Monday, March 3, 2008

Bloody hell and why can’t I get a decent bloody mary?

Getting in and out of Sierra Leone is a nightmare. Not only is it ridiculously expensive to fly to and from Sierra Leone, you also have crappy departure and arrival times and unreliable airlines to contend with. But the most frustrating thing about the whole experience is getting to the airport. See the airport is not in the capital city, it’s in Lungi. Lungi is actually not that far away, but the problem is that the roads are so bad that if you were to go by car it would take 5 to 6 hours of a very unpleasant journey. In addition to the car option, there used to be four other options of transport to the airport: Helicopter (Paramount), Helicopter (UTAIR), Ferry and Hovercraft.

These days there are only two options. The Paramount helicopter crashed last year for the second time. Everyone on board was killed. The Hovercraft caught on fire and almost sank a few months ago so it’s out of service. The UTAIR helicopter apparently has much better safety standards, has a spotless safety record and is pretty reliable. The Ferry is a problem because in order to get to the port, you need to first drive through something equivalent of what I imagine hell would be like and this takes almost two hours. So the helicopter it is. This option adds at the very least two hours onto the trip, sometimes four, sometimes more. This is what getting out of the country is like:

  • Arrive at the heliport - buy your ticket (USD 70) check your bags in, and the waiting begins.
  • Eventually you are shuffled onto the helicopter and you make the flight across to the airport – this takes around 8 minutes.
  • Once you land, you have to get onto a bus, which takes you the vast distance of 65 metres to the helicopter ‘arrival hall’ (I use this term generously as you can see in the photo above).
  • You wait for your luggage, you pick it up. Make your way to the departure terminal.
  • Stand in line.
  • Passport check number one.
  • At this point you are allowed into the check-in area.
  • Passport check number two. Search of the luggage you will be checking in.
  • Passport check number three (at this point we have moved around two metres from passport check number two).
  • Check in. Passport check number four.
  • On the way to immigration clearance, passport check number five by some random security guard – this bright star couldn’t even find the photo page in the passport.
  • Immigration clearance and passport check number six.
  • Search of hand luggage and body search. Passport check number seven.
  • Waiting…..
  • Boarding commences. Everyone is pushing for prime position as this particular airline had free seating (which, in my opinion just brings out the worst in people. It’s such unbecoming behavior). Passport check number eight.
  • Now for the best bit. Everyone is shuffled onto a bus to take us, get this, 30 metres. I’m not exaggerating (which I tend to do sometimes) but I’m not - seriously. 30 METRES PEOPLE. Are you kidding me??
  • Get off the bus. People are getting very excited now. Climb up the stairs onto the plane. Passport check number nine. NINE.
  • Did I mention it's 3am?
  • Bloody hell.
And we’re off.

You can understand why I really wanted a good bloody mary once I got to Casablanca. Unfortunately the one I got was very ordinary (as is apparent from the photo). Not the worst I‘ve had but not very good either.

Why is it so hard to get a decent bloody mary? It's really not that hard - but this is a drink that I am frequently disappointed with. For me, a good bloody mary has the following ingredients:

  • A generous amount of vodka
  • Tomato juice (it's got to be canned or in a box - it can't be fresh, just doesn't work), make sure it's unsweetened.
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Tabasco sauce
  • Horseradish
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Squeeze of lemon
  • Celery stick
  • Ice (I think a bloody mary is actually 'not supposed' to have ice - but I need it)
Thing is - I can't give you amounts. It's all about balance, the size of the glass and your taste. But if the bloody mary is made up of these ingredients - it's got to be good.

On a different yet related subject, I was very pleasantly surprised by Moroccan and Egyptian wine. Did you know they make wine? I didn't. Well, I never gave it any thought. They do - and it's pretty damn good! We also had very nice beer in Morocco - Casablanca beer.

I leave you with a picture of Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca - the second largest religious monument in the world after Mecca. Pretty impressive. Only cost USD 800,000,000.

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