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Friday, 20 April 2012

Sierra Leone

Day 1 – 15/4/12

The Sierra Leone administrative requirements took a little time. Overall we spent ~ 1.5 hours getting through both border posts and the SL police post ~ 2 from the border. We had to pay L 50,000 for an additional travel permit – all proper and receipted with a sticker on our windscreen. The SL officers were very thorough, but we had all the necessary paper work, so they could only ask for a present, not demand a bribe.

We had been warned that the road from the border to Kenema was bad. The police along the way were very nice (and articulate when we asked questions on the country). They all stressed how bad the road was and the need to be careful. It took us ~5.5 hrs to do 135 km. The road was bad and there were a lot of large pot holes filled with water – here large means up to 60 cm deep and ~ 3 car lengths. The route was basically along a number of low hills – the valleys had mega pot holes, the hills had deep gashes where the rain had eroded the surface and the plateaux  were just potholed or corrugated.

Along the way, we passed a vehicle with “Funded by the Australian Govt” marked on the side. We excitedly stopped for a chat only to find that the passengers were Italian NGO’s working on a food program!! Not quite sure of the logic – your taxes at work?!

At Kenema we stayed at the Ericson Guesthouse. Nice & Clean; $ 50. We drove around a bit trying to find the accommodation and after going around in circles for a while, got a motor bike to lead us there.

Interestingly, the locals here use miles for distance. Again, the Riese Know How & Michelin regional maps were very inaccurate. The ITBM map has no distances marked, so is practically useless.

Ray driving. 306 km. 9.5 hrs N  070 53’ 24.7’’ W 0110 11’ 18.5’’

Day 2 – 16/4/12

We had a leisurely start to the day. The road to Freetown is excellent tar. There was the green tropical vegetation to start with, but just after Bo there seemed to be a sudden change to scrub. There were a few interesting mountains/hills and at one point we had an excellent view over the plain to the sea. A nice drive.

At one of the police road blocks they asked if we can leave anything; Avril said a smile to the chap at her window. Ray (following advice from a blog) said, a prayer. The police man agreed and bowed his head and we said a prayer together. However, as you can imagine we will not use that helpful hint again. The next road block was better; Ray managed to buy some decent chicken kebabs. Avril still does not eat street food.

We decided to go immediately to the beaches on the west side of the peninsular rather than going to Freetown.

The 1st beach we tried, described in the Lonely Planet guide as “arguably  the best in west Africa” (and we would probably dispute this claim), had a lot of litter, so we gave it a miss (the dog doing his business on the beach did not help the decision). We found out later that there was a big beach party there last night.

The next beach was John Obey.  There is a resort there, Tribe Wanted, based on a Fiji concept. All ecco and you muck in and help with the chores. There was/is a group of English volunteers there completing their induction to Sierra Leone. We are camped under some large trees, 20 m from the sea. Very nice. $50/night/couple including 3 meals a day.

Avril driving. 308 km. 5 hrs N  080 14’ 25.6’’ W 0130 09’ 45.7’’

Day 3 – 17/4/12

A very lazy day. Lounging around, relaxing, swimming etc. Not even any chores!

We had a great time chatting to the British Volunteers at the resort. This was their base for in country familiarisation.

Day 4 – 18/4/12

After a lazy start we set off to have a look at Freetown. The road was OK for a few kms, but then deteriorated to a rough gravel track, with lots of dust.

We had been warned about the Freetown traffic and a bit before Freetown a traffic jam stopped all movement. Correction, all movement stopped for the few polite drivers. The more anxious and all taxi drivers believe that normal queuing rule do not apply to them, so they race up the opposite traffic lane, blocking the oncoming traffic and creating a worse traffic jam as they try and squeeze back into the correct lane.  Avil is just about apoplexic. TIA. After 2 hours and < 300 m, we decided enough is enough. We have seen lots of African capital cities and we can let this one pass. We decided to head straight for Guinea.

We had a good run on great tar to the border. It is now just before the rainy season and the burn part of “slash & burn” agriculture is in full swing. There are a great number of fires and the black areas from recent fires make a terrible scar on the land.

The Sierra Leone formalities were reasonable smooth, but we had the now almost inevitable search for the man with the key to unlock the stamp. TIA. 

No hint of a bribe.

Sierra Leone Summary.

Again, it is hard to say too much about a country after only a few days. There did not seem to be any security issues. The roads were either very good or terrible!

We thought it relatively expensive, you need to add 15% GST to any quoted price.

The folks were pleasant, and as we said above for us they had a quite neutral accent and seemed to be very articulate.

The beaches are great, but litter appeared to be a problem.

Formalities seemed to be straight forward but took a long time.

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