Whilst planning this trip back in the UK I had set aside two days for this epic journey from Robertsport in Liberia, across the border, to the Sierra Leone capital, Freetown, however I decided to give it a shot in one day.
I had woken at 0430 and having packed the night before I only needed to get dressed and leave so I was on my way within five minutes. The quickest way back to the centre of Robertsport was a 10-minute walk along the beach to the nearest road, there is something surreal about walking along a beach which has jungle on one side and the crashing sea on the other whilst overhead are some of the clearest skies I had ever seen, had I not had such a long day ahead I would’ve been tempted to stay for a while. At the road I brushed sand from my feet and put my shoes on and then using the torchlight on my phone I walked the 45 minutes to the main junction, where I’d hoped I would be able to catch some transport onward towards the Sierra Leone border. Whilst walking the only sounds I could hear were the crows of cockerels and the quiet knocks and bangs of people waking up for the day. An hour after waking and I was stood waiting on the junction in the dark, ready to turn my torch on and flag down any early rising motorists however an ‘Officer of the Town’ approached me first and questioned what I was doing, which at 0530 was a question I had already asked myself that morning. He then showed me where the proper taxi stop was and even found a driver whom I negotiated with and settled on $25 to take me to the border. The price was more expensive than I would’ve liked but it was certainly a huge time saver so on balance it was worth it.
I arrived at the border just before half seven and after some toing and froing between desks, including being summoned into an office by some random guy, both a Sierra Leonean lady and I were sceptical about his credentials but followed him nonetheless, eventually I was handed my stamped passport back and I could cross the border, over a bridge into Sierra Leone. During this five-minute walk I got talking to the Sierra Leonean lady who was called Dora and asked about the best way to get to Freetown, it happened that she was also trying to get there today so we agreed to share transport for the next stretch once through immigration. I have crossed dozens of land borders during my travels and most of them have been straight forward and the officials have been friendly and honest however not today. I waited ages to get my passport stamped (tourists went in a separate office) and then I was ushered into a different office titled ‘Health Office’, it was here that my Yellow Fever certificate was inspected, after a couple of excessively drawn out minutes the ‘health officer’ returned it to me and said “Where is you Cholera and Meningitis vaccinations? You need them to enter.” My heart dropped as he went on to say that I would have to return to Liberia and get them done there and then wait six days and return, I immediately knew this wasn’t an option as I had only had a single entry visa for Liberia which I had just received the exit stamp for, there was no way of going back and despite my explanations of having had two doses of Cholera already and had had all required Meningitis boosters he wasn’t backing down, I had my passport in hand so I was just about to leave and take my chances when he explained that I would be turned away at the first check point I got to if I didn’t have the stamps in my booklet so I was stuck. $40 was his asking fee to forge the signature and official stamp, backdating it to the required time ($40 is about a week’s wage for a security officer). Lighter in my pocket I reunited with Dora, had breakfast of rice and went about finding a motorbike to take us to Bo, the nearest town.
Our driver was a crazy local, who Dora had used before and who made a huge song and dance about getting ready. Bo is the nearest town but it is at the end of a very poor dirt track, cars do frequent the route however it takes twice as long in one as it does on a bike. Due to the poor conditions fine red dust is kicked up and covers everything so suitable precautions needed to happen before we departed; our rucksacks were put into blue carrier bags before being strapped down and our driver felt the need to put some extra layers on (I couldn’t quite believe how many layers, especially as the temperature was 30 degrees), he put on two jumpers, a fleece jacket with a t-shirt over the top, two pairs of tracksuit trousers over his current trousers and a pair of white wellies. I meanwhile sweat in loose trousers and a t-shirt, I decided I would rather be dusty than sweaty.
The ride was an amazing experience, four hours of riding through the jungle, occasionally stopping at checkpoints (none of which checked my vaccinations), breaking down twice and racing through tiny villages, watching people’s daily life unfold around me, at one point we had to stop and wait for a ferry to take us across a river. It turned out to be one of my most enjoyable journeys I have ever done, despite being crammed on the bike with two other people and having very sore legs by then end. We arrived into a very hot and busy Bo around 1300 when we washed our hands and faces of dust and then went to the nearby bus station to start our next leg.
This stretch from Bo to Freetown should’ve been the easiest stretch as it was all on metalled roads however that wasn’t to be. The minibus was originally built to take 15 people however with the addition of four seats in the aisle the driver decided we could fit 25 people in, which meant an extremely hot and sweaty ride for everyone on board, it also meant an increased strain on an old engine which meant we continually broke down, and when we weren’t stopped at the side of the road we were travelling at such a slow speed it was painful, we eventually stopped to get it fixed so when after an extended break we broke down again just 10 minutes down the road Dora and I decided to ditch the bus and flag down a different vehicle, it was already 1800 and we should’ve arrived over an hour ago but we were barely halfway. Luckily for us the first vehicle which stopped was a modern Toyota Landcruiser whose occupants squeezed up to allow us in. Two hours later we were in the capital where I was dropped right outside the guesthouse, I was staying at.