Saturday, February 23, 2008

Taking A Fall

Just when I thought my life had hit rock bottom, I feel five feet deeper! It was a muggy and extremely dark night like any other. Mom was by my side, holding her famous flashlight, the traffic started getting heavier, headlights were beaming and blinding me, so I brilliantly decided to switch from mom’s right side to her left to get off the road. Ha…ha….Little did I know there was a disgusting sewer that had JUST started otherwise I would’ve thought twice before taking a lunge into it! Next thing I knew I had fallen into the very large and unpleasant ditch all the way up past my shoulders.... It was so deep, I had enough time to think "Aaah, this is a DEEP hole! When am I going to hit the bottom...oh boy, this could be bad!" The only tears I had were caused by side splitting laughter I burst into! “Oh my gosh mom, I am SOOOO embarrassed, hhahah. How could I DO that?!?!” Mean while she was trying to judge how badly I had hurt myself. “Trust me, I’m FINE!” I said, as I stumbled in my tracks, limping and laughing along. My vision narrowed and the little light produced on the street was being blotched out until I was left with nothing but a swimming head. Never before have I come so close to passing out…”Whoa, I think I’m actually going to pass out! Maybe I DO need Sky to come and carry me home.” Luckily I didn’t pass out and continued to limp the 1km home. My ears went fuzzy and it felt as though I was in a cloud, my world far off and hazy….I could scarcely hear mom right beside me and even my own voice sounded distant to my own ears. An African ditch is a very mysterious place that's better left to bubble and rot untouched!! The muck oozing between my toes and smeared up my pants was more than unsettling and revolting, to say the least. "We should really stop to wash you off. Who KNOWS what you landed in!!" Leaning on mom for support, I hesitated slightly before laughing the idea off. It took all of my strength not to think of the hundreds of possible ingredients in an African ditch....

As soon as we arrived home after midnight, mom put Bre on clean-up duty. There I was, passed off to the amateur doctor, sitting on the toilet in my underwear getting the full inspection. My arm was smeared in pasty mud, my pants soaked (no, the experience wasn't THAT frightening!), my feet were unrecognizable and overall I simply stunk! The "Don't ask" expression on my face was clear as day but she didn't even need to ask. The look on Bre's face wasn't comforting in the least. "Just break it to me!! How bad is it?!" "I'm sorry....I'm have to scrub these. They're just sooo DIRTY...and you really stink, by the way." The candle light flickered on the walls of the small, dripping bathroom as I let Bre scrape out the pebbles and grime from the deep cut in my foot and everywhere else.... Bre and I were a perfect match, her loving to inflict pain on me and me loving the STING of disinfectant! I had to bite my arm to stifle my screams and prevent them from ripping through the night like a tortured patient, ahah. Nothing too terrible really, just a sliced foot, scratched side, skinned hip, scraped knee, lots of bruises and a hurt ankle. The worst part was knowing that I had to get up in three hours and put my pack on and carry it to the bus station. My own weight on my foot alone was bad enough, and the backpack strap goes right across my cut hip. Oh well, life goes on, right?! I can't wait for my hip to scar because I already have one from the beach in Sri Lanka and now I get a new one. They'll be my SL hip scars, hehe :D.

A couple of days after that lovely experience we took a 3½ hour truck ride 29 km down a bumpy, dusty road to Tongo where the diamond fields are. OooOOoh cool! A friendly local found us and showed us around for free. We saw the miners digging, sifting the gravel and dirt for "blood" diamonds and then we went in and saw the head honcho buying raw diamonds from them in a little shack. Ya, this is the real deal. It was scorching hot and hard limping around. Our only alternative to go back to Kenema from Tongo was by motorbike. I don’t think any of us were too keen on the idea at first but it turned out to be one of the best experiences of my whole trip! It hadn’t occurred to me how much we’ve been missing out by travelling in squishy cars and trucks! We all paired up, the parents, Bre and Ammon then Sky and me on three different bikes. I hadn't realized until the second I was hopping onto the bike that....I had never riden one before!!! All my travels and experiences and never ridden one....crazy! The scenery is absolutely drop dead gorgeous in Siera Leone. Everyone was so friendly with big smiles and little kids running and waving to us when we passed through each village! It's been so long since I've smiled so big that it hurt! I could not stop laughing and smiling! I loved it! I could go on and on and on about how amazing it was but I don't think it's healthy for the readers to get that jealous!

