Steve's Cycling Blog

Bribing my way out of Sierra Leone (Stage 44)

Last nights ‘carols’ turned out to be enthusiastic noise with little melody, but it was entertaining for a time.

Despite being half under the tree my tent was wet this morning, and everything inside felt damp. It was also cooler this morning which made for a nice start to the day.

On paper today was the shortest of the tour, and despite being on gravel it should have gone by pretty smoothly – the only potential for hold-up being the border crossing.

I was also feeling human for the first morning in quite some time so was excited to get out on the road. It turned out the town we had been camped beside was significantly larger than it had appeared from where we had stopped – that might explain loud music and soccer commentary we could hear into the night!

There were a couple of steep climbs in the town and I was soon pulling ahead of other riders. Once the gravel proper started it was as good as the end of yesterday had been, with plenty of climbing, but it was the sort of track the flowed nicely so long as you followed the scooter tracks.

It didn’t take me long to catch the lunch truck – with bikes on top, riders inside and the rough road Lezinda’s taking it carefully and slowly.

At 26km I stopped at the top of a hill under a tree for my morning tea banana and to wring out my gloves – despite the fact that it was still pretty cool it had been foggy all morning so humidity was near 100% which means that sweat doesn’t evaporate and was running down my arms and legs and making puddles in my shoes and gloves!

Down the hill and I thought I saw a TDA truck just ahead of me which didn’t make much sense as the only person that could be was Max who should have been much further ahead.

Making the turn and sure enough it was Max, with Mateo and Abdula out flagging the next corner. I took the opportunity of the truck being stationary to get past as given I’d caught up with them despite their 30min head start and my break under the try I was clearly making faster progress than they were. It’s also much safer to pass when the truck’s not moving!

They really get about Gwen!

I passed through the town of Koinou which was also bigger than I’d expected given we’re really out in the middle of no-where here, before beginning the drop down to the border.

In to the border to find David and Eleanor just completing procedures and to hear that despite being asked to wait for the dinner truck to cross Dominic has gone on on his own!

The first stop was the medical post where they wanted to take my temperature and record details of my yellow fever vaccination – the first time anyone’s actually wanted to see it. I took a few minutes to cool down after the ride before doing that! Surprisingly my temperature was 35.7 – maybe sweating does work 😉

Over to immigration and the rather officious chap there spotted an opportunity to improve his financial position. In his eyes my visa ‘expired’ on the 30th of November and I was trying to leave on the 6th of December which according to him was ‘a big problem’!

The reality is that I had to have entered Sierra Leone by the 30th – something which was clear to the official when I entered the country because he had stamped me in, entered the arrival date and indicated that I could stay for 30 days until the 25th of December.

The only solution to get my exit stamp was to pay an extra ‘fee’ – cash only, no receipt! The visa had cost me £60, and the ‘fee’ was two thirds of that, so £40. I only had Euros or USD on me, so that got increased to €50.

In the end I was the first of five riders who got caught by this process, with various fees from $20 – 50 USD being applied – I expect the little git earned more from ripping us off that morning than he had in the previous month!

Formalities complete and it was time to settle in for the wait – despite how long that had all taken none of the vehicles had arrived yet and we weren’t supposed to leave until the baggage truck had made it through.

Pretty much all the rider where in by the time the lunch truck got here. A few of us helped Lezinda get lunch set up – because of the truck swapping that’s going on (the dinner truck is too heavy to go on the chain ferry across this border so has to go round through Liberia so a local pile of shit (truck) has been hired to carry bags and the camp kitchen for the next two days) crew are all over the place and poor Lulu was trying to get things set up on her own.

Eventually the baggage truck arrived – it coming to a complete standstill is something to behold – it slows down, during which time one of the truck boys who rides on top clambers over the back of the truck, jumps down to the ground, grabs a block of wood from a locker at the back and then chucks it under the rear wheel when instructed from the cab!

Sharita also arrived having made it along the road with the trailer behind her Hilux – some pretty hairy moments from the sound of it – without the dinner truck the trailer is even more important because that’s now the primary source of water at camp.

Finally the baggage truck was through so we let it get ahead for a while then set off for the last 2km to the river. Though there were lots of people on the bank there wasn’t a lot of action.

The ‘ferry’ is essentially a barge which is held from floating downstream by a cable which stretches across the river. In theory there are also hand-winched cables to pull it back and forth, but those are ‘finished’ (i.e. no-longer work) so instead a bunch of chaps propel it with bamboo poles à la Venice gondola.

Thing was, they wouldn’t move until they had been paid, so Max had to get in another local boat and head across, negotiate the fee to move the four vehicles, and then return.

Some riders were being ferried in the smaller local boats, but once the large ferry started to move we were told we could go over on that with the baggage truck, but once that was loaded we were told to way – it was already too heavy.

So back to being loaded in the smaller boats for the crossing.

On the other side and it was clear nobody had thought things through – right where the barge came aground was a huge pile of sacks of charcoal – until they were moved there was no way the truck was getting off! We left them to it and headed up to Guinea immigration.

As usual this is a multi-step manual process. Thankfully we had seats mostly I the shade to wait on. In all honesty with all the sitting waiting that had been done today I have no idea how long I was there for – maybe an hour, maybe two!

Finally I was able to make my way through the town to our camp spot. While my moving average for the day was pretty good given the gravel conditions, the over-all average worked out to be about 5km/h given it took me the best part of nine hours to get from camp-to-camp.

Tonight’s camp is once again at a school – the fact the school finishes early afternoon, and that we leave early in the morning makes them ideal camping locations – this one’s quite big so many of us are on the verandas where it’s both shady and will stay dry from the dew over night.

I got my tent up, and managed to have a wash with a far smaller audience than I’d had last night. From there I managed to get my Guinea SIM card into my data dongle and it worked really well – for about 10 minutes until I got a message to say I’d run out of data – bugger!

Rider meeting and dinner got pushed back to 1830 to give time for everyone to get organised, and Colleen to get dinner cooked – Errol’s now driving Sharita’s truck and was the last to get across the river – vegetarian spaghetti Bolognese, but it was by far the best pasta sauce we’ve had on the tour with an amazingly rich and tasty flavour!

And because dinner was so late, by the time that and a cup of tea had been had, it was time for bed!

View from my tent

The school yard from my tent on the verandah.

Selfie of the day

Waiting at the border for things to happen after bribing the corrupt official

Riding data

Total distance: 44.19 kmTotal Time: 08:02:03
Max elevation: 451 mMin elevation: 321 m
Total climbing: 959 mTotal descent: -872 m
Average speed: 5.50 km/hMaximum speed: 80.64 km/h

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