Sierra Leone – A brave new country
Sierra Leone a country well known to the world in images piercing through the television screen.
A country haunted by a bloody past; the soil still in remembrance of colonization, child soldiers, blood diamonds, drugs and body mutilations. Evil encounters good people who become evil by rage.
Wounded to the core of the human existence. The civil war between 1991 and 2002 devastated the country and left more then 50,000 dead and many on the run to neighbouring countries and most of the infrastructure destroyed.
Upon arrival to Freetown Lungi Airport my body and mind is going through a nervous and exciting anxiety attack. The first that strikes me is the heat and the foreign smell. The solid black sky filled with glistering stars and palm trees swaying in the evening breeze. Cell phone network commercials flashing in the dark.
The last pink light upon the laterite roads at sundown, fishermen returning with their catch off the day to the awaiting women ready to sell the fish on the beach.
Sweat dripping between shoulder blades on hot steamy nights; malaria-ridden mosquitoes looking for blood; gin and tonics, and frustrated lovers.
“A raw country” some may call it, yet mysterious in millions of ways.
400 km of Atlantic coastline makes this country a potential tourist hub.
In the streets of Freetown you hear the Afro-Carribean roots in the rhythm of the reggae, dancehall and calypso that drift from cars and houses. This eclectic mix is painting the world in a kaleidoscope of bold, vibrant colour combinations and dazzling patterns.
For those of you who thought that cool, hip and trendy fashion was to be found only in stores in London, New York and Milan; let me tell you how wrong you are.
In downtown Freetown you will find cool kids and adults wearing a mix of their own style, a bit of African touch as well as cool vintage finds from the local market.
Trendiest at the moment must be Balde Amyzo of Amyzo Designs, a talented young lady making clothes that are breath taking. Take time to update your wardrobe with her unique pieces that also will be a memorable thing upon your return to home.
I never thought I would say it, and I promise you I’m a picky sushi connoisseur but at Mamba Point up on the hill in Freetown you will find innovative and delicious Sushi that will hit you right here and right know. A must-eat is their Kimchi and scallops flown in from Brussels and the service is top class.
Start your stay by slowly getting used to the pace and the culture shock, it is hard facing poverty but you will find a middle way of dealing with it.
There is a lot you can do and plenty of projects to take part in that will change someones life and maybe aid them to get a better education. Ask around and people will give you advice on what to do and help in the best way possible.
Head out to Franco’s a 30 minutes drive from Freetown. At Franco’s you get fresh oysters, one of the best fish Carpaccio and oddly enough great Italian dishes. The surroundings are serene with a breeze of the Mediterranean and you will be well taken cared of. Stay over night in air-conditioned, clean and fresh rooms for about $100. In the morning hit the same road towards Lakka and have a swim in the Atlantic Ocean. Take time to read and get pleasure from hearing the waves and everyday Salone beach life. Any of the beach restaurants can prepare the catch of the day, from barracuda to lobster caught in front of you. If it is mango season ask them to make you spicy mango (Chilli, Maggi and salt) to accompany your local Star beer. In the late afternoon set out on the Peninsula road towards Tokeh, a beautiful drive through the forest. Stop in any of the small villages and buy fruits and various things you may want for later. Once at Tokeh Palms formerly known as the famous Africana where Jacques Chirac had his own private bungalow. Once here you will never want to go back home. Rent a bungalow on the beach and just find your inner peace, watching the sunset and the bonfire being lit on the whitest of white beach you could ever imagine. Issa Bassma and his staff will make sure you feel at home, and can arrange everything from fishing trips to excursions in the area.
If you are a surf lover you must go to Bureh Beach which is a 30 minutes drive from Tokeh.
Surf the turquoise waves and get lessons from young and professional beach and surfer boys.
If you get tired of beach life go up to Hill Station and go to Country Lodge and have a Pina Colada and a succulent chicken sandwich by the pool and take pleasure from the view over Freetown.
It is absolutely necessary to rent a car when traveling in Sierra Leone since it’s the easiest, most convenient and safest way to go around Freetown and to reach the beaches.
Take the car and drive towards Makeni and after small roads crossing little villages and village life with people preparing dinner and taking baths the road will take you into the heart of the darkness. Finally reaching Rogbonko, you have come to a real magical place in Sierra Leone.
The light and the smiles you meet is something you will carry with you all your life.
The caretaker Pa Morlai of the Rogbonko Village Retreat will prepare your evening meal which consists of fresh chicken in a ground nut stew, slaughtered in front of your eyes if you wish to do it the traditional way.
Meanwhile take a much needed shower out in the open air while you indulge in bird life and the clear blue African sky. Pure relaxation of body and mind.
Pour yourself a gin & tonic with a squeeze of fresh lime and sit down on the veranda and listen to the village life busy preparing dinner and kids playing. Why not take a stroll and take it all in? Have a chat with the villagers with big smiles, who are genuinely curious and friendly. Once you have had a lush and tasty dinner and listened to the crickets and monkeys hiding in the bushes, I promise you will sleep like a baby in the coolness of the mud hut. Awakening fully rejuvenated to a brand new day at early dawn. Take a walk down to the river or any of the other walking paths and feel the time stand still. It’s almost like you are the first to touch the ground.
If you wish you can buy craft made by the local school kids and that way you will make a contribution to their continued schooling.
The question I constantly carry; why do many others and I love sweet Salone so much.
Graham Green tries to answer the question in his book The Heart of the Matter: “Why […] do I love this place so much? Is it because here human nature hasn’t had time to disguise itself? Nobody here could ever talk about a heaven on earth. Heaven remained rigidly in its proper place on the other side of death, while on this side flourished the injustices, the cruelties, the meanness that elsewhere people so cleverly hushed up. Here you could love human beings nearly as God loved them, knowing the worst: you didn’t love a pose, a pretty dress, a sentiment artfully assumed.”
The magic of this place never failed me, simply because of its authenticity.
In everything around me in Sierra Leone there is wisdom and mystery, which you can never grasp with two hands or with your mind. You must let it rub off, let it stick to your fingers; let it slowly infiltrate your veins. The red magical dust of the African continent, once it has hooked you; you can’t get enough of it.