Monday, July 1, 2013

The Loma Mountains

Due to bad road conditions and due to the heat, trips to the far north and east of Sierra Leone were not for the faint of heart. Transport there from where we lived in Kenema took a minimum of three full days and the roadways were gullied and rough, and some bridges were in horrible disrepair and needed immediate repair (cutting down trees and placing them where there were open spaces) before crossing them. In March 1969 and again in March 1970 I made  journeys to this mountainous area to hike to the summit (known as Bintumani). Bintumani was in Kuranko country and very different from where we lived in Kenema.  I was accompanied on each trip by a fellow Peace Corps volunteer - in March 1969 by Skip Smith (involved in primary education in Matotaka - near Magburaka in Temne country) and in March 1970 by Kenema stationed volunteer Lloyd Ziegler (secondary education at Holy Trinity Secondary School).  I have posted a number of descriptions about trips into these remote Sierra Leone mountains. Suffice it to say that travel there was arduous and at times as difficult if not more so than the actual hiking. My interest was in the remoteness of this area, and of the people (the Kuranko) who lived in it. The area bordered on Guinea, a country that we had, in those days, been forbidden to enter. As I have posted before, despite the nature of relationships in those days between Sekou TourĂ© - president of Guinea and the United States - this was our first trip to the area - when much to Skip Smith's and my surprise - we both were transported (actually smuggled) into Guinea illegally (no visas, no passports, and the U.S. would not allow us to enter a socialist country such as Guinea was in those days).  We had seen verandas along the northern Sierra Leone tier bordering with Guinea to our north were decorated with Chairman Mao posters (the locals thought he was 'beautiful' - the posters had apparently been passed out by several Chinese rice growing project members).  And, as I have previously noted we slept a night in a small and remote Guinean village (the name escapes me) with our lorry driver finding us a hut in the village to stay in - and this while he and his helpers unloaded illegal French clothing (the Guinean government insisted on commerce only with Iron Curtain countries) and contraband. I think Skip and I were both amused - unknowingly (at least until our transport turned north and toward Guinea on a very marginal road) we had become part of a smuggling ring of contraband - and to some degree anxious being in Guinea illegally and realizing that if we came upon authorities we would or could be jailed. We lucked out and the next morning our driver kept his promise and we reentered the northern border of Sierra Leone and headed on to Kurobonla, a village at the base of the Loma Mountains and at the end of the washboard they called a road. As a result of the trip I was badly banged-up and wiped out by the lorry ride which was on very rough roads. Like cattle we were housed in the back of this big lorry, and like cattle we were banged around while the lorry traveled over huge ruts, on very hot and dusty roads, and with each rut I got banged about on the railings. By arrival in Kurobonla at the end of the line - I was pretty whipped and beaten. I was also probably somewhat under hydrated from the 24 hrs of  roller coasting from Kabala - a distance of 75 or so miles and of course complicated by our side excursion to the north and Guinea. The heat in the back of our transport and in the north was brutal, and the dust from the roads left us caked in red laterite dust. 

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