Sierra Leone is more than just a catchy name; it is one of the most beautiful countries in West Africa — a gateway to one of the most diverse and fascinating landscapes in the world.
Africa is the world's second-largest and second most-populous continent after Asia, and also the most neglected. Historically, it is the oldest continent in the world and at present is facing more political, economical and social turmoil than any other in the world. Hence, travelling to Africa was quite the adventure.
Our first stop was Sierra Leone, situated in West Africa. Sierra Leone is more than just a catchy name; it is one of the most beautiful countries in Africa with a promising future.
With an estimated population of six million, it is a gateway to one of the most diverse and fascinating landscapes in the world. The country has a tropical climate, with a diverse environment ranging from savannah to rainforests, beautiful beaches and hills.
Our first destination in Sierra Leone was Freetown — the capital. Taking a ferry from Lungi, as you reach Freetown, you can see the sea from almost any point in the city and you are never far away from the beach. Situated in the town centre is Cotton Tree — another engaging site which is said to have been a slave market during the British rule. The area is now visited by the locals for offering prayers. The town centre is also a thriving business spot where you can spot local businessmen and women selling traditional African jewellery, clothes and souvenirs, that too at very affordable prices. Buying an African mask from the market is a must.
Bo and Kenema are the two largest cities of Sierra Leone. On the jeep ride from Bo to Kenema, the prevalence of savannah vegetation increases. Unrestricted hunting during Sierra Leone's civil war has adversely affected much of the country's wildlife. Large game animals, such as elephants, leopards, lions, hyenas, and buffalos, are rarely seen outside of national parks or reserves. However, chimpanzees and various species of monkeys are common in the forest zones, while other animals, such as antelope and bushpigs, are more generally distributed.
Hippopotamuses, crocodiles, and manatees occupy the rivers, including such rare species as the pygmy hippopotamus and the dwarf crocodile. The coastal waters and rivers, such as the Sierra Leone and the Sherbro, contain a wide variety of fish and shellfish, such as tuna, barracuda, snapper, herring, mackerel, and lobster. The barracuda which is a delicacy in Sierra Leone was indeed a treat. Sierra Leone's rich birdlife, which emerged relatively unscathed from the years of conflict, includes emerald cuckoos, owls, little African swift, vultures, and many other species. Several parks, sanctuaries, and reserves have also been established to protect Sierra Leone's wildlife.
As for Kenema, its large diamond mines take you back to Hollywood's Blood Diamond as the scenes from the famous film flash before your eyes. However, as normal as things may seem in the country, one can't help but notice the marks that the civil war, which began in the country in early 1990s, has left on its exotic beauty. The great thing is that the life-loving and warm people of Sierra Leone make you forget all that.
While in the country, we also had the honour of meeting the President, Mr Ernest Bai Koroma. Warm and hospitable, he wanted us to deliver his message to the world “Please tell people that we are no more at war”.
Our next destination was Liberia, bordered by Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone. Since the year 2005, when democratic elections brought Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to the presidency of Liberia, the country has been the recipient of great international goodwill and support which is unprecedented in history. It was in a makeshift hut — known as Palava hut in the local lingo — in Monrovia that we first heard about Liberia's waves. The surf spot is 50 kilometres (or a three-hour drive) north from the Liberian capital and about 16 kilometres from the border with Sierra Leone. However, there is little there but seafood and surf. You certainly won't find fancy cocktails or deckchairs along the shoreline. But you will most certainly find some amazing world-class waves. The coast of Robertsport is made up of five points. The Fisherman's Point, closest to town, is a perfect wave for long boarders and beginners.
Despite the abject poverty, devastated buildings and flattened economy, while taking a walk down one of its empty beaches, one realised that war-weary Liberia is richer than it seems.
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