Sierra Leone – Invisible Pygmy hippos in Tiwai

Finally a great quiet nights sleep in the tent, as the trucks resident snorer had sensibly pitched far from the rest of us, and without electricity there was no blaring music. 
We were treated to a lovely sunrise and a gentle canoe trip up the river in search of the elusive Pygmy hippo. Apparently the BBC were here for six weeks without a viewing, so we were not surprised to not see them.  

Amusingly we were ‘late’ leaving as they had to hack some bamboo to make seats for the dug outs – just in time manufacturing in action. I guess they hadn’t had time to make them in the six months since their last tourist visit.

Breakfast was greasy pancakes and lunch was rice with greasy cassava.  I went for a run after lunch and almost passed out in the heat, so i whiled away the rest of the afternoon in a hammock trying to ignore the kids who were climbing all over us, so excited to see some new people.   My big goal for the afternoon was to try and figure out the combination for my padlock which is stuck open.   Only 999 variants to try, the perfect way to occupy myself in a hammock.

The sun set at 6.30 and with no light there wasn’t much to do.  The thunder and lightening rolled in at 7.30, so we hustled to the tent for an early night after a dinner of more greasy cassava and rice.

Sierra Leone has been ravaged by war for a very long time and just as tourism had started to pick up, Ebola hit.   And sadly, west Africa doesn’t have the big tourist hits of neighbouring countries, nor is there much in the way of infrastructure.  Tiwai was lovely, and is apparently one of the country’s top potential tourist destinations, but it was a long way to go on very very rough roads.  As most of the primates were eaten during the war there wasn’t even that much wildlife to see.  So it will be a challenge for the village to make money from tourism.  OWA had donated to pay for a well for the village a few years ago and apparently it has meaningfully impacted child health outcomes in the village. I was proud to see that Phoenix soft drinks from NZ has partnered with the village to make “karma cola” out of the locally grown kola nut.  Fingers crossed for Tiwai, as it was a lovely village with delightful kids and friendly hard working adults.
The village farewelled us royally with a visit from the Kombo (the forest spirit) who comes to keep the kids in line, and some drumming and singing.  The kids were delighted as they had been let out of school especially.  
After an arduous drive back from Tiwai and a few obligatory security checks, we finally reached Kenema – home of the blood diamonds – at 4 on Saturday. We were lucky as if we had missed the ‘supermarket’ in Kenema it would have been slim rations for the next few days on the back roads until we reached Monrovia, and everything in Sierra Leone is closed on Sunday.
One of the curiosities of overlanding is that everyone cooks for their fellow passengers. You are divided into teams, given a budget and sent off to shop. Some teams work well – I had cunningly volunteered to join a team with a professional chef. We designed a menu which minimised effort and maximised speed to table – pretty key when you have 20 to feed, and don’t get cooking until 7pm. Other teams were not so harmonious, and in the absence of a tv last night i amused myself by watching the polite but increasingly frustrated exchanges between the cook team about what to do and how. One of the other challenges is that people have very different ideas about how much is enough food. At least four of us never get enough to eat, and so I am now carrying a whole extra bag of tuna, baked beans and muesli so I can get some proper size meals. One egg and bread or just two weetbix does not constitute a proper breakfast. The supermarket pickings were pretty slim, and anything really good (feta, muesli, chocolate) was out of our budget (400,000 leones or $50 to buy breakfast, lunch and dinner for 20 – try doing that at home)

Kenema seminary chapel

We were camping in the seminary in Kenema which appeared to be a blessed respite from the hustle and bustle of town, situated in a large area of parkland. We pitched our tent in the garden and I was looking forward to a quiet night. Unfortunately the devout security guard had other ideas, so between 3am and 6am, I was treated to a non stop monologue of prayers. At first I thought he was having an argument with someone given his tone of voice. And perhaps he was. His tone was fairly insistent that his sins be washed away…. I considered trying to absolve him myself just so he would stop talking. But I behaved and lay in the tent until the sun came up
Saturday November 19, 2016

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