My journey to Sierra Leone started from a gray and dreary Paris (I discovered that rain + winter makes Paris less romantic. Harrumph) through Casablanca, Morocco to Freetown, Sierra Leone. It was a lucky break I was in France because the Philippines discourages travelers from going to West Africa (really, my country needs to be a little less backward about things like this) and even blocks people from leaving if they find out that's your destination. (It's disappointing that the Philippines churns out thousands of medical professionals like doctors, nurses, and are known to be excellent caregivers. And yet, the government discourages them from going to West Africa to help in the response. But anyway).
For anyone going to Sierra Leone, the trip at the moment (with all the flight cancellations to Africa) is through Air Brussels (Brussels) and Royal Air Maroc (Morocco). From Morocco, it's a 3-4 hour plane ride to Freetown (I'd be more accurate but I was passed out during my midnight trip until we landed at the annoying hour of 4am). Let me tell you, it's a huge shock to the system to go from chilly Paris and Morocco at - degree weather and come out on the other end at 30 degree Freetown (technically, that's a lot hotter than the Philippines right now!).
Upon landing, a short bus ride takes you to the terminal where everyone lines up for a chlorine hand wash by the entrance. Once you're done, you're allowed in and handed a medical questionnaire form asking you if you've had any symptoms and where you've been in the last 2 months. Immigration is next, where you should always keep your yellow fever vaccination card in handy. Then you line up again before the baggage claim for a doctor to take your temperature with a temperature gun (honestly, this was the first time I saw one and IT IS THE COOLEST) and stamps your medical questionnaire form.
Baggage claim gets interesting. 5,000 leones (about $1) gets you a trolley and once you've collected your bags, then you have to file out and look for the water taxis that'll take you across. Lungi International Airport sits on an island and it's a ferry ride to Aberdeen that costs $40 (kind of a lot!). It's a huge adventure arriving at 4am when it's still super dark and you have a lot of people accosting you. But be careful, once they help you, they will ask for Leones worth a dollar or two.
My water taxi ride early in the morning was a little terrifying... super choppy, pitch dark water. It didn't help that the aid worker next to me told me that the sea was the worst she'd ever seen it... and loudly asked for a life jacket. The 45 minute ride was pretty fun except for when the engine sputtered out and it was just a strong current carrying us for a minute or two. Once you dock and get to your pick-up, it's all good though.
Sierra Leone in the daylight is beautiful. I'm pretty happy to arrive in January for the harmattan season (this is the year to experience seasons totally out of my wheelhouse - autumn, winter, harmattan!). Harmattan is a dry, dusty wind in West Africa which blankets the country in a fog-like cloud, although the opposite of a cloud. It's a beautiful sight when you're looking into the distance, seeing the streets of Sierra Leone climbing up to its hills and mountains which disappear into the harmattan. Looking out into the Atlantic is interesting as well. Harmattan makes visibility poor and there's something strangely wonderful about seeing the water disappear into the fog. But harmattan doesn't seem to be gray because to me, Sierra Leone is a country of orange - rich orange sand that's swept up into the harmattan.
The people of Sierra Leone are also wonderful. They are super friendly and genuinely interested in you when they ask how you are and how your day is going. I also seem to have a secret in with Sierra Leonians?Leonese?? because somehow, Philippine movies have made it to this side of the world and everyone seems to be obsessed with the stories. I've been told they're educational but I am SURE they are love stories. They also seem to be spreading some pretty big misconceptions about the Philippines as I've been asked if all the houses are big (!!!! I need to investigate these movies further! Lies!). But I'm glad they seem to love our country as much as I'm growing to like theirs.
Abbi is a petite human, blogger, amateur photographer, permanent humanitarian, avid traveller, culture addict, giant bookworm and impossible foodie.