#14 – Sierra Leones Jungle tracks
Just after the rain in the morning I tried to charge my phone, and it worked. My best guess is that during the day, the moisture becomes so much that my phone refuses to charge. This means that I can only use my phone for priorities, and not for music and navigating all the time.
Entering Sierra Leone
I was still in Guinea. I pass one of the small wooden bridges that lead me across the ditch. I enter a small room with a few people and a few computers. This is my only and last hope to print my visa for Sierra Leone, otherwise I have to cycle back for 40 km. My presence attracted many other people to enter the room and the small terrace outside. I try to keep an eye on my bike outside. Some 15 minutes later I’m happy to walk away with 2 pieces of paper and to enter the border to Sierra Leone.
The road in Sierra Leone was very good and led me to a place 50 km inside the country. Although the road was very good, the many begging people learned me that this country is incredibly poor. I happened to arrive in a city with a decent motel, so I took this rare opportunity to recharge and to get myself ready for a long day tomorrow, in which I will cycle 120 km to the capital.
A long day awaited for me, so I started early. Today I cycled to Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. On my way I was stopped by the police a few times, just because they wanted me to be safe. I directly got surrounded by dozens of people. Seeing a white man is a rare phenomenon, especially outside the cities. And I can’t blame them, even I look up when I see a white person on the street, trying to figure what he is here for.
Suddenly a car with a white man passes me and stops. It’s John, my host, who originally comes from Canada. After cycling for 13 months in Africa himself he started working in Freetown for two years now. “You wanna go for a swim?”, one of the first things he asked. So we drove to one of the amazing beaches along the stunning mountains.
After the swim in the warm sea water we went to a football match, but not just a match. It appeared to be the final game of the nation’s highest division and after the game the champions received a cup.
Money and visas
Imagine that you pay everything with 1 euro or dollar notes. Well, that’s exactly how the situation is in Sierra Leone. Although most things are not expensive here, some things are. A visa for example. The past few days I’ve been applying for the Liberia and Ivory Coast visa. The biggest challenge however, was to gather enough money. ATM’s over here don’t always contain cash, and the money output can only handle 40 notes at the same time. Spread over three days I made several withdrawals to get enough cash. And I was just walking around with a pile of money.
Luckily I had help with acquiring the visas. My host John works at a car rental company and has a colleague who takes care of visas at the company, and he helped me with my Sierra Leone visa before and with the two new visas right now. And it’s not only him. During the day there are so many local people who help you to get what you want. Sierra Leones hospitality is simply outstanding.
After picking up my Ivory Coast visa I wandered through town. In the heart of the center stands an enormous cotton tree, several centuries old. Freetown has some more remarkable buildings, showing it’s important role during the slave trade era as a liberating city.
Kayak river crossing
I was ready to cycle again after uploading my video and doing some paper work. I felt liberated since I don’t have to rush for anything now, so I finally decided to take some off road routes. First of all I took a more beautiful, but also more difficult route along a mountain pass, to escape the city.
After a while I went off the asphalt to take a gravel road. The road was more challenging, less crowded with cars and provided a stunning scenery. Quite soon I had to cheat by taking my boat into a kayak to cross a river.
“The circumference of a circle = 2*π*r”, shows a blackboard of the classroom I enter. I remember how I learned this subject when I was 13 years old. The teacher explained it with the wheel of a bicycle. It’s funny how things work out. Right in front of this blackboard I was able to put up my tent to spend the night and to dream about π.
An endless dream about pi did not happen, so I woke up early in the morning. My breakfast consisted out of dry bread. On the road I found a place where they served the only meal available: rice with sardines and a burning spicy sauce. The food out here is not very amazing, and quite monotonous too.
The gravel road, however, wasn’t monotonous. It was a challenging path which asked a lot from my tires, brakes and waterproof bags. Quite regularly I had to cycle through puddles of which I couldn’t see how deep they were. The steep roads often forced me to walk uphill. And sometimes I even had to avoid crushing one of those giant insects.
I enter a four meter high room. A heavy oak chair is shoved back for me to sit. The dark blue painted walls make the room very small. A meal of rice, sardines and spice sauce is served for me. I just had a delicious cold shower and put my tent up under the roof of a storage. Old chairs and tables are spread around. An hour ago, they allowed me to spend the night at a female high school.
