Visit the Peak District and you simply have to wrap up warm, wear sensible footwear, ensure you’ve a good map and off you go. But things are far more involved in Sierra Leone.
Arriving at the foot of the Wara Wara Mountains, our guide explained that we would need the blessing of the friendly local chief before we started our trek. In doing so, we were introduced to some fascinating traditional etiquette.
The chief wanted to offer his hospitality, grant us permission to climb and ensure us a safe journey. He also wanted his council to advise us regarding the mountains' important cultural history. After all, the Wara Wara have long been spiritually important to the local people.
Having shaken the Chief's hand, we were offered kola nuts – an edible symbol of respect, welcome and appreciation for visitors arriving into their village. Culturally, chiefs are required to offer a friendly welcome and show genuine hospitality.
We passed around the ornate bowl containing the all-important nuts (which culture required us all to consume, no matter how bitter they were to our western palettes!), but it was important that we left the final nut for the chief himself. After all, this was to be a shared experience.
The chief formally introduced each of his council members, accompanied by nodding heads, hands raised in acknowledgement and the repeated loud cry of “Nam!” (meaning ‘yes’) from one of the chief’s most loyal supporters.
On learning of my tourism role, the jovial chief asked that in return for his hospitality, I ensured that every Englishman visited his village.
For some travellers, I wonder if this would feel a little drawn-out, but for our group it certainly added a real buzz to proceedings. Our group split – some taking on the climb (which by all reports was tough but the views made it worth every step), whilst others (including myself) stayed cool in the village and watched the local community put on an impromptu, but dazzling display of music, dancing and even a magic show including the apparent raising of the dead!