Friday, 9 November 2018

How to survive the arrival to Freetown from Lungi airport

So, this post is about how to survive the arrival to Freetown from Lungi airport. There is one thing you can be sure; you will make it! When you get used to it, it is pretty straight forward, but the first time is a bit confusing, particularly because of all the people asking you to hand papers, or offering help. Things get even more confusing if you arriving with an evening flight, and it is already dark.

Sea Bird boat daylight Freetown Sierra Leone
Sea Bird boat during daylight, Freetown, Sierra Leone

So, just follow the steps below:

  • Descend the plane. Have your boarding ticket in your hand, they will check it when descending the plane. Have your paper landing visa, passport, yellow fever vaccination card, and baggage tags readily available, but not right in your hand.
  • Enter the bus which will take you to immigration hall. Disembark the bus, and follow the crowd inside the immigration hall.
  • Join the line for foreign passports but if asked to change lines, do it. They are trying to help you and speed up the lines.
  • Comply with all requests and directions from the officer in the immigration box, including the request to place two index fingers for scanning, and to take a picture. They will ask you the address of the place where you are staying, and maybe a telephone number. The officer needs landing visa and your passport. S/he will take the landing visa and stamp the passport with a one month single entry tourist visa. Along the way someone will likely ask to see your yellow fever vaccination card.
  • After your passport is stamped, go left past the money changers (stop and change a $20 if you want). The exchange rate is visible. Proceed to baggage pick-up. Get a cart for 10,000Leones if you like.
  • Pick up your bags from the belt. If your baggage does not appear, go to the lost luggage counter directly behind you in the baggage area. It’s an obvious process, and the staff is honest, helpful, and speak English. Complete the form as directed, and keep the copy. Check that there is a telephone number where you can call to track the process, and not only an email. Usually lost luggage flies in with the next flight in your airline, and is sent with the boat, so you can pick it up in Freetown. 
  • Proceed with your bags (follow the crowd) to the exit. Eventually you might be stopped by customs, and requested to open your bags. Have your baggage tags out and ready. A person will match your tags to the tags on your suitcases. S/he won’t take the tags. Then exit out the door into the arrivals hall. 
  • If you are met by somebody sent by your sponsoring organisation, family or friends, just tell all the eager folks offering you service that you are being met. Follow your scort out of the airport building.
  • Go out of the gate, now you are "in the open". You will see slightly to your right two buildings; one for the Sea Coach, and slightly further away to the right, the Sea Bird. Buy a ticket with any of them. Your suitcases will be tagged, keep carefully all the tags. You can carry with you a small bag, it is handier to board the boat if you have a bag that allows you to have your hands free, such a backpack. A small trolley is also possible, but not so handy.
  • Your bags will be taken away and put in a small bus.
  • You will be asked to board another small bus. You will be offered if you want to buy a SIM card, or asked for "Christmas money" or "Sunday money", meaning a tip.
  • Disembark the bus, you might get a glimpse of your bags arriving safely at the dock and properly loaded on the boat. You can just sit and wait. Once called, join the queue to board the boat. You will have to show your boat ticket before walking the wooden pontoon dock. Flat shoes are obviously handy, since the pontoon dock can move a bit if water is rough. Staff will help you to board, and are very friendly with children, carrying them in their arms if needed.
  • The water taxi trip takes about 40 minutes. It can be bumpy during the rainy season. You will have a life jacket, and the boat is closed.
  • On arrival at the dock in Freetown, staff will help you disembark onto pontoon dock. If somebody is waiting you there, be sure to have agreed in advanced the water taxi company you are using, since they have docks in different places. Sea Coach has its dock in Aberdeen, and Sea Bird in Murray Town.
  • You are already in Freetown, the last bit is to show your luggage tags so that you get your luggage. Be patient, you are almost there.
  • Be sure you have arranged your transport from the dock to wherever you are going in advanced. Don't expect public transport readily available or a line of taxis waiting for you.

Now you can breathe a sigh of relief. You made it!

Friday, 19 October 2018

How to prepare coconut milk

When I had to cook using coconut milk, I never gave it a second thought, and simply bought a can of coconut milk. I did not even think that I could prepare it myself.

But here in Freetown, there are men with wheelbarrows selling green coconuts on the street. It is a common sight. You buy one, they open it with a machete - each single time I sort of stop breathing because I think that he is surely going to loose a finger in the process - and then you can drink the coconut water. It remains a sort of jelly inside the shell, which you can scrap with a straw or spoon, and eat.

Green coconut
Open green fresh coconut
Coconut milk
Water and flesh of a green coconut
Then I just thought to try to blend the two parts, the water and the flesh. I emptied all the content of the coconut in the blender.  Then I just let it blend for few seconds.

Blending coconut milk
Blending the water and flesh of a green coconut
The result is creamy, and it looks more natural than the coconut milk in a can!

