Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Roughnecking in Sierra Leone

I arrived back from India at the end of 2010 after being away for 3 years and spent Christmas with the family cosily huddled around the fire eating mince pies. A bit of a culture shock to say the least! After moping around the UK, Dublin and Germany for 4 months seeing friends and generally bumming around wishing I could be on some desolate beach again I had a phone call come through from a friend with the most unusual news. He had a job for me, this was no ordinary job let me tell you! He wanted me to go to Sierra Leone and work on a 'Jack up Rig'!

With thoughts of kidnapping, 'short sleeves', poverty, and adventure I eagerly agreed. 'Right, just sign on the dotted line' he said. I initially assumed the document was an employment contract but after I little skim through I came to the realisation that this was a proof life form. Apparently Sierra Leone had a high kidnapping rate and I needed to write down some questions accompanied with the answers only I would know, these questions would be asked to the kidnappers to prove that I was still alive when in negotiation for my life.
'You will need vaccinations for Yellow fever, Rabies, Malaria, Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Polio and Hepatitis B,' he said. He looked up 'well don't worry, we are paying for it lad',
'Its not that I'm worried about', I said with a nervous laugh.

When I got to the airport I headed straight for the check in desk for Lungi Airport Free Town, only to be told by the lady behind the desk that I was at the wrong place and that this was for Sierra Leone. 'Yes that's where I'm going' I said in my toughest persona, 'oh sorry sir' was her only reply. It was almost like she was trying to put the shits up me on purpose.

About 11 or 12 years ago when I was about 17 or so I remember staying up late one night to watch a documentary about the civil war in Sierra Leone. It looked like hell on Earth with gunfire coming from all directions and people running for their lives down the rubble lain streets. Something that disturbed me quite a lot was the scene of somebody getting shot and then kind of spasming on the floor and dieing. What made this whole situation even worse was that I would tell friends of mine where I was going and they would say, 'isnt that where 'Blood Diamond' was filmed!

Sierra Leone is like nothing I have ever experienced before and as we drove from the airport in a 4x4 through countless little villages towards my hotel I was a little apprehensive. I was kind of ducking in the back seat as we drove past hundreds of staring faces, trying to avoid any potential sniper or small arms fire. The hotel was set behind 15ft gates and looked like it had been reinforced for some reason or another.

The first 4 weeks of the job involved building the 'Jack up Rig' at the Freetown Harbour. Everyday, crowds of sullen looking Africans would congregate around us, watching and making hand gestures which signified they wanted food. They would make this very annoying whistle, and when you turned around they would ask for money or food. One day as we worked, I heard a lot of shouting and commotion coming from a crowd of guys. As I looked over I could see that one of them had jumped in to the festering river and got hold of a stinking rotting half a Barracuda fish. As he ran off with it, he was followed by 30 jeering men in to the distance. I asked one of the guys stood around what he would do with it, he said that he would take it up to the market and sell it for $10!

On several occasions there were armed guards with AK 47's standing out side my room of the hotel. After asking around I found out that the Liberian Finance Minister was staying next door to me, apparently some sort of African summit involving leaders from all over the continent.

In conclusion, after spending 11 weeks in Sierra Leone I definitely had a different point of view, for one I knew there was no need to duck because of sniper fire! The people of Sierra Leone are welcoming nice people who always want to help. What happened there 12 years ago was a tragedy and I can only hope they carry on to become a stable African nation.

The country is a beautiful untouched place full of luscious jungle and pristine white sandy beaches. It would make an amazing holiday destination or a backpacking trip.

