Day 20 |
Apr 13, 2011

Aberdeen (Freetown), Sierra Leone

By Will Wagstaff, Ornithologist

Co-ordinates: 08 30 1 N, 013 17 6 W
Weather: Hot and mostly sunny with some occasional clouds and a light shower in pm.
Air Temperature: 31 C
Sea Temperature: 28 C
Pressure: 1013,3

As I was finishing breakfast in The Restaurant, I could see a large group of seabirds from the windows so I went quickly back to my room to get my binoculars. When up on the Bridge, I could see a good number of Royal Terns along with a many Sandwich Terns feeding on what a large fishing boat was throwing out as it neared the port in Freetown. They were a little distant by the time I got there but I gathered from the guests and officers on the Bridge that there had been clouds of birds behind that trawler just before I got there.

From the Bridge, we could see the Sierra Leone coast ahead of us as we sailed in and could soon pick out individual buildings and then people moving about on the shore and nearby headland. Above them, many Yellow-billed Kites and Pied Crows were soaring over the town and roosting on the large telecom pylons on the hilltops.

From the Bridge, we could hear the Captain and his officers talking to the port authorities on the radio as we got closer to our anchorage point offshore from the district of Aberdeen on the outskirts of Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. Once we had dropped anchor, our Expedition Director Conrad and the local officials came on board to begin the procedure of clearing the ship.

As the paperwork was taking place we had an early lunch in The Restaurant so that we were ready to go ashore to check over the buses and the lay of the land at 1130, ensuring they were ready for the first guests at noon.

As we had plenty of buses, we divided the guests into three groups with Nadia, Olga and I in each of the first three vehicles that would first head out of town to the Tacugama Chimp Sanctuary. We again had a police escort with two officers on a motorbike clearing the traffic and enabling us to make good speed. There was only one slight pause in our drive when passing some major roadwork where one of the police hopped off the bike and became a traffic officer for a moment.

There were a great many Yellow-billed Kites and Pied Crows with a scattering of Hooded Vultures soaring above them, all keeping an eye out for food below. A few Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters and Western Grey Plantain Eaters were perched in the tops of the larger trees with some small flocks of Bronze Mannikins coming up from the patches of farmed land.

Having turned off the main road, we followed the dirt street up to a short but steep track that led to the entrance to the Tacugama Chimp Sanctuary. Many of our three busloads decided to walk whist the rest took advantage of the 4x4 vehicles to ride to the top. Once inside we were divided into two groups and then taken on a guided walk around the sanctuary. In our case, Willy was our guide who led us first past the quarantine pens before to the large pens used by the younger chimps. We had a good view from the veranda of the resource centre. Most of the chimps ignored us; others climbed the trees in their compound to get a better look and some threw a rock in our general direction to remind us it was their patch. We then had a look at the small exhibition in the resource centre before moving on to the outside pen where the older chimps were kept. One of the mothers had a two-week old baby with her that we could see for a while before she turned her back on us.

It was then time to go back to the buses via the shop and down the hill again. It took a while to get on the move as one of the other drivers had gone for a look at the sanctuary but it did not take long before we had joined the main road again and were heading back to the Aberdeen district.

Our second stop was at the National Rehabilitation Centre on the edge of Freetown. This clinic, founded in 2007, was involved with a lot of health issues in the area from the ongoing problem of Malaria treatment to creating prosthetics for the many amputees. We made a presentation of some educational material given by our guests to Lyn and her staff before we were split into three groups and shown around the centre, meeting many of the staff from the doctors to the technicians and of course many of the local children. At one point my group came out of the major building to see Nadia leading a conga of local children and their teacher around the grounds to the great amusement of all.

Our last stop saw us driving back across the large bridge we had crossed earlier to Lumley Beach where the Atlantic was breaking gently onto a very long sandy beach. We had seen some soccer posts as we passed on our way to the clinic and it was here we made our stop. We were then introduced to two of the amputee soccer sides who then proceeded to play a short exhibition match. They put a large amount of energy and skill into the game, even though it was getting towards evening and still warm, and they had already played two games for the first two groups! The game ended in a draw and we were thanked for our cheerleading (organized by the cheerleader-in-chief Nadia) before we made a presentation of a World Cup Soccer ball donated by the guests.

We then adjourned to nearby Roy’s Bar for a cold drink and some local entertainment from ‘The Captain’ and his backing singers. There was an opportunity to do a little shopping outside the bar as there were many locals selling a variety of wares. It was a short drive back though Aberdeen to the quay and the awaiting Zodiacs to take us to the Prince Albert II.

Once everyone was aboard and all was cleared, we set sail heading out towards a beautiful red sun on the western horizon at the end of a very successful day in West Africa. There was lot to talk about at dinner in The Restaurant this evening.