We had rejoined our group at a beach campsite 50km south of Freetown where they had stayed the previous night after leaving the YMCA. After leaving a few messages for various shipping contacts over the last few days there was nothing more we could do on that front until replies came through and efforts to find way to cross Ghana were on hold until closer to the time. And it was Christmas Eve! So we put thoughts of being stranded to one side and decided to try and find a way to celebrate Christmas away from friends and family in the heat and humidity of west Africa.
When we arrived at the beach we were greeted with a santa hat full of sweets and lollipops! Many of the group were already wearing theirs and everyone was smiling. The beach was beautiful, a relaxed night had been had and we were heading off to Tiwai Island for Christmas.
We were just waiting for the group´s passports to come back from the Nigerian embassy with their new visas – the ones James and I had decided not to apply for. They arrived around 10:30am but the mood was dampened by the news that they were again only for 30 days therefore running out 4 days before we were due to arrive in Nigeria…and that was before a seven day detour through Burkina Faso was factored into the equation. No-one said much, James and I kept quiet, the lid stayed on the pressure cooker for now.
We drove for the rest of the day towards Tiwai Island but the late start meant we were never going to make it for Christmas. The landscape was lovely though with lush greenery everywhere we looked.
We ended up wild camping on a quarry about 3 hours away from Tiwai.
The quarry was a good spot. No-one bothered us, it was quiet and there was plenty of space. This was where we were to have our Christmas so the group set about getting things prepared.
Christmas music was playing, the table was set and food prepared – traditional Christmas Thai green curry chicken followed by mince pies!
We even had crackers!
I got a little upset as the food was being prepared and the Christmas songs started playing. I was missing my family – Christmas is all about family for me. But James dragged me out of the Landrover back to the group, two people gave me a big hug and in the end it was a lovely evening.
Santa even turned up to give out the secret Santa presents we had all bought each other!
We had a lot of fun, the group hadn´t laughed together so much in a long time and I think it did us all a lot of good.
The next morning was actually Christmas Day but it was just another morning for us, Christmas had been celebrated and we had things to do! We were up early and heading for Tiwai Island – a pristine wildlife sanctuary and home to some of the only virgin rainforest left in this part of Africa.
When we finally arrived there was some confusion, we had intended to camp on the island but there was no bridge for the trucks to cross. Instead we pitched up on the village football pitch and the Christmas game was cancelled!
It was blisteringly hot and humid, we were both tired and James had come down with something so was feeling a bit grim. There was also yet more confusion over who, when and how we were all getting onto the island and what would be there when we arrived. But eventually provisions had been packed, sun tan lotion applied and we were walking off to the boat – minus a poorly James who elected to stay at camp and try to sleep it off.
The boat ride was short but beautiful. We were heading into the rainforest surrounded by birds and butterflies.
Our entrance fee included a 2 hour forest walk.
The forest apparently contains pygmy hippos, monkeys and chimps, crocodiles in the river and ptarmigan amongst a mass of other birds. What we saw on our walk was rather smaller…
And in some cases larger….
After the walk some people stayed on the island for more walking or a boat ride, I was concerned about James so joined the small group that headed back to the village.
I found James asleep under the shade with a few young kids watching from a distance. There were only five or six of us there so we sat around chatting and eating our Christmas chocolates. But not for long, suddenly the kids got brave and started surrounding us.
Santa even made an appearance again – albeit with a bottle of gin inside him that he slept off for the rest of the day!
It was a riot, the kids were excitable and chatty. They loved my name, for some reason everyone in west Africa seems to love my name! I kept hearing shy voices saying ´Jennifer, Jennifer´ and I´d turn round to see a couple of young girls grinning at me.
But eventually I just wanted some peace and quiet so it was a relief when one of the group took the kids off to play tag then football then the adults came and shooed them away to leave us in peace.
Christmas dinner was coucous, no alcohol was drunk by either of us as it was far too hot and humid and we were early into bed. Happy Christmas everyone!!
Out next stop was to be Liberia early the next morning. We were travelling through the countries faster and faster trying to make up time to allow the truck to detour into Burkina Faso and enter into Nigeria before the visas ran out. The countries were starting to meld into one, west Africa was becoming a blur….something had to give, we were just wondering what it would be……