We (Cor and Grietje van NoFear Travel), travel with our Toyota Hilux 4×4 camper by Africa. The African continent is the Mecca for 'overlanding' with many challenging routes and beautiful destinations. The first African country we visited during our trip to South Africa is Morocco, followed by Mauritania en Senegal. From Guinea we travel to Sierra Leone. You can read all about it in this article.
Naturally, you can also start watching the video again.
Table of contents
About Sierra Leone, some facts
Sierra Leone is almost twice the size of The Netherlands. More than 7 million people live there, one million of them in the capital Freetown. Just under 80% is Muslim, the rest Christian.
Unfortunately, the country has hardly been in the news in the last 10 years. At first one raged civil war between 1991 and 2002. The war was partly financed by the smuggling of diamonds, of which the country is rich. In that context, film is “Blood Diamond” might be recommended!
Just emerging from the war, the highly contagious Ebola virus has held the country in power since 2014. Ultimately, the virus will cost the country about 15000 lives.
The Guinea/Sierra border crossing
The border crossing from Guinea to Sierra Leone is the most pleasant one on our journey to the south. No corruption and we are warmly welcomed by everyone in Sierra Leone.
What a good feeling. In addition, the connecting road to the capital Freetown is of Western quality.
When we arrive in a new country (now the 8th African country), we tend to immediately look for the differences. The first thing that strikes us is the language, most of them speak English. That is very nice for us, because we still don't have enough command of French. Secondly, we notice the huge contiguous palm forests. Furthermore, the differences with Guinea do not seem so great for the time being.
From the asphalt road towards Freetown we take a turn to a river. We want to spend the night here. There are many more people in the clearing by the river. They are villagers who spend whole days here. The children hang around, the women wash and prepare food and the men work in the sand.
We are immediately warmly welcomed by them, as we have experienced so many times before. The whole family settles around the camper and we are closely watched.
We eat the pineapple we brought with us together and we get a plate of rice with a very sharp sauce….
We stay here for two days and get a fantastic insight into the way of life, habits and culture of these people.
The men begin to talk about their work. They sail with their hollowed-out tree trunks to the other side of the river where they fetch sand. In addition to their own weight, they can carry about 3-4 wheelbarrows of sand. The sand is suitable for making concrete and masonry mortar. Everything goes with the shovel. After they unload the cargo, it must be worked upwards. They do this by scooping buckets full and throwing them on humps about 10 meters higher. Men, women and children, the whole family participates in turn. They turn their heads because of sore necks.
Then a large high tipper truck arrives. The dump truck is filled with the shovel, the sand must be thrown up at least three meters high. For next to nothing, the dump truck drives to the factory and the story begins again.
One of the boys offers Cor to take a boat trip to the other side of the river where the sand is collected. Unfortunately, Grietje cannot come along because of her plastered arm.
Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary
The overland journey continues towards the capital Freetown (location here ). Via the suburb of Waterloo we first reach a sanctuary for chimpanzees. They are mostly chimpanzees that were kept as pets, which has not been allowed since 2019. The center also has a task to tell people to stop eating "bushmeat", so chimpanzees!
We get a tour with a good English speaking guide through three different shelter areas where the animals with the same problems are kept.
The guide's story is crisp and clear. Most attention is gained in the monkey playground, the place where chimpanzees can maintain their scrambling and climbing skills.
We only visited the capital for a short time. Little city tired. We spend the night on the 550 meter high mountain Leicester (location here ). From there we have a beautiful view of the city, although it is also largely cloudy above.
In the city itself we are looking for some practical things and thus get a reasonable impression. The big advantage of Freetown is that many roads are paved, which saves a lot of dust!
Furthermore, countless sales stalls are so close to the street that there is no way through. Of course - as in many West African cities - many mopeds and tuktuks.
We notice the cleanliness in a large part of the city. But a little later that turns out to be only "partly". We drive through a slum with a river and rubbish dump. On the rubbish dump people live between a few roof tiles and they are busy looking for something useful. A little further we see a river where absolutely everything that is dirty is thrown into it.
Thus we will remember Freetown as a city with two faces. Quickly buy some bread and go back to nature!
The white beaches of Sierra Leone
We stop for a moment along the street and are spontaneously approached by a white man. He asks where we are going and invites us to spend the night at his house. It turns out to be originally Israeli who lives here for his work. He likes to receive travelers.
