point but now it reminds me of the colonial decay of Bolama (Guinea-Bissau) in that there are lots of nice buildings all crumbled and abandoned. It would've been interesting to hang out a day and explore but alas, we had to move on. Our chosen mode of transport was 6 motorcycle taxis (great convoy fun) for about 20km over very rough dirt track/road through the jungle. Bre's bike fell twice, Sky had a near bail and dad had a flat tire so it took a while. The flat tire was patched with the aid of rubber taken from one of the rubber trees on the side of the road. They just bled the tree for the sap, mixed it with some water, applied it to the patch and then heated it with a match and stuck it on the tube. Wow. No major problems at the border and the Liberian police, customs and immigration are (with only one exception) the most professional in West Africa.
Ammon

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