Into the Jungle – Finding a way across the Lagoon

Over the years there have been various methods for doing this.  The slowest would be to travel round the estuary by road, but this would be a trip of over 100km and could take up to 5 or 6 hours.  It meant going north to the main road to Conakry before sweeping round the headwaters of the estuary then approach Freetown from the south east along the peninsula containing its high mountains.

The second slowest would be the car ferry.  A twenty minute drive south from the airport to the tip of the Lungi peninsula followed by a wait for to board an old ferry with every truck, bus, minibus, bicycle and a throng of people on every trip for the hour or so crossing to Kissy.  I never took this one as it would leave me on the wrong side of town for both my work and accommodation in the west of the city, and at most times of the day travelling through central Freetown you were ensured of gridlock.  The potential for delays (and missing flights) and personal security issues made this one for the bold and brave only.

The fastest route at one time would be an incredibly cheap helicopter ride that would make the crossing to the western suburbs of Freetown in around 10 minutes direct from Lungi airfield.  But they were operated by poorly maintained Mil-M8 Russian copters, and the service came to a dramatic halt in 2004 when 22 people were killed at Lungi Airport as one of the craft came in land but crashed instead.

Another alternative had been to take a ropey old hovercraft from the beach near Lungi to the little peninsula at the tip of Freetown, a district called Aberdeen.  One day this sunk midway across the channel and all the passengers were rescued by other craft.

So you can see why I started calling the trip back and forth between Freetown and the airport as “running the gauntlet”.  Fortunately there was one more option which I always took. On some occasions it was a dream, others it seemed a never ending drudge.  But it was a happy compromise between speed and safety and actually deposited me on the right side of town in Aberdeen. This was the Pelican, or Sea Coach Express.

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Waiting for our ferry

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