To sum up what has happened since then, we took a shared taxi to Liberia which took forever with all of the check points and it was a pretty miserable day! We arrived at night which wasn't a good thing....and I'll let someone else elaborate on that story. So right now we are in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia and have been staying with an EXTREMELY nice family for the past week, trying to figure out how to get OUT! Transport is not an easy thing in this country! Dad had to go to the hospital with painful suspected kidney stones....Can't wait to go through Cote D'ivoire and get to Ghana!

That's all for now from the youngen' of the group!

p.s. Hey! I didn't insult you!! It's a GREAAAAT thing to be OLD Shean. And you never told me if he was YOUNG or how do I know if I even want this guy in the first place, teehee. Maybe you'll have to send me a photo before I believe he's good looking. Does he even exist and if he does...he probably reads these blogs ahhahha, how embarrassing!!
I wrote a blog for you! Is that good enough sucking up!?!

Friday, February 08, 2008


Despite all of the dirt and poverty out here in Africa, the people always seem to be wearing very nice, bright, clean clothes. For some reason the colours look so gorgeous against their dark, smooth skin. Every colour looks great. All of the women are in dresses or in two piece outfits with a matching kerchief on their heads and a baby wrapped on their back, also with matching fabric. While out in the villages and small towns we see an awful lot of bare breasts just hanging out...and we're talking HANGING! We're talking National Geographic at it's best kind of boobs here. Poor Savannah has been so traumatized that she has literally taken to wearing TWO bras at the same time to prevent any such thing from happening to her. Oh, and she says she is thinking of investing in a third! Hhahaha.
Here in this city, Freetown, we are happy that all of the women have been fully dressed and our men don't have to keep diverting their eyes since they've become very distraught themselves.
The men are dressed in normal western clothes. T-shirts, jeans, suit pants, Polo shirts etc. All of the kids seem to be dressed in American T-shirts with common Logos. It looks like they're all wearing the hand-me-downs from American kids.
It's soo hot and muggy here and there's nothing you can do to cool off except take our clothes off and run around...but THAT'S not happening!
The beach here is beauitful and the water is a perfect tempurature. The sand is the softest I've ever felt and everything is surprisingly clean. We'll spend the day at the beach tomorrow then go find some chimps to look at.
Wishing you all well. Feel free to join us anytime!

Thursday, February 07, 2008


Hi there travelers.....true or vicarious,

I'm told by the others that back in the first week of April '07 the W.C.(Water-Closet) as it's commonly known in Africa (or the "Hooha" as it's come to be known in the peregrinations of our itinerant cabal), had running water. I honestly don't remember. I was too traumatized back then. Ammon briefly mentioned in a recent blog that I'd come a "long way" when comparing the Amman, Jordan hooha with the Labe, Guinea hooha. If in fact Amman's (not Ammon's) facilities actually had shower and sit-down toilet with running water complete even with the ambiance of a torture chamber, (I do remember the ambiance part), I'd agree without hesitation. For in Labe, Guinea not only would one find the long, dank, dimly lit (think maybe 5 watt light bulbs precariously hanging from the frailest of wires) hallways reminiscent of Alcatraz cell blocks intended for deviant miscreants and only suited to gargoyles and necromancers both with serious mental conditions, one would ultimately find THE broken metal door hanging on one hinge marked "WC" in the shadows. With full bladder or bowels (or both) I can personally attest that this is not an attractive situation! Especially after a long brutal day of feeling like an abused sardine packed in "dust of the day" in a small, thoroughly beat to the max tin can with wheels made by Peugeot. (I really couldn't tell if the holes of missing door handles, blown out windows, and the thousand cracks in the windshield were letting the suffocating red dirt in or out!) If you are one that feels acute pain between the ears when fingernails are viciously drawn over a black board, it is highly advisable to send another misfortunate in advance to open THE door previous to your arrival at the hooha. There's no light....none....not even a burned out light bulb in a well-rusted out light socket to raise tomorrow's its back to the "cell block" room for a lit candle or flashlite....might as well bring the TP too! Upon entering, one first sees to the right directly into the curtainless "shower" area with an archaic non-functioning shower head appearing momentarily to drop under the weight of the clinging cobwebs....or are they spiderwebs??....One had better keep an extra eye out for those all too familiar gigantic Halloween characters that launch Skylar, Bre and Savannah on a seatless toilet with the girls screaming in hilarious, high-pitched tones. What a trio! Actually they should save their breath for when, during that proverbial bucket shower, some stranger screeches open THE door without warning and they find themselves in the newcomer's full view....afterall, there are no doorlocks, no barrier between shower and door, and best of all it IS co-ed!!! Knowing one's "co-cell-block mates" are literally as black as night, finding oneself butt naked, wet, and all suds'd up, and then suddenly seeing two white eyes and a big white smile grinning in the darkness will surely give one a cardiac arrest! Nearby is a sink that drains directly below into a stone mini-trough which in turn drains through a hole smacked in the wall and drips into the stinking littered alley. Of course the water handles are only ornamental so one must find the huge oil-drum full of clear water(thank goodness) accompanied by a small, very inadequate bucket and a plastic teapot for rinsing. (Ever rinsed your body with a tea pot? Watch out for the spout in the darkness....hehe.) Around the intimidating corner, one discovers the very core of the hooha...and it's at this point, over the agonizing rumblings and bulgings remonstrating in the lower mid-section, that one entertains the thought, "How long can I last? Can I hold it all night? Good garbage and lonely litter! Its been ALL day long!" And so one presses on into a seemingly troglodyte's cave of paradise, balancing TP on a water filled "flush" bucket in one hand, lit candle in the other, wishing to high heaven and all above (except for the ubiquitous vultures) for that extra hand to facilitate acute compulsions to pinch one's nose in futile attempts to preclude insuperable stench from completely violeting both nostrils with malodorous malaise....but only when not fending off 8-legged, hirsute arachnids whose eyes glint menacingly in the flickering but waning light of the now dying candle....

