At the end of April my niece, Heidi Hoops, came to visit us which motivated us to travel places we had not yet had a chance to visit. It was her first visit to Africa and she really enjoyed it.
Heidi came a few days early so she could get here in time for the Independence Day activities. Sierra Leone became independent April 27, 1961 So the night she arrived, even though she had been traveling straight through from Denver we dropped off her luggage and headed downtown for the “Lantern Parade” at about 10pm. It was difficult to get there due to all the crowds but our taxi driver had arranged for us to meet a policeman who would escort us to a spot near the reviewing stand where the President was also watching the parade. In the end we had several policemen helping us and we finally found a great spot with a few open chairs where we could sit and not have our view obstructed by crowds.
Lanterns are like floats with lights and intricate moving parts manned by people under the float bed. Different neighborhoods build lanterns based on a theme and then drive or roll them though the streets. Everyone that is involved in building the lantern joins the parade so in addition to the float there are lots of chanting, celebrating people surrounding it. Because of that the parade route got very chaotic and even seemed dangerous at times with all the people passing by the reviewing stand. But there were a lot of policemen doing crowd control and so we felt pretty safe.
But as the evening got later and later we were worried about how to get back to our taxi. One man with a radio offered to help us, found us another escort and we barged through the crowd back to our car where our taxi driver was waiting for us. The policemen who had helped us earlier joined our escort and so we were well protected. Then Bob had to tip everyone who had helped us! That’s how they earn some extra money. In our case we were very glad to have their help because crowds here, as everywhere, can be dangerous or at best unpredictable.
So we truly had an amazing experience; one that few international visitors have as you can see from the photos. And fortunately Heidi was ready for an unusual experience.
And it didn’t end there because the next day there were also lots of other independence day activities and again she agreed to come along. We visited a trade fair and did some shopping. Here is Heidi in her very stylish Nigerian headdress. Too bad she didn't buy it!
Then we found a safe place to watch the traditional “devils” parade through the city and traditional dancing.
After a day of rest in Freetown we went off to visit a nature preserve called Tiwai Island, which is inhabited, by lots of varieties of monkeys and chimpanzees in the wild as well pygmy hippos. Unfortunately they are hard to see and I didn’t get any pictures. We just got glimpses of the Red Colobus monkeys flying through the trees. The setting of this island rainforest surrounded by the river is fairly pristine for the moment. But it will only survive if the camp has good relations with the nearby villages and where the local community sees some benefit from the people who visit.
On the way back we visited a school and dropped off some school supplies that Heidi (along with her family) had brought along to distribute to the school children here. Heidi was a big hit when she was teaching the children how to throw a Frisbee.