22 September 2010
No rain today, but still seas of muddy water throughout Monrovia.
Today we cruised around town checking out the red light district (named for the the blinking red traffic light that has since broke and been stolen). The place was slammed- overflowing with people, cars, motorcycles, and mud. It took a while to crawl through the slippery mess but it was interesting, as always, to watch the people in the colorful market.
Liberia is famous for it's rubber plants and today we visited the Firestone Rubber Plantation near Roberts International Airport. It's a huge place that is a community unto itself with schools for the children of the plantation workers, a supermarket, health clinics, post office, and several housing areas. The rubber trees are the main attraction, all planted neatly in orderly rows, like corn in the Midwest.
The trees are planted in groves and take about seven years before the new plants start producing rubber. Once mature the trees produce for about seven to ten years then the production drops and the trees are of little use to the plantation. Due to the war many trees are over 15 years old and aren't producing very much anymore and need to be cleared so new trees can be planted. One solution that is being explored is to collect the trees and burn them as biofuel in a power plant since there is a great need for electricity in Liberia.
The system for collecting the rubber from the trees is pretty simple. The bark of the tree is cut or penetrated to allow the sap to come to the surface and collected in a cup. The process is similar to the maple syrup process back in New England. The rubber is collected and brought back to the collection point and processed and shipped out.