Friday morning, 15 July, 12 of us set out for an African adventure in a hired van fitting all of us quite spaciously. We were heading about 300km up-country to a town called Kabala. Our vehicle had CD player and ipod jack, so sweet tunes kept us singing along to the music as we drove through the streets of Freetown. Only 1 ½ hours into the trip on a nice stretch of road, we felt a thump on the back tyre. We pulled over and piled out of the car to discover our tyre had shredded all of its rubber! It was time for the guys to show us their skills! The girls trouped off for a bathroom break in the bush on the side of the road while the guys realized the tool they had to undo the bolts holding the tyre on, was too big for the wheel. So then we proceeded to flag down cars, trucks, poda-podas, anyone who would stop, to see if they had a tool that would fit. No one did, so we were advised to travel on, slowly, to the next village to see if they had the equipment to help.
As soon as we pulled over at the next village we though could help us, and explained the problem, about 20 guys surrounded the car looking at the tyre, discussing the situation. The village children also came to stare at the ‘whities’ standing around the car. Some of the group entertained the kids as we waited about an hour while they struggled to get the spare on. Finally it was done, even pumped up as tight as they could with a bicycle pump! We headed to Makeni, where we would get the tyre pressures checked. After Makeni, we were told, the roads got much, much worse, so we opted to buy a new (previously used of course) tyre for the car. Only 120,000 Leone for a ‘new’ tyre and fitted to the old rim as well. That’s about $26AUD!
Back on the road towards Kabala, as we stared out the window we saw a combination of mud huts with palm frond roofs and cement blocked houses, washing lines strung out full of colourful African prints, chickens, ducks, dogs and goats in the middle of the road, not even running from our tyres as we sped down the road. One poor duck did bite the dust, much to our disappointment. The landscape was so green, lush grass, fields of rice, trees and rocky hills. The people went about their business, some carrying loads of wood on their heads, some walking along the highway, some sitting on the porch of their house watching the world go by. It really was fascinating to see all of these things, to wonder what the people did with their time, to see a glimpse of how they live. I kept wondering how or if I would cope living like they do for a period of time.
We reached Kabala much after our expected time of arrival, about 7 hours of travel, but in good spirits. We found the place we were going to stay for the next two nights and looked up at the hill we would hike the next day. It was a pretty place to stay, but of course, basic rooms with electricity only from 7pm til 6am and no running water, but only 70,000 Leone per double per night. We asked someone to show us where the best place to eat would be and we were taken to Choices Restaurant and found out the only choices there were beans, bean soup or chicken that looked like it had been cooked one week ago! We opted for looking for food in town.
So we walked through the streets and finally, after much discussion and deliberation, we would buy a frying pan, raw eggs, bread and cook our own meal. We bought a tray of eggs and while some of the group was deciding how much water to buy to last the next few days, Jeff decided to play a game with one of the kids on the street. Take a raw egg and throw it backwards and forwards between two people, each time it’s caught, stepping further back from each other, until someone drops it and it breaks. They threw the egg back and forth for quite a while, getting further and further apart until the African boy dropped it, but to each of our amazement (not the Africans funnily enough) the egg did not crack open and splat on the road, it sort of bounced and broke apart. It was then we realized we had bought boiled eggs!!! Lucky for us that Jeff had decided to play this game!!! So were able to go back and swap the boiled eggs for raw ones!
When we got back to the guest house where we were staying, Jeff had organised to use the field close to the guest house to light a fire in and use to cook our dinner. We hung around the fire until late in the evening, making smores (an American tradition- gram crackers with a piece of chocolate and hot toasted marshmellow between the crackers), enjoying the full moon and each others company.
In the morning after the usual African breakfast of omelette inside bread and instant coffee or tea, we headed up the hill for our hike. The climb was pretty much straight up the side of the hill and it only took us about an hour to reach the peak. There was a nice view over the village and you could see the hills of Guinea stretching out over the horizon.
We had decided that morning that Kabala really didn’t have much to offer in the way of food or other things to do, as lovely as it was! So after bucket showering off the sweat of climbing, we piled back in the car to drive to Makeni. Before leaving though, we had to pump up this troublesome back tyre again.
Makeni is a nice town, with well build roads, new establishments being built and generally much more spacious than the cramped Freetown we are used to. A couple of the group checked out a place to stay the night, Thinka hotel, and we moved on to find a place to eat. We ate at the nicest hotel in the town, still reasonably priced and good food. And afterwards some of the group choose to have an evening swim in the pool.
We headed back to Thinka to find, it really was the dumpiest place I’ve ever stayed at in all my life! What can you expect for only 40,000-50,000 Leone a night, but the smelliest toilet you’ve ever come across, the grossest pillows and most uncomfortable, creaky bed ever. This is was definitely an African experience. I am used to the life of luxury! But for only one night and hopefully not bringing anything contagious back with us, we stayed the night. No one slept in that morning and we were actually packed up and in the car one minute before we said we would leave the night before! That’s amazing for a group of 12 people!
This last day we had to explore up-country we decided to go to Bumbuna waterfalls. The road to the waterfalls was super bumpy and took us two hours to get about 43 Km! Once close to the waterfalls, there was a river flowing over the road that we weren’t quite sure the van would make it through without being drowned! Again, after much discussion between ourselves and the African boys hanging around the car, we all piled out and Jeff drove over the shallowest place and made it safely through. Further down the bumpy dirt road, we came across another Mercy Ships group that we had bumped into in Makeni and Kabala too. They had left their car to see the waterfall and had had an African man bring them some of their things from inside their locked vehicle wanting to sell them to them. They ran back to their vehicle to find someone had broken inside and taken a whole load of their gear and left the vehicle still locked.
Heading their word, we took two trips to see the waterfall, one group staying with the van and the other group going. The waterfall was bigger than I had imagined. Red dirty water raging down rocks filed with Iron ore. The water was cool and it was lovely to see such natural beauty.
After seeing the waterfall and travelling the long, bumpy dirt road again, we had the tyres pumped up for the third time in Makeni and made the long trip back to Freetown, to our home on the Africa Mercy for a hot shower and a good meal!
It was a wonderful weekend, full of excitement, random Africa experiences and 11 other amazing friends to share it with.