Driving can kill you here. During my 10 days here, the car I have been traveling in has been rear-ended by a taxi and been stuck twice to the point that getting the vehicle back on the road takes significant manual effort and hours to get it back on the road. At the entry and exit of every town and village there is a check point manned by soldiers, police or villagers. The checkpoints have two purposes: safety and profit. $1,000 CFA ($2US) will solve most any problem at a check point. I don’t think there are 10 contiguous kilometers in this country that don’t have at least two huge potholes – the kind that can knock your tire off the rim. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s safer AND faster to walk!
Just outside the village of Meadji, located in the southwest of the country, we made a trip to a remote village to donate some school supplies and some chocolate that my wife and I had purchased. This village was only 16km or 10 miles away. However, we we informed that the roads were bad and it would take us an hour. It took over two hours to get there!
Before embarking on the trip to the school, we met at the cocoa cooperative in Meadji, where the President of the co-op and his board of directors would join us for the trip to the village. Together, we were a convoy of four 4×4 trucks.
These roads were some of the worst roads I’ve ever been on! There were many points when we were submerged to the point that water was trickling in through the doors and other times when there were only three tires on the ground.
There were three bridges we had to cross. These bridges were constructed of two large trees, cut in half and buried in the mud on each side. There was a huge gap in the middle. To navigate the crossing, someone would get out and walk across to the other side to guide the driver across. I didn’t feel comfortable crossing them in small 4×4 pick-ups, let alone the huge trucks that had to transport thousands of pounds of cocoa from the remote farms in the region. On the last bridge, the truck I was in suddenly jerked and slid to the right. In an instant, the driver-side rear tire had slipped off the edge of the log.
After a jack was located from village ahead, I thought we had solved the problem, but not quite. We had to first jack the truck up so the tire was above the level of the log. Then, we had to get 10 strong guys to push the truck over, essentially knocking it off the jack. People must die doing this stuff every day.