Humpback whale

The thump under the boat focussed attention, a not-so-subtle reminder that we were at least eight miles from land. To the east,  or what I thought was east in a featureless ocean, no rocks, no land whatsoever that might resemble Mamba Point. According to Captain Flash, the pilot of our fishing adventure, we had long ago passed over the continental shelf, and were trolling in waters as deep as 900 meters. We had spotted the whale 200 meters before us and were making our way for a closer look. She dived as we approached to within 50 meters, and as we scanned the waves searching for her next breach, she surprised us with the bump from below. I don’t think a whale could capsize this boat, but I’m no expert on whales, or boats.

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The hulk of the Humpback whale rolled to the surface alongside the boat, perhaps to better gauge our intentions, then submerged again, finally resurfacing behind us at 100 meters as we slowly pulled away.

According to Captain Flash, perhaps she was warning us away from her calf.

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Bobby, Arthington, Liberia

Bobby. Works the small pig farm for the town of Arthington, Liberia. Tends a beautiful garden of peppers, bitterball, eggplants, pineapples. Proud of what he has made of his life. A soul connected.

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Decoration Day, Arthington, Liberia

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Decoration Day repainting.

March 8, 2016  The second Wednesday of March is a National Holiday, Decoration Day, to spend with those who have left this world. Lisa and I made a plan to celebrate this day in Arthington, a small town in Montserrado County some 34 bumpy kilometers from Monrovia. We leave the paved road after 12 kilometers to tackle a dusty, potholed track upcountry, following generally the north bank of the St. Paul River. Doubtful this road will be dependable during the rainy season as it appears the low-lying countryside will flood as it drains to the river.

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Abandoned house in Arthington.

Our friends have left earlier by bush taxi, and we meet them at the gravesite of relatives deceased, where vegetation has been cleared away and a fresh coat of blue paint brightens the occasion.

Aunts, uncles and friends have come together to celebrate this day. A walk down Main Street takes us past abandoned concrete shells of former homes, mud-brick homes with tin roofings, a clinic, schoolyard, guesthouse, and on to a Baptist Church roofless under a beautiful sky, the bell over the entry silent since its demise during the civil war. Arthington is the hometown of former President Charles Taylor, presently serving time in a UK prison for war crimes. His compound, stark concrete walls now overgrown by the bush, hardly recognizable as we pass by.

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Baptist church constructed during Charles Taylor’s reign reduced to a concrete shell.

We visit a new development in the town, a pig farm, where uncle Bobby tends to the pigs and proudly shows off his garden of peppers, bitterballs, pineapples and eggplants out back.

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The afternoon is sweltering beneath the sun, and we stop for refreshments at Auntie Sweeties before beginning our adventure back to Monrovia.

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Uncle Bobby at the pig farm.

 

 

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Black pig.

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Houmou at the Baptist church.

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Liberian family, Arthington.

Chairful of fun at Auntie Sweeties.

Chairful of fun at Auntie Sweeties.

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Massaquoi School, Monrovia, Liberia

Nathaniel Varney Massaquoi School, built in the 1970’s, reopened to students in February of 2015 after being converted to an Ebola Treatment Unit for suspected Ebola victims. Massaquoi School is the only public elementary and middle school in West Point, a neighborhood of approximately 75,000 at the mouth of the Mesurado River near the center of Monrovia.NVMassaquoiSchool_0320_DKorte

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forest track by motorbike

DKorte-0140Rivercess County, track to Gesay Judu town. The road was not passable for cars. Deep, sticky mud lines the banks of a small river through the forest.  Several rock barriers restrict the trail to motorbikes and foot traffic. We arrange to hire motorbikes for the five kilometer trek through the forest. Passing through a cathedral of bamboo sheltering a stream bed, we dismount to cross by log bridge, waiting as the bikes struggle through the muddy banks.

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DKorte-0138Several villages have carved plantations out of the forest, trailside, to grow cassava, yams and pineapples. This is slash and burn agriculture, the trees felled and cut to planks by pit saw crews, branches smoldered into charcoal or simply burned away. Possibly three seasons of crops are grown until soil becomes exhausted and the process begins again, slashing out a new portion of forest.

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the route to Ceyea Town, Liberia

Few cars pass through the small villages along a 16 kilometer packed clay and laterite route to Ceyea Town. Four bridges in varying states of collapse present a challenge even in the dry season, becoming impassible when the rains return.

The nearly dry streams are an important social focus for village life, providing a place to do laundry, take baths, swim, and stare with innocent curiosity as a carload of strangers pass by.

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Sunday afternoon sports, Cestos City, Liberia

In spite of the tropical heat, a typical Sunday afternoon game of soccer plays to a small crowd in Cestos City. Five hours south of Monrovia at the end of 160 kilometers of slowly deteriorating roads lies the town of close to 2500 people. Cestos City is the administrative center and largest town of River Cess County. Both Liberians and Ghanaians have settled here primarily for the fishing, where the Cestos River meets the sea.

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Robertsport, Liberia

Less than three hours north and west along the Atlantic coast from Monrovia, the village of Robertsport bakes beneath a tropical sun. Sitting below the 1000 foot granite promontory of Cape Mount, the town of approximately 4000 was named after Liberia’s first President, Joseph Jenkins Roberts. Forested hills crowd the narrow coastline where it is rumored chimpanzees still forage. Primarily a fishing village for the local population, Robertsport tries to promote West-African surfing to the world, the barrels and sliding waves at their peak from March through October.

Two lodges welcome visitors, the Kwepunha Surf Retreat and Nana’s Lodge. Kwepunha has two locations, a hotel-style lodge, shared bathrooms, meals, in the village and an open-plan rooming house down the beach. Nana’s Lodge has individual bungalows overlooking the beach, some with running water, some with shared bathrooms. Both Kwepunha and Nana’s have generated electricity evening through early morning, and provide meals.

Robertsport is an inviting break from the pressures of Monrovia. The beautiful sea and sand coastline offer friendly waters for swimming, fishing, walking the beach, or simply relaxing.

The ghost ship Tamaya 1 washed ashore in 2016 near the town of Robertsport. A lifeboat and crew were missing, the cabin and ships papers burned. The details of the ship's demise remain a mystery.

The ghost ship Tamaya 1 washed ashore in 2016 near the town of Robertsport. A lifeboat and crew were missing, the cabin and ships papers burned. The details of the ship’s demise remain a mystery.

Graffiti in Robertsport, the legacy of an Irish Artist's visit to the town.

Graffiti in Robertsport, the legacy of an Irish Artist’s visit to the town.

A lizard captured in the bush along the coast, to likely end in a cooking pot in the village.

A lizard captured in the bush along the coast, its likely end, a cooking pot in the village.

 

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Papa Gentil

A Western lowland gorilla, silverback Papa Gentil, keeps watchful eye on his surroundings while feeding in a riverside forest of Moukalaba-Doudou National Park in Gabon. He is the patriarch of a family that has been studied and habituated by scientists for years.

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they know about us

I feel small, vulnerable, almost insignificant before the penetrating stare of this beast who passes before me.

eyeofelephant_dkorteOur eye contact is unnerving. I am ashamed that so many of my brothers have found sport in the killing of these magnificent animals, made trinkets of his bones, and left his empty carcass, desecrated, to rot in the African sun. Karma will be waiting around the corner.

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