Monday, March 4, 2013

March 3 - Sunday - Back home to Canada

We landed in Brussels around 4:30 a.m., hardly able to keep ourselves awake. The airport was freezing, it was 1C outside, and my fingers and toes were numb and I couldn't get any warmth to filter through my bones. We slept on the slatted benches that left your body numb wherever it touched the bench, and got up around 8:15 and had a coffee. By the time we arrived at the gate for the Newark flight, it was being loaded. And, so here I am now, flying about 37000 feet about the ocean and hurtling towards North America. It is a United Flight and the seats are comfy, there is lots of space, and the food was good!

Home travel was ahead of schedule all the way, and we arrived in good time in Toronto. Cathy very kindly picked us up from the airport. What a shock - snow, cold, organized traffic, no noise, dully dressed people, no-one trying to sell you anything - in short BORING!!!

When we arrived at the house in the early evening, we were stunned and delighted to find Alanna at home! She had a course in Toronto and had added a couple of days off work to be home when we arrived. What a sweetheart. She never ceases to amaze us. It made a delightful close to a wonderful holiday.

March 2 - Saturday - Farewell to Freetown

We had to be out of the hotel by 11:00 a.m., so got up, had a continental breakfast in the hotsl, showered, arranged all our stuff, and went for a walk around Murray Town. It seemed there were more churches, and NGOs than anything else!! But, it is a hectic place with lots of yelling, and shouting, and horns blowing. We had lunch in the Oasis Juice Bar and Lorraine from the Hotobah was kind enough to have her driver take us down to the Government Wharf for the ferry around 1:30 p.m. Not surprisingly, everything we had been told about the ferry was wrong. There was no coach to pick us up, it was $40 not $30, then it was $45 not $40, it didn't leave at 3 as we were told, but left at 4 instead. A lot of bull shit goes on, and people try to force themselves on you as if they are the authority. Anyway, Ray had a battle, but eventually was able to go to the ticket office and purchase the tickets. Then our driver, who thankfully stayed with us, drove the car over to the ticket office and as soon as he opened the trunk about four guys pounced on our luggage. I litterally pounced on them, yelling in an angry voice that they were not to touch it!! You hear stories of luggage disappearing from under your nose!!! With the help of the driver I got it all into the terminal while Ray was negotiating the ticket. The next thing you have to watch is that your luggage actually makes it to the ferry! What a country!! Because we thought the ferry left at 3 we where there around 2:30, so had plenty of time to spare and enjoyed a quiet beer listening to some of the best West African music we have heard. I relaxed a little when I spoke to a lady who was also going on the ferry for a flight to America.You can just never be sure that things are as you are told!!

The ferry ride was about 45 minutes and then we got a coach on Lungi over to the airport. Well, that was another "swarm". When we got our stuff off the coach, the porters in uniform and a bunch of guys out of uniform darted out all over the luggage like ants carrying off food. Once again, eventually Ray was able to get a cart, pay the uniformed porter 20,000 leonies, and we made our way into the terminal. The final straw was a policmen staged at the door into the terminal who tried to extract some money from us.

 By the time our luggage was checked and we had our boarding passes, we heaved a sigh of relief, and waited calmly for the plane to arrive and lift us up high over Africa to Brussels. I am writing this on the flight from Brussels to Newark, and have no idea if our luggage will make it, and if it does if it will be intact or if the padlocks will have been broken and the bags ransacked. Small world, but the Norwegian chap we met and his son were on the same flight. He was successsful in getting the roof on the house before he left. We chatted with a Danish lady who divides her time between SL and Denmark, an English guy, and an English speaking women who was visiting on business. People are so friendly out here, and you just end up talking and sharing stories and experiences


March 1 - Friday - Back to Freetown

Our last day on the beach. We were packed up, our goodbyes said, and ready for the taxi coming at noon just after 11 a.m. We called to confirm Ahmed was coming, and seemed to get a positive reply. When he hadn't arrived around 12:30 p.m. we called again and had George, the VP of the Community speak to him. Twenty minutes and he would be there he told George. 1:30 still no luck, and at that point we couldn't get hold of him as he had his phoned turned off. So around 2:15 we started looking for alternatives. There was a white guy, Simon, with an NGO who offered to take us to Lumley from where we could get a cab, then George came up with his driver and as he was heading into the market in Lumley, he came with us. A little costly and more than the standard fare,150,000 Leonies instead of 120,000 but by that point we were getting desperate. The road down the Peninsula is really crazy, but most of it between River No. 2 and Lumley is under construction in one way or another. South of us, it deteriorated quite badly. The locals are hopeful that it will be complete soon.

We checked into the Hotobah Lodge again and went for a walk to the ATM, success, so now we had 200,000 extra....but it soon goes! We also tried the Internet, but it didn't work We had a nice dinner in the restaurant where the truck group and I had drinks on our last night. The challenges in the hotel are the Internet is so slow you can't get into anything, and the hydro is inconsistent, but other than that it is new, and clean, and quite comfortable.

Feb 28 - Thursday - River No. 2 - Day 3

We were up early this morning and all set for our trek to Tokeh Beach and to see a house being built. Last night we met Halvor, a Norwegian lawyer who has done some contracts in Sierra Leone (and other places in Africa) and has decided to build a house on the beach. As the tide was still too far in we got a boat across the river estuary and started our trek along the pure white sands under the blazing sun. We had a good idea where Halvor's house was as we had noticed it the previous day. I fear the building process may be a little tedious, however I am sure that Halvor is in the best of hands given his legal experience in SL. After we were shown over the house by his sons, we continued our journey along the beach. We stopped to look into the complex that was deserted and were invited in to see over it by the security guard. It was built by a company, never finished, and is now in the hands of the government and/or the bank. What a shame. It is a large project which was well thought out for corporate use, including a large conference room that held 1000 people and an entertainment centre. It was supposed to have served as a retreat for the company's staff. After that we walked on into Tokeh greeting the various locals we met along the way and having a chat with some of them. You are never quite sure what the real story is, but we met some guy who is "involved" in the building of a lodge at River No. 1. Nowhere near as nice as River No. 2. Anyway, he got us a badly needed coke and showed us his father's chalets, literally 4 cabins on the beach. This trek took us about 2 hours including stops, then we stopped for a while in Tokeh to see the village and the fishing boats, and then the walk back in about 1 hr 20 mins.

When we arrived back at River No. 2 Anna and Drew, two of the Overlanding group were there. We had a fun time swimming in the ocean, playing with the surf. It is perfect! Not so rough that you can't enjoy it, and rough enough in which to have fun with the rollers. After that, we went into the River No. 2 market and did some souvenir shopping. There really is not a lot to buy anywhere except wooden carvings, paintings, and African cloth. After shopping, we had a shower, then dinner and in bed around 9:15.

We had a job balancing our money which is new for us, but since we couldn't find an active ATM in Freetown, and nowhere accepts Visa, we were left with exchanging our dwindling supply of dollars and Euros. I know Anna and Drew had the same problem, as did a few people on the truck. You don't want to carry too much cash, but that is simply the best way to take money. Travellers' Cheques don't seem to work these days.

Feb 27 - Wednesday - River Number 2 - Day 2

So, how long does it take to establish a routine? Seemingly a day!! We got up this morning around 8:30-9:00, wandered idly along the sea shore to the restaurant about 300 yards away, listening to the crashing waves, our minds numbed with the endless ocean, palm trees, and soft sand, and ate breakfast. Same as yesterday, included in the room rate, $60, an omelette and a few semi-browned rounds of french bread, pineapple jam, and a packet of Nescafe. Then we phaffed around in the cabin cleaning it up a bit, and preparing for our walk to Tokeh Beach about 3 or 4 kilometres away. When we went out, Jamie and his 2 girlfriends were already ensconced on the beach. We left them our room key and set off. We got a ferryman to take us across the river, then continued on our way, once again lulled into mindlessness by the repetition of the waves against the shore. Tokeh was an interesting spot. Endless white sands, endless ocean. I think this area was pretty hard hit during the war, but also, according to Juliette at the Cockle Point Guest House, the heyday for tourism here was about the '50s, '60s, and early '70s. There were several beautiful old developments that have been abandoned. One owned by a Lebanese man whose family has owned the property for over a 100 years. This was in ruins but had clearly been lovely in its day. The other was a new development owned by a company, but the owner had died and the family couldn't do anything with it. It was like a small development of two story condos built in a U-shape facing the beach. Next to all of this was a brand new development at the building stage which is apparently going to be an all inclusive resort. Then there were some already operating resorts (2 or 3) and some tents. Around the point the fishing boats were lying in wait to go out to see in the evening. The beach was pretty well deserted. We met one guy who was working, or sleeping, at the building site, then another guy who knew where we were staying - right down to the room number - scary - trying to sell us coconuts, but also an investment - we didn't get too involved but it seemed like he was trying to give a portion of this hut, and that was it.
When we reached the river on the way back we got a young guy to row us to the Cockle Point GH for lunch. He was a little immature in his bargaining techniques and tried to charge us twice as much as we had agreed to. First time anyone has done that on the whole trip. We met Pauleen from Guinea and Andreas from Germany again, had a lovely swim in the lagoon, I had barracuda and chips for lunch, delicious! Ray had an Indian curry! Then one of Nathan and Juliette's staff showed us the way across the river estuary through the mango swamp and the water. Couldn't have done this in high tide as we were literally walking on the corrugated ocean floor.