Fun, fun, fun..........


I don't know about you guys but before I came out here, one of the main images in my mind when I thought of Africa was of a small girl walking 5km to a dirty hole with a bucket on her head to collect water. I'm sure there are people somewhere on this continent that are doing that but it is far from the norm. Water still remains a complicated subject out here though. For you guys, water is water. You can buy it bottled and it falls out of the sky (far too often in Vancouver) but for the most part you don't really think about it. For any task, a turn of the tap or a push of a button gets you what you need and the job done.
Here, well, we have different water and situations depending on what we want the water for. As I mentioned in my last blog, we have been living with bucket showers for most of our time out here, but you eventually get used to that (I'm still waiting.....). Hot water? Forget it unless you are lucky enough to have an electric kettle like us (and some electricity to use it, but that is a different story) or someone builds a fire. Wood fires are the prefered method of cooking here and it's no wonder they are having a deforestation/desertification problem out here. We drink bottled water (actually purified water in little plastic bags because it is cheaper) for the most part, as you would imagine, but we have on many occasions had to drink the local well water. In Guinea, the bottled water tastes terrible and we actually prefered the local stuff. We took a look at the wells first though. They are all pretty much sealed and foot-pump operated, surrounded by a bunch of kids or ladies with buckets. There are always lots of people around wells and they are usually very close to the village or right inside. People still don't use much water though and while I don't remember the exact numbers, African average an incredibly small amount of water per person per day. They use this well water for drinking and cooking (I hope). If they have to do laundry or dishes, off they march to the local stream and scrub away. This is kind of scary though because the water is not always flowing so the dirt just stays there. Then, to scare you even more (and prove how bad an idea this all is, you will see some of the women, or random other people, start urinating in the water not 10 feet from where the dishes are being washed. Damn. Is there no such thing as common sense out here?
In towns and cities there are usually a lot of ditches and open streams flowing beside the road which are full of garbage and smell like open sewers. Oh, right, they are. It's bad, real bad. You can see dish water and waste flowing out of little holes in the walls of people's homes right into the streets. Beaches tend to be garbage sites which is really sad because they are potentially so beautiful. Still, sometimes you have to see it to believe it. Makes you appreciate all the clean water at home.

Savannah in Savannah

It wasn't until we drove into the taxi stand in the small town of Pita that I realized going to Douki would mean backtracking. With that knowledge (I am almost embarrassed to admit this) I had voted against it and wanted to skip the trip entirely just to avoid the 2hour, 40km bumpy ride. I'm becoming weak with my old age, haha. It's probably a good thing, with this as an example that I am the youngest and have very little say in the matter. For if I was in charge we would've missed the highlight of West Africa.
It took a while but finally I found the Africa I have been looking for. Hiking through the jungle was so unreal and we all came to the conclusion that it felt as though we were in a simulated jungle at Disney Land in an A/C room. Kind of like E.T. for those who have riden it...I can't believe they took it out! Ok, side tracking here. Although the hike was tiring and hot, it was worth every ache in my body! The scenery is amazing out in the wild with nothing but the faint sound of birds chirping, far off water rushing and the crunch of dry grass beneath each footstep....
I can't write anymore. I was going to but I just can't because my heart hurts too much. Grady dumped me and I can't think straight. I've never experienced the single life.....
P.s.Hey Shean! That guy you were saying thinks I'm he young, hot and single TOO?? :D or is he an old fogie like you?! Teehee. Savannah

