“What? A marathon in Sierra Leone? Are you crazy?” I think many of us runners have faced a similar reaction after telling our loved ones where we will go for our next travels. People tend to be either bewildered or really impressed. Either way they are interested in listening to the stories of my travels to Sierra Leone.
I’ve even already motivated people to join me on this adventure. The best thing is, that even though it is called “Sierra Leone Marathon“, it does not necessarily mean that you have to run 42km – 21km, 10km or 5km are just as perfectly fine. It is not just about sport, but also about enjoying and getting to know the culture. This year I ran the marathon again and as always it was a fantastic experience which I would like to share with you.
Finally! We are on our way back to Sierra Leone, back to Makeni. It always gives me a warm feeling being back. We are sitting in the airplane and I feel happiness in my body. I am thinking about all the good food which I will eat during the next days. Fresh fruits, Jollof rice, Groundnutsoup… The food in Sierra Leone is simple, based mainly on rice, plantain, peanuts and manioc and tastes great. The first thing I feel after leaving the airplane is the heat. It is my 7th time in Sierra Leone, but I am always surprised when I feel the warm air after stepping outside for the first time. We are leaving the airport and getting greeted by many drivers with:
“Good price, good price”, “Freetown”, “Apoto”. We bargain with a taxi driver and after talking for a while we get a good price for both sides.
After a way too long ride in a way too small taxi, we finally arrive in our accommodation. We are exhausted, but euphoric at the same time.
We decide to eat something and talk about our plans for the next days. Together with the other travelers we built a quite big international group. We are all here, to participate in the Sierra Leone Marathon, which is organized by Street Child, a charity organization which supports education projects in Western Africa and Nepal. I am looking forward to the next days. We are going to visit different projects, which are implemented by Street Child, and we will be able to see all the progresses made. It is always an incredible feeling to visit the different people, who we could help and to see the differences in their self esteem and life situation.
I wake up and feel rested. After the travel yesterday, I slept like a log. I am happy that I don’t have a jetlag. Even though, Sierra Leone has just a 2 hour time difference to Barcelona, the journey can be very exhausting. The accommodation is very simple, we sleep in a big room on mattresses on the floor, covered by mosquito nets. It is possible to choose between different accommodations, but I chose a simple one. For me, it is part of the adventure, part of experiencing the culture. We leave to visit the project of the Fly & Help school. This is definitely one of my highlights of the travel.
The Fly & Help school is a project which got implemented by Street Child in cooperation with the Reiner Meutsch Stiftung Fly & Help and Taglieber Holzbau GmbH. The main aim is to provide children a secondary education. After arriving in the village, we receive a warm welcome by the villagers. They are happy about our visit and show their gratefulness with singing a song for us. The hospitality of Sierra Leoneans is really, really special. They showed us everything they’ve built during the last weeks. And it is great to see how much they have accomplished and how proud they are of their achievements.
The marathon is definitely a unique experience. We run far from the western infrastructure and the everyday luxury. We run over unpaved roads, along beautiful landscape, the jungle and small villages. And this all while experiencing a heat which is impressive. We are more or less 100 foreign runners and approximately 500 local runners. In the morning of the marathon, we are starting already at 6 am, to avoid the midday heat. I am looking around and it makes me happy to see the motivation and excitement of the other runners. It will be a challenge, that is for sure.
‘The high humidity and hilly territories make this run a challenge. However, these circumstances get easily forgotten when starting to pay attention to the breathtaking landscapes and happy people in the villages.’
Some even run a part of the distance with us. The best part is the feeling of success after arriving in the destination – it is incomparable. After this day we have a really relaxed dinner where we exchange our experiences and everyone can tell a little anecdote. Some are still surprised, how easy eating with hands is, some others were talking about how the heat affected their running and how impressive the landscape was, while others talk about playing football with the children. One thing is obvious – Sierra Leone is adventurous and a memorable experience! What will be your story?
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