Once back, we discovered Jamie had headed back to Freetown. The two girls were still there. We had a couple of swims in the ocean playing in the surf, my knees are rubbed raw from the semi body surfing, a lie in the sun and soon it was time to say "goodbye" to the girls. They are visiting someone in the British High Commissioner's Office but they are both from Jamie's home town in England.

We had a shower and cleaned ourselves up a bit and will head to dinner 300 feet away around 7:30 p.m.

It has been so long since Ray and I lounged about at the beach, but this is a beautiful spot to do it in. It is definitely not a 5 star resort, but the beautfy, simplicicy, and peacefulness are really what we are enjoying. We have also chatted to many people and heard their stories and by listening, have learned a little bit more about West Africa. I am slowly letting go of the Internet, my cell phone, and the need to rush around achieing things!! I am totally lulled by the beauty of West Africa.

Feb 26 - Tues - River No. 2 - Day 1

We had a nice relaxed morning; got the water turned on, got the light bulbs changed, and had breakfast. The views are stunning with the mountains setting off the ocean and the sand as white as ivory. We sat on the edge of the ocean looking down on the waves rolling determinedly in to high tide with a loud hiss and a thud as they crashed onto the sand. We looked at each other, and said: "Do we really want to do anything?" .....and we didn't. Eventually, we got up for a walk and had fun investigating the beach as far as the rocks where you couldn't walk any further around the point. There were some little holiday houses along the ocean, but not very much at all. The other way leads to the river pouring into and colliding with the ocean. We were just getting organized to go over the river when Ray looked up and Jamie from our trip was there; then shortly another group of 4 arrived, including 2 new people. Jamie was staying in Cockle Point Guest House which was apparently over the river, so it being low tide Jamie, Dave, Ray and I set off to ford the lagoon to get there. I guess we weren't smart enough because we couldn't seem to make it there other than a massive swim. It was a whole conglomeration of mango swamp, lagoon, river, ocean, and beautiful white sand that feels like flour (or Ray says Baby Powder) running through your toes. Jamie noticed a young boy with a boat and hailed him, and he came and took us to the Point.
This was another character of the beach. Sitting on a lagoon which called my name and after Juliette showed us the rooms, into which I plunged, it is quiet and relaxing, whereas where we are staying we constantly hear the ocean pounding in to the shore. We stayed and had lunch, and chatted with a lovely couple from Guinea, then headed back to River No. 2. By this time, the tide had gone completely out and we were able to play with the rollers and swim for the rest of the afternoon. Jimmy and Claire from the truck also appeared with Claire's Dad who is doing the next stage of the trip. So there was quite a group of us.

Later in the day, Ray and I had showered and we, Jamie, and 2 friends of his who are also visiting Sierra Leone, waited for our boatman to take us back over to Cockle Beach where they are all staying and where we were all eating dinner. He didn't show. So we called Nathan and he came over and picked us up. What a ride!! About 10 minutes; if we thought the roads we have been on were bad, we were wrong, but we bumped and rolled and plunged along and made it safely. Oh, I forgot, we were each holding a beer so a beer shower was a freebie on the trip!

We had another delicious meal, then the boatman brought us back over the glassy lagoon, under the light of the moon, in one of the most gorgeous spots in the world!

Now, Ray is in bed, and I am sitting on the little verandah of our cottage, listening to the thud of the waves, smelling the salt of the ocean, and being smiled on by the full moon and the stars.

Feb 25- Monday - Freetown and River 2 Beach

Monday morning we were up early, packed up our remaining stuff, phoned our insurance agent in Toronto to extend my policy one day because the airline changed the return date, booked into a place on the beach, had breakfast, said good bye a hundred times over to the people from the trip, then took off in a taxi to the Cotton Tree. The legend of the Cotton Tree is that on March 11, 1792 Freetown was founded by a group of Afro-American slaves who had received "freedom" for their loyalty in fighting for the British in the American War of Independence. They are refuted to have arrived at Government Wharf, and walked from the Bay up to the large cotton tree. There they prayed, sang hymns, and gave thanks for their freedom.  We also saw the Government Wharf which is where the slave boats arrived, and left from, the Wharf Steps down which the \Portuguese made the slaves walk to the ships, and the King's Yard where the freed slaves waited to receive land. We also saw Connaught Hospital which is the first Western style hospital built in West Africa. An emotional attraction is the Peace and Cultural Memorial at the edge of Victoria Park by State House. This was a colourfully designed diorama showing the heroes of the slave trade and a memorial to the soldiers who were killed in the war. I got quite choked up going around all the different stories and it made me appreciate even more how brave some people are who get out there and fight for a cause.
Freetown is a like a jewell that has lost it's sparkle. Geographically, the town is beatufiul. It is nestled into the hills on the edge of the ocean and is hilly, with narrow winding streets full of cars and people. In the 40s, 50s, and early 60s the Crio and Colonial styled buildings must have been spectacular; now they are shattered, worn, and tired. The people are kind and gentle and considerate, and over all there really wasn't much more begging than in Toronto.

After our site-seeing trip we badly needed money, so we went on a quest to find an ATM. We must have tried about 10 that didn't work and finally when we knew the banks would be closing we ended up in the ECO Bank, in the managers' office explaining to him our predicament. He got it fixed, and since by now the bank was closed, Ray left me as hostage, or maybe they were hostage, while he went out through the back door, around to the ATM and managed to get the money out. He then came back to get me, but by the time I got there it wasn't working again! Anyway, I sat in the guys's office, and they all giggled, and laughed, and we had a great time till I left. We had also tried another Internet in the city, but this too was too slow to get into any sites. By this time it was 4:30 and we needed to be back at the hotel for our taxi which was taking us down to the beach. We got in the cab and set off. The traffice was painful. We picked up another woman (the taxis do this out here, take more than one fare at a time) and dropped her off, but we made it back around 5:00, before the cab arrived. Ray had time to try another bank, I had time to try the WiFi again. Neither worked.

We drove out of Freetown, after saying good bye yet again to some of the group who were hanging around at the hotel, down the coast road through Lumley Beach (crazy place), Hamilton Beach, Lakka Beach, Goderich, and it started to get really mountainous and very pretty. The road of course was dreadful from Lumley on, but it is slowly being paved!

We are staying at River No. 2 ( This is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and it is. It is a community project promoting responsible tourism, so it is run by locals. They hae 20 or so little bungalows on the beach, not very ritzy, but adequate. There are 2 rooms containing a bed and 2 chairs, plus a bathroom for $60. The first night despite asking twice we never got water and half the light bulbs weren't working so there was only a light in the bathroom and bedroom and none in the sitting area or outside. That coupled with the fact that dinner wasn't very good, but quite pricy, left us feeling a little dejected. But you can't complain when you have the beautiful sands and the ocean about 30 feet from your front door.

Feb 24 - Sunday - Kenema to Freetown

Our last day on the trip. I am sad to be leaving Africa although I know that Ray does not share my sentiments. I have enjoyed it all; the countryside, the people, the experiences, and the mental stimulation.
We said goodbye to all the students, both the young men and the older men in the Pastoral Centre and headed out onto the highway to Freetown in Aminah. We had a few pee stops along the way, but otherwise did a straight run through on a good highway into Freetown arriving around 2:15 p.m.

It was a hectic drive in, but thankfully being Sunday, the road was a littler quieter than during the week.

We are staying at the Hotobah Lodge on Boyle Road in Murray Town. It is small, built in 2009, very clean, with tile floors, and nicely decorated. The owner, Lorraine, runs a tight ship and most things work, most things are on time, and most things that she says happen. For example, hydro in Freetown is irregular. The Lodge has a generator and they guarantee electricity from 7 in the evenging until about 8 the next morning. There was also running water. The WiFi was unfortunely slow as molasses.

We got sorted and then took a wander down the road to the Internet - but once again it was so slow, I couldn't log on to anything. So, I fear it will be Mount Albert before I am able to upload these blog postings and my pictures. How the country runs I have no idea!

We showered and got ready for our final evening dinner which we had arranged to have on the balcony at the Lodge overlooking the ocean. It was a good meal with lots of memory recall about the trip. One guy, Simon, put together a film show of all the various escapades and it was fabulous and a great way to end it all. Ray went off to bed shortly after dinner, but I ended up going out with the gang to the bar next door, which they managed to get opened up for us. It was all locked up when we wandered into the courtyard to try it and someone appeared and said they would get the owner to bring the keys back, which happened. So there we were in what turned out to be another hotel, in its bar, having one more beer. Then a group of us wandered home around midnight and bed.

