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Day 19 Update

Labe to Conakory then to Kambia (Sierra Leone)

A massive day! We left the hotel in Labe around 3.30am after breakfast at 2.30am and headed to Conakory to present our case to the chief of customs for the whole of Guinea. Our armed customs escort came with us in the front seat of ‘William Wilberforce’ and must have said only five or six sentances the whole of the day. Accidents can happen so quickly on a trip like this and one of the drivers misjudged a corner down a twisty mountain road and skidded off it competely. Fortunately that particular corner didn’t have a drop on it and they were safe. A timely reminder that even towards to end of a trip you have to be so careful.

Many people had painted a picture of Guinee as a country full of gun weilding people and dangerous to drive through. The reality couldn’t have been different. In the morning light the roads were lined with palm trees and colourful people going about their everyday activities in peace and joy. All along this journey people wave at us when we drive through a village and here it is the same. Children were going to school in their colourful uniforms with their satchels, men and women were engaged in picture-postcard images of life in Africa. Colourful clothes, simple huts with reed roofs, women carrying all manner of things on their heads, and men working the land. Stunning and by far this was one of the highlights of the trip. As we approached Conakory, the scenary descended in the typical African-urban slum that we have become used to seeing. Litter everywhere, decay of the infrastructure, poor housing and overcrowding.

Our purpose of this 9 hour drive was to get to the centre of the city. This is a task and a half with five vehicles travelling in convoy, but we finally arrived in the port area of town and immediately entered into an argument with the Police and Customs over where to park the vehicles. Not a good start. The phrase ‘leave them over there and we’ll deal with it tomorrow’ was one we heard that set our minds racing with it’s consequences. However, Claudio was leading the negoiations and went to see the Chief women in her office behind her massive desk. We sat in the mid day heat for several hours, and having not eaten since 2.30am we made good use of the street sellers who were selling all manner of food. The sleep deprivation was setting in with lots of people getting edgy and cross. Finally Claudio arrived truimphant with news that we could go but we only had 2 and a half hours to get to the border before it closed and it was a 2hr drive to get there. Touch and go.

We drove the last miles to the border in darkness (again!) and the formalitles were simple now we had the correct paperwork and we were processed out of Guinea with some speed – enough to conceive the notion that we could make to to Freetown that night. How wrong we were.

The border with Sierra Leone was 2kms away over rough track and as we approached, we could make out lights and shouting in our direction. It was a welcoming committee from our recipients and they had been waiting at the border for 2 days! It was really great to see some familier faces such as Philp Dean from St. George who had been at the send off in Hull and Kelfa from HANCI. We took some photographs, shook hands over the border barrier rope and went off to process the passports. Getting the vehicles in Sierra Leone was always the final hurdle that could make our entire journey futile and being turned away was a real possibility. Fortunately Kalfa Kargbo from HANCI had been working away for many days to secure entry for the team and with only an hour or two’s delay we were finally stamped into Sierra Leone!

The entire time we had been awake at this point was 21 hours and even though the spirit was willing for all the flesh was weak for some. There was conflicting information on how long the drive to Freetown was. Some people said 2-3 hours and some said 5-6 hours. 50km of this was over very rough track and 90km was road. The team was split and it was finally decided that some would press on to Freetown and others would go to a small motel in Kambia near to the border. For the team that went ahead it ended up as a 6 hour drive which meant they eventually arrived at dawn in Freetown after a herculean 27 hours in the car. A massive effort in a massive day.