Welcome to Salone
Due to the uncomfortably squeezy ride on crappy roads from Conakry and all the dramas that came up when trying to leave Guinea, I was a little bit frazzled by the time I got to the Sierra Leone side of the border. Luckily, my saviour for the night, Ms Kadie, was passing through and must’ve seen I was in a bit of a state. Her first words were, “Don’t worry, I’m a Sierra Leone immigration officer”. From there, Ms Kadie led us through the checkpoints to a house a little way down the road, where the man with the stamp lived.
After my travel buddy Efuah, who had shared the front seat with me all the way from Conakry, and Ms Kadie explained the situation to him, he berated me a bit for travelling at night by myself. Efuah said that she was travelling with me, so it was okay. His tone changed markedly after that and he started joking around a bit. He went off somewhere, to the stamp depository, I presume, then returned with my stamped passport ready to go. While he was gone, myself, Efuah, Ms Kadie and another lady from the complex were chatting and they reassured me that I had no need to worry, as I was in Sierra Leone now. They were right.
One major difference change between Guinea and Sierra Leone, was the quality of the roads. About 10km before the Sierra Leone border, the road went from absolutely horrid, bumpy, potholed disaster zone, to lovely, smooth sealed awesomeness. I was wondering how this happened on the Guinea side, because I had not seen roads anywhere near this good when travelling through the rest of Guinea. Efuah informed me that this zone was part of an area that Sierra Leone stupidly handed over to Guinea. Well, that explains it.
Once done at the border, we continued on motorbike to Kambia, where we got a shared taxi to Freetown. Even though we had 5 people squeezed in, the ride was much more comfortable than the previous one, because the car and road were in much better condition. Everyone in our multinational taxi was so friendly and we all ended up chatting the whole way. It turns out that not only was it Efuah’s birthday, but also the birthday of another guy in the taxi, Andy from Nigeria. We all exchanged phone numbers at the end of the ride. By that time, all my stress was gone and Sierra Leone had definitely welcomed me the right way.
As Efuah had been so instrumental in helping me to navigate the border, I invited her along to have lunch with my host, Alusine and myself. Getting there was confusing and required a ride in a minibus, a Keke (local name for a Tuk Tuk) and a taxi. It seems that Kekes, taxis and minibuses have zones and once you reach the end of one zone, you have to walk a little to get another form of transport in the next zone.
I took a little walk along the beach afterwards and even though it was right next to a main road and full of people enjoying the weekend sun, there was something tranquil about it.
Public transport in the city of Freetown can get rather interesting. It seems that guys put DVDs into the players in the buses, with the express purpose of selling them to passengers on the bus. A lot of the DVDs seemed to consist of 80s and 90s music videos, which I’d kinda be getting into when they’d skip to the next song, or take the DVD out of the player because someone had purchased it. Judging by the price the guy was selling them for, they’re clearly illegal copies.
As any good hiker would, I found the highest hill in the city, Leicester Peak, and walked up it. When I started the walk, it was a lovely sunny day, but by the time I got halfway up, I had entered the mist which had almost completely engulfed the view I was looking so forward to seeing. Oh well, it was still a nice walk and I did get a great view for about 2 seconds!
After working up an appetite walking up and then back down the hill, I couldn’t think of anything better than roadside grilled meat to satisfy my hunger. The guy cooking it even let me pick the piece that I wanted grilled up and informed me that it was super fresh, having just come from the butcher a few hours ago. Mmmm!
Now, Alusine and his extended family had been very welcoming. If I wanted anything, all I had to do was ask and someone would fetch it from a nearby shop. I had many chats over tea with different members of the family and they were always so interested in learning about my travels through other African countries. It seems I made a huge impression on one of the youngest members of the family. After only meeting him once, he ran across the yard to greet me with a big hug when I came back from exploring one day. So adorable!
Things were just as warm and friendly outside Alusine’s house. I had noticed every time we walked from the house down to the main road, it seemed like everyone knew Alusine and he knew everyone. People were constantly greeting him and asking how he and his family were doing. There was such a strong sense of community there, like everyone looks after everyone and everyone helps everyone out. It’s very refreshing when compared to other places, where people only have time for work and stress, not other people.
I’d also noticed a lot of funny stuff written in many places, mainly on the back of taxis, buses and Kekes. Here are just a few of those ‘quotes’ –
Pee Sounds (the actual name of a company. Why??)
Don’t trust human, trust in God
The land of powerful mixture
God time is the best
This property is not for sale offenders will be prosecuted
Unity is strange
God bless Islam
Nothing blessing gas gas
Clear rejection is better than fake promise
The Road To Bo
I’d decided to cut my trip to Liberia into 2 sections and stop in a town closer to the Liberian border, after hearing that the road gets quite bad and the trip would take a lot longer than I expected. Alusine took me to the roadside where I could get car heading towards Bo. I was loaded into a van and we were all ready to go, except for one small problem, the driver couldn’t start the car! We ended up swapping to a much smaller car which pretty much squeezed the same amount of people in, so that was another fun ride. We finally left around 2:30pm.
While on the road, it started raining, so the driver closed the windows and turned on the air-conditioning! I didn’t even know that existed in West Africa! By the time I made it to Bo it was nearly 7pm and raining quite heavily. So I just went straight to my hosts place and had a relaxing chat in the dark, because I presume the rain had taken out the power.