Feb 23- Sat - Kenema

It was nice to think about a lie in after our early morning starts, but the baying of the dogs through the night, our neighbours at the Pastoral Centre talking late into the night, and the sound of the Muslim call to prayer starting at 5 in the morning, had us up and showering around 7. Breakfast was at 9 then we each had a responsibility to help clean up the truck. So finally, in the heat of the day we were free to do our own thing in the mining town of Kenema. We cleaned up, tried to cool down and stop the sweat trickling down our spine. and then set off for the centre. We were accompanied by a young man who showed us the way into town. It was about 25 minutes. Kenema is not a big town, but it is a mining town and therefore there are lots of little businesses buying and selling diamonds, plus of course some big diamond mines close by. I suppose we could have chosen someone to approach to do a tour of a mine, but after having lived on one for almost 10 years, I thought it might be a little tame to just "visit". Plus, I am not sure that the money would end up with miners as opposed to some tour agent. The other alternative was to go walking in the hills, but we didn't come across any adventure tours to hire a guide to take us and clearly didn't have the energy to find one. So instead we walked around the town and went for lunch in a neat restaurant, had a couple of beers, and chicken fried rice. Then we explored the new plaza, a little like the Tannery in Newmarket - it was just too new and nice for the rest of the town! We caught a moto-taxi back to the Pastoral Centre and sat and chilled for an hour or two chatting to some of the people in the centre who were essentially studying to be lay preachers. They finish their course on Friday and then head back to their villages to put their newly learned skills to good use. They were all very curious about our trip and it was interesting to exchange life styles and thoughts with the people at the centre. There were about 40 of them on the course. And then of course there were the youth. I think they had been told we were coming and they turned up just to talk with us.. Most of them were very good, acted as our guides over the town, and talked to us quite sensibly about things but unfortunately you always get the one or two who expect more. I guess you can't blame them trying to capitalize on the situation. It is a shame really because you want to help but it is such a mammoth task that to really do something meaningful as opposed to a packet of biscuits or a new pair of shoes would take a fortune. The lack of girls was obvious but when I commented on this the boys only said "they are at home".
So another different experience. I did my best not to be undiplomatic about religion!

In the evening Ray and I jumped on the back of a moto cycle, squished up tightly so that I could feel the heat of the drivers body on my chest through my shirt, and speeded over the ruts and bumps back into town for dinner. Some of the others had lunch at the Capital Hotel so we thought it would it would be a sane experience in anotherwise insane atmosphere and went there for dinner. Quite an elaborate premises, empty, pricey, and the food was lousy. The wait staff was adequate but no where near as charming as the local restuarant we had gone to for lunch. There was supposed to be a street party in town with lots of dancing, but we couldn't see any signs of it when we left at 10 to head back to the Pastoral Centre on another moto cyle taxi. I could get really used to zipping around on one of these bikes. It has quite renewed my lust to ride a motor bike!

We got back and packed before the generator was shut off for the night and spent an uninterrupted night till around 5 in the morning....and the call to prayer.

Feb 22 - Friday - Tiwai (Kambana) to Kenema

We were ready to leave our island paradise by 7:00 am and shortly thereafter, formed our crocodile down to the river and the rubber dingy (like a zodiac) to take us, and all of our gear, back to Kambuna. Cook group were already established there and we had breakfast and were on our way by 9:30 a.m.

Back over the same dirt road through all the amazing villages on the way with their mixture of painted plaster walls with metal rooves and rectangular mud brick walls with smooth, thatched rooves.

In every village without fail our passage through the village was welcomed. The little kids were the most animated. They would hear the noise of the truck, look up, first amazement crossed their faces, then their faces bloomed into smiles and recognition, then one hand waved, then two hands waved, then they started running along beside the truck, shouting until their voices faded into the remote African air what we can only assume were Mende words of welcome. The men were probably the next most energetic. The same awkening of recognition followed by enthusiastic hand waving and the "thumbs up" sign. The women were the most reserved, but they tended to be the most direct, and the connection between eyes set off sparks which will last forever.

Because of Aminah's problems, we had to head back to Bo and there we spent about 4 hours. This town starts to seep into your blood as you get to know it. First time around it seemed chaotic and without purpose. Second time, we got the layout, knew where to go to buy certain things, knew the banks, none of which had an ATM that worked, and got to know where the Diamond Merchants were. Since it was lunch time when we got there, we found a small restaurant in the centre of town, and wound our way up the irregular steps to sanity amidst the chaotic market and town below. Fans, loos with toilet paper, running water and soap, and good food. Unfortunately, the special,groundnut stew was made with fish, whereas I was used to this stew made with chicken. So, I had chicken fried rice instead, and a Star! After that we went in search of an ATM and ended up at the back of the market, wandering through all the little lanes, past houses, businesses, and all kinds of people going about their daily chores. Some of them spoke a little English and were able to point us in the right direction to the street. Very similar to the journey Annie and I made when we were in the market buying food for our cook group. Next we found an Internet Cafe and we rushed in with expectations of a quick check of hotmail, some connection to and from our friends and family, and generally catching up with the rest of the world. I logged on, and entered the hotmail url and waited........waited........waited......after about 30 minutes, the young boy helping me out gave up, and shouting at the women that I had paid for nothing, shrugged his shoulders. So, still no chance of communicating. We are hopeful that Freetown will have a decent Internet, although apparently Sierra Leone has unreliable electricity, and the Internet is renowned for being slow.

Not sure if I mentioned the significance of Bo to me. In the 30s and 40s my Dad had to take the train up to Yengema and it stopped at, or maybe even ended at Bo. SLST had a guest house here, and they used to spend the night before continuing their journey. I tried to find the old railway station, but it was quite far from where the truck stopped and I wouldn't have had the time to find it and get back to the truck. Walking around these African towns to look for a specific thing isn't easy like it is in our country. Many of the streets are not named, and the even if they were that wouldn't be a cert that people knew the street, so its more like the old station is near the post office which is near the Clock Tower which is just past the old Bo school. And so off you go asking the first person which way to go to reach the "old railway station". Then of course you also have to deal with the fact that they may not have understood you and just point down the road whether or not you are are going in the right direction. So, the chances are it would have taken quite a while to get there.

We reconoitered at 5 p.m. and set off for Kenema. Aminah is totally recovered, and purred along quite happily. We pulled into the Christian Mission in Kenema around 6:15. The grounds are amazing. Beautiful palm trees, planted in diagonal rows just like the fir trees in the Canadian forest. Soccer fields, where games were being played, tennis courts which were all in use, a chapel, bedrooms, a bar, and other buildings I haven't yet investigated. Everyone upgraded to a room, and so now, after dinner, chatting with a bunch of school kids, we are in our rooms ready for bed. Our conversation with a 12 year old, a 16 year old, and a 17 year old followed similar lines to my discussions with the 2 young boys in Masa. Disasatisfied youth outlining the countries problems. No decent education, no health care, no companies, and a goverment that has sold out the iron ore to China for 92 years. The young 16 year old couldn't believe that. Couldn't believe that his government could "give away" the resources in the country for so little reward. One point alarmed me. Both he, and the 25 year old in Masa when asked what they could do about the situation said: "We pray to Allah/Our God that our government will be good for the country and that we will have the things we need, jobs, education, health care, and commerce." I think of the opinion that part of the reason Quebec didn't develop as fast as the rest of Canada was because religion held it back. There are certainly missions here spreading Baptism, Roman Catholicism, Anglican, Presbyterian, etc. and these religions are practised along with some of the concepts of the traditional religions. The thing that bothers me is that the kids seem to think that by "praying" this is enough; everything will come right. They don't seem to understand....yet......that they, the youth, need to play a role in making things happen.

It is 11:09 p.m. and the hydro has just gone off. Time to sleep.

Feb 21 - Thursday - Tiwai Island

We woke up this morning in the dark of the night before even the birds began their early morning songs, and as soon as daylight dawned we were off on a 2 1/2 hour trek through the Tiwai Island forest. Tiwai (www, has been an island wildlife sanctuary since the 1980s. There are all kinds of chimps, monkeys (Diana, Red Colobus, Black and White, Green) and Pigmy Hypos plus 800 variety of butterflies and birds too numerous to count. During the war, apparently the Island was taken over by the rebels, who mistakenly believed that because it was a government research centre, there would be lots of money at the camp. Wrong. This part of the country was severely affected by the war, and although most of the evidence is restored to its normal state, there are still signs of bullet holes, burnt out village homes. The rebels would make a surprise attack on the villages and with cutlasses, knives, and other simple injury-inflicting instruments bludgeon, cut, and shoot, the villagers to death, mainly the men. The women were raped, and the young boys collected up as child soldiers. It was a brutal time. The fact that there were so many child soldiers, not only here but around hte world, has encouraged arms designers to make guns that can be handled by young people.Another abhorrent side of capitalism. The rebels took everything from the villages, every mattress, all tools, bowls, food, chairs, etc. It has only been 10 years and there are still a lot of physchological problems affecting the people. How do you get over that? How do you forget that as a young boy you were forced into killing? How do you forget that as a women you were brutally raped over, over, and over again. Now all the troubled young men have moved from the country into Bo which is experiencing a surge in crime. It is sad the hatred that exists in Africa and until that is diluted it is hard to imagine how there will be much progress.