I was given a coffee and a sandwich with just mayonnaise by Isatu, the woman who is the president of the high school I was staying at. The child she is holding is afraid of me, since it’s the first time he sees a white man.
The gravel road became very good cyclable and was less exciting than yesterday. But suddenly I had to take an even smaller gravel road, which contained two small tracks, formed by the tires of a car, with high grass near and in between the tracks. And when it started to rain, those two tracks became small rivers to drain the water. A few times I passed a small village with not more than three houses.
I crossed a 40 meter long bridge. The river underneath it is wide and flowing fast, and it scared me a bit. I stumbled upon a police check. They told me to find the chief in town to ask for a place to sleep. Instead, I found the chief of the police and he guides me to the police station, where I could spend the night.
Rail road track
As I was itching a few bumps on my ankle a man looked at me and said “little black flies”. Worse than mosquito bites, I asked the man if they were dangerous. “They will cause blindness and some other diseases”, he said without being concerned. “Don’t worry, it will only happen if they sting you for several years”.
I followed an old railway track. The track is now nothing more than a single or double gravel track with a gentle slope. The only remains are the several bridges, which now has a deck of wooden planks and trenches as thick as an arm. Regularly I was cycling through a tunnel of overgrown forest. The whole track, despite it difficulties, was simply amazing.
Early in the afternoon I arrived in Bo, the second largest city of Sierra Leone. I stayed at a guesthouse and enjoyed the comfort of a private room and a real bed.
A building with hand painted drawings of a cup of coffee, a sandwich and some other items attracts my interest in search of breakfast. Unfortunately, they only served rice and fish. I continued my search and found a place to have bread with egg.
Today’s road was in big contrast with yesterday’s jungle track, however, it showed one strange similarity. The new, 15 meter wide, asphalt made cycling easy. Some of the bridges were still under construction. On such a big road I expected a lot of traffic, but it was as crowded as the single mud track trough the jungle of yesterday.
The guesthouse I arrived at in the afternoon didn’t have electricity, but a bed and a shower was good enough. When it turned dark and I went out for food, I learned that the entire village, including the small hospital, was not having electricity. After having bread with egg for breakfast and luch, it was time to have the same meal for dinner.
I woke up because someone suddenly entered my room. It was Amadu, a local who I met yesterday. He wanted to check if I was all right, just like he walked in my room yesterday evening while I was reading a book. Telling him I was still alright didn’t trigger him to leave. He wanted my number so we can have contact later on. Although he seemed like a nice guy, I get these kind of requests almost every day, especially in Africa. It’s hard to explain why I am not interested in keeping contact.
The big asphalt road continued. And in the afternoon it became clear to me why it was so quiet on this new and smooth road. Suddenly there was no asphalt, but the original track, and it was not suitable for loads of traffic. It was even one of the worst tracks I’ve had during my entire trip. Small rivers were eating pieces of the road, and the improvements with large gravel stones were good for cars, but difficult for me as cyclist. Nevertheless I enjoyed the quiet road through the jungle.
Because of the countless ascents and descents my legs became pretty tired, so I was glad to arrive at my aimed destination at a guesthouse just in front of the border. For dinner I was happy to be able to get fried plantain (cooking banana) with spaghetti.
Without saying too much, the immigration officer stamped my passport and allowed me to cross the border to Liberia. Here, I had to show my passport four times, all different disciplines writing down the same information. They were very keen on where I was going, to which city, which area, which person and how I knew this person. Luckily I found someone on Warmshowers to stay at during the upcomming weekend.
One of the first eye catchers of Liberia is their flag. It looks much like the USA flag, and soon I learned that the country was formed by former slaves from the USA, and it is clear that they got inspiration from their flag. The name of the country comes from the Latin word ‘liber’, which means ‘free’. As it turned out, today was one of the most important holidays of the country. 172 years ago, on this day, they became independent from ruling white Americans.
The guesthouse I was staying at was, in Western terms, really bad, and even in African terms I think it’s under average. In the empty room a mattress got placed on the ground. The toilet can’t be flushed and the water contains larves, proving that it hadn’t been flushed in a long while. The water I had to shower myself with was not clear. All this is wearing down on my mental state. The question is, will I bend or brake?