Makeni - Kabala
The sense of the rural over the urban is almost immediate. It is purely and simply a subsistence existence and once you are just 10 kilometres out of the city the schools no longer seem to exist and the only kids you see are hawking, carrying insanely heavy loads on their heads or helping their parents...to exist.
I am on my way to Kabala for the day. We pass a huge handsome cotton tree, almost as if it has been left as a memorial to the majestic trees that once covered much of this land. Soon afterwards we cross a brand new rail line, built from scratch for African Minerals. The line runs to our left and you can just make out the plush HQ with its brand new living quarters and monstrous air con units. It shows what can be achieved when big money wants things to get done.
Further up-country almost everybody lives in thatched mud huts and the bush is far wilder than in other parts of Sierra Leone I have so far witnessed.
The bus arrives in Kabala, near the Guinea border, where it feels even hotter than in Makeni. I ask a smart-looking man in the street if he knows where the Sengbeh Guesthouse is and we end up chatting for some minutes. Bu recently returned from army service in Iraq. A proud man of 22 years military service, he dreams of setting up his own private security company here in Kabala but is hampered by the large amount of start up capital that is required.
Kabala's compact centre is full of character. There is a colourful market, a beautiful central mosque and its trading streets are home to a number of buildings that evoke the American Wild West of the gold rush days; sheer mountain faces overhanging the city.
Sengbeh Guesthouse is, I guess, a 3-kilometre walk. 60,000 leones (£9) gets me a double en suite with electricity (7pm-midnight), TV and balcony. I even get breakfast although as I need to be at the bus station for 6.30 that doesnt seem very realistic.
Sajid Toure is a man who looks more like a Saharan African with his long torn, dusty tunic. I am not sure whether he is the hotel manager or just the odd job man but either way he is one hell of a character. He tells me the town has had its first tourists in recent years, inquisitive about this relatively unknown and beautiful corner of the world, close to Guinea.
The guesthouse's cook is the complete bipolar opposite of Sajid: a firey babushka of a woman who makes me feel afraid to even ask for a bottle of beer never mind try to order a vegetarian meal. And so, for the second night running, I skip my evening meal and make do with a couple of cold beers instead.
The TV works but only has one channel showing one of those rather culturally disturbing African soap operas which intermingles Christianity, Islam and traditional beliefs into something rather complicated and impossible for the outsider to understand. Secret societies are a hugely significant part of Sierra Leonean life. Outsiders know very little about what goes on as members of these societies often face pain of death if they reveal concrete information about their rituals and initiation ceremonies. It is said that 95% of Sierra Leonean women are initiated. In other words, virtually all the women in this country are witches; be it Christian or Muslim or neither. The secret societies are, on the whole, a taboo subject. It can be very uncomfortable speaking to anybody about the civil war but you tend to completely leave alone the secret society topic.
Enjoying the views of the Wara Wara mountains and the peace and solitude of my temporary residence in Kabala, I do a couple of hours of work for CBF HQ then retire to my double bed with the luxury of a fan. The temperature here drops below 25 at night so I find myself having the best sleep since I was at the coast a few weeks ago.