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26 October 2019 / leggypeggy

Expensive visas, clever watch repair (x2) and cheap food (x2)

Senegal Consulate in Sierra Leone

Senegal Consulate in Sierra Leone

Earlier this year, our West African travels were supposed to end in Freetown, Sierra Leone. We had hoped to carry on as far as Dakar in Senegal, but when we first booked there was only one seat available. Along the way, one passenger decided not to continue beyond Liberia, so we claimed the now-available two seats.

But this presented a problem. We didn’t have visas for Senegal. Pity we didn’t get them on spec in Ghana when they were available overnight and for free.

Electrical sign

Poor John versus Blessed John

Rumour (meaning someone’s blog post) said we could get visas at the border—for a bribe of about US$50 per person. But that’s a risky approach. Rumour also said there was a Senegalese Consulate in Freetown.

So Poor John and I set out to find this consular office. Neither address given online was right, but white tourists stand out in Black Africa and locals are willing to help. A guard in front of the Gambian Embassy (near the second wrong address) pointed us in the right direction.

People think of embassies and consulates as palatial places, but many are quite basic. The Senegalese one in Freetown was the latter. A dark, rundown building, with a simple sign over the door and a watch repair stall out the front. I wish I’d taken a pic inside.

Upstairs, we were greeted by two men, who assured us that we could have visas. ‘Fill out the paper work and come back tomorrow,’ one said. Suddenly, a third man arrived and he was the consul. Yes, yes, he could provide the visas on the spot. ‘Just pay US$200.’

Poor John said, ‘But the visas are supposed to be free!’

I can’t describe the raucous laughter that spilled out of all three men. Heads thrown back and enormous hahahas. The consul said, ‘This isn’t an embassy, this isn’t a charity, it’s voluntary.’ So we paid. But we got off easy. I had US$100 and US$70 worth of Sierra Leone currency—and they accepted that. Yay, a discount!

Watch repair, Sierra Leone

Would you trust this guy to fix your watch? I would!

Watch repair
On our way out of the consulate, Poor John stopped at the watch repair stall to see if the fellow could fix his watch. He’d had it repaired in Monrovia, Liberia, but it still didn’t work.  It took the fellow about five seconds to determine that a spent battery (he touched the old one to his tongue) had been installed. He replaced it, charged $3 and off we went.

Lunch
By then, it was almost 2pm and we were super hungry. We headed back to the hotel on foot and passed a very basic restaurant. It had one dish on offer. Rice, fish and something green. It cost about $3 for the two of us.

Watch repair revisited
The next day my watch stopped illuminating in the dark. I love this feature because it lets me know the time in the middle of the night. It happened once before and I got it fixed in India. Back then a fellow fiddled a bit and replaced some part and it worked beautifully.

So we returned to the watch ‘repair shop’ for a second service. He took the back off the watch, fiddled a bit, didn’t replace anything and handed it back to me. I stepped into the dark, rundown building and saw that the glow had been restored.

‘What do I owe?’ I asked, and he said $3. ‘But that’s what you charged us yesterday to replace a battery. Today you didn’t add a battery or anything?’

And he said, ‘I just used my brain.’ I smiled and paid. And we walked back to the cheap restaurant for another meal of rice, fish and something green.

Simple food in Sierra Leone

Simple food in Sierra Leone

49 Comments

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  1. beth / Oct 26 2019 10:03 pm

    I love every word of this, a win-win for all of you

    Liked by 2 people

  2. magarisa / Oct 26 2019 10:03 pm

    “Poor John vs Blessed John”… hahaha!
    What a funny story about the three men and the visa!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. beetleypete / Oct 26 2019 10:44 pm

    These tales are always a delight, Peggy. And it goes to show how we get ripped off for watch repairs in our ‘western’ countries. 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Oct 26 2019 10:46 pm

      Oh Pete, we have to remember the differences in hourly rates.

      Liked by 2 people

      • beetleypete / Oct 26 2019 10:52 pm

        Just kidding, Peggy. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • leggypeggy / Oct 26 2019 10:54 pm

        Actually you are so right about the differences. All about hourly rates.

        Like

  4. kunstkitchen / Oct 27 2019 1:24 am

    Lovely story!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Lynette d'Arty-Cross / Oct 27 2019 4:31 am

    What a great experience! Did you ever figure out the “something green?”

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Oct 27 2019 8:15 am

      The first day it was leaves from cassava. I didn’t know the leaves were edible. The second day it was leaves from some other plant, which I don’t remember now.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. IreneDesign2011 / Oct 27 2019 5:33 am

    Great experience Peggy 😀
    I think, that you will remember to take care of your visas in time at your next travels.
    Nice to get your watches repaired so fast and for a fair price, I will mean.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Gilda Baxter / Oct 27 2019 7:28 am

    Visas can be a drain in the wallet, but at least you got a discount. Incredible how cheap it was to have your watch fixed and to have a meal. I will be looking forward to your post on Senegal.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Oct 27 2019 8:16 am

      I guess the watch repairs and meals made up a bit for the price of the visas. haha

      Like

  8. onecreativefamily / Oct 27 2019 9:45 am

    Sounds like a wonderful experience, Thanks for sharing

    Liked by 1 person

  9. macalder02 / Oct 27 2019 11:35 am

    At least he had a good experience. Watches, visas, rice with fish. All condiments to make history the most fun. A good smile with so much stress from the trip. Regards.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Coral Waight / Oct 27 2019 11:45 am

    Great story!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Emma Cownie / Oct 27 2019 6:27 pm

    I love these stories. I have to ask, are both watches still working?

