That environment, as I was soon to discover was incredible, full of surprises, and, most of all, very remote. I had timed a three week visit with that of the USFS and many other partners, who were there to travel around the priority zones and learn what had happened in recent years. STEWARD had been going for several years already and many prototype activities had occurred. This current phase was a big extension. A couple of USAID personnel from their Accra office had also turned up, and some people from the US Geological Survey who were conducting a huge mapping exercise across west Africa to look at land cover.
The idea was we had a couple of days in Freetown to arrange logistics and have some start up meetings, in particular with CARE International who operated many projects in the area we were to traverse. Then we would go in a convoy of four vehicles to Makeni in central Sierra Leone for a meeting with another project funded by the World Bank that was working in the area, then head north to the zone itself.
The logistics would have been difficult even if we had been a small party, but there were about twenty people involved in this trip, and we were not all staying together. Hugo had to return to the UK early, so would only be with us about 3 days on the Sierra Leone side. One of the USGS guys and myself and my new found Thomson Reuters colleague, Kofi, were to travel back to Freetown a day later after having made a short trip onto the Guinea side. Then the others were going to travel the length of Guinea to the other area before driving down to Monrovia and flying out from Liberia.
A whole load of issues came up; the main one for me being that my VisitSierraLeone visa was a single entry one; if I got in to Guinea and then attempted to re-enter Sierra Leone it would be probable that it would be refused. Others had no Guinea visas; so one of the office staff spent the next day or two at various embassies around Freetown trying to get the right stamps.
The project currently had only one up country vehicle, so three others had to be hired from a local firm, along with drivers. The two USFS staff temporarily running the project – Stephanie and Annie, had to arrange a lot of the fuel, water, food and currency, as well as the documentation to allow vehicles across all the borders. I was glad to be treated like a VIP guest and they just had to tell me when to be where and what to bring.