River Cess County back to Monrovia. Usually a one day journey over terrible roads became a lot longer when the jeep started to play up on the last day of filming. Water was gushing from the engine. In an opportunistic fashion we went scavenging at every opportunity for spare parts. In places like West Africa lorries, cars, motorcycles and every other mode of mechanised transport are usually driven until they fall apart. Subsequently repaired, then fall apart, then dodgily repaired. This continues until the rusted vehicle literally stops one day and refuses to move again. However this seldom dissuades the ingenuity of the African mechanic. In Ghana I once saw the front of a rusted Renault and the back of a crumpled Citroen literally stapled together.
With Michael, our friendly and laid back driver; and Silas, our leader and guide, always filled with laughter and stories; we spent the best part of two days driving slowly – very slowly – back to Monrovia. Despite several attempts at bodging a repair the engine was still losing water at an astonishing rate. Our progress was close to walking speed. We would drive for a mile and a half, then pull over to let the steaming engine cool, fetching water from rivers and streams as we went. Far from inconveniencing us, after all most of the filming had been done, it was a wonderful two days.
Every time you stopped you were greeted by a small community, be it a little huddled hamlet of huts or a single farmer and his family. You’d wander down the dirt road with a couple of empty jerry cans banging against your legs, find a bridge made of fallen logs, scramble awkwardly down the bank, accidentally astonish a group of naked boys all lathered in soap and having their evening wash in the stream, fill the jerry cans and return to the guys and our poor broken jeep. As well as the friendly banter between traveller and the local roadside villages our trip to Monrovia was punctuated by the jovial rivalry of our fellow road users.
Every vehicle on the road, be it a very old American school bus, its yellow paint streaked with mud and scrapes, crammed private taxis and pick-ups; all seemed to be in a universal state of disrepair. Meaning that as we refilled the engine with murky river water and observed the depressing amount dripping from the cracked metal work, we would be harassed in a cheery way by our other travellers. There would be a beep of a horn and then all smiles and waves as they pass us, some shouting “We’ll be in Monrovia before you brother!” A few minutes later we would pass them at our own wobbly snails pace, laughing and teasing them as they leaned over steaming engines or tried to fix a snapped drive shaft, “We’ll see you in Monrovia!” we’d chortle with delight. This would be repeated endlessly throughout the day.
We spent that night in Buchanon, a wild west sort of town, much of it devastated during the wars. The hotel we stayed in was rundown and seemed to serve both as a disco and a brothel. But there were cold bottles of beer available – a welcoming sight to the dusty, slightly frazzled traveller. The disco, and what seemed like several raucous wedding parties, went on most of the night and unfortunately made the floor vibrate in my room. Somehow i managed to sleep.
On the second day in bright sunlight we stopped for a while by a church in the final stages of decomposition. Walking around we found an old bible in the wooden pulpit. The pulpit sagged and leaned from where ants and termites had been eating away at it. The bible, which seemed to come apart in your hands, was printed in 1974 in Georgia USA. For a while we were the only people there, milling around, exchanging amused looks between us as Michael cautiously unscrewed the radiator cap, then as with so many occasions out in the bush we were soon joined inexplicably by a variety of people who appeared as if from no where. The local pastor and two of his friends, formal but friendly, they sat with us and we talked in the way strangers do, picking at the peeling plaster and kicking idly at stones, sometimes a wistful silence would pass between us and we would in turn grimace into the bright light, looking down along the shimmering empty road. Soon enough the engine had cooled and we refilled the water.