Unlike Liberia, Sierra Leone was the country in West Africa that I knew the least about. I knew the capital was Freetown, English is the national language and the country was declared ebola free in 2016. Apart from that my knowledge of Sierra Leone was from the movie Blood Diamond.
Things move slowly at the Sierra Leone border. Passport details are hand written into a large book in red pen, blue pen and green pen, then the Yellow Fever health inspector writes it all out again in another large book and somehow managers to write my ‘date of validity’ as the 29/2/2017!
From the slow pace of the immigration post, things turned even slower past the border as the road quickly deteriorated into a 4×4 track, complete with broken down trucks and deep pools of water which we had to walk through before driving to check the depth and for hidden objects on the bottom, like motor bikes!
From the border we headed to Keneme, where the Gola National Park Headquarters are situated. Keneme in the past has been a centre for diamond mining and despite things being slower these days, there’s a still a few diamond traders and dealers in town. Tony, Thijs and I hired a guide for four days, then hired a 4×4 and driver. Once that was sorted we hired a heap of equipment, a cook, a compulsory local guide and finally a few porters to carry everything into the North Gola Forest.
After buying food at the local market we spent the next couple of hours bouncing along a rough rainforest track eventually arriving in the small village of Lalehun.
We spent the night at the national park lodge which was comfortable and our guides prepared a meal of fish stew and rice while we sat on the veranda and enjoyed a torrential tropical downpour.
The following morning we walked 12km through pristine rainforest to our camp where our porters had set up our tents and our chicken and rice dinner was waiting. We stayed the night and spent the next morning watching a pair of Gola Malimbe build a nest.
After another 12km hike through the forest we drove to Kambama Village. The village today is a hive of activity servicing the nearby Tiwai Island but three years ago it was decimated by Ebola. The village was hit hard and there were only a few people remaining in the village.
Tiwai Island is a incredible oasis in the middle of a deforested country. The Moa River splits in two forming the twelve kilometre rainforest covered Tiwai Island which is perhaps best known for having the highest concentration and diversity of primates in the World.
I did several walks and a couple of boat trips along the river. The best fun we had was a boat trip that started at 10pm. The trip was in a canoe so we could navigate the smaller inter island channels. We crept through the dark jungle along shallow creeks and bounced though several sets of rapids. Several times we got stuck on invisible underwater boulders and despite our skipper’s best efforts with his pole, on one occasion the water level was too low to navigate some rapids, so at midnight we climbed out of the canoe and clamped over a few boulders pulling the canoe along in the dark. We had nice views of African Palm Civit and Rufous Fishing Owl and it was one of the best things I’ve done in Africa.
After Tiwai Island I traveled back to the coast and a few days on the Freetown Peninsula. After a week in spectacular rainforest it didn’t take long for the stark reality of rural Sierra Leone to set in. Sadly, virtually the entire country has been torched. There was no time on our 200km journey where smoke didn’t fill the air. Horizon to horizon slash and burn.
My travel buddies all went into Freetown while I enjoyed Bureh Beach on my own for three days.
An entire lobster was $10, so I had seafood for lunch and dinner every day and spent most the remaining time swimming.
My taxi trip into Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone took two hours. Freetown also overlooks the ocean and reminds me of Monrovia but even though its safe and the people are friendly its just another crowded West African city and I chose to spent my one night in the motel making the most of the fast internet and replying to emails etc.
Tomorrow we’ll drive back into Guinea where I need to spend two days in the capital city Conakry to get my visa for Guinea-Bissau.
After leaving Conakry we’re heading up into the mountains and the Fouta Djallon region for about nine days.
Bye for now . .