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

In and Out of Guinea

Lots of transport lately. It's been a rough ride. We had to catch the boat out of Bolama and immediately switched to an overcrowded minibus up to Gabu, Guinea-Bissau. It's a nothing town really (though it looked quite strange with all the big vultures in the garbage piles instead of the usual goats, as well as vultures all over the trees and on top of the buildings watching us). It's like being in a creepy western movie, dirt streets and all.
The following morning (after the usual massive amount of hassle) we caught an overcrowded (they put 9 people in a 7 seater and one of them was a huge lady) Peugeot to the border on a very bumpy and slow road. Had to change transport 2 more times but we were being lied to and messed with too much at the border and we had been dealing with crap all morning so decided to walk across the border and the 13km to the next town. Usually when we threaten to walk and stand up the driver will change his price or some other drivers will come over and we'll get a better deal. Not this time. It's good to know that we are serious when we threaten such things. We walked 13km (at least that far, because some said it was 15km) in 40C on a dusty road in the middle of nowhere. One side of the road had a handful of deminers (of landmines) at work while the other side had grass fires burning away. On we marched. The Guinean border guards thought we were out of our minds but they were nice enough. We weren't really prepared so were almost out of water when we passed a small village. All the kids in the village came running out to the road to see us and follow for a bit so we just stopped for a rest and let them come to us. That took a while because they were so afraid. It was pretty funny to watch as 20 little kids (mostly girls) slowly inched forward to come meet us. Must be the first time any foreigners have been walking along the road for them to meet. When one of them finally got the nerve to come up and shake hands with mom, the ice finally broke and they all came forward in a rush. A few old men came by too and one of them led me through the village to the well to get our water bottles filled. The wells are new looking, sealed, foot-pump wells. Good to see some aid work has been successfully accomplished out here. It was an interesting experience and after finally limping in to Sareboido we caught another bush taxi to Koundara to spend the night. Why do all the cheap hotels seem to be in the back of nightclubs? Not busy or good nightclubs, just ones that are loud and hard to sleep through. Grrr...
The following day was an 8 hour ride in another crowded bush taxi to get to Labe. I don't know if I can really call it crowded though, it is much worse than that. In Guinea it is the norm. Guinea seems to have the West African record for vehicle overloading and that is just the way it is. 10+ inside a 7 seater and more on the roof. If you want the car to yourself you have to pay for 9 seats, it's the minimum required for them to leave. Then, on top of the overcrowding, the cars are some of the worst ever and the roads are often nonexistent dirt roads like this one to Labe. Bump, bump, bump with everyone squishing you into the walls of the car. Good thing I'm skinny. The most interesting part of the drive was the little winch-powered ferry for a couple of cars across a tiny stream and all the mushroom-shaped dirt mounds on the fields. They were black termite nests apparently.
Labe was a dump. Lots of garbage and not nearly as nice as the little villages nearby. We were in Labe when we posted the last blogs as it was the first time we were in a place with internet and had time to do anything. Things in Guinea tend to be a little cheaper than elsewhere in W. Africa and they have their own currency which you have to trade for sort of on the black market. There are guys with big wads of cash at certain shops or hanging around the taxi stands and a you will come away with a nice sized stack of bills at the end. The cheap hotels are exactly that. Horrible little dives with the dimmest lightbulbs ever (if any) and some seriously nasty bathrooms. Perfect for a horror and torture film. The one in Labe made me laugh because it showed us how far dad has come along since his first days in Jordan where he thought those bathrooms were bad. Seems like paradise now. In one place we were at we used the bathroom, someone had written "Ghetto Death Row" across the wall. Seemed pretty accurate. We have had almost only bucket showers since leaving Morocco, Mali being the only exception. Because of blisters on certain feet, we were in Labe a little longer than we wanted before heading off to a small village called Doucki.
The whole area of northwestern Guinea is called the Fouta Djalon, with Labe being the main administrative centre. The Fouta Djalon is the most popular area with tourists because it is an attractive mountainous area, good for hikes and village walks. Guinea doesn't see a lot of tourists these days because it has been having political problems with strikes and demonstrations the past year or so. Guinea hasn't had the same kind of ethnic violence that its neighbours have had because of a strong nationalistic attitude which has kept them out of civil war in the past and hopefully into the future, as they will be quick to tell you. They are very Muslim and speak French so we were back to the usual.
