Earlier this year, our West African travels were supposed to end in Freetown, Sierra Leone. We had hoped to carry on as far as Dakar in Senegal, but when we first booked there was only one seat available. Along the way, one passenger decided not to continue beyond Liberia, so we claimed the now-available two seats.
But this presented a problem. We didn’t have visas for Senegal. Pity we didn’t get them on spec in Ghana when they were available overnight and for free.
Rumour (meaning someone’s blog post) said we could get visas at the border—for a bribe of about US$50 per person. But that’s a risky approach. Rumour also said there was a Senegalese Consulate in Freetown.
So Poor John and I set out to find this consular office. Neither address given online was right, but white tourists stand out in Black Africa and locals are willing to help. A guard in front of the Gambian Embassy (near the second wrong address) pointed us in the right direction.
People think of embassies and consulates as palatial places, but many are quite basic. The Senegalese one in Freetown was the latter. A dark, rundown building, with a simple sign over the door and a watch repair stall out the front. I wish I’d taken a pic inside.
Upstairs, we were greeted by two men, who assured us that we could have visas. ‘Fill out the paper work and come back tomorrow,’ one said. Suddenly, a third man arrived and he was the consul. Yes, yes, he could provide the visas on the spot. ‘Just pay US$200.’
Poor John said, ‘But the visas are supposed to be free!’
I can’t describe the raucous laughter that spilled out of all three men. Heads thrown back and enormous hahahas. The consul said, ‘This isn’t an embassy, this isn’t a charity, it’s voluntary.’ So we paid. But we got off easy. I had US$100 and US$70 worth of Sierra Leone currency—and they accepted that. Yay, a discount!
On our way out of the consulate, Poor John stopped at the watch repair stall to see if the fellow could fix his watch. He’d had it repaired in Monrovia, Liberia, but it still didn’t work. It took the fellow about five seconds to determine that a spent battery (he touched the old one to his tongue) had been installed. He replaced it, charged $3 and off we went.
By then, it was almost 2pm and we were super hungry. We headed back to the hotel on foot and passed a very basic restaurant. It had one dish on offer. Rice, fish and something green. It cost about $3 for the two of us.
Watch repair revisited
The next day my watch stopped illuminating in the dark. I love this feature because it lets me know the time in the middle of the night. It happened once before and I got it fixed in India. Back then a fellow fiddled a bit and replaced some part and it worked beautifully.
So we returned to the watch ‘repair shop’ for a second service. He took the back off the watch, fiddled a bit, didn’t replace anything and handed it back to me. I stepped into the dark, rundown building and saw that the glow had been restored.
‘What do I owe?’ I asked, and he said $3. ‘But that’s what you charged us yesterday to replace a battery. Today you didn’t add a battery or anything?’
And he said, ‘I just used my brain.’ I smiled and paid. And we walked back to the cheap restaurant for another meal of rice, fish and something green.