Our walk through the jungle was quite pleasant and we could see the leaves above us swinging with the weight of the monkeys as they travelled along high above us, but to be honest I didn't "actually see them with my naked eye". After the trek I felt a bit punky, and spent the early afternoon reading my book in the open air lounge area and the later afternnon sleeping in my tent.

Ray woke me around 5:30 and we went on an hours walk to the now deserted research station to see if we could find the monkeys. And we did. The thrill of seeing them frolicking high up in the trees is similar to the elation you feel when watching a young baby speak its first words or take its first steps. You can't stop watching and your face is creased with an incessant smile. Sadly, we were pushing the daylight and had to get back to camp before dark so we left our friendly monkeys (I think we saw the red collabus and the black and white) to enjoy their freedom and peace in the jungle.

The evening was spent eating dinner and chatting and of course enjoying a cool beer. the camp had a new visitor, Tom from West Africa Discovery. A young brit doing his Masters in Responsible Tourism. He had lived in Senegal for a year and travelled in some of the other WA countries and fell in love with SL. He has decided that he wants to set up a responnsible travel adventure company here in SL travelling on the rivers, by bike, etc. In fact he organized a two/three week trip down the River Moa with a group of 6. They boated when possible, and hiked and slept in the villages when they couldn't boat. It was apparently a great trip but they had to abandon it in Bo because the leaderF got severely sick with malaria and the travellers had infected cuts and sickness and voted to stop. Nonetheless, what a trip!! Tom's idea is to partner with the locals and thus help them to develop responsible eco tourism. He was instrumental in getting one of the guys he works with into the same Masters course and it is hoped that this guy will become the President of the Sierra Leone Tourist Association. I really wish Tom luck. He is young, idealistic, energetic, and I think he has a great concept.

Feb 20 - Wednesday - Bo to Tiwai Island

Wednesday morning and there is a feeling amongst the 6 of us who are leaving in Freetown that our trip is almost over. We were up and packed up camp and had eaten breakfast before the kids hit school.So, not too big an audience. First part of the journey was OK. Then we turned off on a one lane, dirt, laterite road and we were back on a wild roller coaster ride that jerkepad our bodies left and right while grinding our buttocks into the seat to prevent human projectiles from taking out the other passengers. I think there are seat belts. There are definitely signs saying "buckle up".
Aminah, our truck, was having problems. They started yesterday and the crew tried to sort them overnight, shortly out of Bo, they started again. However, Dave and Jimmy are extremely competent and a process of elimination. We stopped once to do a fix, then half way down the dirt road, Aminah ground to a halt just at the edge of a little village called Masa.

I used this opportunity to chat with two young men. I'd guess their ages around 17 and 25, but I may be wrong. They both lived in Freetown and were visiting home for 3 weeks. They both said they were students but were unable to find work. They both spoke English very well and were intelligent. They were both very disillusioned about the situation in their country. The older one was the younger one's uncle. They talked about the huge level of corruption by the country's leaders. They hope the new leader, who was elected at the end of last year will be different. They have a system to punish corruption but those who administer it are more corrupt than those who are being charged with corruption. Then there is tribal favouritism between the Mende and the Timnes. A Timne for example, will always give a job to another Timne and a Mende to Mende, so if you are not in the ruling tribe it is hard to find work. Couple that with the fact that on an individual level there is no support. It is everyone for themelves. They seemed to respect the West because of our systems. They have no suggestions as to what to do to progress. Meeting and chatting with these two young chaps brought home to me the dedsperation many of the youth in SL feel. It stirred my nurturing buds to do something to help. But what can you do? I think so much work is needed by the people in the country, not by outsiders; not by NGOs and aid except emergency aid. The most the west can do is to form an international pact to control all the multinational corps that drain the country of its resources and give little back into sustainable development and progress.

The crew has determined we got a bad load of diesel at the last stop. They have now bypassed the gas tank and are taking the fuel from a gerry can. Dave is sitting in the truck holding the gerry can close to the diesel tank and monitoring the situation.

Once the problem and a fix was found, we were soon on our way again and arrived in Kambana where we ate lunch before loading up the dingy with gerry cans of water, cooking utensils, cook stove, propane, pots and pans, dishes, and food for 17 for 3 days. Alexis and I were first to make the 10 minute journey, complete with half of the supplies, and we feared that we would end up in the river Moa with the crocodiles.

The camp at Tiwai was actually quite like camping in parts of Canada, where you set your tent up in open air platforms with metal roof and there is an open air lounging area with a thatched roof - they had provided the tents and matresses so we only had to take our sleeping bags, swim wear, change of clothes, and toilet gear. Our group was on for dinner which we cooked in their kitchen. All the food was lying out and the chap in charge soon took it away and locked it up in a room I might add with a gap between the ceiling and the top of the walls, to protect it from the poisonous rats. Guess rats can't climb??

After dinner and clean up we played a round of trivial pursuit, met the Spanish and Czech guests there, and went to bed.

Feb 19 - Tues - Bumbuna to Bo

In the morning a number of people from the mine came to introduce themselves, including a white South African. He told us the story. The yard was owned by African Minerals who were managing the mine for the Chinese. They mined iron ore. The mine had only been open a year and the containers for shipping were picked up full and delivered back empty to the yard we were staying in. The raw ore is shipped from Conakry to India where it is refined, then the finished ore product is shipping to China. The mine was about 30 minutes away. The Chinese had bought 7 mines from the SL government - 100 per cent Chinese owned. They were working on the outside of the first one and it would last about 70 to 90 years before they would have to dig into the mountain and down. Do the math - that is huge - 630 years of mining secured at today's price. The Chinese government gave the SL government a couple of billion for infrastructure and most of it has gone in the politicians pockets. The mine empoys about 4000 people. After hearingthis story,the episode with the Chief starts to make sense. The Chinewse have bought him out to keep the destruction they are causing to the country quiet. Thus no one allowed in the area. Money drives everything here and it was strange that the chief wouldn't agree to us staying when he was offered money on a per capital basis. But if he is being paid by someone else, then of course it makes sense. Anyway, I am not sure if that is the story or not, but it was a strange experience to have in a land that doesn't otherwise restrict tourism and in fact is trying hard to promote it.
The sad thing is there are signs everywhere about the pit falls of corruption, but it is clearly alive and very well. How do you stop it? What things can a country do to stop the elitism at the top levels and the severe poverty at the lower levels. Amolng many others, this is clearly one of Africa's big problems, and development by the Chinese is unlikely to stop this.

Once back on the main road we left the mountains of the Bumbuna area behind and most of today was spent on bad roads and finally good roads passing through fairly mundane countryside. A few on the truck have mentioned the amount of driving we have done this past week, and we are not getting "value" for our money. However, that is Africa. There really is not much else. It is a study in another way of life.

We pulled into Bo after lunch. Bo, used to be a railway town and my Dad would travel by train up to Bo in the 40s then continue the rest of his journey by car to the Yengema mine. Bo wasw chaotic. The buildings were unique with their old colonial architecture. Many ruins, many new buildings half finished and going nowhere, and complete chaos in the market. We were shopping for food group and the market was easily the narrowest isles, the most chaotic layout, the most chaotic people, and fun. You were literally pressed together with other black women most of the time. One of them told Annie to be careful of the money in her pocket. Most of the vendors spoke English so navigation is easy, but it is quite an experience. Produce was hard too and we had just about given up when once really nice woman sent her young daughter off with us to show us where we could buy tomatoes, potatoes, lettus, cucumbers, bread and eggs - all outside the market on the street!!

To night we are camped in a school yard just outside Bo. The moon has grown to about half, Ray is on cook group, and we have a ton of people around us,watching, staring. Are they learning our movements, are they wondering who we are and where we have come from, are they thinking at all???

Feb 18 - Monday - Kambia to Bumbuna, SL

An extra half hour and once again we were off on our journey leaving the camp site around 9:30. Stopped for diesel and the difference in the boutique at the gas station had us all oohing and aaahing over the cleanliness and the amount of and ordered display of all the goods. Furthermore, there was a proper toilet wth running water, soap and toilet paper. We overlanders are easily satisfied.
Within half an hour we were in Makeni. The architecture is what I would now describe as typical British Colonial: metal roofs, square columns, and laticed railings on the front verandahs the whole being cement block covered with cement of yello, white, aquamarine and others.

The road started out well and we had a nice lunch in a casheww grove. Then we turned off the main highway to Bumbuna. The laterite road was the worst yet with its pot holes, ruts, and ridges. It took us about 2 1/2 hours to do 15 cm. Along the way an anomaly appeared on the horizon. As it drew closer we saw it was a train which snaked its way across the country side dragging behind it what seemed like over a hundred containers, possibly for some mined ore. And then finally after numerous small villages, lots of double hand waves and thumbs up signs, and a played out body after all the jerking in the truck, we arrived in Bumbuna. We searched around for the falls and the dam and the over zealous locals cheered and waved and shouted at us. It was an overwhelming experience. We came to a river and our crew asked if it was safe to ford and follow the tiny trail to the waterfalls. It someone. The truck came to a halt after about 200 yards into it and we all got out and it reversed back. We also picked up a guy who said he would take us to the chief to see if we could camp in the village. We went back through town and stopped in front of the largest most modern home in town. The chief. He was quite annoyed we had driven through town without his permission. Also told us we couldn't go to the dam without a permit from the Ministry of Tourism. Wouldn't agree to us staying in town. So with a bit of a bad feeling we left. It was curious though. The people were so friendly and welcoming. Now you do have to remember that this was in a war torn part of Sierra Leone and the war has only been over for 10 years. Not sure if that played into the situation or not. We headed back out of town till we were almost at the railway and stopped at a container yard that we had passed previously. They agreed to let us park there among the few containers in the enormous yard. We had five security guards in beautiful black pants tucked into their boots and black jacets with "security guard" written all over them. They came around and took our names, and showed us where we could park and camp. It was a good, safe, night!!

