Arriving in Freetown is mildly bonkers. The airport is inconveniently located at Lungi – 3 hours drive by road, 5 mins by helicopter (but they crash often, so not advisable) or 45 minutes by ferry. It was a typically comical African process with hundreds of guys trying to facilitate your way. Surprisingly the aggressive hassle factor was pretty low in spite of the crowds and the dark. The plane was a fairly standard cast of characters for the region – a smattering of missionaries (I have already been given my first prayer literature), a large group of development workers (with huge suitcases), a legion of Chinese workers sporting huge phones who are here to work on infrastructure projects, and finally five overlanders ready to join a truck.
My hotel in Freetown is an overpriced dump which took an hour to check me in – they have six rooms – but the aid workers beat me here so all eight of the staff were occupied with unloading their bags. The mains electricity was out most of the night, so the generator was roaring and the aircon was on but doing nothing more than blowing out the occasional tantalising breeze on my leg, cruelly reminding me for a micro second of what functioning aircon would do. There were no sheets on the bed, so thankfully I had a silk sleeping bag liner to put on the bed. All this luxury for a mere $75 per night. Am now awake ready to face Sunday feeling only slightly groggy and sweaty. That feeling didn’t really improve with a cold shower…. I tried the hot but it was brown water and still cold 🙂
Breakfast was the standard African tourist fare – greasy omelette, white bread, Nescafé, but today’s offering was enhanced with a fiery ginger jam which was stonkingly good. My appetite for brekkie endured in spite of having three very naked men performing their morning ablutions just under the restaurant.
I went for a wander around town to see the ‘sights’. It’s Sunday so the women and kids are resplendent in their church gear. I got a few stares, many offers of money exchange, and two people who asked me if I was Chinese. But remarkably little hassle compared to other cities in the region. The number one sight was an old tree in the middle of town which is ostensibly hundreds of years old, followed by a few ‘cathedrals’. I thought about stopping somewhere for coffee but nothing was open. This is the first capital city I have been to without an international chain hotel, so the reliable fall back option of an expensive coffee and a piece of not great cake was off the table also.
Walking was a great wake up to my senses. It is a high risk, high reward strategy to breathe in through your nose in Freetown. If you are in luck there is a heady scent of ginger and spices, chicken cooking in chophouses, and the fragrant women passing by. However you are equally (perhaps more) likely to be assaulted by the pungent scent of the open sewer that runs alongside the street. Less risky is to keep your ears open, as with the right wind and in the right place, you are rewarded by a break in the cacophony of car horns with the uplifting harmonies from the choirs emanating from run down corrugated iron churches.
Time for lunch – I had retreated to the hotel as they ostensibly had a restaurant. In true African style I was given a huge menu to peruse at length, and when I went to order was told it was Sunday so they had chicken or fish, with rice or chips……. doubt I am going to get to racing weight on this trip. Grease ingested, now time for a nap
* note wifi is spotty at best in west Africa, so most posts will be photo lite until I get somewhere with decent signal
November 13, 2016