Saturday, April 11, 2009

Sapo National Park

There is only one national park in Liberia. Sapo National Park. Some friends and I had the great opportunity to explore it. Sapo is the second largest primitive rain forest in West Africa. We had to get special permission from the forestry department of Liberia to even visit.

Our adventure began last Friday afternoon as we headed out from Monrovia with our packs, drinking water and enough food to get us through 4 days of the unknown. We found a camping spot on the beach in a town about 3 hours away. We slept right on the beach surrounded by sounds of the ocean waves and underneath a million stars. Amazing! We woke up before dawn and were sipping a delicious camp mocha when we spotted 2 dolphins playing off the coast and enjoyed watching them for a few minutes before loading up the car for the estimated 7 more hours drive to Sapo.

After several hours on the road we finally found a sign that gave us hope! Sapo was near. The roads along the way were bumpy at times and some of the bridges questionable but we made it without any problems. As we arrived in the village where the park headquarters is located, we were greeted by a town full of naked children (which I have a great pic of but don't think it is appropriate to post on a blog, watch for it in National Geographic). The park warden was expecting us and after a short inservice about what to expect in the park and meeting our guides, Alfonzo and Junior, we were introduced to the village chief and town elders. It felt so African, sitting in a Palava hut and being welcomed by the village chief just prior to setting out on a big wilderness adventure. Our departure was somewhat delayed by a brief rain storm, but that seemed appropriate, heading into the rain forest and all.

(Camp Michael.)

We hiked about a hour and a half to get to the place where we set up camp. After about 45minutes we reached the river and had to be carried across in shifts by a canoe. By the time we reached and set up camp we had just enough time to cook dinner and filter enough drinking water out of the creek before it got dark. That night we took it easy, enjoyed the campfire and some great conversations before heading to bed.
(Upacca tree- run here if you see an elephant.)
We started our big day of hiking early Sunday morning. The forest actually reminded me a lot of home, except it was warmer (much more humid) and there were fewer (ok, none) pine trees. But overall I felt very at home there. All the lush green and foliage on the ground was comforting. Our guides were great, they pointed out trees and tracks of animals and attempted to teach us the call of the dieger (some deer-like animal). We did not actually see any great forest animals, but we did see proof of them. We saw a lot of elephant tracks, I still have a hard time picturing them living in the dense forest, but their foot prints were everywhere, often the trail we were following. We were told that we could use the Upacca tree (pic above) to protect us from an elephant if need be. We also saw the tracks of the Bonga, some huge cow like animal that as the guides described is bigger than our tent and taller than me. ah! There was also some hippo droppings (the very rare pygmy hippo lives in that area), I really wish we could have seen the real thing.
(Along the trail.)
About 5 hours into our day hike we came to the river. After that long of trekking and sweating through the forest it did not take long for us to dive in and enjoy the refreshment. Crocodiles? Um, don't worry about what you don't see, right?
(Picture break. That is a pretty good looking group after how many hours of trekking through the forest?)
We had been told that there were no trails throughout the park and the guys has come prepared with cutlasses (machetes) to blaze our own trail. There were trails. but very primitive and there was a lot of chopping of overgrowth along the way. We also had to cross countless small rivers and creeks, sometimes with only a few branches to use as a bridge. It got iffy a couple of times but we all made it without an unwanted plunge.
(There is no way to capture all the beauty.)
We arrived back at camp after 8 crazy hours of tromping through the park. We did not see another person the entire time. After a wash in the creek and dinner (which I literally fell asleep while making) we all hunkered under the tarp as the evening rain storm hit. It was a great storm, reminded me of camping in WA (it is not a good camping trip without a good rain storm, right?). I think the evening gathered under the tarp in the rain was actually one of my favorite parts of the weekend. But it was not for long, by 8:30 we were all asleep.
(I told you, I really fell asleep while fixing dinner, thanks Ashley for capturing it for the world to see.)
We packed up early the next morning and hiked back to the park headquarters where the warden and some freshly fried plantains (yum!) were waiting for us. We did not linger too long before loading up the car and heading out because we still had the 11 hour drive home.
(We made it! Everyone at the finish line. Junior, Andrew, Solo, Laura, Alfonzo, John, Ashley and I.)
So is 22 hours driving worth 11 hours hiking through the Liberian rain forest? Definitely! It was an amazing and beautiful experience, shared with great friends in God's creation. It really does not get any better than that.
PS- If you are interested in a different, more technical version of the weekend (including GPS positioning) check out John's blog at

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