Taking a Trek on Freetown’s Panoramas

A unique part of human nature craves for new experiences and conquering fresh territories. Sometimes you get the feeling to do something different or visit some exciting place, or places. Yet, you lack the urge and are looking for that great opportunity to tap into that craving.

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has been a nightmare for all and tremendously affected people’s livelihoods, health, and social activities. Like all other countries, Sierra Leone succumbed to the pandemic’s claws and measures were instituted in curtailing the spread of the disease. Sierra Leone registered its first COVID-19 case in March 2020, and since then all policies and preventive measures have been geared towards promoting social distancing.

Traveling has great benefits for our mindsets. It frees us from our daily monotonous routines and opens our horizons by allowing us to experience completely different cultures and live incredible adventures. Despite the enormous negativities, for most people, the pandemic period has also been a reflective period and blessings in other ways. One of the key benefits of the pandemic is the realization and consciousness of people to watch their physical well-being. At the peak of the pandemic, folks were handed more free time due to the pandemic restrictions as work hours were reduced, some businesses closed down and others alternated their working days. Consequently, we started seeing a gradual rise in the number of folks hiking on the streets.

In an effort to ameliorate the culture of physical exercise and promote wellness, VSL TRAVEL (in addition to their occasional hiking trips) initiated the ‘November Movement’ (#movember) which further aimed at showcasing some of Freetown’s tourist attractions. Below are details of some of the sites visited with their various experiences:

LEICESTER PEAK: Leicester Peak is a peak located in the Western Area in Sierra Leone. The estimated terrain elevation above sea level is 564 meters. With a rich panoramic view covering the capital’s most important and finest buildings, Leicester Peak is highly regarded by tourists as the ‘Beverly Hills’ of Freetown owing to its topography. For most ‘Freetonians’, this place serves a host of purposes such as a ground to get a quiet moment, worship, party, and even enjoy romance.

This trek starts at Bottom Mango, Wilberforce, founded in 1810 and was home to free enslaved Africans who had been brought to Freetown by the British Royal Navy West Africa Squadron. Giving a ten-minute allowance for latecomers, at 7:10 a.m we are off. Hiking to Leicester Peak junction, you get to walk past some historical buildings, the Military barracks, State Lodge, National Telecommunication (NATCOM), and other prominent buildings.

 Arriving at Leicester Peak junction 40 minutes later (could be more or less depending on your speed), you are sure to feel a bit calm and relaxed as you trek through to the façade of the Embassy of the United States. At this point, you take your final turn and prepare for a whole new challenge. An area once covered with greeneries is now occupied with massive mansions (some still under construction).  

Reaching the top of the hill gives a great sense of fulfillment and even more chilled when feeling the fresh and friendly air and; the view makes the experience fascinating.

MAMBO WATERFALL: The Mambo Waterfall is an instant charmer for those who love to hike, those who love adventure, and those who would want to take a quick break from the hustles and bustles of the urban lifestyle. Located on the other side of a downward slope in the mountains of the Mambo community, it’ll take a solid but exhilarating journey through an uneven stair of hills to reach that spectacular validation of nature’s incredible craft.

The event that led to my very first encounter with the Mambo Waterfall was part of an exercise routine organized every two weeks by VSL. The event targets those who wish to stretch their muscles through challenging long walks – in a time when COVID-19 has made, staying home, the new norm. At 7:30 a.m, over a dozen of us who were determined to take on the challenge had arrived at Hamilton Junction. It was where the walk to the fall was meant to start. In droves, we began the walk. Each set of people who knew each other maintained about a meter distance around themselves. Either consciously or subconsciously almost every group of people was adhering to the social distancing measures.

The journey took us through verses of an exciting walk on the highway of the Hamilton and Mambo community. Some of us bathed in the cool morning winds of the mountainous peninsula while cars raced by and onlookers stood afar, curiously watching at the unusual parade of people of different shades of race, age, and gender. The athletic diversity of the group was evenly balanced. Some were strolling unhurried and quiet, with music in their ears or having chatters, others had their feet walking at an alarming pace while those with athletic prowess were virtually racing to the fall. Over a thousand steps into the walk, we approached a curve- it took us off the highway, at that moment, we began ascending the nerve-wracking hillside of Mambo. The path leading to the fall is motorable up to a certain point. For those who would want to visit the fall but do not want to take on the challenging hike, that is a win.

