November 15, 2016
Yesterday was the first day of my first group tour ever! I have never signed up to travel with strangers before, mostly as I am happy to do my own thing at my own pace, so it will be an interesting few weeks.
I am overlandingwestAfrica.com from Freetown, Sierra Leone to Accra, Ghana with 17 others and a guide and driver/mechanic. Many of my fellow passengers have been on the truck since Dakar, and it is an amusing motley crew. The easy going Australian couple who have been overlanding since the eighties, a quirky American who is making flying visits to lots of countries to ‘tick them off his list’, a couple of women in their 30s/40s who are going through self confessed ‘mid life crisis’, some overlanding virgins on their first trip to Africa, at least two trump supporters and quite a few seasoned travellers. The youngest person on the truck is 26 and the oldest is 69, mostly brits and aussies with a Swiss, Dutch, Chilean, Norwegian and German thrown in for good measure. Many of them are on the truck of a full three months. One hardy (/bonkers) soul started this trip immediately after three months on a truck in west Africa…… I think the allure of overlanding might be wearing thin for her.
We were briefed by the fearsome and indomitable Zoe (veteran Canadian overlanding guide) over dinner and allocated truck jobs, which range from bins, to fridge cleaning, locker loading and managing the charging station on the truck (a potentially stressful job given the number of devices on the truck). Most jobs are daily, so I mindfully volunteered for kitty supervisor which I only need to do once a week. No doubt I will chip in on another few jobs as we go.
We are getting ourselves sorted to leave Freetown. Applications for our Guinea visas went in, with the usual rigmarole of ‘no sorry, we don’t issue visas here, no it’s not possible’….. to an eventual demand for a ‘special processing fee’ for foreigners and a rush service, and a bit of negotiating to get the fee down from usd 300 each to 200 each. We also have to get an extra visa for Mali as we are unsure if we can cross a key border between Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire so we might have to make a detour (yay, potentially a bonus country).
Everyone is making the most of the day in Freetown to enjoy running water and access to better food than you can get in tiny villages. I have moved to a different (but still overpriced) hotel with the group, where it is possible to shower, although you do have to yell out the window to the owner who does some magic to make the water come on in your room eventually.
Nothing happens fast here! Meals in particular will require at least an hour from when you order, even my eggs on toast for dinner took an hour. Meals with 20 people take even longer to prepare… collecting and counting the money from everyone for the bill takes the longest (last night it was 3,000,000 for dinner). It is amusing to see what Truckmates have stocked up on at the supermarket. I have lots of baked beans and tuna. Vegemite, marmite, peanut butter, tea, gin, vodka, tonic and nuts seem to be firm favourites. Two of our number have bought huge boxes of food from home. 90% ordered burgers for lunch! We are adhering to all the western stereotypes.
Heading off tomorrow! Looking forward to starting camping. Amusingly I did say to hubby that the one thing I didn’t want to do was share a tent with a trump supporter, and it turns out that I will be. We are sure to have some challenging but friendly discussions under canvas in the next five weeks.
More when I get to the next wifi spot.