I was happy to go – it was somewhere new. We headed out along the main road out of Freetown to the rest of Sierra Leone. As I’ve said elsewhere, the Chinese were building another road through the mountains to take pressure off the main road and route traffic from the Western Suburbs to Hastings but it was still not ready, and the illegal use of the course of the road was now being strictly policed. So it was all slow going, but once past the hubbub of a Saturday market in Hastings and Waterloo we were on the open road that I knew well from my forays up to the north. We only traversed a few kilometres though before Jan turned off to the right at the village of Malolo and continued along a wide but untarmacced road to the east. This was in theory the most direct main road from Freetown to the Southern Province and ultimately to the Liberian border, but the underdevelopment of this region in amongst low lying swamps meant that more vehicles would head inland to Bo and Kenema before turning southwards to the coast again.
The road was eerily quiet, we only saw a few taxis and bikes as we passed several villages. The road was unnaturally straight and flat even for the best of the metalled African highways, and I realised that in fact we were following the route of an old railway. It turned gentle corners every so often but was for the most part elevated above the level of the marshy swampland and pockets of agriculture below.
The woodland became more dense as we went on and while agricultural produce was not present on the roadside, many charcoal bundles were for sale. I had no idea what this bridge looked like so was amazed to see it was a big old structure spanning a river of about 300m. There were a bunch of taxis hanging round one end and I could see people were walking down the embankment of the old rail track to the left of me. We got out of Jan’s vehicle and I walked along the old course of the railway. Below me to the left was a muddy harbour where people were transhipping from their land transport into small dugout canoes and being ferried across the river. Them and their livestock, belonging and commodities. In front of me the bridge was a single track iron girder structure with wooden planks placed crossways. The metal looked a bit rusty and some of planks could be replaced but it all looked perfectly respectable. Ahead of me something was wrong – I could see the far end of the bridge was perched up about 10 metres above my level. I took some ginger steps along the way. While the part of the bridge I was on had guard rails made of girders coming up to my chest; over the main part of the river they were more at lorry height. This main part had collapsed.