Coconut milk
Result after blending

I used this milk to cook chicken in the oven, and also as a sauce for a broccoli salad, and the taste was delicious and fresh. Other dishes that come to my mind are curries, smoothies, and why not, as a substitute to cow milk in your baking. It is easy to make, fresh, natural, and if you live in Sierra Leone, about 10 times cheaper than canned milk. Go for it!

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Whale watching in Sierra Leone

Whale watching? Really? Are there whales in the coast of Sierra Leone?

A friend of us arranged a boat trip to see them. We went into one of the Sea Coach boats for 20 people; and since I was traveling with my 3 children, it was really a relief to use a stable boat with shadow. They also provided life jackets.

Sea Coach boat in Banana island
Boarding the Sea Coach boat in Banana Island, Sierra Leone
Departing a bit after 9am from Aberdeen, Freetown, it took us around 2 hours to get to Banana Island. On the way, the captain stopped few times to ask the fishermen whether they had seen the whales, and they pointed towards the sea. Do not expect sophisticated spotting methods here. All the same, we got to Banana Island without having seen any whale, hearing afterwards that it was too late in the morning to see them anyway.

Fresh coconuts were waiting for us at arrival, which were very welcome for those of us who felt sick after the trip (me). Bafa resort is one of my favourite beach places in Sierra Leone, you can see that the owner has made an effort to use local materials, and he has cleared the land respecting the trees and planting few more plants to make it look really pretty in a natural way.

Bafa resort, Banana island, Sierra Leone
Swimming in the rocks at Bafa resort, low tide
After a bit of swimming in the rocks, we were served lunch on a pretty table with table cloth and textile napkins. Fish carpaccio with bread, buttered fish fingers, barbecued fish with fried bananas and rice, and when we thought we were definitely finished, four lobsters landed on the table. Good to note too: the water bottles are packaged by them with purified and filtered water, and labelled as Bafa Resort water: a good initiative of local production! 
Bafa resort
Lunch at Bafa resort
Considering the heat, and that we still had to take the boat back, I do not think anybody ventured to the bar, but, hey, it did look inviting!
Bafa resort
Bafa resort
At 2pm we left again with the boat and returned by circling the island on the left into its northern tip. from there we finally got a glimpse of a whale! It is really hard to take a picture, since at the moment you spot the whale, it is already gone. Honestly, it is pretty difficult to catch sight of one, the ocean is big (this sounds really obvious), and the surface reflects the light like a mirror. So you will see a whale at the moment that is is going out for breathing, and being lucky, if it jumps out of the water. After a while we also saw a couple of dolphins jumping and swimming relatively close to the boat, which was a nice treat.

Two hours later, with most of us half dozing, we arrived back to Freetown; a well spent Sunday! For the record, Greg Deli, at Dalton Banana Guesthouse is also organising whale watching trips departing from Banana island; check it out!

Humpback whales, the ones most commonly seen around Banana island, have wide migratory patterns, and are relatively easy to spot due to the fact that they are close to the shore, and surface active. The NOAA website has quite some information on this kind of whales, as well as the Wildlife Conservation Society and the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature); have a look!

I have tried to find out more on the whales we saw, and their migration pattern. Some sources explain that humpback whales go feeding to the Antarctica, and return to West Africa for breeding, although I have read that they go as far as Benin. Sierra Leone lies above the equator, so above Benin, and I wonder then whether those whales come all the way from the Antarctica, or if they come from another migrating route. If you know more, please, leave me a comment!

Friday, 5 October 2018

On natural bristle brushes

Natural bristle brushes? I did not even know this word before I started going no-shampoo (I will write on that in another post).

My first and beloved GHD natural bristle brush
My first brush is the GHD one which I got for free years ago when buying a GHD hair straightener. I did not even know why, but I immediately noticed that my hair was cleaner and less static when using this brush. It also seemed to detangle without pulling my hair.

Some years afterwards, I wanted to buy a second one because it had lost many of the bristles. They did not seem to sell it in any hairdresser, and I did not even know what made it "special", and what I was supposed to be looking for.

Since I had the children, I have spent quite some time trying to understand what to dose that my hair would fall less, and would be less frizzy. Well, honestly, I did not spend that much time, it is just those moments when I looked at the mirror, and my hair was electric, and the shower was blocked from all the hair that had fallen after washing it. Or when I saw balls of my hair rolling under the bed making it look like a Western movie landscape. You know what I mean.

Anyway, I read about the no-poo method, or no-shampoo, and it recommended to use a natural bristle brush. What? I saw a picture, and it looked like my GHD brush; now I knew what made it special - boar bristles!

So, I went to purchase a few more brushes.

My radial natural bristle brush, REGINCOS
I found this one "by mistake", when I was buying something else in a shop in front of our apartment in Barcelona. It has become my favourite, if I can only take one when traveling, then I would take this one for sure.
A natural bristle brush cleans your hair between washes by moving the natural serum from your roots into the length of the hair. And seeing how dirty it gets after good brushing, it seems to remove a lot of dust and other "stuff" as well. I save you the grossness of seeing a picture of my brush when it is dirty.