Monday, 4 July 2011

How to live in paradise

Anyone can do this, all you need is the confidence to get started. I finished my BA Honours Business degree in 2004 and until 2007 I worked in the software industry for two of the biggest software companies. Everyday was groundhog day, get up at a studpid time in the morning only to then spend it with a bunch of jumped up little schmucks all schmuzing for the raise at the end of the year. It became evident to me that there was more to life than this, the seed inside my head was planted. over the next year I cut down the amount of money I spent and tried to save as much as possible. You can save a lot when you put your mind to it, just by cutting out half the beer you drink, making a packed lunch for work rather than going to the shop, and buying the budget brands in the supermarket. Another year of groundhog days passed and I had managed to save up a tidy amount. I booked a one way ticket to Bangkok, Thailand and handed in my notice, it was probably up there with one of the happiest days of my life.

Two weeks later I was relaxing on Lamai beach, Koh Samui with out a care in the world. After four months travelling around Thailand from the jungles of Chiang Mai to the beautiful beaches of Koh Phangan I had very little money left. Going back to the UK was not an option, instead I researched ways I could carry on my travels by earning some money. I looked into teaching English, if you are a native English speaker its very possible to do this and you can earn around 600 GBP per month. If you have a degree eduaction or TEFL/CELTA perhaps a little more. I decided against this for now as I wanted to change countries. Australia provides a one year working holiday visa which gives you the freedom to work pretty much doing anything. If you complete three months of remote farm work it is even possible to extend your visa for another tweleve months. It is very easy to pick up work in Australia, farms are always looking for people to help out or you can try the big cities like Sydney, Perth or Melbourne for office work if you dont like breaking your nails.

A week later I was in Darwin all set with a 30 year old VB Holden estate car with a 2.8 litre engine and a plan to drive across the Northern Territory to Broome on the West coast. Broome is a Beautiful
coast holiday town and is home to the famous Cable beach. I lived on a campsite with hundreds of other backpackers and after asking around managed to pick up a job in the Cable Beach Resort Hotel doing the laundry. Not a very good job but it paid around $20 per hour and was set right on the beach.

I was able to carry this on Four years in total and the countries that I have seen include, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, Cambodia, Morocco and Sierra Leone. I managed to pick up jobs including Banana farmer, Melon farmer, Apple picker, Landscape gardener, Roughnecker and barman.

So go and live in paradise, I did and it was the best thing I have ever done.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Tour de Maroc

Reading Oscar Wilde while job hunting does not achieve the desired affect. Four days later I found my self furiously cycling through Tangier ferry port, with an Arab in full ‘Djellaba’ and sandals in hot pursuit, apparently he had ‘cheap hotel’ and some ‘fish and chips’.

With my brand new one hundred and twenty Euro bike from Decathlon, a twenty litre bag neatly bungeed on my rear bike rack and my new found inspiration I commenced my 1000 kilometre journey through from Tangier to Agadir.

‘Maybe I should have brought my Eddie Vedder ‘Into the wild’ soundtrack’, I thought as I was trying strenuously to push my bike and bag combination in to the lower confines of the CTM bus service. Well….the previous night, sticking to my guns as it were, I managed to shave off 6 Dirham’s whilst negotiating on one nights accommodation in a ‘Riad’, located in a rat infested back ally, adjacent to Tangier ‘Medina’.

Apparently, the pipe smoking Moroccan ’Riad’ owner had somewhat enjoyed my negotiating techniques and had felt compelled to friendlily warn me of the lurking dangers I was to encounter on the first leg of my trip; Tangier - Chefchaouen - one of these being the unfriendly bandits of the Rif mountains.

Chefchaouen is an amazing, beautiful town located deep in the Rif mountains. The view on arrival is magnificent, its almost like its floating in the sky as the entire town is painted sky blue, apparently to ward of mosquitoes and keep the temperature cool. One of the bus drivers befriended me as I strolled up towards the old town, and after explaining my intentions of camping in the mountains his bubbly persona began to fade.  ‘You cannot camp in mountains my friend’, he said. ‘The bandits will rob you’ he insisted, ’you must stay in old town, I show you nice Riad, Valencia’.

After consideration to this mans bold claims, I followed him up the old, blue cobblestone alleys to the Riad Valencia where I negotiated 60 Dirham for one night. I couldn’t help think to myself, this isn’t a bicycle camping adventure, I have just got the bus here and now I am staying in the comforts of a 2* Riad room!

