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krisek Aberdeen - A travel report by Krys
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Aberdeen,  Sierra Leone - flag Sierra Leone -  Western Area
9149 readers

krisek's travel reports

So, is Sierra Leone a paradise?

  15 votes
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I went to Sierra Leone in early November 2007 to see if the country was a paradise, as it was claimed to have become after the civil war was over. This was claimed in the film Blood Diamond.


Lumley Beach
Lumley Beach
The country main airport, Lungi International, is located from the capital at the other side of the Sierra Leone River. It is possibly the least convenient location of an international airport in the world. This is particularly inconvenient in Sierra Leone since there is no bridge over the river. And, as there is a very poor transport infrastructure in the entire country, none of the following options to get from the airport to Freetown are risk-free. But they are the only ones.

Taxi - a long, up to seven hours, trip to bypass the vast mouth of the Sierra Leone River, usually in the hours of darkness (not a good idea anywhere in Africa outside Libya), and at the cost of approximately $100 (£50). No air conditioning, no seatbelts, no headlights.

Ferry - a long, up to four hours, passage on a questionable, overcrowded boat with no safety equipment on often rough waters.

Hovercraft - an ageing military (probably British) craft, prone to falling into disrepair, however complete with safety equipment and air conditioning. Taking about 40 minutes, plus anything from 15 to 60 minutes from the airport to the water’s edge - all at $50 (£25).

Helicopter - a very ageing military (most definitely Russian) chopper, whose operations had been several times suspended in the past following fatal crashes, now reinstated and taking 10 to 15 minutes directly from the beach to airport at $50 (£25).

The town of Aberdeen is not special. There are no interesting buildings or structures. It is not particularly tidy or organised. Its quality lies with only three things:

- the beach;

- decent accommodation;

- nightlife.

Aberdeen was the place where I arrived and where I spent first night and first night out - the Buggy's for a few initial drinks, right by the hovercraft landing.

People of Aberdeen lived from fishing. The guys fished, the women sold it. The nets were gigantic! It took often 50 strong men to pull a mile long net. I helped once and it was darn hard!

Favourite spots:
Lumley Beach
Lumley Beach
Lumley Beach - a stretch of beach lined up with construction of premier holiday resorts soon to be frequented by sun seekers from the United Kingdom, mostly. It is the extension of the western Aberdeen Beach. I walked along the entire length of the beach looking for accommodation.

The beach was at its best when countless football teams kicked football with so much determination that Mr Beckham would compare infavourably. In the morning, parts of the beach would be completely empty. And some sections would be busy with fishermen pulling giant nets out of the ocean. Its the animation that bewitched me.

The fishermen had to comply with an unwritten rule. Big boats could only fish every other day. The small boats - everyday, but in turns. Sunday was free - this was when the football took over. Fishing took all day. A big boat would go twice or thrice, small ones - a few times. The centre of net was dropped from a boat with two ends left on the beach and then pulled onto it.

What's really great:
River No. 2 Beach
River No. 2 Beach
But I eventually made up my mind to go to York and River No. 2 Beach. Alusine, my new fisherman friend who was not allowed to fish that day, wanted to come with me. I took him. Together with Joe and his mechanic friend. So many people in a small car on a very bad road was not the optimal way. But I always thought the more the merrier the trip. It was a road trip! It took two hours.

The beach by the River No. 2 was superb. Alusine stated clearly that there was no better beach in the country. The sand was tiny as powder and coral-white. Group of tall palm trees fringed the beach every several hundreds yards. The green hills rolled in the vicinity. Seriously, a perfect picture, like it was taken from an adventure film. An organisation supporting the local community charged about USD 2 for the car park and the same for a beach visit.

The chimpanzees, however, were the greatest thing of this visit. There are a few groups around the country, most in national parks and wildlife reserves.

Sights:
Chimp
Chimp
It's relatively easy to visit all of them. Not in one day, and perhaps not in one week. I was considering visiting two places only. I didn't have time for more. My original plan included the Tiwai Island Wildlife Reserve in the south, near the Liberian border and Tacugama Chimpanzee Reserve, near Freetown. I eventually dropped the idea of going to Tiwai Island and went to Tacugama. I didn't make a reservation so I had to wait three hours for an official tour. It was too far to turn back to Freetown or even Regent, since the road nearly ruined the car, it was so bad.

I was amazed to see how the chimps behaved. They really acted like humans! For the very first time, I witnessed an animal behaving like that. The facial expression, the body movement, the nonchalance, even the way they posed for pictures! Just like the one on the photograph opposite. I was so glad that I decided to lift my ass from a stool at the beach bar to go and see the animals. It was an eye opener for me!

Accommodations:
Sierra Leoneans
Sierra Leoneans
The first night I stayed at Hotel Barmoi. It is nicely located near the lighthouse on the cliff. I do not think it had access to the beach, though. Its swimming pool was small and the rooms were relatively clean. The air conditioning worked as well. But, it was overpriced. They charged on average $150 per night, depending on the room. I only stayed, as I needed a proof of hotel reservation to get a visa, and over the internet, it was only possible to book upscale hotels. I knew therefore I had to look for something better for the rest of my holiday whilst already in the country.

I found the Sweet Mother Guesthouse located at the end of Lumley Beach, near the Atlantic Bar, not the safest area, but most definitely great spot and superb value.

