Travel: Your holiday disaster

Gordon Parr was robbed in Sierra Leone in 1996. Undaunted he decided to return the following year. This is his diary

Friday: Flew out of Heathrow, via Brussels to Freetown. Already things were looking up compared to last year. The half-empty plane meant far better service. I was met by a friend and taken to the house: the sanitation and water was working. I had a good meal and went to bed.

Saturday: Went on trip out to one of those beaches you only see on travel programmes. "Eat your heart out all doubters," I thought.

Sunday, 8am: Sleep rudely shattered by a distraught girl bursting into my room shouting "Get onto the floor! There's firing." As the shells rained over our house, I headed for the safety of the floor and dived under the bed. The firing stopped at around 1pm and there followed hours of looting. We were spared a "visit" despite the fact that people all around us were raided. But around 2am, rattling on the windows soon awakened us from our fitful slumbers. Being a man, I quickly urged one of the girls to talk to the armed soldiers to convince them that we had nothing worth stealing.

Monday: We decided that staying at the house was not safe and managed to find a taxi driver foolhardy enough to drive us to one of the two hotels protected by the Nigerian army. All eight of us piled into his cab.

Tuesday: At around midday we found that we were locked out of our room. An American guest volunteered to clamber along three balconies to our tenth-floor room to open our door. He also told us that the Nigerian army was going to invade that night around 8pm because the hotel was in direct line between them and the Sierra Leoneans. He advised us not to go down into the hotel cellars, as they contained air vents which made them vulnerable to grenade attack. Deadline came and went but there was no sign of an invasion.

Wednesday: At last safety in sight. Evacuation time. Helicoptered out to the airport. Did I say safety? We arrived to find that the Nigerian and Sierrean soldiers squaring up to each other, with our plane and the passengers between in direct gunfire. That crisis over, the military attache announced that we could board. He then announced that there were only 220 seats for the remaining 300 people. Some would have to wait for the next plane. First on first seated. I was third to the plane - I did not wait to receive my bronze medal - but clambered on board.

Gatwick, 1am. Where is my car? It is at Heathrow. Have you ever tried to get between Heathrow and Gatwick by bus or train before 6am? One horribly expensive taxi ride later, car picked up, uneventful journey home. Sierra Leone a third year running? Perhaps not.

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