Tucking into my beef tagine accompanied by two huge circular lumps of bread I made the decision that the following day I would completely ignore the advice of my Moroccan friends and ‘risk my life’ by rambling up in to the Rif mountains!

Wild goats, cows, and strange animals ambled the sheer cliffs and valleys and at one point Im sure I even saw a baboon. Thoughts of bandits had at this point ebbed away from my mind as I was in awe of the magnificent scenery, and anyway I didn’t think there would be anybody this far up.

Sweating profusely and exhausted I clambered up to yet another of the continuous rolling peaks, and it is here that my story unfolds and comes to its illustrious conclusion, it was here that my adventure began, and it was this that my Moroccan friends were referring.

Swaying in the wind and baking in the afternoon sun were field upon field of five foot Marijuana plants accompanied by three very nervous looking ‘bandits’!

Well after all, ‘Living is the rarest thing in the world, most people just exist, and that is all’!

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Sierra Leone

The oasis in the carnage

Rainy season in Sierra Leone is not to be taken lightly, In 4 weeks I had already seen several storms, numerous flash floods and a 50ft African tug nearly sink. On this particular day I speak of, July 15th 2010, the sun was like a glimmering jewel on blue satin, the sea was a millpond and the air was so still you could smell the rancid goat den in the vicinity. It did not take me long to decide to rise from the sullen coffin of my hotel room where I had been banished for the last few days, with my destination being a beautiful, apparently perfect mythical beach on the shores of River No2,  North of Freetown.
The smiling taxi driver, Mousa, greeted me in a typical Krio accent, ‘how de body man’, I replied ‘de body fine’. I proceeded to harangue and rant about this mythical beach, Mousa replied ‘yes, yes 80,000’, I instantly became excited about the possibility of the existence of this rumoured oasis.
The old and battered excuse for a taxi rattled and creaked from my hotel up the tin shack lined dusty lane. We passed the rancid goat den as they basked under the sun, too hot to move anything but their fly ridden ears; a young women was washing under a makeshift shower made of an old holey bean can, a plastic bag and a coat hanger, a group of young children looked up in surprise as they saw me pass, ‘a putoo, a putoo they shouted, their faces gleaming with happiness.
The taxi came to a halt outside a tin shed at the top of the dirt track and Mousa began to rant at a half dressed man who had just arisen from behind the door beads. The man began to excitedly point in different directions; my balloon of excitement had just been popped as I realised Mousa was asking for directions; we had only driven to the end of the hotel drive way.
Despite our delays we proceeded to make headway through the picturesque Freetown suburb of Aberdeen, to the East you could see the luscious green jungles on the rolling hills towering above Freetown and to the West, 20 or so bellowing locals heaving a 30 ft fishing dugout from the shores of the glistening Atlantic.
‘Mousa, do you know where you are going?’ I would sheepishly exclaim, he replied, ‘yes, yes no problem’, followed by a quick stop and a rant at the nearest person. We chugged and weaved for 2 hours over Jungle infested mountains and through valleys where glistening ravines flowed down in to the sea. The rickety taxi was no match for the winding, pot holed dirt track, but it chugged along taking us further in to the beautiful countryside. Tin shacks, filth, limbless locals and the stench of inner-city Freetown became sparser, replaced by beautiful valleys in the distance, dotted with wooden and vine type structures. The locals moved like ants, carrying various materials on their heads, going about their daily routines.
We turned down a tiny path and entered a small tree covered cul-de-sac in the jungle, my childish excitement had returned as the taxi came to a halt and I realised we had a reached the end of our journey, where ever that might be.
I navigated myself through the thick untouched brush and was instantly mesmerized as my eyes refocused to see mile upon mile of the whitest sand I have ever laid my eyes upon. The sea glistened under the sun and several gleaming white sandbars had formed under the contrast of the luscious green jungle. Oasis in the carnage.