The kids are dressed up for school, in a green or blue uniform, while I load up my bike and leave for Freetown. I have 10 kilometers to cycle from Lungi to the port, where the ferry takes me directly into the Sierra Leonean capital.
I get a local SIM card on the way, as cheap as usual, but not as easy as usual: the registration process needs a photo and fingerprints.
The Freetown airport in Lungi is separated by an hour of ferry, which runs every 4 hours. That sounds a perfect setup to miss planes or to be stuck at night and unable to reach home. There are apparently high speed boats departing directly from the airport for some 100 USD for those who can’t wait. The Visit Sierra Leone website does a good job at making sure you don’t want to land in Freetown.
Freetown is located on a peninsula in the Atlantic Ocean. What surprises me is that this peninsula goes up to 600 m of elevation while the rest of the country is rather flat by the coast.
I have to squeeze on the ferry with my bike among passengers, chickens, and two fortunate wheelbarrows of coconuts. I can then refresh my throat while approaching the city, all doors open.
I chat with my neighbors about my journey. At the end of the trip, I can hear that my story is repeated in Krio all around the ferry, spotting some words like “seven months” or “spare tire”.
Past the hassle of getting out of the pier, there is a narrow road uphill until the main avenue. It seems like a bustling city and makes a big contrast with the palm plantations through which I have been cycling so far. The sight of the many sellers on the street makes me happy, I will probably get better food now.
The trick is that the ferry terminal is at the eastern end of Freetown. My destination is Lumley, at the western end, where I planned to meet up with Johannes, whom I met at the Liberian embassy in Dakar. It means I have to ride across the city, with its markets, street sellers and fast lanes, sometimes as slow as a pedestrian, sometimes racing to make the experience as short as possible. I took videos, which will maybe be part of a compilation of insane rides into African capitals, as those places are not made for cycling. Locals don’t do it either.
It is very stressing to watch out for the “anything can happen” while cycling. Taxis have their own traffic code, people cross the street when they want, or use it to lay their goods to sell. The ride across the city is pretty long. I cross the markets and the main central street. There is not much choice, as the city is spread along the coast around the mountain that lies in the center of the peninsula. In addition to the crazy mess, some taxi drivers ask me through their window “Where do you come from?” while overtaking me, each group of policemen at crossroads want to see my passport, … it’s just a big mess.
It is better on the way to Lumley, an upscale suburb where Johannes stayed for two weeks to recover from an injury and sickness. Thanks to his host Martin, we can stay at a beach house ten kilometers further in Lakka beach.
We leave Lumley for Lakka beach. Thanks to Kendall, we have now the traditional pictures of “us surrounded by African kids”.
The kids are there because of a kind of Christian orphanage. When I tell my name, they remember “John the Baptist” and they will never forget it. Sierra Leone is a country where Islam and Christianity live together very well. There are churches and mosques in every village. The population is 60%-50% Muslim and 30%-40% Christian. Mixed marriages are common.
We can rest for a few days at Martin’s house right on the beach. It is a very nice setup, and would be (has already been in the past) a terrific touristic destination. We eat good fish, have pineapples and mangoes close by, it is never cold (temperatures always between 20°C and 25°C) and I end the day with a midnight swim in the warm water, under the few stars visible through the layer of clouds.
Over the next days, we go to town to do some shopping. The central point of Freetown is called Pee-Zed. Every time I pass in Lumley, one of the kid spots me and starts shouting “John the Baptist!“. Then all the crowd come and ask how I am.
There is nothing special about Freetown. It has a good vibe, the center is a big mess, the roads are bad, and the Lebanese own all the supermarkets and the shops too big to be run without having employees. As I could feel it in Port Loko and in Lungi, it is not a cheap place for visitors. Either you are rich and have a 4×4 with driver, either you are poor and must run in the rain to catch one of the public transport vans or cars. For the accommodation, the “budget traveler” category would have to merge with the first one.
My credit card is finally working at an ATM. They all look dodgy, especially the one from a Chinese bank disguised into a local bank. The maximum withdrawal is 400 000 leones (70 €). The internet is really slow everywhere and I quit the idea of updating my blog here. I can’t do much more than Gmail HTML.
Back in Lakka beach, without electricity and without worries …
The current in the ocean is strong and it’s actually quite dangerous to swim. I really feel the waves pulling me off the shore.
After three days of rest, we are ready to jump on the saddle again for crossing Sierra Leone.