Please login to vote.
Monday, 22 March 2010

A Sierra Leone Adventure - Page 5

Written by David Utekin
  • Print
  • Email
  • AddThis Social Bookmark Button
Rate this item
(0 votes)

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.


For the last leg of the journey we hired a taxi, only to discover a few miles down the road that the driver was completely inebriated. By the time we neared Kono he had consumed a large amount of some potent locally brewed spirit and his driving had become completely terrifying. On several occasions he was forced to suddenly swerve in order to avoid hitting children playing at the side of the road. At one point he stopped the car and stumbled off to a nearby village, returning with a monkey dangling by the tail. “Very sweet meat” he assured us, much to our revulsion. It transpired that he had fought in the civil war that ravaged the country for much of the nineties and kept pointing out the sites of battles and ambushes along the way.


All in all it was a relief to get to Kono, the center of Sierra Leone’s diamond industry, and for this reason it was also the focal point of much of the violence during the civil war. With both the government and the rebels fighting for control of the diamond fields, the town changed hands a number of times. The reminders of the conflict are all too clear even ten years after the end of the war - burnt out buildings and walls riddled with bullet holes. 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 TrenchardDespite this, the town is back on its feet and the diamond industry continues to dominate the lives of many of its inhabitants. On our first day there, we met a Lebanese diamond dealer who directed us to the mines, not that they were hard to find – everywhere, even in the town itself, you can observe the locals sifting through endless pans of gravel.


On our second day we met JC. Born in Nabibia to French parents he had studied geology at university and now owned a mine a few kilometers outside of Kono. Having met him for only a few minutes he was kind enough to invite us to stay at his camp in the bush where he promised to show us something of the business of diamond mining. The highlight of the night was his pet chimpanzee, Mugabe. Orphaned after his mother was killed and eaten as bushmeat, JC had rescued the youngster and was resolved to bring him up himself. For this reason Mugabe had adopted a set of uncannily human characteristics. 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 TrenchardFor breakfast he would drink coffee with his muesli and we even saw him drinking diet coke from a can. He slept in his own little hut, but on stormy nights would cry outside JC’s door until he was allowed to come inside and share the bed. It was truly fascinating to observe his very human behavior. His feet and hands could easily have been those of a human baby (albeit a rather hairy one!).


JC had an interesting life himself, having worked all over Africa; he had a wealth of information on the continent. He had bought his mine after the end of the conflict and had some gruesome stories to tell of the skeletons he found when clearing the site. The RUF rebels had previously mined the area using slave labor in order to earn enough from the diamonds to perpetuate their fight against the government. At one point he calmly informed us that the man who had just brought us our steaks was a cannibal who had eaten people during the conflict. His teeth were filed into sharp points and JC told us that other employees tended to give him a wide berth. It was here that JC had earned his fortune when, a few years ago, he discovered a diamond worth £57 million.


The next day JC drove us to Freetown. An immensely generous man, he was conducting multi-million dollar deals over the phone and telling businessmen he was too busy to meet with them while instead driving us around the city in search of a hotel.



(Page 5 of 6)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

Search Content by Map

Search

All Rights Reserved ©Copyright 2006-2021 inTravel Magazine®
Published by Christina's Arena, Inc.