Doing the Mambo Falls – the hard way!

Two things I learned about the Mambo Waterfalls hike. Firstly it’s a journey of two halves with an idyll in the middle and secondly, it’s as hard to go down as it is to go up.

We started our trek at around 8ish. Earlier might have been better. The sun was already high and there’s precious little shade to be found.

The falls are at the top of a pretty steep hill/small mountain that has seen better days. Deforestation and unplanned building – the twin demons of urban development in Sierra Leone, have taken their toll. The few trees left, scatter unevenly over the top of the hill, like an untidy comb-over.

I’d watched a YouTube video the night before, when a group had headed up in the rainy season with a very young child in tow and arrived still smiling. It had totally misled me.

This hike is hard. I started swearing – it felt like 10 minutes in but it was probably five.  We were a party of eight and after 15 minutes, everyone was swearing.  

We set off from the main road. Initially the incline appears moderate. Don’t be fooled, it is quickly followed by a very, very long and hard steep uphill stretch. We had only one question for Bassie – our very patient guide: “Are we nearly there yet?” I don’t know how Visit Sierra Leone – the company that organised our trip – chooses its guides, but Bassie clearly has a constitution made for mountains. For him this was a walk in the park. He never runs out of breath, plus he’s patient, kind and knowledgeable.

I wasn’t wearing a watch, but I’d guess we finished the steep uphill after about 35-40 minutes, with a rest break about half way up. The view stops you in your tracks.

This is followed by a very steep downhill.  Of course a downhill after an uphill is usually welcome. In this instance, all I could think was that this downhill would be an uphill on the way back.

By now though you can clearly hear the waterfall and it’s like music.

And just as you start to wonder what possessed you to go to bed early the night before and get up at 7am for this, you turn a corner and there they are – the Mambo Falls. The whitest of water on the blackest of rock. It’s breathtaking and it’s loud. The water drops down in a sheet, hammering over huge boulders that have been rubbed smooth over the ages, to land in a plunge pool of clear water, that’s so calm, it’s like a naturally formed infinity pool.

I thought it would be ice-cold. It’s not. It’s brisk, perfectly so.

A swimsuit helps make the most of the experience. We tiptoed over the rocks – you need to be surefooted – until we were directly under the falls. It was like being in the eye of a storm – exhilarating, loud, unpredictable.

When we were tired of the excitement, we lounged for a while in the plunge pool, genuinely feeling the weight of the week just wash away.

Then it was time to go back and lots more swearing, particularly when we discovered that the bunch of fit-looking blokes sitting under the falls and photographing each other in their tighty-whities had taken the ocada route up, for a few thousand Leones.

If you’re walking, take plenty of water, some reviving snacks and wear shoes with sufficient grip to keep you upright on the steep downhill bits.

Next time I visit the Mambo Falls, I’ll take a little picnic and a book and sit by the pool reading, with my feet in the water. I’d wear a hat and shoes with better grip, but I’d still take the hard way.

For more information contact: Visit Sierra Leone

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