On to Liberia
I got myself ready and made it to the station at about 7:30am to get a car to the border for 90,000 Leones (€9). That was a bit more than expected, but I didn’t really have any other choice, so I squeezed into a Landcruiser that had to be push started, with 9 other people. The bench seat in the back was actually the least squeezy, so the ticket seller had reserved a seat there for me. The only issue was that, even though I’m short, my head was almost touching the roof.
We had to wait a while for the final passenger to come along and didn’t get on the road until 9:30am. They told me it’d take 4 hours to get to the border, but we got through the first 40km in about 40 minutes, so I was feeling hopeful about making it sooner, as there was only another 120km to go. Of course, this is Africa, so there would surely be something up ahead to slow us down!
Not far down the road, we had to stop for roadworkers clearing the road of debris, presumably from the previous nights rain. The guy directing traffic was wearing a high visibility vest with ‘Henan, China’ written on it in Chinese characters. That was literally the last place I was expecting to see Chinese characters! Also, another Chinese thing I never expected to see in West Africa; BBQ Chicken feet!
Further down the road, some kids jumped on roof of the car and rode along with us. The car stopped to let them off, apparently in the middle of nowhere, but then after we had cleared a police stop, they reappeared and jumped back on. Seemed like they were in for the long haul. They got down again for another police stop, but we were in the line of sight of the police stop when the kids got down and back up, so it seemed they weren’t even trying to hide what they were doing anymore.
We eventually came to a river where we had to wait for a rickety old wooden ferry to take us across. It was already making a trip from the other side, so I ate some deer stew from one of the roadside sellers while waiting and watching a truck driving off the ferry almost capsize it. That seems safe.
Despite the small wait for the ferry, we were still making pretty good time, with no major delays. That was until we hit the terrible road and the driver decided to stop and change a tyre. There were several small stops after that, not completely sure why, but probably just because it’s Africa.
About 40km from the border, we hit Zimmi, where they had a little immigration tent set up. This was not the actual immigration point, just an immigration check where they record people who come through. Of course, the officer couldn’t pronounce my name, but it was funny that even after being told the correct pronunciation 3 times, he actually thought he had it right, which made his colleagues laugh quite heartily.
The rest of the journey was pretty uneventful and it was still light by the time I got to the garage near the border. It had taken just over the 4 hours predicted by the guys at the garage. Now the border is actually a walkable distance from the garage, but a policewoman that had been in the car from Bo with me, called a motorbike to take me there. The border officers were very relaxed and the formalities were completed in less than 5 minutes, then I was back on the bike to cross the bridge to the Liberian border where my next adventure awaited.
🇸🇱Sierra Leone Summary 🇸🇱
In a few words – let’s have a chat
Language – English and Kriol
Currency – Sierra Leonean Leone (SLL)
WiFi availability -📶📶📶📶
Decent WiFi is available if you know where to look or have locals to help you.
Transport – 🚗🚗🚗🚗
🏍 Motorbikes are generally used around border areas and cost around 15,000 SLL (€1.5).
Kekes, (called Tuk Tuks elsewhere) are available for inner city travel for around 1500 SLL (€0.15) per person, per zone.
🚘 Shared taxis are available for inner city and intercity travel. The inner city ones run on a confusing zone system that is much easier to negotiate if you’re with a local. The taxis in Sierra Leone tended to be more modern than the ones in previous countries and didn’t cram passengers in.
🚐 Semi-squeezy vans and 4WDs are available for intercity routes for around 30,000 SLL (€3) from Freetown to Bo and 90,000 SLL (€9) from Bo to Jandema, near the Liberian border.
🚍 Public buses and minibuses operate on inner city routes. They are very cheap at around 1000-1500 SLL, or €0.10-0.15, depending on the zones travelled. They’re fairly comfortable too, as long as there is airflow from the vehicle moving. They can become like saunas when stuck at a standstill in traffic.
Roads – 🛣🛣🛣
The roads are lovely and smooth throughout most of the country, until within 100km of the Liberian border, when they inexplicably turn horrid.
Scenery – 🌳⛰🌳⛰🏖
The port of Freetown is very green and mountainous, with some beautiful beach areas. The scenery in remote areas is very tropical and aesthetically pleasing.
Prices, – 💰
Sierra Leone was pretty cheap, even compared to other West African countries! It’s probably the cheapest country for roadside snacks, with a small bag of roasted peanuts costing only 500 SLL (€0.05) and a 200g serving of freshly cooked meat priced at 4000 SLL (€0.40).
Checkpoints – 🛑
I only encountered a few checkpoints within a couple of kilometres of each other near the Guinean border. I think they normally ask for a small payment, but we didn’t have to pay because we passed through with an immigration officer. There were a few police stops on the way to the Liberian border, but they just seemed to ask the drivers where they were going, then let us pass.
Border efficiency – 🛃🛃🛃🛃
I was the only foreigner passing through the border on the way in and out, so I was able to make it through in under 10 minutes. Most of that time would’ve been spent chatting with officers, rather than waiting for immigration clearance.
Corruption level – Aside from the few checkpoints straight after the Guinean border, there didn’t appear to be any corruption aimed at separating locals or visitors from their hard earned money.
Overall – 👍👍👍👍👍