Monday, April 18, 2011

Getting around in Freetown

There is only 1 word that would properly describe the transportation here: NIGHTMARE! :)

There is no real infrastructure here to begin with. Freetown is a port city that stretches across several hills and mountains. In order to get from our hostel to the orphanage we worked with before the ship arrived, we needed to go up and down several times. Originally built for 200,000, the population swelled to around 2 million during and after the civil war. As a result of this the road system has struggled to cope with this huge influx of humanity, causing massive congestion both day and night. Traveling 6km across the city (in the direction of all the beaches and restaurants) can take anything from 20 min. to 3 hours. Added to the fact there are no pavements, means that all the pedestrians and market stalls are on the (very narrow) roads. There are no traffic lights either so all junctions are manned by traffic police who vary somewhat in their effectiveness.

Poda Poda is the public transportation here. These vans usually go between 2 major conjunctions and the price is around 1000Leonean (4500L=1$) so this is indeed the cheapest way to travel. It’s also the slowest, too. A poda poda has 5 rows so 25 people can easily get in. And as we all know there is “always room for one more”, especially in Africa. We had 30 people in our group and somebody mentioned it the other day: “I think it’s a luxury that our team has 2 vans. I have seen more people crammed into 1 van…” (Jeff, you are NOT funny!) :)

Our Poda Poda driver was pulled over for breaking the African traffic laws a few days ago. Apparently those exist. His punishment: to sit in "Time-out" for 30 minutes while all the cars he illegally passed, caught up and passed us on the side of the road.

The lowest rank within the police force is the traffic instructor. The poda poda drivers called them "my wife". When I asked why, he smiled and said that they act just like a wife: "you give them some money every morning and in return they turn the other way each time you break a traffic law"... :) 

Taxis are fun to try, but they also get stuck in traffic. In western countries you normally have 3 pedals under your feet: accelerator, break and a clutch. Here they have the accelerator and ANOTHER accelerator and the horn! :)

Motorbikes (okadas) are the fastest way to get around; that is only if you are willing to sit behind those crazy bikers who risk their lives every minute. In Sierra Leone they have to ride on the inside of the road unlike in western countries where they have either a separate road or a slow lane close to the sidewalk.  

Walking is another alternative. Here the challenge comes in the form of heat. The temperature is at least 100F° (40C°) nowadays and for the next couple of month it will only rise. Not to mention that during the dry season (November-April) there is NO rain and hardly any clouds in the sky so it IS really hot!

Oh, and then there are the hand carts, wheelbarrows (used to move around products) and many more to contend with... :) It sure makes for some interesting driving.

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