Rivercess 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.
Several 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.
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.
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.
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.
Graffiti in Robertsport, the legacy of an Irish Artist’s visit to the town.
A lizard captured in the bush along the coast, its likely end, a cooking pot in the village.
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.
I feel small, vulnerable, almost insignificant before the penetrating stare of this beast who passes before me.
Our 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.
A starling has returned to his perch above UN Drive. Two of them, actually. They have built a nest hidden deep in the hollow of a power pole. Lady starling, very discrete as the pair fly direct to their secret nest, her mate diverting to a wire at the last moment. He surveys the streets and rooftops until all is calm before resuming his search for a meal.
Two shadows circled down from a nearby palm to scramble into the branches of a mimosa tree overgrowing our path through Old Embassy Compound. Plantain-eaters, often timid, usually keep their distance, but today we were allowed a closer look. The two birds hop among the branches with a turaco-like grace, and in the soft light of an early evening, they stop as we approach, resting quietly not-too-high above, cocking their heads for a better view as two humans and a little dog pass beneath.
A pair of Plantain-eaters pause briefly in a tree top on the grounds of Old Embassy Compound, Monrovia, before cruising on to their next perch. Easily identifiable in flight, the flash of white wing patches snap a staccato accent to their loping pulse and glide, long tails trailing behind like a loose veil.
They like to sit in the tree tops, maybe for the sun, maybe for the breeze, or maybe to keep close watch on the kites, endlessly circling above.