From Outamba Kilimi National Park we continue our tour of Sweet Salone travelling east to Kabala, and the cool air of the Wara Wara Mountains.
Perhaps most famous for its New Year’s extravaganzas, the Kabala Festival – when people from all over Sierra Leone flock to the town to party the night away atop of Gbawuria Hill complete with sound systems, generators and plentiful beer – day-to-day, Kabala is a place that oozes calm.
Whether it is the cool breeze that blows through the valleys, the fantastic mountainous backdrop, the fertility of the land, or the big smiles of the inhabitants, there is a tranquillity to Kabala that refreshes and revives even the most frazzled of visitor. Nowhere is this feeling more evident than hiking one of the many flat-top peaks in the surrounding Wara Wara Mountains, taking time at the top to gawp at the incredible views of towns and villages dotted below, with mountains spreading apparently without end into the distance.
Gbawuria Hill, of course, is the most famous; the huge black cliff that guards over Kabala Town, climbed in around 45 minutes from near the Chief’s house (a steep climb if you go up the front face, a gentler but slightly longer ascent if you circumnavigate the back). Here, you get the most impressive view of Kabala; a great place, also, to sit back with a book, drink and hear the local legend of Pa Bala, guardian of the mountain and the man Kabala quite possibly gave its name to. History has it an intrepid European was pointed to – ‘Ka Bala’ – on getting a little lost.
Our favourite peak, however, is in nearby Senekedugu; the little explored Len Konke. Local guides, who spring up the mountain with enviable agility, will laugh, but Len Konke is not a climb for the feint hearted. Reached via a 15-20 minute off-road Okada journey from Senekedugu (or hour walk depending on your preference), Len Konke takes just 45 minutes to an hour to climb, but it is near vertical at times, requiring a good degree of fitness and a fair tolerance of heights.
Atop of this giant rocky outcrop the views are breath-taking. Walking around the grass-clad summit, in every direction you look is an unobstructed panorama of undulating bushy green tree canopies. Wave after wave of mountains filter from brilliant greens to milky blues as the hills merge into the horizon. With the only sounds that of the wind whistling gently through the hills and the tweeting of birds, you literally feel on top of the world. One can only be grateful to ‘Mami Wata’ and her diabas (devils), who, local legend has it, hide-out in the mountain and protect it, and the surrounding area, from exploitation.
Senekedugu means ‘the land of the farm’ in Kuranko, and the village lives up to its name; one of the most fertile regions in Sierra Leone, large quantities of the veg found in Freetown’s markets is grown here. An introduction to the village, its history, agriculture and culture will be given to all visitors by the village chief. For those who don’t want to climb Len Konke, we will provide a tour of local farms, giving insight into life in rural Sierra Leone – and the chance to sow a few seeds of your own.
Our tour to Kabala has traditional culture, as well as hiking, at its heart. As you kick back and rest from the hike up Gbawuria Hill, welcoming you on your first night in town will be Medo and his band, to thrill you with the power and intensity of Limba beats, drum rolls and traditional dance.
Medo is not just an extremely talented musician, but also an insightful teacher and craftsman of the intricate balange instrument. He will be on-hand on the final morning of your stay to run a music workshop, teaching you the basic rhythm of the balange, its significance in Kabala’s culture and how they are made, by hand, using natural materials found in the surrounding forests.
Completing the cultural experience is an afternoon with Abu Mansaray, one of the few remaining masters of the art of gara tie-dyeing, a traditional industry of Kabala under threat from cheap imports. An experienced teacher of his trade, Abu runs an entertaining workshop to design and make your very own gara cloth (and opportunity to buy clothes, tablecloths and other household linens made by the master himself). He will also take you to see the other traditional trade of Kabala; as Dugeah Marah and Sarah Kamara give you a crash-course demonstration in the art of weaving country cloth.