Arrival in Sierra Leone

Lungi Airport isn’t the easiest place to arrive after a long and difficult journey, which in all probability it has been.

On descending from the plane, you’ll find a melee to funnel through what look like a set of patio doors.

There, one official will squirt alcohol cleansing gel on your hands and another will require you to wave your yellow fever vaccination proof in his general direction before you can pass.

Next come the lengthy queues at immigration, where you’ll have to head for the foreign nationals counters.

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Lungi Airport – photo Denise Miller/Flickr

If you’re travelling with kids – and you’re lucky – a helpful staff member might fast-track you to the front of the queue. Once there, if you’re unlucky, you’ll get into a row with a much less helpful staff member who accuses you of queue-jumping, and have to be told to behave yourself by your wife.

There’ll be the usual questions about what you’re doing there, how long you’ll be around and where you’re planning to stay, before you’re allowed to pass to the baggage hall. You can change money at a booth on the way, if you need to. It can pay to have small change handy as countless young men will offer you help with baggage, along with trolleys which are available for hire at 20,000 Leones (about £2.50).

Unless you’re staying at a hotel in Lungi, or travelling outside Freetown, you now have a 40-minute boat journey to look forward to. Tickets will be touted as you enter arrivals, with different firms using different bases in the capital – Seacoach to Aberdeen ($40), or SeaBird to Murray Town.

The big vehicle ferry to Kissy (Le5,000 for “VIP” seat) is much slower.

If you’ve paid the guy touting tickets at arrivals, he’ll probably give you a receipt and direct you to the relevant firm’s office to exchange it for the actual ticket. You’ll not get there before visiting Customs for what should be a routine “nothing to declare” moment.

However, the next step is the one that could throw sleepyheaded travellers, when an official checks bags against the stubs affixed to boarding passes before allowing passage.

If you’ve loaded a trolley, you might find the step from the airport to the dirt track a hazard. And the thing won’t be easy to control. There’ll be plenty of people hoping to help in return for tips.

When the ticket’s in your hand, you’ll wait for a minibus to take you to the embarkation area. It’s normal for bags to be “checked in” with the boat firm at this point. You won’t see them again until you step off the boat. Be warned: they will check your baggage receipts, so don’t lose them.

Stepping aboard via a rickety gangway isn’t straightforward if you’re not great on your feet, or have children, but there should be plenty of staff on hand to help. The quality of boats varies but most now have lifejackets. It’s worth packing child-sized ones for the family, however.

Expect a crush when collecting bags, with more folk keen to carry them to your vehicle. Hopefully, someone will have arranged a car to meet you. If not, you should find a driver easily enough for about 60,000 Leones depending on the length of journey – that’s about double the going rate for private taxis.

Photo: Denise Miller/Flickr

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