”To travel is to live” is quite a famous quote. One of those quotes which are used so often that it becomes a cliché. I certainly don’t agree; but I definitely do love to travel.
Sierra Leone does have some obstacles for the traveller. Infrastructure is crappy, official transportation almost non-existent, and timetables exist to be broken. Nonetheless Africa just seems to work in its own logic. If you are a control-freak by nature, travelling here is certainly not for you. To have a journey planned out to the slightest detail, will just get you frustrated as you see your expectations tumble down around you. Are you on the other hand up for the impulsive journey, which doesn’t necessarily have to live up to westerners’ concept of comfort and relaxation you are in for quite an experience.
All of us Danish people living in Masanga have a land rover available, which we can use for our work and leisure related trips. That is indeed a very comfortable way of travelling and can be a must if our trips go beyond most of the major cities and thus beyond the asphalted roads (not that every major city can be reached by asphalted road). Especially when the rainy season sets in (Argh) this vehicle will become indispensable. A few weekends ago a lot of us headed for Outamba Kilimi, which is the biggest national park in Sierra Leone. The roads were terrible and we were many in the car, which resulted in that the people in the back had kind of a rough ride. This made me think, that I might as well sit on the rough instead of bumping my head against it. The driver didn’t object and before long I had mounted the steely, modern-day rodeo-bull. It was quite intense. Zooming through the African landscape, the vehicle spitting out a tail of red dust, people waiving and laughing along the way at the stupid Dane, the sunset revealing the awe-inspiring full moon and me dodging (most of the time) the low-hanging mangoes (unfortunately the one I managed to pick wasn’t ripe), clinging to the rope, which fastened our bags onto the roof.
Under the starlit night sky on the small forest path it appeared to me that travelling may not give you life. But it may let you experience it more fully. I remember my dad telling me how many years working at the same place seemed to speed up his life. How the drive there became this half unconscious routine, and the whole day could just wither away without any new impressions to linger at. Suddenly a month had gone by – suddenly a year. When you travel, you sentence your senses to a multitude of new impressions that needs to be taken in. And that will unavoidably – in my eyes – seem to lower the pace of how you experience the world around you. Because you cannot help to take in the small details, your senses will not allow it.
That is why I think that travelling doesn’t lead you to live. You can easily live without ever leaving your daily routines - if you call that a life of course. But maybe: to travel is to live longer. Because you live slower; because you notice that you live and that the world around you breathes.
Then travelling can as readily be a trip to the beach, a picnic in the forest, a canoe-trip down a river, or a dinner date at an untried restaurant as half a year in Sierra Leone.
But travelling in a land rover can seem quite inaccessible and exclusive. Often I prefer to travel by local means. As Sierra Leone haven’t rebuild the train lines, that did exist prior to the war (although Chinese building companies are in the process or changing this) the only official means of transportation are the government busses. These are very rare, only travel on a few select distances and cannot be booked in advance. I still haven’t been able to travel with them. But there are also the unofficial, private busses – the so called poda podas – which can best be described as a sort of minibuses, always excessively decorated with bright colours and philosophical mottos such as: ‘God Bless Allah’, ‘Big Boss’, ‘Never Trust A Stranger’, or the more common ‘God Bless Manchester United’. These busses is build for approx. 12 passengers but is not really filled until the double number are cramped together. They are cheap, a good way to meet people and just seem to be there, when you need them. If there isn’t a poda poda waiting for you, odds on is that a taxi is. Taxis function to a high degree like the poda podas with fixed routes and prices – slightly more expensive. Of course they can be chartered to go of the fixed route, but that will cost you. The same goes if you want to travel cha cha in the taxi – meaning only your (or your party of people) – but of course then you will need to pay for the entire taxi, which according to the locals easily carries min. 8 people (2 at the drivers seat (!!), 2 at the other front seat and 4 in the back). It should be unnecessary to point out, that you are not always that comfortable seated with this amount of passengers, but again you get to meet people.
A better way to travel cheap and comfortable is the Honda, which pretty much covers every kind of motorcycle type. Again they are difficult (and expensive) to get to travel outside the designated routes, but the feeling of flying through the countryside with the sunrays caressing your skin and the wind stroking back your hair is worth recommending. For me this is – as with the land rover roof experience – really among the moments where you take in the outside world. When you travel without a screen between you and the passing landscape, it seems closer, more real and forces you to notice where you are.
That is why I constantly find myself on Hondas going here and there and back again; in the generous sunlight, in the hard rain, and under the delicate moon – of for a new travelling tale.