Saturday, October 22, 2011

Adventure at the Game Park!

When I started talking about moving to Sierra Leone, one of the things that people always asked me was what kind of cool animals they have here. Unfortunately my answer was always “ummm, none really.” Then I head about this game park about an hour away from where I’m living. They have monkeys, elephants, rhinos, etc. Awesome! I definitely needed to go.

I put it on my bucket list of things to do before I leave this year. My roommate will be leaving about a week after me and we have a midwife friend from Nigeria who will be leaving in December. We decided to make it a girls trip and invite my Sierra Leonean friend Kadiatu too because she’d never been before.

My friends and I waiting at the "ferry"
As I started asking people about this game park, I started getting nervous for a couple of reasons. Number one. In order to get to the game park, we have to cross ariver, in a "ferry". And this ferry is super sketchy. It’s pretty much just a bunch of planks put together…somehow. They have a big cable that stretches across the river and 3 guys literally pull the “ferry” across the river by hand. In the dry season, this isn’t really a problem, but in the rainy season, when the river is high and fast well….you catch my drift. Rainy season is still upon us, so this was almost a deal breaker for me. But not quite. Oftentimes, when I'm contemplating doing something I will ask myself, "Emily, if you die doing this, when people come to your funeral will they be crying on the outside but thinking on the inside that you were really an idiot for doing that?" This one was on the line....and in tennis, lines are IN!!! The "ferry!!"
The second thing that made me nervous was the fact that because the ferry was so sketchy, we were strongly encouraged NOT to take a car on it (although one could theoretically squeeze on). This meant that we needed to hire motorbike drivers to take us up there and back. Motorbikes are one of my other fears. I’ve seen too many accidents firsthand and have taken care of too many accident victims in the hospital. However, I didn’t want to let irrational (or slightly rational in my point of view) fears keep me from doing something awesome. So this morning the four of us headed with our rent-a-bike drivers up to the game park.

The trip started off great with some beautiful scenery. However, I was quickly faced with a dilemna. I wasn’t sure where to put my hands. I didn’t want to wrap my arms around this guy….but where do I hold on? I had my fingertips lightly resting on his jacket ( I didn’t think he could even feel me!) but after a little while he swatted my hand away. Oops….must have broken some motorbike etiquette there. My bad. Then I remembered that I’d seen people hold onto a little pole in the back so I leaned back a little bit and grabbed on there. With both hands. Perfect! In hindsight, I think this is where the trouble began.

Since I was holding onto the back, I tended to lean back, putting my weight to the back. I also had a pretty heavy backpack on because the other way Africa tries to kill me every day is through the painfully slow process of dehydration. So we brought a lot of water! Every time we went up a hill my backpack tried to pull me off the back. Abu told me I needed to scoot closer to him. I tried, but if I scooted too forward, I couldn’t hold onto my lifeline at the back.

Then it happened. We started up the hill. It was rocky so Abu (my driver) had to slow way down. Way way down. As we slowed down I started to feel the pull of my backpack try to pull me off the back. And off I went. Right off the back of the motorcycle.....while it was still moving. As I slid off, I’m not sure exactly what happened but the next thing I knew, the motorcycle was on top of me. I don’t think Abu really knew what happened either because it took him a few seconds to turn around and when he did and saw me on the ground with the motorcycle on top of me he said, “Oh $*&#!!!!!” But then just stood there. I laid there long enough for the thought to cross my mind…. “Ok, this motorcycle is kind of heavy….and it’s getting hot!” Then he sprang into action and helped me get it off.
Unfortunately we didn't have the presence of mind to take a picture when it happened, but we did a re-enactment while waiting at the ferry. But he wouldn't actually drop the motorbike on me like in the original.
I felt bad for the guy because he looked just horrified….even though if it was anyone’s fault, it was mine for hanging on the back and having the heavy backpack on. I started laughing and everyone kept asking “are you ok? Are you ok?” I thank God that my friend’s dad made us all wear helmets because I did smack my head on a rock on the way down, but aside from some scratches and a sore back, I’m no worse for the wear. Also, since I didn’t actually get to see how it happened, I only have the mental picture for myself…and I’m cracking myself up on the replay!

After that little drama, our adventure continued and we got to the game park. It was deserted. It was at that moment we thought…hey, we should have called ahead. But alas, no phone service so we couldn’t have even if we’d have thought of it. Eventually somebody found somebody who found somebody who could help us. Since they told us the monkeys had just been there but had left to go eat, we decided to go see the hippos first and come back for the monkeys.

Our hippo hunt meant that two of us went in a canoe with one of the “park rangers” who would take us to where we could find them. They told us we needed to go one guy, one girl but I didn’t come all that way to hang out with my motorbike driver so I told them I wanted to go with my Sierra Leonean friend. They handed me a paddle. Ohhhhhh…THAT’s why it was one guy, one girl. Cause one of us is paddling. No problem. I’ve been in my share of canoes. Granted, never on a river with hippos….but still. So we paddled down, down, down the river. Apparently there was a monkey but I didn’t see it. We kept paddling and paddling, but no hippos. The further down river we went, the more I was thinking “shoot man, we have to go all this way UP the river on the way back.” Eventually, my friend in the other boat made the call to turn back because her boat captain kept saying “they’re running down, down, down” and she said “well why are we chasing them??? Let’s turn around.” So back we went. As we were paddling, I noticed little blood spots on my legs. At first I thought they were from my accident but then realized that I was being bitten. A lot! I was being bitten by these flies that cause elephantiasis (where one appendage (usually the leg) gets REALLY swollen! I am sitting here now and lost count after 55 bites…on one leg. So I guess I did see SOME animals! (Yes mom, I’m taking the medicine to prevent the disease when the pharmacy opens on Wednesday!)

The next group got in the canoes and headed up the river. When my roommate got back she reported that while she hadn’t seen any animals either, she had seen some elephant poop. So that’s something.

We walked around the game park a little, saw the little huts that people can stay in if they want to….but didn’t see any monkeys. And then we decided to call it a day. And nary an animal did we see.
On the way back Abu saw a big snake on the side of the road but didn’t tell me about it until we’d passed it because he didn’t want me to jump and scream and make us both fall off….again.

When we got to the “ferry” and were waiting for it to come across and pick us up, one of the motorbikes started hissing from the tire. They got someone to come look at it and started to fix it on that side but everyone yelled at him to bring it across to the other side. So they hauled it onto the ferry. As we were crossing the ferry (which takes about 10 min. to cross) the mechanic started working on the bike….and dropped a really important piece into the river. Seriously? So when we got back to the other side, the hunt was on to find the right piece so we could go back. When I asked them what plan B was if we couldn’t find the part (keep in mind we’re in the middle of nowhere) they said we were going to put 3 people on the bike. Say what? When my Nigerian friend heard that plan she said, “But we’re all fat! How will we fit??” Abu said, “Yes, that is the problem.” Yes!! Quite a problem!

Fortunately they were able to patch the bike back together and we all made it back in one piece. Although I never did see one animal at the animal game park, it was a really fun trip with some good memories that I’ll have to take back with me when I go home next month. I’m going to miss this place and these people!!


  1. oh my goodness! You left out some details of your 'fun trip' when I talked to you this afternoon!

  2. Emily!! You crack me up every time! Adam was talking to me and I was reading about your MC "accident" and he says "Are you even listening?" My response was, "I'm reading Emily's blog!" and he immediately smiled and says, "Oh, yea, what happened now?!" Love it!!

  3. Oh!!
    And so glad you are okay!! :)