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Monday, 22 March 2010

A Sierra Leone Adventure - Page 3

Written by David Utekin
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There is an instinct inside many of us, a raw natural urge that draws us to the Road. It is a longing for the excitement of the unknown, the freedom a traveler feels when waking up in a place unfamiliar to him, not knowing where he will find himself tomorrow. It is the sense of liberty that comes with putting yourself in the hands of fate and waiting to see what life throws your way. A land of coups and diamond smugglers, Sierra Leone had always caught my imagination, and now that peace and stability has returned once again it is accessible to visitors. It seemed like the perfect antidote to the tedium and monotony of university life. On one dreary summer afternoon I found myself in Heathrow airport boarding a plane to Freetown with my girlfriend, Tash, and two close friends, Fred and Anwen.

By the time the boat pulled into the port at Gbangbatok, it was well after midnight and we were slightly apprehensive about wandering the dark streets of this unknown town in search of accommodation for the night. On arrival we were greeted by a local police officer who interrogated us thoroughly about our ‘mission’ in Sierra Leone. People were highly suspicious of our intentions in the country, unused to the concept of tourism; they assume us to be involved in the diamond trade or the murky world of West African diplomacy. Eventually we convinced him that we had come to his country for no other reason than simply to travel and he proceeded to escort us into the town center where we were directed to a small guesthouse. Our rest was short-lived however as the bus to Bo, our next stop, left at 5am.

Road travel in Sierra Leone is at the same time nerve-racking and highly entertaining. The vehicles themselves, if such a word can be used to describe them, are generally compiled from an assortment of pieces of scrap metal, welded together in a haphazard manner by a local mechanic. They tend to be driven with complete disregard for the safety of those inside and outside of the bus, whizzing through villages at breakneck speed, swerving wildly to avoid potholes, livestock and pedestrians. This particular bus broke down three times during the relatively short drive to Bo! That said, I could never tire of the endless images of rural life one observes on such journeys. Life in Africa is for the most part lived outside and so on passing through any given village you get a fascinating, albeit brief, glimpse into the lives of those who inhabit it.

We had not eaten for almost 24 hours after our food supplies ran out on leaving the Turtle Islands and we arrived exhausted and worn out from all the traveling. Bo, however, proved to be the perfect place to recuperate. Seemingly made for the weary traveler, it has comfortable hotels (where a double room with a bathroom, a fan and even TV costs a mere $6 per night), banks, internet cafés and possibly one of the most delicious eateries in West Africa: Sab’s Restaurant, which I highly recommend to anyone who finds themselves in the vicinity. We were fortunate enough to be befriended by the son of the Lebanese family who owns the place. Mohammed was a connoisseur of the art of shisha smoking and entertained us for the night with shisha tips and stories of his life in Sierra Leone.

The people in Bo were extremely friendly and made us feel quite at home. Even local celebrities like the Sierra Leonean tennis champion (for the last 7 years!) seemed keen to make our acquaintance - he approached us over lunch one day and challenged us to a game. Thus we spent a happy few days in the town, recuperating from our three days of rice and biscuits on the Turtle Islands before heading off to the Tiwai Island nature reserve. This island, located on the Moa River in an area of forest to the south of Bo, is famed for being one of the last remaining habitats of the West African Pygmy Hippo as well as having one of the highest densities of primates to be found anywhere in the world.

A Sierra Leone Adventure, Adventures in Sierra Leone, travel Sierra Leone, travel Freetown, River No.2 Beach, travel west africa, Turtle Islands, Great Scarcies River, Guma River, Plantain Island, Sei Island, Sab’s Restaurant, Bo, West African Pygmy Hippo, Kono, Tommy TrenchardAfter stocking up on food and water in Bo we hired a taxi to the village of Cambama from where we were told it would be possible to cross over to the island. The journey there was beautiful, cruising down a perfectly straight dirt road deeper and deeper into the jungle. Cambama is at the end of the road – quite literally, the track just peters out among a small cluster of mud huts. We met a couple of the villagers, one of whom introduced himself as the boatman and escorted us down a steep track through the trees to the water’s edge where a small boat with an outboard engine lay tethered to a post. The river was in flood, a chocolate brown torrent snaking its way off into the forest. We motored downriver for a few minutes and then, rounding a bend, the island came into sight, cloaked in unfeasibly dense jungle spilling over into the river. Palms and creepers everywhere dangled down into the current forming a solid wall of vegetation. We pulled into a small wooden jetty in the backwater under the overhanging branches and were led by the boatman to a camp consisting of four or five large tents in a clearing.

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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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