February 17 - Sunday - Les Chutes de la Voile de la Mariee (Bridal Veil Falls) to Kambia, Sierra Leone

On the road at 8:30 a.m. One of the first occurrences to shake out the sleep webs was a check point. The check points are manned by a collection of police, military, militia, and anti-gang groups and don't seem to serve any particular purpose. We have noticed a change in posture at these points. The uniformed guys are more agressive and threatening in body language and voice. But also, they are flummoxed. They demand the trucks travel papers, then with a pseudo intelligent attitude review them and then look over all the flags on Aminah's side, look up at all of our white faces, glance over the truck all stall tactics as they decide what they can do with us. One of their usual tricks is to try to extract money from us - despite the signs that read "Corruption hampers development". Now the barrier is a scrawny peice of rope. When they can find no reason to hold us any longer, they grudgingly let us go on our way. This belies the acivity going on between the passengers in the truck and the vendors outside who parade up and down balancing trays of tempation on their heads to entWewomen, a few words of greeting, much laughter, chatter and general merriment.
We came to Coyah which is on the road to Conakry the capital of Guinea and near the border with Sierra Leone. A chaotic town wth an active market. We can feel the "edge' in the air here; it is not as laid back as the remote forest region. In fact, walking through the back streets I came across a moto bike with a sheet of paper on the handlegars showing pictures of various military and lay people and the slogan "Martyrs of Guinea". I kept walking quickly as I didn't want to get caught up with any rebel groups. It is an uneasy peace in Guinea. The country is so poor, and there is a lot of discontent with the current government. One only hopes they sort it out peacefully.

In Coyah, I went off to look for beer for the truck with Ray and Dave. This is a Muslim town and we couldn't find any so Sally asked a random guy and he acted as our guide through the back streets. The first stop was the beer warehouse, but it was closed. So he led us back across town to a pub, and here we got a great deal on 2 cases of beer - 136,000 gf per case! On the way we came across public toilets and Sally and I took the opportunity to use them. From nowhere a girl appeared with a bucket of water and while Sally used the drop box I chatted with the woman and her 1 1/2 year old little French. The toilets were as spotless as could be, and didn't even smell, much better than many of the toilets in Canada - especially the Tim Horton's ones.

Part of the decoration in the towns are the cars which line the streets and alleys, hoot tauntingly at you from behind when you walk through the busy streets, and invariably end up quitting and need a push to get started. You can sometimes make out the original colour of the car through the rust spots, bangs,dents, chi8ps,scratches and missing body parts All door handles are missing, the wing mirrors no longer reflect the road behind since there is no glass in them; the windscreen looks as if it has been hit by bullets. The overall effect is that they look as if they have been through a severe beating by a gang of thugs. The insides are equally dilapidated. They are full of red dust; the leather seats spew out stuffing through ripped leather or plastic;. the carpets have been tornd out so that the metal chassis peeks through the floor boards; the pedals are mere sticks; the speedometer never works.There is no preference given to the age of the car they might be new, or they might be ancient. When riding in a taxi like this you bump along with broken springs clanging, loose exhaust pipes, and a precariously low amount of gas.

I think it was when we were leaving Coyah that we came to a halt on a narrow 2 lane road jammed in with trucks, SUVs anad cars while the moto bikes crawled through the centre. A large lorry had broken down in front of us and iits driver was under the truck trying to fix it. This proivded a good opportunity to try some street food from the women vendors. We had a fried doughnut looking without the hole cake which was delicious, but very fatty Not too sweet - diets here don't contain much sugar other than appears naturally in the fruit- Also tried a banana biscuit that was a cross between dried fruit chips and peanut brittle. Again not sweet.

As we pass through the country and wave to an exchange pleasantries with the locals, I try to figure out the role we are playing as tourists. Why no matter where we go do the Africans form an audience and stand and watch us for hours, not asking for anything, only some of them verbally communicating, but always ready to give a nice smile? I think we provide variety from the mundane routine of every day life, especially in Guinea where the white man is not often see; I think we provide a topic for conversation; imagine all the school kids rushing home after their encounter with us in their school yard, and the stories they wil be able to tell their elders, and finally I think we provide a confirmation that there is another life outside that of their limited worlds and that this other life knows they exist and recognizes that existence.

Late in the day we arrived at the Guinea/Sierra Leone border. The emmigration and immigration were unpunctuated. All the officials on both sides were charming and processed our mass exodus and influx with all of the charm of the West African. While waiting for our passports to be stamped in SL a poda-poda drew in to the immigration yard that had us all in raptures as it looked as if it would topple over on the ruts and bumps. But of course, it must have travelled miles over similar ruts and bumps and made it this far safely. It was stacked one and a half times as high as as the minibus with red, green and yellow plastic garbage bins, plastic basins, toilet paper, and other household items. Ed asked if he could take a picture and the uniformed border officials said yes - so he did - which imediately caused an officious little man to come over and demand who had given him permission. Ed led him back to the uniforms, and quickly departed leaving them to sort it out. Stricly speaking you are not supposed to take pictures at the border or of police, military, govenment buildings etc. Claire told us about a drago group that spent the night in gaol because one of their group had taken a picture of the Welcomne to X sign as they entered the country.

Another night, another bush camp (quarry night) and we are one night in SL.

Feb 16 - Saturday - Dure-Kaba to Les Chutes de la Voile de la Mariee

It was about 18C this morning and it felt really cool, fleece and hoodie weather! The days have been hot - 38-42C so the chill of the evenings and early mornings sends shivers over your skin.
Today was a long drive winding along a road from Hell to a waterfall just north of Kindia through the S bends of the mountaineous forest region Fouta DJalon. It is fairly remote here, the tourism of 20 years ago lost. Villages are simple and we are once again seeing the mushroom shaped mud huts with thatched rooves. Cattle, goats, and chickens roam freely through the villages and on the roads. Other villages with concrete houses and shops that are separated from the edge of the road by 2 feet gutters have a pair of vultures sitting on the metal rooves, hovering in the hopes of a tasty morsel. Motor cycle repair shops abound as do plastic bottles of gasoline for sale.

The drive took us through the Fouta Djalon highlands, a sandstone massif which is one of the major attractions here. Pretty purple flowers on skinny branches peeped through the trees. The area is rich in rivers and we crossed numerous narrow bridges over drying-up rivers with banks of effervescent green trees and bushes. Unabashed ebony black kids bathing naked scrubbed their skin in the rivers till it shone like the diamonds in the ground that could make Guinea rich but don't. We drove through wide grassy valleys with red dirt trails meandering over the steep sun baked valley walls. We passed through jungle with its tall trees and short trees with leaves tiny and big, long and narrow or fat and wide, some sparse, some with solid growth, some had crinkled edges, some smooth; all were adorned with vines and lianas and ferns growing abundantly at their feet, wrapping around their trunks, and others providing a swing for lazy insects.

We picked our left-right route through the pot holes and over the ruts and bumps moving at the pace of a tortoise and in complete opposition to the racing driver trip we did in Ghana. In some parts, the roads are sliced out of the forest so that the roots of the trees are bared in the red mud rock that rises steeply from the semi tarmacked surface. We came around a corner and a bunch of kids were filling in the potholes and begging for money from the passing motorists, so I guess my start up business suggestion of yesterday is already in full swing! Cars, motor cycles, SUVs and lorries navigated the same route. The roof loads on the cars and SUVs were at least as high as the vehicle itself and spilling over with sacks of grain, bikes, large plastic holdalls of goods, petrol cans, chickens. Horns were blown to indicate "I'm here", "I'm going to pass", "I hear you", "Go ahead", "You idot" and various expletives we can't explain. The people hung out of the truck cabs and shouted their welcomes punctuated by fullsome waves. Large lorries about 20/30 meters long sneek their way around the corners weighed down low over their chassis with oversized burdens protected with tarpaulins. We saw several turned over on their rooves or sides lying down the steep sides of the road no doubt toppling over as they take a corner too fast, lose breaking power on downhill S bends, or just lose control on the over crenellated roads. We saw several SUVs, cars and trucks broken down with dexterous drivers head stuck in the engine trying to sort out the problem.

