21st of May 2019 – 21st of June 2019:
After we crossed the river with a dugout canoe, we were welcomed in English with friendly words. The two militarists on the Sierra Leonean side registered us and told us where to get the entry stamp.
We expected a gravel road used by many vehicles and in our imagination, the road would improve the further we get. Unfortunately, we were completely wrong, since the border was only passable by motorbike and pedestrians. In addition, the road was steep and eroded in such a way that we had to push our bicycles sometimes. Certain ascents exceeded the 40%-limit and were therefore impossible to ride.
The road led us through dense, humid rainforest and small villages without electricity. The people were a bit more reserved than in Guinea, but greeted us always friendly. Because of the many hills, we made only slow progress and many breaks for drinking a lot of water. The sun shone the whole day for a change and made us sweat for real. Repeatedly, we asked where we would get our entry stamp and nobody was able to help us really. After all, we “officially” left Guinea, however never entered Sierra Leone officially.
After a long and extremely steep ascent, we reached a larger village. There, we asked at the police station if it is possible to rest for a while and this was absolutely no problem. The generous and friendly police officers gave us something to eat, showed us the modern local health center and organized some water for us to wash ourselves. Since we were exhausted, we asked if we could pitch our tent in front of the police station.
During the night in the mountain village, we experienced the strongest storm so far on this journey. It rained wildly for more than one hour accompanied with fierce lightings and thunders. Luckily, we pitched our tent under a protective roof.
In the morning, we woke up by the radio of the police inspector and many people from the lively village. Our legs were glad that we had to climb less steep and shorter hills than the day before and by tendency lost altitude. After around 40km, we saw already from far away the beginning of a new tarmac road. The radical change of the quality of the road was surprising, like in some other countries as well. In Koidu, we bought two SIM cards, exchanged money and finally got our entry stamps without problems. After a short stay on the “highway”, we decided to follow a gravel road inland, to reach the northern part of the country. Hungry, we reached a larger village, fed ourselves and the chief of the village organized a room for us.
The nephew of the chief of the village told us that he searches for diamonds in his little mine. We asked immediately, if we can see the mine, since Sierra Leone is famous for its huge diamond resources. A dozen men excavated a little mine by hand. Soon, they wanted to sieve the soil and hoped to find one of the valuable stones.
The exertions we experienced to reach Yomadu, made us change our plan and we decided to cycle back to the main road on another route, instead of continuing inland. This trail presented itself as a challenge, since there were parts so steep that we had to push our bicycles with all our force. At least the surroundings where the trail led us were through a beautiful forest and tiny villages.
On the junction, we ate some rice with a spicy sauce before we continued our journey on the smooth paved road. Before we found a spot for the night besides a small garden, we asked in the previous village if they have some sugar for us. We could buy sugar and they told us that all the 25 children surrounding us belong to the same man. At least he conceived them with four different women, but still an achievement one should not underestimate.
Before 8AM, a singing, older man arrived with his bicycle at the garden, directly next to our tent and took care of his seedlings. We bought a pineapple form him for our breakfast and he gave us another one free and said thank you while presenting us the extra fruit.
Many people walked with pots, agricultural tools and wood on their heads along the road. The mothers carry their sleeping babies on the back as usual. An interesting image, if one cycles on a brand-new tarmac road, but there is almost no traffic and most people are moving on foot. We saw a couple of mines directly on the side of the road and stopped at some point at a small gold mine to see which technique the locals use. In Matotaka, we expected fast internet to update our blog, but we were disappointed and decided therefore to do a shorter break. This idea failed, since we did not think about the approaching thunderstorm, which prolonged our break for one hour.
Until Makeni we only had to cover around 40km. Therefore, we reached the middle-sized town around noon and searched the hospital built with the help of a Swiss foundation. Our cycling friend George, who is currently cycling in Ivory Coast, gave us the tip to stop here. The friendly pastor came directly from his house to welcome us and picked us up. He invited us immediately to his home to spend the night there and to eat with him. We talked the whole afternoon about the country, its people and the current situation in the local community.