This is how we end up in a paradise ... beautiful house with swimming pool, directly adjacent to the mangrove forests with the estuary of River No. behind it. 2. And that in the middle of a snow-white sandy beach. We can use everything in and around the house.
river no. 2 actually turns out to be the first of a series of snow-white sandy beaches in a southerly direction. We have the plan to spend another night at a slightly more southerly location Bureh Beach to stand. That ends up being three nights! Here we are right in front of a beach bar in the middle of the sand. A "bucket shower", toilet, clean beach with wonderfully warm water are at our disposal. In the evening we let ourselves be pampered in the restaurant where we enjoy shrimps, just bought fresh from the local market.
The beach is relatively quiet, not deserted but cozy.
But on the second day suddenly three younger couples, an English couple and two Dutch couples arrive. We all make it a pleasant evening and the wonderful stories about our shared experiences fly over the table.
Most travelers have no time limit and want to get through South Africa, along the east side of Africa back to the north. Some overlanding by public transport and others on a motorbike. One couple drives an electric car. For them it is a challenge to drive south without fuel.
It's been three months now Senegal we met Sjors and Jenny. They were on their way to Sierra Leone where they would do volunteer work in a hospital. We agreed to visit them when we were in the area. And so it happened.
Sjors and Jenny live in a house with other doctors and nurses, right next to the hospital grounds. Next to their house is enough space for us to spend the night. Jenny works as a nurse and Sjors in the technical department. Immediately upon arrival we are shown around and get a first impression of the hospital.
There are several buildings on the site, each with its own function. The children's department makes a big impression on us. Here are seriously ill children, whose parents often have no money to pay for necessary treatment. Here are numerous stories of life and death every day. If a treatment is not paid for, it will not take place.
Yet there is a (secret) financial pot built up from donations to treat children to save them from death.
Often the cause of the disorders is a treatment that was started too late because there is no money, or people have become involved with (cheaper) alternative healers.
The average life expectancy in Sierra Leone is just over 50 years. This is partly due to the high infant mortality rate, but also one in 10 mothers does not survive a pregnancy.
The hospital functions partly as a training place. Many foreign doctors come here to work themselves or to train local doctors. We meet the Dutch Pieter, who runs the ophthalmology department. He gives us a tour of his ward and we take a look at the operating room. Pieter talks enthusiastically about his work and his life. Beautiful!
We also meet the Dutch Blackbird. She is responsible for the 3D printer from the Netherlands with which they make custom-made prostheses. Among other things, she is here to train the local young man Osman. If all goes well, he will be able to handle the printer independently in a while.
Masanga, the village with gold mines
The hospital site is right next to the village. The village is a typical Leonese village, with a main street where everything is sold. Behind it often simple buildings where people live. In addition to the fact that a number of people work around the hospital, a significant part works in the adjacent gold mine.
And that sounds better than it is. Many hectares of jungle have disappeared here. Huge holes are dug with large cranes where the local population is looking for that one nugget of gold. Hard and dirty work.
To get a picture of the whole country, we decide to make a “loop” through the northeast of Sierra Leone. It is the least visited and least developed part of the country.
We notice this in the first instance on the roads. So far we have been very enthusiastic about the roads in Sierra Leone. But after a visit to the northeast, we must seriously adjust that image. We are used to it, but these 250 kilometers took us four days. Huge holes, water channels and steep descents define the days. Many fords, broken bridges and by-passes pose major challenges. Some bridges have been repaired very provisionally. After a passage we look at each other with relief…. Fetched!
The environment is fantastic, beautiful rainforest with palm trees and bamboo. Sometimes monkeys shoot into the trees right in front of the car.
We pass villages where you can feel the isolation. The people here are largely self-sufficient. They grow their own products and hardly get further than their own village. Some children walk around with swollen bellies and no one actually has clothes without holes or tears.
In one of the villages we spend the night next to the police station. We talk to the officer and he tells us about the problems in this area.
The stray cattle is one of the problems. The cows graze among the crops they grow themselves and ensure that a family hardly has anything to eat. But the cows do have value. For example, the only police cell present was recently occupied by a thief who had stolen five cows. Unfortunately, the door of the cell was of poor quality. The next day the thief had escaped…..
He goes on to talk about the wounds left by the war and the refugee camps he was in himself. He also hid himself deep in the forest in the mountains for a while. But his well-developed mind eventually made him a police officer. He also teaches a few hours at the local school due to a dire shortage of qualified teachers.
And on to Liberia…
We conclude our visit to Sierra Leone via the southernmost border crossing with Liberia.