There are many places I’ve long wanted to see in Sierra Leone and this past week I was finally able to visit the northern region. I traveled with friends to the town of Kabala, about 6 hours by car on fairly good roads, north and east of Freetown. The area is home to residents of the Limba, Madingo, Koronko, and Fulla tribes.
In Sierra Leone, Kabala is known for its mountains and hills, and also for being a cold place. I rather wondered what “cold” meant in this context, and was happy to find that a light jacket and jeans were comfortable to wear at night and in the morning there. ( Many of my expatriate friends enjoy the sensation of being cold in Sierra Leone.)
Kabala is located in the midst of the Wara Wara mountain range. We did some hiking in the adjacent hills, and managed to see a monkey swinging through the trees overhead. Fortunately, we did not see snakes, and regrettably did not see many birds of interest.
When we first arrived in Kabala my friends and I decided to see if we could rent bicycles and do some cycling in the area. The Bradt Guide to Sierra Leone had noted this as a possibility. We found some young men with bikes in the town center and they agreed to rent us 4 sturdy, mountain bikes for the next day. The bikes were in good working order when we arrived in the morning, and we paid about $1 each for 3 hours.
We decided to ride on the paved road out of town since the dust on the unpaved roads is intense. People smiled and waved as we rode by. Unfortunately, I ran over a nail and punctured my tire after we had ridden 4 – 5 miles, so we turned back at a walking pace. At one point, I noted an interesting looking church set back from the road and thought it would be good to check it out. As we turned up the drive to the church, we were greeted by a couple of people from the small village.
We chatted, exchanged names, learned about the Catholic church, and talked for a few minutes. And we discovered there were two teen boys who had all the knowledge and equipment to repair flat tires . And so, providentially, they fixed my bike. The two boys went to work while we sat down and continued to talk with the residents of the village, called Katombo 2. We learned a few words in the Limba language, learned about a local school for the blind, and had an altogether delightful, if unexpected visit. Half an hour later, I was able to ride with my friends back to Kabala.
Traveling by car also added to the adventures of our journey. We weren’t able to buy fuel for my vehicle in Kabala, except on the black market. I wasn’t altogether surprised by this, but would have planned things differently if I’d known fuel would be a problem. We ended up buying 10 liters of black market-priced fuel (almost double the regular price), enough to make it to Makeni where we filled the tank and met friends for lunch.
We reached the Freetown area just in time yesterday to meet heavy traffic heading into the city, so we opted to take the mountain by-pass. That particular road is dusty, rutted and rough, but generally faster than going through the city. We were stuck briefly at a one lane bridge on this road, where we hopped out to help push a taxi up an incline, out of the line of traffic. The sight of 4 white people helping 6 young Sierra Leoneans push that car made everyone smile. A mile or so later, our own car came to a halt, as my driver Abu felt the brake system fail. We could immediately see that brake fluid was leaking and that there was a crack in the system. We actually felt very fortunate that the breakdown happened where it did. We were near the village of Grafton, and had not yet started climbing the mountains where brake failure would have been dangerous. Providence came our way again in the shape of an empty land cruiser driven by an Italian man who has lived in Sierra Leone for 30 years. He gave my friends and I a lift over the mountains and to my door! Abu stayed with the car and made arrangements for repairs. He drove the car into the compound this morning by 10 am. Everything worked out amazingly well, and we have a journey to remember.