After a typical local breakfast, which contained a spicy sauce with cooked sweet potato leaves and rice, we visited the hospital. Joseph guided us through the well-spaced and modern hospital buildings. We spoke to some of the qualified staff about the typical challenges in a developing country like Sierra Leone. These include for example the HIV-infection, child mortality, malnutrition, tuberculosis, typhoid fever and of course the maintenance of all the secondhand devices that break a lot in this extremely humid climate. During a walk through the surrounding villages, we met several people with advanced diseases like tumors and fractures, who sadly cannot afford surgery, even if it is cheap by our standards. In addition, we visited a school for orphans. The sweet children lost both their parents through the horrible disease Ebola.
We liked the loud, lively and chaotic market in the inner city of Makeni a lot. We walked for some time in the narrow alleys, which were wet from the rain and smelt stuffy. Joseph introduced us to many of his friends and we could answer many interesting questions. Alex, the owner of a bakery gave us even a couple of pieces of bread as a present, since he liked our way of travelling a lot.
The helpful pastor accompanied us with his bicycle until the exit of the city. The landscape got flat and many green meadows or farmland were visible. Soon, we reached Lunsar, a city characterized by its iron ore extraction and we even found a bicycle mechanic. The professional and friendly Karim told us about his project and fascinated us immediately with his visions. He organizes used bicycles from Europe and America, which he repairs and maintains. Afterwards, he sells one part and the other part he donates to students with a long way to school. In addition, he teaches girls how to ride a bicycle and teaches teenagers how to fix and maintain a bicycle.
In Makeni, we realized that both our rear wheels had a crack where the spokes meet the impeller. We had this problem already in Toulouse and were lucky to replace the impellers as a warranty case. Karim searched for quite some time and finally found an impeller that fitted our bicycle. He even did not step back from the large effort of installing the hub and all spokes at the new impeller, since he could not find another hub of the right size.
By coincidence, Nico, a German touring cyclist, stopped at the shop as well and we could all sleep at Karim’s place. In the evening, we exchanged our stories while eating delicious food and enjoying a cold beer and watched football.
Karim cooked fried eggs with onions for us and we enjoyed the hospitality of the generous bicycle fanatics. After we bought some spare parts, we cycled further in the direction of Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. Since quite some time, we cycled with another touring cyclist again and enjoyed the variety.
The traffic increased steadily and the settlements along the road got larger and dense. Therefore, we hardly found a place to camp and did so next to a house.
Together with Nico, we approached the hilly peninsula, on which Freetown lays. Black clouds symbolizing a thunderstorm decorated the sky and the rain caught us in an unpleasant moment. Until we found some shelter, we were already wet and of course, the rain stopped after a couple of minutes.
Afterwards, we cycled to a beach out of a storybook, without any tourists, since there is no infrastructure. The friendly and already tipsy locals welcomed us and we drank a cold beer with them. Then, they showed us a spot for the night, directly next to the beach, where we relaxed and enjoyed the cool breeze.
After a lot of sleep, we said goodbye to the kind villagers, who were already drinking beer again. After a short segment on a gravel road with huge water-filled potholes, we re-entered the paved road. Nico decided to already cycle to Freetown today and we searched for a camp spot for the night. We did not consider the overpriced tourist beaches in the region and therefore searched for a spot next to a seldom-used road. Nearby, there was a small stream where we could even wash ourselves.
Shortly before midnight, a truck stopped next to our tent and the men told us that we had to leave this spot immediately. Before we pitched our tent, we asked the security guard if it would be possible to sleep here. The small road on which we were located led to a reservoir and was the reason why the unfriendly men wanted to get rid of us. When we refused to leave, more people arrived, including two strong men in a military uniform. Finally, we moved all our equipment a few hundred meters away from the private property, so we could finally get some sleep.
Gusts of wind woke us up and we had to hold on to the tent at the same time, so it would not hit us in the face. When we moved the tent during the night, we did not fix the edges of the tent, since we were too lazy. Around noon, we decided to pack up all our material and dry it off in Freetown.
In Freetown, we waited next to a friendly and cute family for our Warmshowers host John to arrive. The young, energetic Canadian welcomed us and told us immediately that Phil and Shantelle invited us for dinner. We met this Canadian couple randomly this morning, shortly before we started cycling. Unfortunately, Fabian did not feel well and had to skip the dinner invitation. The culinary variety and interesting conversations proved once more the great hospitality we experience repeatedly.
