Bekondo road

How can words describe the experience of the roads here? If you've seen the video, you have an inkling of what is involved, but even moving pictures can't fully convey it. I don't think you can really understand what it's like until you've jolted and jounced down them inside a vehicle.

I do mean jolting. It's more than just bumping: both up & down and side to side. You literally need to hang on to that handle above the window, and your arm muscles get a workout from the job.

On the way out, we got stuck just beyond the village. Fortunately, there were many travellers on the road who generally enjoy digging and strategizing when a truck gets stuck. They often get a free ride for their efforts, so it's a symbiotic relationship. Faced with the options to climb out the window, crawl over the seat, or stay put, I just hung in there, waiting for them to free us, since my door was jammed thanks to a previous trip's mudhole encounter. The truck was stuck on an angle, so I literally was *hanging* there. My seatbelt tightened, so I had to unbuckle to open the window to let Mike talk to the diggers while he tried to pull free.

Unfortunately, my seatbelt decided to stay rolled up once we were freed and began to bounce along the road again, so I just had to hang on tight. Hang on, I did. Suddenly, I found myself sliding down the seat toward the gearshift so I grabbed the handle with both hands and clung for dear life till we came to a level spot again. At that point, of course, the seatbelt decided to work again.

The road is mesmerizing. There's lush foliage on both sides to keep your attention if it could get it, but the road is so unbelievable, you keep staring at it to see what comes next. Most unexpectedly, that may be a perfectly smooth stretch, dry and rutless. On these spots, you hear a soft, rhythmic snick-snicking which at first you may take to be insects, till you realize it's the snowchains on the tires clinking as they go round and round. Drainage, Mike says, is the key to keeping the road in good shape. If the roadbed has a good crown, proper ditches, and-the other key element-is kept clear of grass, the really severe mudholes and ruts shouldn't happen. But who's gonna take responsibility to make sure that happens?

These ruts of which I speak are not like the potholes or washboard you may be imaging. They are dual tire tracks, a hundred or so metres in length, dug so deep that the high-chassised Land Cruiser 4X4 bottoms out in places. Usually, the trick is to plough through the ruts, but occasionally it's a better choice to ride the ridges above. This adds to the time it takes to traverse the road: the driver gets out and walks along the ruts to strategize his path.

Then there are stretches that are soup, what I like to call "liquid road." As long as there are no hidden rocks to knock a hole in your undercarriage or break an axle, these spots, while they look awful, are not so bad after all. Just keep moving.

I observed, particularly on the journey back from Kumba, that as long as Mike still had one hand on the gearshift, the road didn't even seem particularly challenging yet. (This-one-handed driving-at parts where I would rather walk, carrying cargo on my back, than attempt to drive, even if equipped with three hands.) I knew it was bad when both Mike's hands gripped the wheel as we jolted, shook, groaned and strained over road that would make North American off-roaders quail.

But as long as I'm not driving, and don't have to dig..boy, I tell ya, it's FUN!


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