Sometimes you do things where you realize that it’s probably for the better that your family and boyfriend only find out afterwards. This hike was perhaps one of those things.
We enter a small dirt road, with a big, red gate at the end. As our guide knocks on the door, a friendly-looking elderly lady opens, and her smile grows when she recognizes the guide. ‘Mama Sheila!’ The guide introduces the lady to the group, and tells us that this park was her property, she is watching over it. During the war, the place was known as a safe haven for children, and she had many under her loving and watchful eye.
We walk onto the beach, and the view is absolutely stunning. With to our right the golden sand, only interrupted by compositions of contrasting black granite rocks, ending in the deep blue of the ocean. And on our left side a swampy green field, with little specks of purple flowers, next to a high green wall that extends all the way up the hill. Our guide tells us that on very rainy days, water can fall down from the wall, creating beautiful waterfalls gently flowing into the fields and forming little puddles below.
The hike itself is challenging, but a lot of fun. Climbing over the cliffs we enjoy beautiful views of the green park and the ocean. The light of the sun is spreading a golden glow which creates an almost magical atmosphere. Looking around, I see people chatting and getting to know each other, taking pictures or just being focused on finding their path through the bushes and over the rocks. The challenges we face along the road include loose rocks, slippery rocks as the waves flooded over them, spiky plants, ants, mosquitos, barbed wire, and a decreasing amount of daylight. It was also not a good idea to walk back in the dark, and our guide told us that Mama Sheila would not approve of that either.
Whenever I do things like this, I feel like the clumsiest person on the planet, sliding down on my butt, grabbing the rocky walls whenever I can for support and waving my arms frantically to try and keep my balance. But hey, I managed, I guess that’s what counts, right?
It is only minutes later when I find myself separated from the group. The people in front of me had turned a corner, so I cannot see them anymore, and the people behind me are too far behind to see them in the dark. As I am slowly and steadily making my way, I notice a dark shadow above me. I look up and see a young man standing on the rocks a few meters above me. He doesn’t say a word, he just stands there. Then I notice the machete in his hand. I feel my heart skip a beat. But I have to get up too, there is no other way, so I continue climbing and just hope it is a friendly man. When I reached the top, I watch over my shoulder and see the young man smiling at me. ‘Hi, how are you?’ he says, and at that moment I know that all is good and my little fearful moment had been completely unnecessary. Later I heard this man was sent by Mama Sheila, who was getting worried as the darkness was settling in.
As we are walking back, the darkness has fallen as a dark and quiet blanket over the park. There were moments when I literally could not see where I was putting my feet, and just hoped that I was almost there. As I was looking down to try and see how to place my feet, I did not pay attention to the waves that were getting higher and more wild with every passing minute. The inevitable moment comes when a giant wave catches me by surprise as it flushes over me. I just manage to grab the rock wall to my right to keep my balance. I am absolutely soaked. I taste the salty ocean water on my lips and laugh. Why not, I’ll dry up in a minute with these temperatures.
Walking back, feeling the ocean breeze against my soaking wet skin, hearing the sounds of the frogs from the swamp and the exited, muffled voices of the group, I am so intensely happy. I know at that moment, that Liberia will be a year full of great, challenging and surprising experiences.