Since there is an extreme risk in these countries to get Malaria, Fabian started immediately with the malaria therapy after getting the fever. The next day, he made a free Malaria test in the nearby hospital. For the most common type of malaria “plasmodium falciparum”, there is a quick test, since more than 70% of the malaria cases result from this pathogen. Indeed, the quick test and the blood analysis later confirmed this type. After three days of treatment, Fabian felt much better already and was ready to continue cycling.
Ramadan was finished and therefore nobody was working in Freetown. John suggested visiting Bureh beach, one of the most beautiful beaches in Sierra Leone, if not in all West Africa. Unfortunately, there was rain now and then, but we still went swimming in the warm ocean. We relaxed at the beautiful beach, before we drove back to the city with John’s car.
Freetown is one of the few African cities that offer many amazing, clean beaches. At one of those beaches, we ate grilled chicken with fries and enjoyed the fresh sea breeze. During our week in Freetown, we enjoyed the luxury of a real bed, a hot shower, sofas and a washing machine. A few times, we cooked in the sparsely equipped kitchen to increase the variety in our diet. In contrary, 95% of the people in Freetown do not possess access to drinking water or own a connection to the wastewater system.
In 1787, former slaves from England, Canada and the U.S. settled in the region around Freetown. In the 19th century, Freetown was the capital of British-Western Africa. For that reason, English is the official language and people measure distances in miles.
On Friday evening, we visited a friend of John, met many interesting expats from different countries, and went to a club together. The locals in “China house” were a bit older, but danced like they were 20 years younger and therefore we had a fun night out.
Liberia and Ivory Coast require a visa and we thought to apply for both in Freetown. This worked relatively efficient but was more expensive than expected. For a three-month visa for Liberia, we paid 100 USD each and for the same duration for Ivory Coast 85USD.
While searching for a new rim for Fabian, we discovered the hilly city. After we crossed the lively market, we found the bicycle workshop recommended to us. For an incredible price of 15 US Dollars, Fabian could buy a new rim including all the work. The bicycle mechanic had to replace all spokes to the new rim, since he did not find a fitting hub.
Alone in the last week, the precipitation increased immensely and we wondered how much more it could rain. Unfortunately, we are still far away from the precipitation peak in July and August. Only in the month of August, it rains as much in Sierra Lone as in Switzerland all year.
Unfortunately, two days ago, Nico got Malaria as well. Therefore, we decided to continue without him. We said goodbye to Nico and as well to our awesome and energetic host John. The family where we spend some time at the day of our arrival and where we bought our food during the last few days, we said goodbye before we really started. The woman works tireless seven days a week from 7 AM to 11PM in her shop. Her kids always help her, except they visit school.
We wanted to continue cycling, but due to the heavy rain in the morning, we stayed another night. When we finally left the capital, Fabian realized after two kilometers that he had a flat tire and we stopped next to a shelter. Just after we stopped, it started to rain heavily and we wanted to wait a bit longer than the repairs.
The rain almost stopped and we tried our luck again. Like this, we stopped repeatedly for the next 5km and made no progress. The last stop was unknowingly at a shop, where they filled the plastic bags with water and sold them. The friendly Nigerian owner showed us around the production site. Finally, we knew how these absurd plastic bags filled with water are produced. At 3PM, we decided to put on our rain jacket and continue despite the rain. Accompanied by heavy rain and soaked in a few minutes, we cycled along flooded roads and observed how streams with lots of water transported rocks and trash onto the road. Luckily, the rain stopped and in the evening, we could stay in an empty house of a family, after we asked the village chef for allowance.
The sun was out most of the day and we could even dry our shoes during the breaks. Unfortunately, we neglected the sun protection and had burned arms and faces in the evening, since we did not expose our bodies to the sun since many days.
We cycled on the perfect paved road passing small villages, where children and even women screamed “Apoto” (white man) and danced around. We had to get used to this again after more than a week in the big city. In Mile 91, we refueled our bodies and talked to a 10-year-old boy, who was leading the small restaurant when his mother was not there. Unbelievable what kind of responsibility kids in Africa undertake and how mature they appear.
