A Day at the Beach (Kind of)

Hi everyone! Sorry for the delay in posting. I’ve spent the last week in the field, visiting and working in a remote district in Sierra Leone where I had no Internet access at all. So I’m going to catch up by posting these entries and back-dating them to reflect a more accurate timeline. Please bear with me!

After such a busy week of training and planning in Freetown, Lydia and I decided that we needed a little bit of time to relax and sightsee. It is my first time in Sierra Leone, and Lydia had previously visited two years ago, so we were interested in getting out from the hotel. Unfortunately, though, we had to be careful and limit our sightseeing because of the recent and ongoing Ebola crisis. Sierra Leone is not yet Ebola free, and new cases have been occurring each week in two northwestern districts as well as the poor areas of Freetown. While some of the restrictions, such as a 6pm curfew, have eased, it is wise to take precautions to limit unnecessary public contact, particularly in crowds or public areas.

But we could relax and explore within reason. So, although our hotel has a nice pool, we had heard about Sierra Leone’s white sand beaches and turquoise water and hoped for a chance to relax by the ocean. On Saturday, we inquired of our local driver whether we could arrange for an outing to the beach.

“Yes,” he said. “It’s not far.”

So, mid-afternoon on Saturday we hopped into the NGO-standard land rover and began our journey, traveling through the crowded streets of Freetown, passing busy markets that eventually gave way to wooden and cement homes with goats, chickens, and laundry hung out to dry. Because the roads are winding and the traffic is bad, it isn’t unusual for it to take 30-40 minutes to travel from one point in town to another.

After about 45 minutes of driving, we were on the very edges of town and the road weaved between villages, with jungle-covered mountains on one side and the ocean on the other. While most expats are told to visit a beach that, for some reason, is called River Number 2, we were advised to travel a bit further to an even better beach. And so we kept driving. And driving. And driving.

Eventually the paved road turned into a red, muddy road that alternated between pools of water and boulders. We were thankful to be in a sturdy land rover, but we were on a road that adventure seekers would have been thrilled to test their mettle on – climbing up and down treacherous mud at 45-degree and higher angles, moving into the edges of vines and trees to creep past an occasional truck coming the opposite direction.

After an hour, I asked the driver as we climbed, bounced, and rolled down another muddy incline, “Ummm…How much further?”

“It’s close. Not long.”

And so we journeyed onward through the jungle, having lost sight of the beach and any sign of other people ages ago. It seemed to be an eternity of bouncing down the red mud track, surrounded by trees and bushes, passing few other cars. We rocked, rattled, and rolled, and I felt like I was being thrown around inside a washing machine, possibly shaking a few teeth loose in the process.

After a while, I began to wonder if perhaps I’d lost sense of all time. Had it been five minutes or five hours? Where were we? I checked my watch: another hour had passed.

“Saidu,” I said to the driver, “I think your definition of ‘close’ and ‘not long’ are VERY different from my definition!”

We all laughed at that and continued to bounce up and down the muddy track. Eventually, after two and a half hours of driving through the jungle, we emerged suddenly upon The Place at Tokeh Beach, a resort of evenly spaced cement bungalos, which bordered a clear blue freshwater pool, a beach club, beautiful white sand, and the lovely ocean.

Too bad we had about an hour and a half to enjoy it before we had to get back in the car – didn’t want to be on that road in the dark going home! Ha!

It’s okay. The beach was beautiful and worth it. We enjoyed a late lunch sitting by the ocean, relaxing in the breeze and sun. And next time, we’ll start our journey much earlier in the day!


3 thoughts on “A Day at the Beach (Kind of)

  1. Heck of a trip for the beach! Beautiful though. Do you think that’s common that a 2.5 hour trip is “not far”? Or was he just trying to please you?

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  2. It’s actually a lesson I had learned in previous trips to Africa and then was reminded again this time around — you have to be specific about distance as well as time estimates. While 3 miles might sound like it isn’t far, on a bad and windy road, it can take more than 1.5 hours. But there’s also a cultural thing happening. In some cultures, it seems to be an issue of politeness, where they don’t want to disappoint. Or it can be miscommunication just because they’re used to things taking longer than we are — case in point, a Sierra Leonean colleague needed to go to the bank and told us he’d be back in 10 minutes. Well, in typical fashion, the lines at the bank were long and the computer systems were down so everything had to be done manually. It took him two hours to complete his task. When I teased him about what constituted a “Jenn 10 minutes versus a Tejan 10 minutes” in reference to the beach trip, he laughed and said, “In Africa, 10 minutes means 3 hours.”

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