I said earlier there was only one main road out of Freetown to the rest of the country and it often was clogged up with traffic. This is true, but there were two alternative routes – a very circuitous route right round the coast, on a difficult road, or a mountain track that we were about to take. It started out as a normal two lane highway, then became a single track tarmacced road, with a few potholes. Then it became a muddy track, and the four vehicles struggled along the road for the best part of an hour.
The track was made worse by the improvements being made to it. I know, sounds perverse, but let me explain. The government had finally woken up to the severe limitations of depending on one road in and out of Freetown, as well as all the congestion in town. The Chinese had been contracted in to make a series of dual carriageways around the city. These were slowly making progress – on my first visit people were very proud of the half mile stretch near the office. Unfortunate thing was that it took about a minute and a half to drive the whole length of it then you were back to bumping along severely potholed roads. These feeder roads were all to link up to a new highway that would take traffic out of the western suburbs and potentially past the office from the city centre up in to the mountains and then meet the main road at the little town of Hastings at the isthmus of the peninsula.
The construction of the road through the mountains was in its initial stages – in about four or five places deep river gorges were being filled or bridged, and there was a lot of associated traffic churning up the existing road. It was almost impassable even by 4x4s but we struggled through.
Haba drove with more skill and speed than the others and kept disappearing into the distance. We regrouped at a filling station in Hastings where this road hit the main road out of town. We seemed to be navigating by filling stations.
For the first time in about five days, we were on good roads. The main highway out of Freetown from Hastings onwards is well graded, well tarmacced with only the occasional surprise deep pothole to buckle your axle on. But for the next ten kilometres or so it still passed through fairly urban ground. The suburbs of Freetown had swamped over old Krio towns and made them busy. The Krio were free African people living around the peninsula, and often still have better education and living standards than the communities in the interior. The houses were larger and in most areas here there was electricity and water supply. It still looked like a jumble of periurban activities from smallholding and goat herding to arc welding and phone card sales.
We passed through the busy town of Waterloo, where the peninsula gives way to the rest of Africa. We stopped a couple of times at the market that sprawled along the length of the main road to pick up bread and a few snacks. I’d bought some fairly expensive maps of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia when I had been in Stanfords in London, and kept looking at them. I wanted to keep them dry in the bush and had them in plastic folders. I had not been so thoughtful in the car to put them away while we were travelling and my water bottle – condensing the humid air around it, managed to soak a hole in my map on the first day!