In the evening, more than a dozen of villagers observed us, while we pitched the inner tent in one of the empty buildings. Sometimes, it feels like they are watching at us as if we would appear in a TV show.
At 7 AM, our new friends visited our room where we stayed and asked if we slept well. Of course, we were still sleeping and after a couple of minutes, they left and then came back with all the other children of the village an hour later. Until our departure, the children and teenagers did not leave us alone, since it was special for the villagers to see what we were doing.
We cycled past many villages, where people greeted us friendly and dried their clothes on bamboo rods. From time to time, we filled our water bottles, as usual from one of the many wells. Since Dakar, we carried a qualitatively sophisticated water filter, but never used it so far.
Only few cars used the main road and in many, we saw white people sitting in the passenger seat. Those are not tourists, but rather employees of one of the many represented non-governmental organizations (NGO) like United Nations (UN) or projects of the European Union (EU). For instance, they built wells, schools and hospitals to improve the quality of living for the poor population.
Quickly, we reached Bo, the second largest city of the country. Here, we decided to cycle the newly constructed tarmac road to Zimmi, instead to the unfinished road passing Kenema. Many locals worked under the lead of the Chinese along the road and shoveled rubble out of the future roadside ditch. In the evening, we even met a German engineer, who oversaw the second part of the road works and stays two years in Sierra Leone for this job.
When we protected ourselves from heavy rain, we met the farmer Michael, who plants bananas, cassava and pineapples. After a short, pleasant conversation, he offered us to sleep on his veranda.
After the African village noises woke us up, we asked if it was possible to get some breakfast. For around one US Dollar, two women went to the local market, bought the essential food items, and cooked a delicious rice meal for us. Whereas we tried a funny-looking fruit for the first time and a strong boy climbed without the help of any tools up a 10m high palm tree to get us a few coconuts. After two-hours of preparation time, it was time to eat or “chop” how it is called in the local language.
Around noon, we said goodbye to all the children and Michael. Quickly, we reached the junction, where one turns to reach “Tiwai Island”. This island is a sanctuary and home to several types of primates and in the surrounding waters live crocodiles and hippos. After a longer discussion, we could eat with a family for a fair price and sleep free under a roof. Tourism changed the mentality noticeable in this village and unfortunately, they wanted money for everything.
Since we already saw all the animals in previous countries that live on the island, we decided to save the fees for another activity along the way. Instead, Alex, a young, likeable local showed us different plantations and the village life. We visited a cacao plantation, which lay directly next to some breadfruit trees. Afterwards, we visited the herbalist who produces handmade hammocks as well. The old man normally takes about a week to finish one hammock and sells it afterwards for less than 3 US Dollars. After we witnessed the handicraft of the village blacksmith, we left the small village in the direction of the main road.
Zimmi was the last larger town before reaching the border with Liberia and we planned to spend the night in this small city. After we met some friendly locals during a storm, we found a room equipped with neither windows and nor a door in the middle of the center.
The relaxed, small town of Zimmi seemed very inviting to us and we decided to stay for a few days to chill out. The people greeted us from everywhere with «Ha di body» (How is your body?) or «Ha di aftanoon» (How is the afternoon?) and asked further questions like «What is your mission»? We always answered we slowly («small small») cycle from Europe to South Africa and amused ourselves over the amazed faces.
When we did not relax in our room, we discovered the local market or walked through the streets and talked with various people about politics or our journey. During an afternoon, we walked to a public well to wash ourselves. The people were extremely surprised when we suddenly undressed directly next to the water source to wash off the sweat from our bodies. The African people always assume that we would be superior to them, just because of our skin color. We repeatedly try to explain that we are all just humans and if they can wash in public, we can do that as well.
After we said goodbye to all our newly made friends and explained our travel story to other interested strangers, we left the quiet and peaceful town. In the beginning, we could profit from the newly tarred main road, but quickly had to switch the old dirt road through the dense forest due to construction works. In a village, we filled our water bottles and helped a motorcyclist to remount his chain, since he did not have the proper tools.
In the lively border town Jendema, we met a police officer while drinking a local tea called «attaya». Thanks to him, the officer in charge let us sleep in a room inside the police station. The present police officers were frantic, when they heard that this would never be possible in Switzerland.