In just under 30 minutes or more, some of us reached the top of the main mountain that one has to conquer to reach the fall. Drenched in sweat and exhaustion, we stayed there for a brief while to catch a breath. When we looked down, that position offered us this beguiling God’s eye view of the entire Mambo community. We could see how the vastness of the ocean projected its blueness and how the sea waves crashed into the beach as if to embrace the shores. We saw how human settlement had progressed into nature’s cloak but still, a significant amount of lush vegetation remains in the community and beyond.

The last length to the fall is a descending walk. We took through what’s left of the shallow jungle that was now dominated by sparse human trails. As we disembarked the slope, with sore muscles and racing heartthrob, we began to hear the alluring symphony flying into the air when the stream of water musically glided down the rocks. In what seemed like no time, we gazed upon the Mambo Waterfall- for some of us, it was our very first time, and behold, all the pain we incurred from the exhausting trekking ceased to matter anymore. We were in the face of a scene so grand and electrifying that I thought, even nature must have stopped and wondered, each time it glanced at such an astounding cascade of elegance.

From atop the cliff, where the water seemed to flow, you could presume a single stream of water was feeding these chains of stairways that must have been etched on the rocks over time. As the gang of wild-frosted-water, in daring pageantry motion, cascaded these naturally enthralled stairways. You could almost feel, taste, and smell the astral gesture of imperial beauty that was riddled in such a melodramatic sensation submerged in the face of the Mambo Waterfall.

At the foot of the waterfall, a pool harboured a body of water so reviving, cold and apparent that you could see the little fishes strolling about. When the water overflowed it dribbled down to another pool which formed a chain of pools, and with each pool more profound than the previous. As we buried our minds in the soothing ordeals of the Mambo fall, I imagined the collective experience offered by this waterfall, no matter how long one basked in it, one would never say, I’ve had enough of it.

SUGARLOAF: This trek begins at Regent, one of the earliest Creole settlements outside of Freetown. An insightful tour of Regent’s history from our guide accompanies your initial ascent through the village’s historic landmarks. These include wooden Creole houses, built from 1812 onwards by liberated slaves from England, the U.S. and Nova Scotia; and Africa’s oldest stone church, St Charles Church, completed in 1816.

 Leaving Regent, the hike begins for real as you dive into the shade of the rainforest that forms such a beautiful cloak around Sugar Loaf Mountain. Beginning to climb steeply, layered canopies of trees arch their way above you; punctured by shards of light that entice you onto the open-air of the peak.

Twice en route – the first time after 45 minutes of walking, the second about half an hour later – you emerge from the forest for short intervals onto volcanic-formed rocky slopes. Catch your breath at each and turn around to marvel at spellbinding views of Freetown, soaking in not just the incredible panorama, but the change of a perspective that the tranquility and greenery of Sugar Loaf lends to the capital.

Ten minutes on from the second stop you will reach the peak, at first sight, an open circle enclosed by trees with little view at all. It is hiding a secret. Walk around the left-hand side to a gap in the foliage, take a few steps down, and gaze across the heart of the Western Area Forest Reserve in all its grandeur.

PICKETT HILL: All you need to know to conquer the Western Area’s most challenging hike. Picket Hill is not a hill, but the highest mountain in the Western Area Peninsula, the region where Freetown and many of Sierra Leone’s finest beaches are located. It is ideal for those who fancy a test of humanity and can keep on marching to the sweet promise of a stunning view.

This 880-meter high mountain is located right in the middle of the Western Area Peninsula Forest, a 17.000 acres large national park that stretches along the mountains and the coast. Two routes will lead to the top; from Koba Wata and Big Wata, both at opposite side of the peninsula. To cross from one end of the other leaves you with a 14k hike that can last between 6 and 8 hours total.

 The Hike: Starting off at either Koba Wata or Big Wata, the hike follows the former trade routes that date back to the fifteenth century. In fact, from Koba Wata up to Masophe, the route follows the development of Koba Wata. The original villagers had settled deep into the forest, moving further down due to land exhaustion. The only thing hinting towards the existence of these former settlements are rusty information boards with faded names and descriptions.

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