We passed through Mamou with its Soviet style tenements in disrepair and fading signs for all the aid projects that have been conducted in the town. Here Jamie was entrapped by the littlest of women, dressed from head to foot in a colourful cloth of yellow, green,white, and blue, and then an extra white cloth covering her head. Her wiszened face beamed out from underneath the head ware showing two teeth separated by a black gap. She grabbed his arm and couldn't keep her hands off him as she tried to reach up to stroke his arms. He took her picture and she giggled and chuckled at the image she saw. This was the highlight of her day.

We had a fleeting view of a German cyclist fixing something on his bike. Linsan appeared to be the most Moslem town we have passed and we felt there were not as many waves, but more finger pointing, whatever that meant. In Tamisso or Sougueta we filled up the water tanks from the tired tap that streamed the water from the village well.

Our camp site for the night was at the beautiful Chutes de la Voile de la Mariee, a drop of 60 m, 13 km from Kindia. The Santa River tumbles over the cliff at two speeds; one giving a refreshing shower, and the other giving the skin a brisk massage. The base of the Falls was like a Roman Amphitheatre and rumour has it that there used to be concerts around the Falls. Rumour also has it that the rondavells at the base of the Falls were built by a former President, Sekou Toure for his weekly visits. Lonely Planet says you can rent the huts, and even eat there, but it all looked pretty deserted and deteriorated to us. A beautiful spot nestled in the tall broad leafed trees and a wonderful opportunity to clean up under the Falls.

Feb 15 - Friday - Kissidougou to Dure-Kaba
We were up and on our way around 8:30 a.m. trying to capture as much of the morning coolness as we could before heading into the heat of the day. This was a "long drive" day. We set off just before 8:30 and drove for an hour or so until we got to Faranah where, being on cook duty again our trio set off to do the shopping. Lean pickings. It is hard to find variety and our diet does not contain the Canada Food Guide nutrients. The first thing we came to was a stall with live chickens. Not sure I would have been the "leader" on this but we selected two brown hens and arranged to pick them up ready to cook when we finished our shopping. We walked all around the market, only medium insanity this time and we found the women very delightful. We had decided to do a stir fry with noodles, if we could find noodles as opoosed to rice or pasta. In luck we found packets of tiny noodles which required about 3 mins of cooking and bought 4. Next came the veggies. We discovered some very fresh lettuce and got that for lunch. The hunt was on for tomatoes and shortly we discovered a stall with a limited number of eatable condition tomatoes. Where once all this stuff was plentiful, now it is in low supply and buying food for 17 often means we take everything the vendor has for sale. Trying to find suitable veg for the stir fry was hard and we ended up with a butternut squash which was bright orange inside and red and green egg plant. onions, and garlic. Not bad. When we cooked it we added some peanut butter and it turned out to be quite a delicious meal. We finished off our shopping with fresh eggs, and fruit for breakfast - pineapple, oranges, bananas, and some avocados for lunch. We had two interesting exchanges in the market. We wanted to get some ginger for the stir fry and noticed some for sale lying on a mat on the ground as we scouted a little market side street. Annie asked how much and after receiving a reply that sounded way too much, we discovered the lady was "giving" them to us. Just another act of African kindness. So first Annie gave her a big hug, then I gave her a big hug, and then Dave gave her a big hug all to the delight of the sellers around who were by this stage laughing and chattering and creating quite a commotion. Then there were the chickens. Our big mistake was not to have left one of our group to "supervise". Time means different things in different cultures. Time controls the white man, he is bound by dates, deadlines, and accomplishments all controlled by time. To the African, time is manipulated by man and is purely dependent on man, so hence when we got back the chickens although decapitated and haning to bleed, were otherwise unready. So, I sat down and waited while they boiled the water to de-feather them. The woman disappeared across the road and arrived back with a small charcoal grate with alive coals on which to boil the water. We waited for the water to bubble. Then one of the guys took over the de-feathering. When the water was hot enough, the chickens were dunked in it and most of the feathers came off while the remainng ones were plucked off by hand. They would have cooked them for us ....if we had had time..... so, we headed back to the truck with whole chickens minus only feathers. At night we boiled the chckens and courageous Dave cut off of the head, feet, and cleaned out the insides. tI am grateful to the little brown hens who spent the last moments of their lives traumatised while waiting their death in a hen net on the main street of Faranah. They provided some much needed protein of the highest quality.
On the way out of town we saw the airport built by a former President for a Concord to land on. He was in the habit of renting a Concorde and wanted to be able to land it in his home town. The egos of some of the African dictators/leaders often burdens their countries with useless debt.

There were no other significant events in the day. We travelled the worst roads on earth through beautiful but remote parts of southern Guinea. At one point we came across some little boys filling in the pot holes on the road. Dave stopped to dash them. This could be a new business. Get the kids to fill in the holes in the road and charge the truckers a small fee as they go by. This would give the kids a few dollars, save the truckers loads of money, and probably improve the economy in the country!! Did I tell you the leader of the military was killed in a plane crash in which the Presidente was suspected of playing a part? This resuilted in the flags flying at half mast and a little concern for unrest in the country, but so far all is well.

We found another neat little campsite just off the road in the evening (the Honey Bee stop-) , where we once again put on a show for the locals. They are fascinated with us. They clearly don't see many white people and those they do see are probably business people involved in aid projects in the country, mining, or infrastructure construction. The area we chose seemed to be part of the honey production process. Hanging in the trees were cylindrical baskets - full of bees! Poor Dave got stung under his shirt while sitting around the camp fire at night. You might be confused, Dave the Hatter and Jimmy are our crew. Any other names mentioned are fellow travellers.

One of the hazards of camnping is the "lost tent syndrome". I experienced this the other night when I ended up searching in the dark for my tent. Fortunately, I came across some of the girls going to bed who directed me in the right direction. Last night Ray got up in the night only to find Dave wandering around discombobulated in search of his tent.

One of the hazards of travelling in malaria infested countries is taking the preventative drug larium. Although quite effective, it is renowned for causing nightmares. Takers tolerate it at different levels, but I gather from some of the stories at breakfast that it is somewhat akin to taking halucinatory drugs. I think the closest I got was taking demoral to cure stomach pain after an early morning house call from my doctor - about 30 years!!

Feb 14 - Thurs - Seredou to Kissidougou

The day started out peacefully with breakfast and a chance to watch the sunrise, then we were off on our way once again through the forested area of Guinea.The drive through this mountainous area was outstanding with beautiful vistas of pine trees and my favourite upside down tree which I don't know the name of, forest with its frenzy of trees, vines, and liana, and small villages with hordes of people yelling "Bon voyage", "bon arrivee|", "hello", "bonjour" "ca va", at us. Sadly, some patches of mainly kids were also yelling "donnez moi un cadeau". i guess they have learned that from someone. I have never waved so much in my life. The children scream with delight, the women shout out a welcome to you, and the men wave, smile and hurl instructions at you, most of which are lost in the villagers babble. The road on this journey started out very well. Paved, white lines, guard rails, and netting to protect the road from falling stones. Then, there was a heavy braking, a thud, and we were on the worst road imaginable. Dirt, pot holes, breaks, gullies. We wonder how commerce can survive here as a lot of the vehicles on the road are big heavy trucks. There are no railways. This continued for most of the day. The only thing worse would have been doing it in the rainy season!
As evening drew near our crew were looking for a place to camp. It is difficult here because of the bush. Eventually, as a last resort, it was 6:30 and about 10 minutes away from dark, we found a logging road just before Madina and just after Kissiedougou (don't you love some of the names - so and so appropriate for Valentine's Day), and after moving some hewn timber we were able to set up the tents, cook dinner, and camp for the night. Around 5 this morning I woke up with something hitting my tent and the sound of crackling in the bush around us. Not sure what it was, but definitely some little critter. I don't think it was interested in the tent but had just come across it in its travels. Could have been a chicken, a goat, or some unknown forest creature, a snake maybe....not sure! But once again we made it safely through the night.

Feb 13 - Wed - Vine Bridge

Today was a day of varied activities. We set off from NZ erekore around 9 a.m.Our first stop was the market. It was market day and traders appeared from all over West Africa. The streets were bedlam. Cars, bikes, motor bikes, people, animals, barrows, everything mixed in together. Motorized vehicles honking at the people, the women vendors chattering to each other and potential buyers, and the sound of air brakes and unserviced vehicles all resounded through the red grit atmosphere. Colour abounded. The beautiful women wearing skirts and dresses of local cloths of greens, yellows, oranges, and blue; the men and kids in t-shirts branded with everything from "Fly Air Emirtes" to football jerseys, and the Muslim robes in white and black and braided with bands of colour. Walking though all the busyness and mayhem the aroma changed to match the produce being sold: the sweet smell of rice, the green smell from the vegetabless, the blood smell around the meat and the dank smell from the sewers.
Ray's cook group was shopping for food and as he is in charge of the "bar" I went off with a couple of the other guys to source some beer, pop, and ice. We found the area in the market where they sold the beer in cases and negotiated a price of 560,000 G.F ($1 = 6,900 GF appx). The largest note is 10,000 so you can imagine the ritual around buying anything.Once the deal was struck, we started laying out the money in piles of 100,000. This covered most of the table in the small metal shop-shack.Finally after recounting the money we were given the beer. Since we had walked quite a distance from the truck, I commanadeered a young boy with a wheelbarrow to take the cases back to the truck and the guys went off in search of ice. Some of you will know that my sense of direction is not very good. So, after walking for quite a while, we began to leave the busy streets and enter sanity and a long straight highway! Obviously wrong. So Iooked at the young boy and in my best French told him I was lost!! He chuckled!! I thought he knew where we were going but obviously not. So, we turned around and headed back. We asked a few people on the way where the Nimba Super Market was, and finally found the truck! There were so many streets, and so much hubbub, I got confused about which street to turn in. What really confused me was that coming back the street was closed with a "diversion" sign on it as it is being redone........eventually!

