At the end of a hectic few weeks of back-to-back assignments I was left with a weekend in Sierra Leone while waiting for the first flight home on Monday afternoon.
There are plenty of national parks in Sierra Leone that I would love to visit, but the absence of any real infrastructure in the country makes it impossible for just a weekend. The previous weekend I had been driven from Monrovia to Freetown – an eight-hour journey, partly on a narrow, pot-holed dirt track carved through the Gola Forest – and this the main road between the neighbouring capital cities!
So I opted instead for a simple local trip, to the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary in the hills above Freetown. This is just a twenty minute drive away, although I then had a twenty minute walk on the end of it as my taxi driver refused to drive me right up to the sanctuary gates in case we encountered any animals, as he was afraid...
When I arrived I joined the daily afternoon tour of the facilities, from the quarantine areas for newly rescued chimps, the isolation areas for those recovering from vaccination, the play areas for the younger ones still being introduced to eachother, and finally the areas of natural forest where the established groups roam. It is illegal to hunt chimpanzees in Sierra Leone, or to keep them as pets, but the Tacugama centre is still kept busy. There must be easily 100 animals there. The ultimate aim is to reintroduce the groups to the wild, though I’m not sure whether or not they have yet been able to do this with any groups.
I was staying in a lodge hidden away in the trees – tiny kitchen, and bathroom, as you entered, then up some very steep steps to a bedroom and surrounding balcony, complete with hammock, in the tree canopy. Electricity was supposedly solar powered, but the light it provided was so dim that I still needed my torch just to walk across the room. Perhaps there were too many trees shading the solar panels? So it was dark in the lodge by 7pm. I was tired, having worked until 4am that morning to complete our report, so I went to bed and slept soundly for twelve hours. How wonderful!
Sunday was spent walking. There are several marked trails in the area, and I followed one 7km round trip through a couple of tiny villages to a small waterfall, and one through the forest to a small dam. There was nothing spectacular to see, but it was all very pleasant – and I saw a stunning shining-blue kingfisher, although none of the rare white-necked picathartes that are known to nest in the area.
Again I slept like a log, good preparation for the usual tiring journey home.