Friday, May 22, 2009

Kabala to Kurobonla Road - and an illegal Smuggling side tour to Guinea

In this Guinean village Skip Smith and I stayed over night  when we were illegally transported into Guinea and became indirectly involved in a smuggling operation. March 1969. (double click on photo to enlarge it)

There is an earlier post that I did in which I wrote about the physically challenging trip from Kabala to Kurobonla, a distance of 75 miles but on the most rutted, and dusty road imaginable. It was first in March of 1969 that fellow Peace Corps volunteer Skip Smith and I headed off on a hike of Mt. Bintumani in the Loma Mountains of the North.  I started in Kenema and met skip in Matotaka (near Magburaka) where he was stationed. Our next leg was from Makeni to Kabala on a reasonable road. We spent a night at a volunteers house there before heading east to Kurobonla.  This stretch, as I have previously described, took more than 24 hours and involved our big surprise - as night was on us the driver turned North onto an even narrower and nearly impassable road,  and crossed the border into Guinea - a country that was verboten for us to be in.  First off we did not have our passports. Second - in those days we were not allowed to go to Guinea as it was on the State Department list of countries that U.S. citizens were not allowed to go in.  Our border crossing was uneventful as the place we crossed at was far off the beaten path. Much to our additional surprise - our Lorry got to a point on the road, in Guinea, where due to the rain, we could go no farther since the truck could not get traction on the slippery road. We ended at a small and remote Guinean village. All of a sudden - the other passengers who had been in back with us began removing a false floor of the Lorry and began unloading smuggled goods. Here we were, illegally in Guinea, and now indirectly part of a smuggling ring.  Needless to say we both were apprehensive.  The driver found us a place to sleep, with him and the Lorry Boys as our roommates. The quarters were Spartan to say the least. The bed was made of slats, our house was typically mud and typical of the area, the room was crowded and musty, and of course dark since there was no electricity in the area. I remember sleeping poorly and wondering if somehow, the next morning, we would be discovered by Guinean authorities, and be hauled off to jail. Next morning came early. I got up and walked around in the just lifting early morning fog. It was a Kuranko village (the Kuranko were both in Sierra Leone and Guinea).  The driver sold off his smuggled goods - mostly clothing from Paris - and then apologized for the side trip - and off we started again on the final leg of our 75 miles to the base of Bintumani and Kurobonla. Crossing the border again was thankfully uneventful.

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