Once all the food was bought and loaded, we set off for the vine bridge a short drive away. We parked the truck on a little red dirt side road and set up lunch while Dave went off to talk to the Chief whose land the bridge is on. It is still in use and the locals use it to bring their produce over to sell it in the village. There aren't many of these bridges left because they are slowly being replaced by roads. Once we had paid off the Chief we set off with 3 guides on our 40 minute trek to the bridge. The countryside we walked through was stunning. A little narrow path hilly and windy through bush and open areas with views over the mountains and valleys studded with the typical long, trunked trees with a mop head of leaves on the top.

The bridge was short and not very high but it was interesting to see the structure and of course we had to cross it just to experience it. A cool thing to do. There was a little thrill factor as the bamboo poles that made up the part you walk on rolled around a lot and at times seemed as if they would roll out from under your foot leaving you naked to the water below.The "crack" of the bamboo added another thrill to keep you on your toes.

The excusion to the bridge took us 3 1./2 hours, and then it was off to find a campsite for the night. We found a beaufiful spot in an area newly planted trees, we don't know what they were, and hurried to get our tents up so we could sit an enjoy the bright red sunset unfolding in front of us. It was a beautiful spot overlooking the hills, and for the first time in Africa there were no black faces studying our movements with a concentration that the illustrates the ability to copy what we were doing. We saw this when at one of our well stops Jimmy was playing with the kids and the frisby. You could see some of the older kids studying his techque and a few of them really grasped the movement. The little kids had a harder time and literally flung it as best they could. Something similar to the 3 1/2 year old apes learning to crack a nut.

We had a beautifully cool, peaceful night, protected by our tent and wrapped up in our sleeping bags.

Feb 12 - Tues - N'Zerekore and Ray's Birthday
The hotel we stayed in was special. It was described in Lonely Planet as "having the makings of a good hotel". The story we heard was that until November 2012 a bauxite company had contracted out the hotel, but in November they had problems and had withdrawn from the mine and cancelled the contract. The hotel was quite beautifully designed with many separate pods set in lush gardens. We camped in the Conference Centre! We pitched our tents in a selection of rooms that hadn't been cleaned in an age. One of the remarkable points of West Africa is the red soil....and hence during Harmattan and maybe at other times, the red dust. The centre was so covered with the red dust that when you walked over the floor you could see the white footprints.Nonetheless, the swimming pool was divine, and what few staff there were were amazing.

N'Zerekore defies description.I think that one day in the past, or maybe it is one day in the future, it was/will be a beautiful town. There are some lovely new parts which are modern, quiet, and sane. Then it has the market and the centre of town that is chaotic with no structure but streets filled with vendors and a chaotic market area, half built buildings such as a large football statium, and pods of tiny lanes leading through homes, shops, restaurants, much like the lanes in Veronasi in India. Some areas were studded with trees and other vegetation and some coloured with bougainvillia and brightly designed tiles. And always, the friendly, welcoming people. Guinea is largely Muslim, but it is as unnoticably Muslim as Toronto would be Christian (maybe a bad examnple) but we have always been received warmly with no rotten tomatoes, bad eggs, or bricks and stones being cast our way. It is a good lesson that there is a haronious side of Islamism that we sometimes lose sight of due to Western media.

After a slow start, 4 of us headed off to find the Musee Anthropologique. Outside the hotel, the streets were deserted and there were no cabs or bike cabs to be found. Eventually we came to a "diversion" and had to cross a little river and walk along some sketchy paths which put us almost in the centre of town. Alexis, decided to risk a bike taxi and left us at the diversion. When we reached the centre of town we came across the banks. The first one didn't have a good enoughrate to change money at. The second one, EcoBank, as soon as walked in , the Bank Manager came up to us and ushered us into his office. He was lovely. Very efficient. Dressed in a dark grey stiped suit, a blue shirt, and a red striped tie. It always amazes me when among the chaos of Africa you are constantly confronted with impeccably dressed men and women. So, we told him we wanted to change money, in French, and then we waited, and waited, and waited. The whole transaction took close to 2 hours. We sat in his office decorated with lots of spiders and a pot plant, tiled floors and colourful walls, and listened to him dealing with his staff, we watched the security video of the bank, and we listed to him answering his 2 cell phones and one main line phone. It wasn't his fault, he was waiting to hear the rate. Once we got it, we then had to wait for the huge mound of money to arrive. We changed EU 100 which converted to 900,000 Guiinea Francs delivered in notes of 10,000. The money exchanges here are a riot. You pull out a wad of notes, then count them out in mounds.

We had a rough idea where the Musee was; I had looked at the map and knew that it was on the same side of the road as the market, and left of the Grand Mosquee. Although we asked along the way, no one had heard of it. We went into a book store, asked various vendors, and still were not able to locate it. The bank manager had told us that the town had no stadiurm. Well, finally we found the stadium,....but, of course, it was not finsihed, so thus he was right. But we couldn't find the musee. Eventually we turned around, and walking back I noticed the sign "Musee" opposite the derelict stadium building. It was closed! So, we turned around and walked back to the market. We were hungry by then, and started asking directions to the Mouminatou Binta Restaurant. We had no clue. We followed directions various people gave us and ended up beside a Mosque set way in the tiny lanes leading off the market. Whether or not we found the restaurant of that name or not, we found a very local restaurant and joined the clientele in Rice and Meat, Rice Gras, and Founa with Sauce. Don't ask what the meat was, but it was delicious!! Also served with a 4 inch square plastic bag of water. Total price 33,500, approxinately $4.65/$4.70. A great experience.

After lunch we walked back to the hotel, arriving back there around 4:00 p.m. We chilled around the pool till about 6, got ready, and then walked half way back into town for dinner - and to celebrate Ray's birthday. Annie, had managed to find candles for 3 and 7 and she presented these, lit, set in a Mars Bar. It was brilliant, and with all the free beers, happy birthdays, it was quite special. Then we walked back to the hotel and were in bed by 11.

February 11, Monday - The Chimpanzees
The Bossou Environmental Reserach Institute ( is all about chimpanzees. In the village of Bossou, the people believe that the chimps are reincarnations of their ancestors so for many years they have lived peaceably with the chimps sharing the natural resources. Over the years the chimp colony has declined in numbers due mainly to habitat loss through deforestration, disease, and regulation of incest. The group is trying to find ways of maintaining the remaining 12 chimps from a total in 1976 of 22 by initiating reforestration, controlling disease, and building a green corridor with Mnt Nimbus so that the chimps can travel safely from one region to another.

We were ready to leave camp on a trek to see the chimps at 7:00 a.m. but by African style we didn't leave until 8:30 a.m. Then we set off on a tremendous three hour trek through the forest, up and down hills, along the edge of hills, through the thick vegetation of the forest, across little streams either by stepping stones or log, through swamps, through coffee plantations, through valleys all the time the vines entwining us to try and delay us forcing us to appreciate the land we were travelling through. Our footsteps crunched through the bed of parched leaves on the forest floor. Our bodies were scratched and stroked and whacked with the tree branches, thorns, growth, and our nostrils were filled with the smell of rotting cabbage alternating with the sweet aroma of bamboo and fresh mint. We had dressed appropriately for the forest. Long trousers tucked into our socks, hiking boots, and long sleeved shirt, plus bug spray, but as the morning went on and the sun came up it got hotter, and hotter and the sweat started to roll down our faces, trickle down our spines, and soak our clothes. Just when we thought we would never see the chimps, our guides made us don the white masks we had been given to prevent diseases from us spreading to the chimps, and got us to walk closely together, and all of a sudden, we coincided with the second group of 6 (we were a group of 5), and then there were 11 of us following behind a beautiful black chimpanzee. At one point, a baby got separated from its mother and the howl it and i's mother put up was quite alarming. There was a scurry and baby crossed between us and found its mother. Soon the chimps settled down, and we were able to lie on the forest floor and peer at them through the trees, probably no more than about 20 or 30 feet away them. One sat at the bottom of the tree, and 2 others climbed the tree. We sat there for about 20 minutes, then the 2 up the tree came down, and slowly they wandered off and we returned to camp. it was an amazing experience to see these animals in the wild, and to sit there watching the one on the ground turn and look at us from time to time, just to check that we were still there, and to let us know they had seen us. It was a highlight!

