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Day 18 Update (via Satellite) – November 12th 2007

Somewhere to Labe (Guinee)

After a brief nights sleep, we awoke in our makeshift camp site to a crowd of curious locals who had gathered around to watch these strange white people take down their curious fabric houses! We arrived last night after crossing over a large river on a pontoon ferry. The ferry could hold four cars and people and was hand-cranked over the river and prevented from floating away by a system of steel wires. Crossing at night was surreal in the light of the headlights and head torches of the team. I’m sure by day it would have been a lovely view. We drove further on and having asked for directions and help, we inadvertently stumbled across the chief of the local village who kindly let us stay in the clearing where we camped last night. This is how it works in Africa…

The cars are covered in a think coating of red dust from the roads now and simply loading them gets you filthy. So after the application of many wet wipes after breakfast, we are now dirty again before we even turn a wheel. Great. So the day begins with hour after hour of pounding away at the road. Simply travelling on the correct side of the track is impossible as you have to weave around to avoid the huge potholes. It was whilst one of the vehicles was on the wrong side that a young motorcyclist and pillion came straight towards us a full speed around a blind bend. He was unable to take any avoiding action and crashed his bike directly in front of our car within inches of hitting it. Fortunately they had only a few minor injuries and Alison was at hand to patch them up. It was a sobering reminder for everyone as to how close we came to killing them and also the lack of local health care and police. We fixed his bike up enough for them to get themselves home and gave him some money to repair it properly. This is how it works in Africa…

Shortly after this incident we were stopped at a Douane Checkpoint (Customs Checkpoint) were our support vehicle Goliath had been for some time. It transpires that we have failed to get the appropriate paperwork at some point (we’re unsure as to how this has happened), but we now have to have a customs escort to Labe to see the controller of customs. After another hour of travel, we approach Labe which is quite a major town in this region. However, the road approaching it is quite the worse we’ve seen with massive ruts, rocks and bomb holes. Extraordinary.

The controller of customs couldn’t believe that we were allowed into the country without this paperwork and had to contact his superiors in the capital Conakory to check what to do. Claudio has been invaluable on this trip and even with his language skills we were negoiating for a couple of hours. The result being that we are in a political battle between the head of customs and the local customs people and we now have to present our case directly to the head in Conakary. This is completely in the wrong direction for us and will add on at least another half day to our already tight schedule. So now, great debate has started as to how we can claw back some time, visit the customs people in Conakary and still get through the border to Sierra Leone in time to make our flights on the 16th November. We decided against another all night driving episode and decided to crash out for a few hours in a local hotel and start again at 3.00am for the 9 hour journey to Conakary. This is how it works in Africa…