Sierra Leone

If you can visualize yourself in a speedboat, cruising through the Atlantic Ocean in the wee hours of a day, then I will present you with a few haunting moments to conjure up an immaculate morning like the one I had experienced during the journey from Lungi, a small coastal town, to Freetown, the capital city of Sierra Leone. The Sierra Leone River, which estuaries with the Atlantic Ocean, separates the town and the capital, and the most famous attraction of this sparsely populated town is Lungi International Airport. Hence, one needs to cross this 40-km long river to reach the mainland Sierra Leone if one is flying to Sierra Leone.

I landed at Lungi International Airport around 3 a.m., and the airport premise had an office selling tickets for the speedboat service to cross the river. The ferry-agency took us by bus to the boat jetty, and by the time the driver powered the boat, it was 5 a.m.

Boarding the speedboat:

It was still dark with the virgin sky dotted with fading stars, and behind the blue curtain, the sun was showing the signs of getting ready for the day.

As the boat sped away from the beach to more depths, factory-fresh sea breeze blew whatever residual sleep left off from my eyes. In the midway, the line demarcating the limitedness of the river and the vastness of the ocean started to blur out, showing all-round choppy waters hugging and kissing the speedboat in hard and fast ways.

As I enjoyed the virginity of the day in the middle of an ocean of pristine beauty, the shady shores of the mainland started to become visible: the buildings and structures standing in front of the still-waves of mountains encircling Freetown. I savored the rare morning! And it is one of the finest mornings I had treasured over the times.

The following are from another occasion during which I undertook a daytime passage:

A country canoe under construction:

In 2008 when I visited Sierra Leone for the first time, there was no speedboat service but helicopter service to the mainland. I was fortunate to travel — 7-minute flight — by helicopter then, thereby fulfilling a long cherished dream of travelling in a chopper. In 2009, the helicopter service was suspended as it failed in the airworthiness-evaluation by the International Civil Aviation Authority. Subsequently, the speedboat service was introduced. There is also ferry service by barge between Lungi and Freetown.

What do you know about Sierra Leone? Google will tell you that it is one of the biggest producers of diamonds, gold and many other precious minerals and metals. Diamonds are found in a quarter area of the country, and that is around 7,700 square miles. And these precious resources were once used to finance the civil war that broke out in the country in 1991, lasting 11 years and killing around 50,000 people. The infamous term: Blood Diamonds — illegal mining of diamonds to finance civil wars — is a product of this civil war.

The cityscape of Freetown and its suburban areas are starkly different in terms of infrastructure availability and their qualities.


Suburban Areas:

Freetown has beautiful beaches which attract domestic and foreign tourists alike, and one such beach is Number 2 River Beach, which I visited in August 2016.

Before getting onto the beach, one can not miss out the adjoining creek. It is beautifully placed in the backdrop of distant mountains.

It is a white-sand beach, clean and with bluish to bluish-green waters, making it as one of the beautiful beaches that I had come across. Beaches were clean except that there was residual fringes of aquatic plants.

It is a paid-beach, costing 5000 in local currency named Leone, and this amount is equivalent to US$1. The beach management-company arranges shows of entertainment for the visitors. On the day I visited, the piece of performance was a traditional acrobatic show spiced up by the sounds of indigenous instruments.

With friends:

Beside the beach, there is lot of vegetation unlike the regular beaches. A couple of clicks from that area 🙂

If you are a business traveler, visiting the hustle and bustle Sani Abacha Street at the wholesale market is unavoidable. An aerial view of the street:

A few times, while returning I took barge to reach the airport. The following are from one such trip from Freetown to Lungi:

I had visited Sierra Leone a few times between 2008 to 2017, and unfortunately, this was one of the few countries where I did not find much development over this period. This is unfortunate, for the country is bestowed with immense natural resources. I found the people of Sierra Leone cordial and never had any safety issues there. Hope to see a better developed and progressing Sierra Leone during my next visit.

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