Doucki was recommended to us as a great place to hike. There is a guy, Hassan, in the tiny village there that has a small guesthouse and leads hikes around the area. It's a bit expensive but has been very popular with Peace Corps Volunteers and the odd tourist over the years. We were the first people there in a week and immediately after arrival got on with a short hike to show us the area. Doucki is right by the edge of a large canyon but because of the Harmattan (the dusty winds from the Sahara at this time of year that make everything really hazy and the skies grey), the views were not very good. I was expecting the Harmattan a little earlier but this is the first time it has really interfered with what we were doing. (It has actually given us the excuse to not do as much in the area and we have scrapped a few other hiking and mountain plans in the area since there isn't much point.) We spent the next two days there doing hikes in the area. All were pretty long and Hassan is quite the character. He makes acronyms out of everything and will hike up mountains with a water bottle balanced on his head. He has tons of energy so we spent all day being way too active. It was really nice to be out in the fresh air and get some excercise and with hike names like "Wet and Wild", "Indiana Jones Adventure" and "Chutes and Ladders" we were in and out of the waterfalls and streams, swinging on vines, climbing little rope ladders up cliffs and even got so see some baboons too. Nice but not relaxing. From Doucki we made our way down to Mamou, an important crossroads town. Another grungy and dark town with not much going for it, but we were stuck there because we were trying to get transport directly to Sierra Leone from there rather than heading down to Conakry, the capital, and taking the main road.
We seem to be doing something wrong these days because we always seem to want to go out and get food when there is none available. We seem to be on a different hunger schedule or something. Food is really bad at night as the people switch from rice and sauce to mostly meat. They were also serving guts soup which Sky made the mistake of trying and nearly made all of us sick just to look at. We eat a lot of bread and processed cheese or spam.
Getting out of Guinea turned out to be tougher than getting in. We had to wait 8 hours for a 4WD to fill up to leave for Kabala, Sierra Leone. It never did fill up and we paid a little extra to get the thing moving. What a messed up ride. The electrical wires inside started burning up before we even got out of town and we had to go to some guy's house to fill up with diesel because there was none left at any of the stations. The road is a very seldomly used dirt track through the bush, up in the mountains and we had to do it at night. It would never be done with anything other than a 4WD because we were totally offroading. 13 hours to go ~150km. The worst part was that we had to go through 3 checkposts on the Guinean side and several on the Sierra Leone side before making it to Kabala. The Guinean guys were the worst I've ever had to deal with and we had to put up with a lot of crap at each stop. It is our policy to not pay bribes but they pretty much held our passports ransom and made a huge fuss about not letting us through. Apparently everyone has to pay to get through on this road but they were being extra retarded for us. Our drivers paid just to not have to deal with it all. Again we see that they are just making their own lives worse. The only time they ever seem to be in a hurry is when you could pay to solve their problem. We intended to wait and see what would happen but they paid way over the odds too quickly and then got themselves in trouble with the guards wanting even more. And they had to do this at each stop. Wow. Now the guards think that we paid them and the next time they see foreigners they will charge the next group a fortune too. All because our drivers decided to be in a hurry. We never did get a stamp out of Guinea because the head guard wanted us to pay him to do it. We told him only the entry one was important and he couldn't keep us in his country forever. So no stamp but we did escape. I'd been liking Guinea up until that point. The people were generally more easy going and less likely to rip you off but last impressions are important too. We had no problems on the SL side other than waking up the guards to let us through. Sky, mom and Savannah swear they saw a lion on the side of the road while we were driving too. Could be, as there is supposed to be a fair amount of wildlife in these parts if you get remote enough and we were very remote.
Kabala was a nice and quiet town. Probably the friendliest yet. I am happy to be in an English-speaking country once again though it is a little tough to understand their accent and use of words sometimes. English is still a second language for them and when they talk to each other they will use a mix but with the english part on such a wierd cadence sometimes that you don't even realize that they are speaking English again. We spent a day in Kabala recovering since we had had no sleep and arrived at 6am. Had to track down the immigration offical to get our passports stamped in. It is kind of scary when you go to the police station to ask for the immigration guy and they have no idea what you are talking about and randomly point you toward some home to ask there, and then when you come back a couple hours later you find the guy sitting with some of the police outside the station wearing a tie that says immigration. Hmmm.... Not very well coordinated. The guy's office was a tiny little cell in a separate building with nothing in it but the desk, chairs, 5 file folders and a couple rubber stamps. He was pretty surprised to see us. As you can imagine there are few tourists in Sierra Leone these days and even fewer crossing in such remote areas. We are now in Freetown but that will have to wait.