Published: July 6th 2011April 27th 2011
Our fantastic guide
We weren't planning on going to Sierra Leone, in fact we weren't planning on going on any holiday. A HUGE stroke of good luck on my boyfriend Lukes part, meant that we suddenly had tickets to anywhere on the BMI network for free!! I know, I didn't believe it myself at first.
So the plan was to go somewhere as far away as possible, cheap (as this wasn't a planned holiday, and so the budget was very tight), and somewhere that we would never have gone without the free flights. Looking through the destination list Sierra Leone jumped out at me. It certainly ticked all of the above boxes, but the response I got from Luke when I suggested it was not positive. I think his exact words were "Are you having a laugh, isn't that a war zone?".
Two months later though we were sitting on the flight to Freetown. I had managed to convince him that Sierra Leone was no longer a war zone (the war ended in 2002) and from the research I had done, it seemed a fairly safe destination. Most of our friends and family were harder to convince, but nothing was stopping us.
We arrived at Freetown airport late at night and managed to get through customs fairly swiftly (it was the first time I'd had to show my Yellow Fever certificate). Before leaving the UK I had contacted the Atlantic Whale Foundation, or AWF (www.whalenation.org) as I had seen another blog that said they provided cheap accommodation. They had gotten in touch to say someone would be there to pick us up from the airport and would escort us back to the centre (cost of £30 each). Sure enough Abdul was waiting for us and a taxi ride, ferry and another taxi ride later (during which we were introduced to the African method of conversation- shouting!) we were in York village. A quick welcome by Susan the lady running the project, and we were straight to bed after a very long day.
The next morning I woke to the sound of the ocean, I hadn't realised in my disorientated state the night before that the house was right next to the ocean. The heat and humidity was also something we had to get used to, a bit different from Spring in England!
Our first day in Sierra Leone (Salone)
was the 50th Independence day of the country. We spent the day with Musa, one of the guides from AWF, and walked down to a nearby village, where we met a man called Patrick, a businessman from Freetown. He owned a house on the beach and spent each weekend relaxing and fishing. This was to be our first taste of the fantastic hospitality we experienced everywhere we went in the country. We spent the afternoon sitting on his patio, having a few beers, eating giant crayfish (similar to lobster) and swimming (as well as entertaining the local children- who were fascinated by us). All of that and it cost us nothing, and although we offered money it wasn't accepted. Patrick simply wanted us to have a good holiday and to go home and tell people our experience.
The country has so few tourists due to the terrible reputation that the war has left behind. The place is crying out for more tourists, but lack of infrastructure and the reputation combined, means there is no money to improve services to attract more tourists. A vicious and sad cycle.......