After returning to the camp site we ate lunch, and left around 2.00 p.m on our way to N'Zerekore.This was a quick drive of about 2 hours, through the exciting market in Lola, past a police check with two big cannons pointing directly at us, and all the two-handed waves, and thumbs up signs that the very welcoming people along the way gave us. Guinea has a nice feel. It is poorer than the other countries, but this part is certainly beautiful, and the people are gorgeous. Tonight we are staying in the Hotel Mnt Nimba. and will spend tomorrow, Ray's birthday here before heading further into Guinea.

February 10 - Sunday - Road to Guinea

We set off early the next morning on the road to Guinea.When we left town we turned off the main road and onto a one lane red, dirt, track. It was our best travel day yet. The scenery was absolutely gorgeous. We entered into country side with cone shaped hills surrounding us, beautiful vegetation of palm oil trees, what we called "umbrella" trees because the leaves hang in pods facing downwards, and ferns. The architecture in the villages was slowly changing to small homes with bamboo walls and thatched rooves with some mud block structures. We reached the most simplest of borders around 11. The border town was nothing more than a few houses on the edge of the road and a customs office made out of simple mud block building with a metal roof. Got safely through the "exit" procedure and arrive at the Guinea border. They were incredibly welcoming, and we made our lunch, with of course the requisite onlookers, but were quickly (for Africa) processed and were soon on our way with entry stamps in our passports.

The second part of this journey was even more stunning than the first. We continued on the worst road you can imagine, not that it is the "worst" here, but if you can imagine the worst, you might have some indication of the road. It was fun, but must have been awfully hard work for the guys driving the truck. The road was hilly, windy, narrow, gouged with ruts from the rain season, rocky with exposed areas of stone, and gorgeous. The little villages were really quaint and pretty, but we noticed that every one of them had lots of signs up advertising the aid projects: building of wells, schools, business, and health. Everything was sructured through aid. It is pretty sad when something as basic as a well can't be constructed properly without the Japonese (for example) donating money and labour to build the well. On our left, the Mount Nimba Mountain Range appeared as a shadow on the horizon. This stretches for about 40+ km through Liberia, Guinea and Cote d'Ivoire. Shortly after the border, we came to a stream that we had to ford. It looked like a big gully, but once we all got out Dave and Jimmy expertyly, and slowly, drove down the steep side, across the stream and gunned it up the other side without too much trouble. This same crossing in the wet season had taken something like an hour and a half. Once over the stream, we soon hit a "bamboo tree avenue". Bamboo is an amazing plant. Imagine a large tree trunk made up of hundreds of thick bamboo stalks with the leaves forming an arch across the road and you have the wonderful avenue we drove through. We got out and walked part of it, in other parts, Jimmy had to get out and move the bamboo from the road so we could get the truck through it. It was amazing! The soil was constantly changing colour from red to amber, to almost white. We travelled up hill and down hill and wound our way carefully navigating the ruts, pot holes, and rocks through scenery decorated with the most goreous palm trees, mop head deciduous trees, and ferns.

Around 4:00 p.m we reached Bossou and the Bossou Environmental Research Institute where we were camping overnight. As it was the final game in the African Football League, we trekked into town to watch Nigeria vs Burkina Faso. We tried a couple of places, the first had a great screen but was sooo hot, we couldn't even imagine sitting inside. The second had a tiny screen, but no beer; so we gave both a miss and joined Drew and Anna and Dave and found a neat little pub on the edge of the river where we listened to the frogs, the toads, and the sounds of the crowds' "oohs and aahs" over the near misses and goals from the game. To our disappointment, Nigeria won. We, and the village, were hoping it would be Burkina Faso! Then we wandered back to the Research Centre, ate our dinner, and retired to bed. It was an interesting night. We could hear the sound of music blaring out from the village. We could still hear it at 3, at 4 and I think it may even have continued right through. The researchers at the centre said it goes on all day, and all night, all the time! It would drive you nuts!!!

Feb 8 - Silicora Village

We were up and had breakfast before the students started arriving for school, but classes had begun before we left at 9. We completed the 50 km to Man then turned north before arriving at the turn off to Silicora.The last 7 km up the dirt track shook up the truck quite a bit as we lurched and rolled along
the ruts and rocks on the road. Before heading up we filled up with water in a village at the junction with the main road. We arrived at the village with about an hour to spare before lunch. The welcome that awaited us was unbelievable. Dave the Hat had to go off and meat the Chief and get permission to stay there. We paid 10,000 cfa each. By the time he got back there must have been about 50 to a hundred kids, and some adults that surrounded the truck before we even got off, and that set the tone for the afternoon, evening and next morning. They were fascinated. Just stood around watching our every move. The kids, mainly the young boys, got involved in helping set up the tents. Some of the group are really great with the children and immediatelty made friends with the older kids and entertained the younger ones. The babies are often scared by the "white man" which the mothers seem to find quite amusing.

Preferring to do things in smaller groups, after lunch, Sally, Ray and I set off on a walk around the village. it was a wonderful experience and we had a lot of fun. One woman invited us into her hut and we were joined by 4 or so of her friends and their babies. The huts are quite simple. Double beds on either side, and a hanging storage platform in the middle. The cooking, washing, toilet, showers, are all communal and outside. They were delighted to have us inside, and giggled, and laughed, and made us take their pictures, and then giggled and laughed some more when they saw them. We went on our way and saw all the daily activities of the people. There was the carpenter using antique plains and saws to make doors for the huts in the village and his wife braiding a friend's hair; we saw a lady brushing up the cotton to make a hammock; we saw the women pounding the rice to separate the husks; we saw women cooking, women washing clothes, We spent a wonderful time at one of the wells (built with aid). We noticed that the women were taking off their shoes so we did the same much to their amusement - not sure why they did this - immediately we walked up to it, one of the women grabbed us and told us to go with her, so I followed, and she led us to a pool of struggling fish under a mango tree. I think the story was that during the wet season this was a river, but when the dry season came it dried up and left this pool where the fish were captured. Anyway, they told me to take I did!! Then we went back to the well and I had my opportunity to try pumping the water. It was reasonably easy, but the loads these women carry on their heads is amazing. A huge basin filled with water that even one of our guys couldn't pick up. Then we found the school, again built with aid, and the new latrines also supplied by aid. Check out the picture of the church bell, similar to the one we saw in the villages outside Ouga. And of course we saw the chickens, the roosters, the goats and the poo eating pigs. Seriously, the pigs would follow you to the loo then stare at you, and as soon as you got up they would be right into investigate what you had done. One pig stole one of our group's toilet paper, and you could get quite a start when you heard the rustling around you but you weren't sure what it was and it turned out to be a pig!!

Around 4 we headed down to the centre of the village where the drummers were staring to call the villagers together for the festivities. It was a unique process of drumming, blowing the whistle, then all the women slowly arrived in their white tops and navy skirts, still with the babies on their backs. Then the men started to arrive, and the elders. I had the privilege of sitting beside 2 of the elders. No idea how old they were but they seemed ancient, and of course we had to shake everyone's hand. Then the dancing started and two men replicated some bird's dancing; this was followed by the stilt man, all the time accompanied by the drums and requests for money. This got a little tedious because we weren't prepared and didn't have any change to give them. Not sure how it went down, the Chief got a little angry at one stage, but then I think our leader reminded him we had already paid the 10,000 cfa each!! About 2 hours later there was a beautiful "thank you" when the Chief supposedly must have told everyone we had paid, and the women and the men, and the kids and the elders came up and shook our hands and said "thank you". Quite an experience.

Although exciting, it was also an exhausting day, and by the end of it, we were qutie tired. The whole experience really highlighted the difference between our "individual" style of living and their "community" style of living. The kids and others stayed around the truck watching us until probably about 9 p.m. The noise was horrendous! Gemma managed to take them all away from the truck, loose them and sneak back to the truck without them seeing her, and then there was peace. Until 3 am when there was a gun shot, 4 a.m. when the rooster started crowing every hour, and just before 6 the tro tro arrived to take them all to market and the meeting place was right where the truck was.

The adults all seemed very healthy. There were a few deformities among the children, such as extended tummies - probably lack of proper nutrtion, bandy legs which in our society would have been corrected, and exended belly buttons and hernias. Quality of teeth was certainly an issue, but although life was simple in the village everyone seemed very happy and warm and friendly and quantity of food didn't seem an issue. There is lots of fruit (mangoes, pineapple, bananas, avodcados) around and food such as rice, millet, corn, plaintain. Meat and chicken are probably not as plentiful, and therefore probably protein is an issue. The women are noticebly strong, and do a lot of work around the home. I think the men work on the field.

As you walked around the village there was a diistint smell, which is hard to describe but is somewhere between being a sweet smell of the drying elephant grass, a rancid smell of human sweat, and smoke from the fires.

People have asked us "how much opportunity do you get on your overlanding trips to mingle with the people?" I would have to say "a lot". We have met with so many people on this trip, at all different levels, and had small conversations, participated in every day life, and tried doing the daily activities. As an example, on the way back to the highway we stopped once again at the Japanese made well to fill our water tanks. We had so much fun talking with the women and we also had the opportunity to fill up their basins in return for using the well. OK, so I know they are much more expert at doing it than we are, but at least we were able to try and they were trying to show us the technique. Hands on tourism, but in places where tourists are very few and far between.