truck fallen through bridge

Oops! Now how to get out?

We were bouncing along to Tiwai Island, making excellent time even though the roads were rough. Most likely we’d be there by lunchtime. Then the truck went thunk and a makeshift, but sturdy-looking timber bridge went crunch.

In all of Jason’s and Adam’s years (almost 25 between them) of overland driving and guiding, they had never fallen through a bridge. Almost everyone on the truck is a seasoned overland traveller. It hadn’t happened to any of us either.

Truck falls through bridge

It was still possible for pedestrians and motorbikes to get past

Carrying a log

John H and Richard B carry out the first log

The jolt was disarming, but the reality of how stuck we really were was disheartening. Jason was sick and couldn’t help—we didn’t yet know that it was malaria—but there were 17 other people all brimming with suggestions of what to do next.

First challenge was to get everyone off the truck. Given that we were on a severe tilt to the right, it was quite far to clamber down the ladder-like steps on the left. Gary even had to give Ellen a piggyback exit.

Almost immediately a bunch of local fellows appeared, keen to help. They knew of a guy with a chainsaw who might be able to help. So what use could a chainsaw be? You’ll see.

Sierra Leone countryside

The chainsaw arrives

Log cutting

Log cutting begins

Log cutting

Mr Chainsaw at work. Fellow to his left uses a machete to mark out log lengths

John H (not Poor John) hopped on a fellow’s motorbike and they went in search of Mr. Chainsaw. He was found about five kilometres away, and quite willing to lend a hand.

So here’s what happened. The bridge was about 50 metres from a field of felled trees. Mr Chainsaw, who has the longest chainsaw I’ve ever seen, proceeded to cut many trees into metre-long lengths that were carried back to the bridge and stacked up underneath the truck.

Carrying logs in Sierra Leone

Local carries a log on his head with ease

Carrying logs in Sierra Leone

The look on Christian’s face shows that log carrying isn’t always easy

Our fellows stacked while locals cut and carried. Each log weighed a lot, but the locals treated them as pillows, popping them on their heads or shoulders. The original request for 30 logs was doubled and, in the end, there were 68 logs used to shore up the bridge.

Once all the logs were in place, we unloaded the back locker to reduce the truck’s weight.

Then Adam hopped in the truck, warmed up the engine warm up and drove smoothly out of the mess. Yes, we applauded.

Carrying logs in Sierra Leone

Two of 68 logs

Carrying logs in Sierra Leone

Two more logs. Christian in the background

In addition to about 25 locals who pitched in, our main repair heroes were Gary of New Zealand, Jan of the Netherlands, John H of Australia and Adam (our main driver) of England. So a real international team.

The whole exercise took about five hours and we paid all the local helpers a decent amount as a thank you.

Stacked logs

A culvert view of stacked logs


The back locker is unloaded

Carrying a camp stove

Jan and a local carry a large camp stove

Re-storing a tyre

Christian, Jan and Adam put a spare tyre back on the truck

We don’t know how long it will take to fix the bridge, but the innovation shown in the efforts to shore up the bridge gave us confidence that it would be fully operational again soon.

All of us agreed that hiccups like this often become  one of the most fondly remembered events of the trip, but geez it was hot!

P.S. I’ve resisted adding a pic of every single person who helped. Trust me, there were plenty.

P.P.S. We head into remote areas again today, and cross the border from Sierra Leone to Guinea. I’m unlikely to respond to comments for several days. Any faster is a bonus.

On the road to Tiwai Island

Gary and some of the fellows who helped to repair the bridge. Josh and Dee in the background

Broken bridge in Sierra Leone

Another good view of the break

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