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Oct 27 2019 7:00 pm

      They sure are. My watch is at least seven years old and has travelled much of the world with me. I bought a new watch band in Vietnam in August, but I don’t need it yet.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Green Global Trek / Oct 28 2019 7:33 pm

    Hahah too funny. The money you saved on the watch repairs, went for the visas. All balanced out in the end. A place I am eager to get to one day!

    Peta

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Oct 28 2019 7:55 pm

      Obviously, the visa payment just helps to keep the voluntary consulate running.

      Like

  13. barkinginthedark / Oct 29 2019 11:42 am

    oy…but “rice, fish and something green” made me laff. continue…

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Oct 29 2019 1:03 pm

      Surely ‘something green’ is a bonafide ingredient!

      Like

  14. kkessler833 / Oct 29 2019 12:17 pm

    Great story!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Sy S. / Oct 30 2019 10:12 am

    A whole bunch of little stories, make for great blogging. I know you traveled a long distance to get to Africa… but still in all I would hesitate to pay large amounts of money to shifty characters, when you could have perhaps gotten visas for free. Always amazing how third world countries have craftsmen to fix almost anything, like electronic watches (all solid state and tiny) .. This reminds me of the Australian Bush Mechanics (is that the right name), videos.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Oct 30 2019 11:31 am

      You remembered right—it is The Bush Mechanics. As for the visas, we had no choice. By the time we were sure we could join the next leg of the trip, we had passed all opportunities for a free visa. And we felt we couldn’t risk arriving at the border without one. They may or may not have taken a payment. It’s all part of the adventure.

      Like

  16. Alison and Don / Oct 30 2019 11:58 am

    What a great story Peggy. Ah the joys of travels. I was smiling by the end – another meal of rice, fish and something green. Suddenly I was back in Africa where one simply eats whatever is available, and it’s often not much. I like the watch repair guy saying “I used my brain”. Good for him! And the guys in the “embassy” all laughing. But you got your visas! Happy and safe travels.
    Alison

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Oct 30 2019 7:15 pm

      Thanks Alison, so glad you enjoyed the account. It still makes me smile. The visa day also had us trying to find the railway museum—another comedy of errors. Will write about that soon.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. chattykerry / Nov 3 2019 1:23 am

    I love this story, Peggy. Brought back so many irritating and lovable moments from living in Cairo. We all dreaded the Mugamma which was the place in central Cairo where you got hatched, matched and dispatched along with visas. The rich expats were mingling with poor refugees and watching the true story of the world. I would love to visit Senegal – so many are in Houston and always charming.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Nov 3 2019 11:33 am

      Oh my, the Mugamma. In 1976, I was in there to get a visa updated. I was on second floor standing next to a central air well when a bomb went off on fifth floor on the opposite side of the air well. It threw me across the corridor, but I wasn’t dispatched. My scholarship host said ‘Don’t tell your mother about this until you go home next year.’

      Liked by 1 person

      • chattykerry / Nov 5 2019 12:20 am

        OMG!!! I had no idea it had ever been bombed. How lucky you were and it’s astonishing that it didn’t put you off foreign travel. You are one tough cookie, Peggy!

        Liked by 1 person

      • leggypeggy / Nov 5 2019 7:16 am

        It was a weird experience. There were two bombs that day. The first one was at 11am and blew up in the hands of the bomber. It never occurred to the investigators that he might have set a second bomb to go off at 1pm, which was when I was there. The bomber was an Egyptian who had been recruited by the Libyans to set the bombs. The 11am bomb was supposed to kill him, but it didn’t. As a result, the whole story came out.

        As an aside, a bomb went off in Harrod’s in London that same week. So it can happen anywhere.

        Like

  18. jeanleesworld / Nov 9 2019 10:53 pm

    Eeeeeesh, the price for a visa! And yet, well, on the border and what else can you do? I’m glad you were able to get them, at least–and now you know a great watch repair place! And that dish you ate looks DELISH! It speaks to my inner Midwestern casserole-lovin’ soul 🙂 xxxxxxx

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Nov 10 2019 7:44 am

      Visas are often expensive. Once we paid $100 just to land in an airport on the way to somewhere else. The frustrating thing about this one was that, if we could have seen into the future, we could have gotten them in Ghana for free. They’re also free if you arrive at the airport. Go figure. At least the food was cheap.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Lisa Dorenfest ~ One Ocean At A Time / Nov 13 2019 8:44 am

    Great story. It made me miss traveling in Africa. I can hear the laughter at the ‘visa’ office now 😂. Such experiences are not exactly pleasant in the moment but somehow become gems as the years go by …even if this was a somewhat costly gem. At least you managed a discount. Ahoy from the San Blas.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Nov 13 2019 9:21 am

      Oh my, they let go with the biggest of belly laughs. Actually we had to stifle our laughs. The discount was sweet.

      Liked by 1 person

  20. CarolCooks2 / Nov 14 2019 1:27 pm

    That made me smile I wish the guy I spoke to yesterday on Amazon had engaged his brain preferaby before I lost the will to live… 🤣🤣🤣

    Liked by 1 person

  21. mangla / Nov 14 2019 6:11 pm

    very nice

    Liked by 1 person

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