Regincos takes special attention to its brushes, the bristles are settled into mahogany wood, and it has a cork handle which gives it a nice grip. I really appreciate the design, if you are looking for a product with no plastic, this would be it for you.

More information on Regincos brushes in their website; they also have special ones designed for hair which has had a keratin treatment, and wooden combs.

My children's brush, KENT
Anna is the main user of this one; Nicolas has short hair, and Paul is just into a casual un-combed hair teenager look. It was highly recommended in the blog Happy Hair Guide, and I bought it online in Lookfantastic.
It is soft, easy to use, and clears all the tangles in Anna's hair. It leaves the hair shiny and soft. It is also cheaper than the other brushes, so maybe a good choice if you want to try one and do not want to spend a lot of money.
Although it does its job, it seems to have less natural bristles, or they have fallen off after one year, I do not know. The wood is finished with a shiny lacquer, and it has started to peel off.

My husband's brush, DENMAN
Yes, he has also got one. It looks manly, and fits in his toilet bag. Ok, it also looks like a brush to clean shoes. I have tried it myself, and it actually works very well too. It has the advantage of being small, very handy for traveling, but it is more difficult to use for styling since it does not have a handle.

I bought it also online at LookFantastic - I see now that this exact model is not in the assortment anymore, but they have a similar one with handle.

I hope this honest review will help you choose your brush; please, write me a comment on what works for you!

Birthday cake for Nicolas!

Actually, Nicolas birthday is in July, so I am sort of late in writing this post...

We were in Barcelona on holidays, which gave us much more options.
This year we had a big argument with Anna on whether we would buy or make the cake ourselves. She was in favour of making it, she is really a baking fanatic, and could not imagine why we would waste money in ordering a cake (her own words). On the other hand, Nicolas only wish was to have a  green cake, and I am not that good in coloured sweet stuff.

Finally, we settled for a home-made cake, below the result!

If you are even considering baking a cake, then you most likely have a favourite recipe for cupcakes. Use it, but instead of pouring the mix into cupcakes, use a bigger form.

Then we added a basic icing of butter and sugar, and there on top few sprinkles. Since we still missed the "green" part that Nicolas wanted, I bought some green fondant and a paw shaped cookie cutter in Gadgets in Barcelona. I bought the cookie at Barcelona Cakes, in the Passatge Lluis Pellicer, and the candle in the supermarket.

Cake ready!

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

How to make a frame for a mosquito net

If you have ever slept under a mosquito net, you will agree that the round ones are far from optimal (to say it politely). They stick to your face when you move, they never seem to stay where they are supposed to, and fixing them under the bed is a nightmare.

And let's say that, like us, you live in a place where you need to sleep under a net because you want to avoid mosquito bites that might transmit a deadly disease. But, first of all, which net should you buy?

My requirements:

  • A rectangular net
  • Single bed size, my children's bed size is 200x90 cm
  • Completely closed; no doors
  • Fine mesh (this means the amount of holes per inch or cm)
  • Impregnated with mosquito repellent

I finally bought this net, brand TravelSafe, at, and it seemed to be one of the few with all my requirements. It came nicely wrapped with an orange bag and it weighs about half a kilo, which is very handy if you need to take it with you in a suitcase. This net is 220x105x200cm, it fits perfectly, and according to the description it has 225 holes per inch, so the mesh is fine enough to avoid mosquitos coming in.

It comes with a white rope and 4 hooks so that you can hang it by drilling holes into the ceiling. I have tried that system before, and it should work perfectly fine with normal adults. However, my children have a tendency to regard almost everything around them as a toy, and they pull the net when coming in and out of bed. The result is that it came loose, and the holes were destroyed.

Luckily for me, I live in the middle of nowhere, but I have a carpenter workshop in from of the door. How lucky is that? I showed them my design, and this is the result. Although it seems dirty, it is important that the net touches the floor, to avoid the mosquitos going under it, and it looks better if it goes over the frame instead of hanging from it.

Some more pictures, for those who may want to give it a try themselves.

Thursday, 27 September 2018

How to prepare a super simple treasure hunt

Happy birthday Anna!

Today is my daughter's birthday, and she could choose whether she wanted something special. This year she wanted again a treasure hunt, not during her party, but early in morning before going to school. That meant a treasure hunt at 6.30am!

Well, that only happens once a year, so I prepared everything the night before. I found some scrap paper, and folded it in two, and glued some white paper on top so that the letters would be easy to read.

super easy treasure hunt

Then, decide on the number of steps in your treasure hunt. Considering ours had to happen at 6.30am, I kept it to three steps. Choose the places where you will hide the cards, presents, or whatever you want to hide. Then draw each place, or question, in a different sheet of paper (I used an A5). You definitely do not need to be an artist, or have any drawing skill for it.

Almost there. Now you staple it in order, the paper with the first step on top of it. Each paper needs a different staple, so when one later is taken off, the other one remains stapled.

Happy treasure hunting!


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