Thursday, February 12, 2009

Field Journal - Day One

Sacred Heart Parish - Likati, DRC
N03º22.114’/ E023º53.253’

What a difference a season makes! Passing through the road towards Dulia - the road we battled with so valiantly to GET to Aketi - was this time, a breeze.

What had been huge mudfields were now dry leafy brown expanses. Former sloshy lakes were caked brown gullies. Even the high grass that had flanked narrow winding rivers had been cut, and the rivers, dried.

We had explained to Seba my fear of traversing the old Belgian train bridges (at least by foot), which is why we’d chosen “the difficult road” -- windier, rougher, but shorter with, I thought, fewer bridge crossings.

Imagine my surprise when we approached the very bridge I’d been so eager to avoid!

Thankfully, I had the fortune to stay on the moto this time, and, though heart-racing, it passed nearly too quickly to take pictures!

After a long respite, moto-riding didn’t seem so bad. At Komba, 25km from Aketi, we turned off the familiar road towards Buta. The road became narrowers, and at its left-most periphery, punctuated by the perpendicular metal supports of a set of ancient railroad tracks.

It seemed so much cooler outside of Aketi. The forest beckoned to me through its tangled mass of green and I breathed in deeply and felt revived.

My free spirit was not to long-lived as we came upon another ancient railroad bridge, less grand than my nemesis, and in far worse shape!!

I told Seba I would stay on the bike, but he told me, No, it was too dangerous.

Not at all reassuring for my confidence in this bridge’s stability!!

I mustered my courage and took my first step... onto a metal slat nearly rusted through that proceeded to wobble fiercely. My foot recoiled involuntarily and I became uncontrollably afraid.

A local man danced easily from one stable point to the next and extended his hand to me, which I took gratefully.

Another bridge crossed!!! ... Yet Seba said it was not the last!!

I didn’t start to feel the dull aches of pain until we’d gone about 60km, but I was sustained by the thought of seeing Adam again. 38km felt like nothing, especially after having traveled 500km in our first voyage from Kisangani!

But the ride did drag on as I continually had to dismount each time the road changed sides of the tracks and we were forced to lug the bike over them again and again.

Biting my lip, I ignored the shaky throbbing pain in my legs and rear, until Seba asked me to get off in order to cross the last bridge.

High above the very shallow river below, the bridge must have once ported huge trainloads -- but now the only remnants still solid were the narrow eyebeams on either side.

A tiny girl in broken flip-flops with a huge jerry can balanced on her head picked her way along an eyebeam, through the web of round bolt heads like an expert acrobat.

And here I was, paralyzed and lame.

Many of the metal ties between the tracks had fallen away, leaving me disturbingly clear views of the river below!

After several failed starts in front of a crowd of apparently fearless girls, Seba dismounted to come over and give me a hand.

Behind me, disgusted, an ancient tiny woman pushed past us with an enormous bundle of firewood on her head.

I took my cues from Seba on where to step, but after watching the instability of the center pieces under his feet, I moved towards the eyebeams, and, one foot in front of the other, Seba’s hand in mine, I channeled my inner tightrope walker and made it to the other side.

Seba went back to come across again with the moto -- and as I snapped photos of the wheels gallumping through the holey center channel (and spinning fruitlessly i the especially large holes), I hoped that they wouldn’t be the last photos taken of Seba!

But he made it! And, 30 minutes later, so did we... to the town of Likati.

Likati is quite a large town, but has a completely different feel than Aketi.

Sprawling and flat, it has none of the huge crowded mansions of Aketi, menacing one another in close proximity with tumbling bricks fro their crumbling, dilapidated exteriors.

Likati has mostly thatched mud huts, but many wide roads and side streets. We’re staying at the edge of town in an enormous brick cathedral.

The room is small but robust, and we’d never complain about our small twin bed for sharing, since poor Polycarpe is relegated to sleeping on the floor! But there are indeed bats in the <s>belfry</s> roof!

We lent Polycarpe one of our two sleeping bags to “cushion the blow,” as it were... but the night still passed for us all peacefully, ensconced in the darkness of the cathedral.

On a humorous note, the toilets here, quite nice pit latrines with stalls and doors and seats, are a bit far away from the main residence and, in the black night, the uneven formerly cobblestoned ground is difficult to navigate, even WITH a flashlight!

And yes, I did tumble -- there is nothing quite like falling with your pants half down, your full moon illuminated by the full moon!

At church, too!

Today we buy provisions and head too into the town to document the FOUR (!!) chimpanzee orphans we have heard are living here!

Kathé, one of our six, comes from Likati. It does confirm for us the heavy density of chimpanzees in the forests just north of here, between here and Angu... at least for now!

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