After the scramble to retrieve bags in a hot sweaty baggage hall in the airport, I was searched by customs (but only a cursory inspection inside the suitcase). As I came out into the open air , I had to avoid all the fake ticket touts and overzealous porters and instead turned right to a small cabin in the corner from where Pelican ran its operations. Although some of the guys in their red stripy polo shirts were legitimate employees, I waited till I got to the cabin before obtaining the ticket and passing over the 40 US dollars. My details were carefully added to the manifest, the ticket issued, and baggage tags handed out. Although I was in an area separated from the road by a low wall, I still took care to keep an eye on my big red suitcase. Lungi airport did have a poor reputation for petty theft , it was dark, and above all I wanted to be on the other side of the lagoon as soon as possible and did not want the bag to be left to one side over here.
It took a while and a lot of shouting to organise our transit. The British Midland flight was turning around to head back to London at midnight, and Pelican were dealing with passengers wishing to be on it as well as taking us over to Freetown. Our bags were piled into an old transit van and one minibus while we were loaded into a second – one of those where seats folded down across the aisle to pack more of us in. It was quite a squeeze for hot sweaty me to rest my oversize laptop on my knee while a large lady plonked down beside me.
We turned out of the airport and immediately onto unmetalled roads. I thought this bizarre – I had heard Sierra Leone was one of the poorest countries in the world, but had expected some level of infrastructure at its main international portal. The fact was a bumpy tarmacced road headed left down towards the Kissy ferry dock, we were heading to a closer beach from which Pelican operated and it was dirt track all the way. It was the start of the rainy season and we splashed through the mud and puddles in the middle of a village, from the dark we could see the fires that had just completed the cooking of dinner. A few pairs of eyes peered out at us as we noisily passed.
We dropped steeply down a small cliff and bumped along by some beach properties before reversing slowly into a sandy car park. Next to us was a concrete building open on all sides, a small kiosk selling water, sweets and other drinks. Beyond a low wall was the beach and we could hear rollers crashing in. I wandered over to a wooden boardwalk that led down to a floating jetty. This was heaving up and down n inflated barrels in quite a violent manner. Out in the roads were a couple of boats, high speed ferries capable of taking about 25 passengers. And off in the distance, partly shrouded by heavy cloud, I could see the lights of Freetown dotted up the mountain side.
We sat for quite a while, it getting quickly darker as we waited. Another boat arrived from the Freetown side, disgorging more passengers heading for the BMI flight. A companion boat followed up with their luggage and there was a long process of manhandling each bag off separately, walk them along the oscillating jetty and into the waiting van in the car park.
It was about an hour after we first arrived here, and nearly three since the plane had landed, and we were called forward. Each ticket had been numbered in order; and despite some of the employees saying they would get people on the first boat out, there seemed to be little queue jumping going on. I missed the cut of the first boat by about 3 places, but the second boat was one of the ones that I had seen out in the offing. It now chugged into place and we were invited to board.