Travel Through Sierra Leone on a Harley-Davidson

By Peter & Kay Forwood

Sierra Leone on a Harley (28/02/01 - 7/3/01)
Distance 442 km (225165 km to 225607 km)

This is part of the Seventh section of our around the world trip.
Complete Trip Overview & Map

Coming from  Liberia

28/2/01 Entry to Sierra Leone easier, but still intrigued with our presence and the never ending question of "what is our mission?" With all the time spent at check points we only made it to Zimmi in late afternoon and when, without having eaten anything but a few biscuits all day, a police officer invited us to join him for a meal we readily accepted. This flowed on to him arranging a shower and a spartan room for the night. Amazing hospitality from the police. They have only been in this area a short time and are slowly taking back control of the area from the local militia who have been fighting with the government against the rebels. We had passed through a few militia road blocks from the border, generally friendly, firm, cautious and requiring our documents. The dirt road bad, bumpy with wet weather wash outs, log bridges and dry bog holes vaguely reminiscent of Congo.

1/3/01 We are in one of the heaviest fighting areas of the past few years, diamonds again the problem, and most of the buildings show signs of the war. Travelling along the road you can see people digging and washing for these diamonds. Bad dirt road again to Kenema then good sealed to Bo for the night. More of the same checks but quicker and after Kenema we encountered UN troops, as close as they are monitoring to the Liberian border at this time. Bo, Sierra Leone's second largest city with about 80 registered diamond traders has almost forgotten the war in its enthusiastic recovery. All the aid agencies are here, UN, UNHCR, CARE, World Vision, Red Cross and ARC, we saw in our short stay. Anything more than the basic foods are high priced (as we have seen in other recovering countries), forced up by the large influx of aid money and peace keeping forces wages placing high demands on depleted supplies.Refugee camp tents

2/3/01 We stopped counting check points as they increased to almost every five km the nearer we came to Freetown. Passed a couple of large refugee camps and revitalized schools. Land that has been let grow out of control during the war now being hacked back into production waiting for the wet to arrive next month. The destroyed brick and tin roofed houses now being built alongside with mud, stick and straw. A convoy of nine trucks carrying returned refugees from the north, having been transported to Guinea Conakry, shipped to Freetown and now trucked to a new camp in their home country, passed us heading in the opposite direction. The badly potholed road incapable of carrying the supplies needed to maintain the UN troops, local forces and refugees without getting totally destroyed. We are swamped by crowds at every stop, virtually closing any petrol place where we stop. They seem pleased to see the motorcycle and people not associated with a relief agency, wondering about our story. Bombed light armour from the war

3/3/01 Freetown, so called because it grew from freed slaves captured by the British on their way to the Americas and released here. Only 14 months ago the city was invaded by rebel forces with them holding a significant portion for 24 days. Our policeman friend from Zimmi, holding his 14 month old daughter tells how his wife walked three miles to her relatives house to give birth the night the fighting started. Of his personal capture of four mercenaries from Burkina Faso who were paid $US 500.00 to fight in the war. They were later publicly shot by ECOMOG forces (The West African peace keeping force). The city now thriving with a burst of life that can only exist following the release from war. Amidst the bullet peppered buildings, bombed or burnt out are renovations and rebuilding. The lively markets and stall crammed streets with seemingly everyone trying to sell to each other down to children selling individual plastic bags for your purchases. Returning refugees being processed on their arrival The narrow streets winding through colonial houses packed with traffic. Our two day permit issued at the border was efficiently and friendly ratified to a two week stay by immigration and we easily obtained our departure permit from police, necessary to be allowed to leave the country. Unfortunately the road to Guinea Conakry was closed due to uncertain security in the region and it will be necessary to ship us and the motorcycle there. While at the wharf area we watched a boat load of refugees arriving home from Guinea, with all their worldly possessions in small refugee bags. They were accompanied by international journalists and waited patiently as their documents were steadily processed as must have occurred many times before for them over the last few years.

4/3/01 We had visited a pub with a local six piece band playing local modern music a couple of nights ago and were surprised that things here got going early. By eight o'clock things were swinging but with a midnight to dawn curfew the price of being a pumpkin is very expensive. UNHCR doing the processing Tonight is the eve of the biggest Muslim festival of the year and the celebrations start at midnight so the disco's have a midnight lock in policy where no-one can leave before dawn. Our room near a main road and bustling with megaphone cars announcing the latest event in the city is without a sound during curfew, a welcomed side effect, a quiet nights sleep.

5/3/01 After Muslim morning prayers the streets started to fill in early afternoon, a moving mass of mainly men, many intoxicated on alcohol, local brew or smoked drugs. Some were dressed in a strange mix of traditional and western clothing, playing an equally diverse mix of instruments in a seemingly unorganized spontaneous street procession that revolved around the devil figure. A dried pigs head atop the decorated body of a large man covered in animal skins and other ceremonial paraphernalia. Riot police, army and ordinary police, heavily armed were in a heavy presence in case the crowd became unmanageable and there were many onlookers cautious of the procession. Being the only white people in the area we came under a little too much attention and moved to the balcony of our hotel to watch.Street festival in Freetown

6/3/01 We had been told over the last three days by an employee of IOM (International Organization for Migration) that we could travel on their vessel to Guinea on its empty return journey to collect more refugees. Unfortunately our permission was removed this morning as we were preparing to depart, by someone higher up in the organization leaving us stranded to find an alternative. After hunting around for most of the morning we found a vessel leaving tomorrow that can take us and the motorcycle, we hope. While quite enjoying Freetown, our accommodation is comfortable but I am increasingly coming out in bite bumps from our room and am not looking forward to spending another night on a bed where in the morning I will have more itchy lumps.

7/3/01 Our boat was a 30 metre converted fishing vessel with cabins and wheel house forward and rows and rows of sardine seats on the back deck under a metal roof for cargo. The bike, at the right tide, could be ridden on or off the roof. A standard price for passengers of $US 37.00 each plus a heavily negotiated price for the bike of $US 47.00. This as always in West Africa is later disputed, for more money before loading. No deal here is a deal. This time it got to extremes where the owner sacked the first mate for accepting such a small payment for a big bike. He was only reinstated when he made up the difference from his own pocket. We were issued a receipt for our payment plus his. Another scam? Who knows. The boat left about on time, needing to be out of the harbour before dusk for port security reasons. Most of the passengers remained seated or sprawled out on mats on any of the limited crammed below floor deck space. It made me wonder if the slave trade ever ended. It never ceases to amaze me how tolerant of inconveniences of being squashed in buses or boats or being delayed by breakdowns or inefficiencies Africans are. We were allowed to sleep on the upper deck cargo section in the breeze on our bedrolls, away from the wired in area with no escape where perhaps the 200 others chose or were required to remain. There were no life rafts or life jackets and the only life rings were inside the wired in cage and would not be able to be used in an emergency. I paralleled the boat used by UNHCR or IOM to bring for nothing returning refugees with modern safety equipment and space with the local boat of paying customers in cramped unsafe conditions. The eight hour journey ended with us waiting offshore till 8 am, bobbing, till Conakry´s overnight port curfew ended.

Move with us to Guinea




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