by Yemi Adésànyà
The first mention of a 40 minutes ferry ride from the airport to the city elicited a skittish gasp from me. I wasn’t expecting a boat ride as the primary means of transportation from the airport, and I promptly enquired from my host if I could not be taken, as usual, in a car. It is amazing how living in Lagos, a city with generous water channels and opportunities for water transport, one has been conditioned to driving around in private cars, with boat rides anchored firmly to occasional leisure. Tales of boat mishaps hardly offer any encouragement; that, coupled with the ignominious fact of one’s inability to swim.
We landed at Lungi International Airport under the cover of a heavy downpour. My first encounter was with an immigration officer who, as usual of entry clearance officers, asked why I was in the country, when I planned to leave and where I would be staying. She must have figured it was my first time in Sierra Leone, and asked if my host was around to receive me.
On learning that I was to take the ferry across to meet my driver at the jetty, what she did next was unexpected and certainly a first for this traveler: She got up and out of her cubicle, and led me to the ferry operator’s kiosk within the airport premises where she bought me a ferry ticket from the safest operator in town (I paid), asked if I needed a local sim card or currency. She only left after I was comfortably settled in the Civilian bus shuttle which was to convey us to the departure jetty.
I am still not certain if this was a typical Freetown kindness, if I would have been in any in any form of danger without her help, or if I was expected to offer some tip to convey my appreciation. I erred in favour of thanking her profusely for her kindness and help, not wanting to offend by assuming that she went through the inconvenience for a paltry tip.
The Pelican Sea Coach ferry ride was thankfully unremarkable, it was enjoyable enough to be reminiscent of my leisure ride to the Statue of Liberty on a recent vacation, and a cruise to Burg al Arab in company of friends in a playful escape from another diplomatic drudgery.
The sight at Lungi ferry jetty left so much to be desired. An embarrassing amount of debris floated on the brown sea-weed coloured waters, and freely littered the jetty. There is a case to be made for putting one’s best foot forward (given that almost everyone passes through the jetty on the way to the nation’s capital), next to Lungi airport, the jetty was another opportunity for Sierra Leone to do that. A comforting feature was free WiFi, available at the jetty and on the ferry. It was slow, but it worked, providing a needful opportunity for travelers to check in with their loved ones.
I spent the week at the Family Kingdom Resort along Lumley Beach in Freetown. It was a rainy week which exposed the city’s poor drainage system and lack of town planning. The first noticeable difference between my home city and Freetown was the smell of fish that permeated everywhere in Lumley; I was told the fishy smell emanated from a peculiar kind of sea weed. I soon got used to this minor implacable inconvenience, and ceased to be reminded of my long forgotten first trimester affliction of nausea.
Saturday morning, before my return trip back home, offered an opportunity to see the city. My resident colleagues suggested a trip to Leicester Peak, for an opportunity to drive into the clouds for a one-shot view of Freetown. Geoview puts the mountain at 548 metres above sea level; it is the highest I have climbed, ranks at the 6th highest mountain in Sierra Leone’s Western Area and the 32nd highest mountain in the country. Perhaps with some idle time on my hands and hinds in the future, I could do some more mountaineering.
We spent about an hour looking down on everyone, taking photographs and watching clouds pass. None of us was particularly acrophobic, but we wondered, when some got too close to the edge for a grand photo shot, if a fall would be not be indubitably fatal. The view from Leicester Peak was breathtaking; one wonders how the other 5 mountains would be.
Yẹmí writes from Lagos.