On the way, I asked for a room at a section of the beach called China Town. One of the places was so bad that I almost flipped when they asked $20 for it! The other Chinese place, where they didn't speak English, was full.

Nightlife:
Two Rastas.
Two Rastas.
I was told that Sierra Leone once was the best place to party in West Africa. The, the war changed everything. But now, I could see that things were changing back again. The Lumley Beach had over a dozen beach bars along its 3 mile long shore, six of which were open late at night and played music.

Village Beach Bar - Sunday definitely belonged to the Village Beach Bar. It was packed. With locals! The bar did not charge a cover and counted on the drinks bar performance. It was almost a perfect bar.

Alafia Point Bar - One of the less flamboyant drink beach bars. It is very pleasant though and directly on the beach with stools in the sand. Cheaper and open all day. Did not serve food.

Buggy's Club - Near the hovercraft. Packed with locals. Has a terrace overlooking the ocean, great music and fun, if a little seedy.

Paddy's Restaurant, Bar and Club - Great place. Extremely popular, superb food, and great choice of drink. Perfect for making friends. Locals and expats attend.

Hangouts:
Alusine, the fisherman
Alusine, the fisherman
Alafia Point Bar is one of the less flamboyant drink beach bars. It is very pleasant though and directly on the beach with stools in the sand. It was definitely my all day favourite, because it was open all day. It did not serve food and the drinks were cheaper than anywhere else along the beach. Reed and plastic roofs give plenty of shade and the breeze from the ocean provides the rest! It had six open cabins complete with circular benches and tables in the centre. Three cabins on each side of the bar. Ten large hammocks pass the southern cabins were empty when I visited but I could imagine how comfortable it could be relaxing in them gently battered by the westerly winds.

Ramada’s Bar & Restaurant - It is a decent place to eat and drink, but it is definitely more an eatery than a bar. It belonged to a Brit. Unlike Village, Ramada’s was open all day long, which was a great spot for me to watch the fishermen.

In both I spent considerable time sipping coke, watching and taking photos.

Restaurants:
Lumley Beach (east)
Lumley Beach (east)
I wanted to try a few different places, but I often got my timing wrong. Some places were only open in the evening, sometimes after 7pm. By 7pm, when it was completely dark, I would usually have other plans. I wanted to eat at about 6pm, and for that there were fewer options.

Sierra Leone being amongst the poorest countries on our planet, does not offer a sophisticated cuisine. Well, of course it didn't matter to me. What I wanted was simply grilled fish - no side dishes.

To do that, I talked to a friendly fisherman, bought three big mackerels out of his net and asked a local cook (at one of the local beach bars) to grill it for me and add some local spice. That was orgasmically gooood!

There is a list of decent places I became aware of:

Ramada's Bar & Restaurant - Lumley Beach (limited menu, local, fish)

Paddy's - Aberdeen (local, Chinese, Indian, - long and great menu)

Atlantic Bar - Lumley Beach (often closed)

Kingdom Family - Aberdeen Beach (local, fish, yummy, can cook anything)

Other recommendations:
York
York
The Creole village of York was recommended as a place to see. Specifically for its architecture. The picture opposite illustrates what I found when I got there. It was interesting but not terribly attractive. I didn't even stop there. I was appalling. I kept snapping pictures out of moving car! I hate this kind. Oh well, I was in a rush. Really, and, frankly, quite disappointed with this town, somewhat. I literally drove right through it. If it was by the ocean and had a beach, it might actually be liveable. Yeah, I guess I should stop, before I become unreasonably unfair about this little place, that I did not even visit properly.

I wish I could stay longer in Sierra Leone. New national parks and wildlife reserves were opening all over. The upper country's lush mountains are legendary and I don't mean the hills harbouring diamonds.

What I wouldn't recommend is to stay too long in Freetown. It is lively, but sights are limited and the traffic is impossible.

Published on Sunday February 10th, 2008


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Sat, Mar 08 2008 - 07:38 AM rating by magsalex

I visited in my summer of 2007. Your report shows what a great place this is - so much to offer despite being one of the poorest places on the globe. I was happy to see the elections pass off relatively peacefully. I will be going back!

Fri, Feb 22 2008 - 11:03 AM rating by marianne

nice read about an unusual place

Mon, Feb 11 2008 - 12:23 PM rating by rangutan

Truly excellent and special report! You show, some of Africa will never change.

Sun, Feb 10 2008 - 10:04 PM rating by mistybleu

A very interesting report, with great pictures. I like the footprints in the sand.

Sun, Feb 10 2008 - 05:42 PM rating by jorgesanchez

You were lucky in Sierra Leone. I was expelled and put in a United Nations boat to Guinea Conakry!

Sun, Feb 10 2008 - 03:22 PM rating by davidx

I think there's a lot to be said for exploratory reports that show the downside of a place as well as the highlights.I hope you have some more like this to come.

Sun, Feb 10 2008 - 02:48 PM rating by rmoss

Its interesting to hear about the resort developments, so soon after the civil war. Hopefully a positive omen!

Sun, Feb 10 2008 - 01:40 PM rating by adampl

A good start at Globo. For me the report lacks info on what to see. I guess that apart from beaches and nightlife there are also national parks or reserves not to mention local people and their culture. Despite this shortages it's an interesting piece of travel writing deserving 4*. Hope to read more from you.

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