Published: June 6th 2011May 21st 2011
The scene is perfectly set amongst the green hills looking right down on the palm tree coast and golden sands that stretch for miles. To see such a virgin coast line this beautiful is rare in the world. You can find places similar but not this expansive and untouched by property developers and tourists. Civil War and corrupt governments need to be thanked for that. It has left Sierra Leone off the tourist radar but with this attraction surely with long lasting peace it won’t be long before this part of paradise will be changed forever. This is what it is like now in 2011.
I had waited for this moment for a while - A chance to relax on the beaches of Sierra Leone. Since it was Independence Day the lack of accommodation meant I would need to camp and the beaches were packed. My mind was set for a relaxed time so instead I headed to Banana Island which is the most touristy spot you’ll get but quietest spots. It’s not tourists that are there, its NGO workers and they were only there because of the holidays and it was only a handful of people.
is a short boat ride from Kent the last town 45 minutes moto taxi ride from Freetown on the peninsula. This moto taxi ride is a must and only cost a few bucks. It will be hard pressed to find a better ride than this. Just scenery as described above over ever hill and every point. No buildings just villages with huts and that cheap concrete variety.
Banana Island is a twin hill island with only 3 accommodation options and only a few hundred local residents. I arrived and receive the glorious sight of 5 young European women at the accommodation, one as hot as the other. I thought I struck gold but as per usual and my dear readers will attest to… This is never the case. 3 left 2 hours later, another got malaria and the other gets migraines whenever the weather changed suddenly and since we were approaching rainy season that meant now is that time. (I was not a sleaze to warrant that last comment. I just arrived.) Honestly there is a curse on me.
I stayed at the budget accommodation of Daltons and unfortunately I was there during the last days that the
owner Greg was leaving so there was a bit of maintenance being done - Including a new dive shop. I didn’t dive because of cash problems explained in the last blog.
So each morning I’d be woken by typical African morning talk. It’s happened so many times where the person who is awake has no care if anyone else who wants to sleep in for an extra hour or so. It was 640am almost no work would have been done and he was in the same straw hut that was partitioned by more straw so there’s not much blocking the sound waves.
From my experience Africans especially in the morning only are capable of one tone and that’s loud and they keep it going for 10 minutes at the least. So I yell out, “AH! Come On!” I then realised it was Independence Day and he might be saying, “Happy Independence!” in his local Creole language. It wasn’t the case but I wished them all a happy independence later on just in case.
Greg’s girlfriend heard me in the morning do an overly relaxed fart that was intended for secrecy. I swear she did but I was
relaxed. It’s a small beach and despite it not being completely quite I was content with my relaxation. Plus when you do a relaxed fart you don’t feel like acknowledging it because if you do you get yourself out of the groove. So I carried on relaxing, acting like what was around me didn’t matter. And although nasally that fart wasn’t around the sound was. I swear she thought I didn’t hear it because later on I said innocently “Gee I didn’t realise how loud I had my ipod.”
My last day I had the place to myself, the owners had gone, the manager away trying to fix the generator and no other customers. With nothing else to do I started concocting my final destinations of Africa and I seriously looked at Chad, CAR and Congo (the 3 C’s). I said to myself at the time. “Someone has to stop me. This is getting ridiculous.”
This is what happens after a few days relaxing. Your brain gets very forgetful and forgets the pains of days gone by and the mental drain solo travelling is in these parts of the world. Than rejuvenation or is it because I was
bored with myself and just finding something to do?
It was at about this point in my travels that I can confess I am over myself. It’s been just over 4 years in the past 8 years of solo travels with the occasional travel partner but now I’ve hit a wall. Still 4 years is pretty good to finally get really bored with ones self.
Whilst reading the history of Central Africa it resembled a very African history. Once independent a guy was appointed, not voted in and he ended up being autocratic which lead to coups and things like that. Dividing regions for European convenience and not tribal lines. I started thinking about this autocratic style and it seemed like the Europeans were of that ilk and Africa just followed. Any President that has tried to change that way has been killed or overthrown. (I’ll get to Burkina Faso soon.)
So now it’s 50 years of independence in most countries so the excuses are up for me its time to take responsibility. They can’t blame Europe for everything. A lot has been of their own making too. I’ll get to that later too in Benin.
I left for the mainland again and within an instant I was ready to give up on the 3 C’s. I won’t rule it out completely but I think it’s too much for me to add another month. That was because at Kent these young guys tried to charge me $15 to take me 3kms to the next beach so I walked. A quick reminder that nothing is easy in Africa.
This experience made me think about the times I say hello or wave at the little kids. I don’t want to think like this but it’s hard not to sometimes. African kids are like kittens or puppies when they are young. They grab your attention and you can’t help but acknowledge they are there. But when they get older they can be annoying not cute anymore and just either after your food or money. I often think when does the transition happen to be annoying to tourists, is it tweens?
This is how remote this place is, there is no immediate transport out of the place, instead you have to wait around for a taxi and that is not guaranteed. I stayed at Bureh beach for the
rest of my stay. This the best beach to many I spoke to including NGO’s that did day trips there. There is no guesthouse here you just rock up and make a deal with a guy who’s got a thatched roof hut, a rock hard pillow and sand filled mattress with a mosquito net.
I got Samuel a wise man, he doesn’t have much but does his best with what he’s got and a great chat. Even if you don’t stay the night he can whip you up a good feed with fresh fish caught that morning.
I walked along the beach to John Obey beach and it was getting a hotel. Bureh had one I was told but I couldn’t find it. It was $50 a night. I actually stayed a bit further south of Bureh still in the village, which was a better swimming beach. Bureh in rainy season is known as the best surfing beach in Sierra Leone.
Because of the Independence celebration just passing Bureh beach had a lot of rubbish whereas my spot was very clean and well kept by the locals with bins provided although not completely spotless. I had my
own table, chair, and taped up blue Brussels airlines umbrella all under the palm trees.
There were a lot of signs around on vacant land informing it is government owned. I asked Samuel about his land at the village and it seemed that he was unable to own the land. A lot has been sold off years ago and either some firm owns it or the government. Knowing how so many other places like this have prostituted themselves to the world for the tourist dollar (Namely Thailand), I did feel for this bloke. He has used his initiative and seen a market untapped. He gave up on fishing and decided to give tourism a go, underneath the coconut trees. I hope that one day he doesn’t get screwed over.
Again with the thought I am bored with my own thoughts I decided to read my book ‘Things the Grandchildren Should Know’ by the lead singer of the band ‘The Eels’. Cover to cover all in half a day with the occasional swim and kids coming along flipping pages of my books, touching my skin and asking for water all the time.
I got the same meal over
and over again which was fish, rice with tomato and onion sauce - Occasional variations but not much. But I didn’t care it was pretty good. There was a bucket for a shower that passersby sometimes used to wash their hands and an open aired toilet half way down the beach. A proper toilet with no walls but foundations to have a wall.
I could handle walless toilets… until mid afternoon when this peaceful scene revamped to beach life, African style. The tranquil setting changed like a Coke commercial minus the Coke. Locals dressed in fashionable gear arrived from nowhere through the huts and trees. Men ready for the US gangster scene and women in short and tight bike pants. Some with esky’s on their heads, others with giant audio speakers walking past me along the shore.
Not long after the speakers are hooked up, the music started blaring where everyone is dancing. Women gyrating their hips, others joyously screaming out as the waves crash into them. I haven’t scene anything like it and within 3-4 hours it was all packed up and they were off back to Freetown.
This surely is how Coke got the idea
10 years ago for an ad they did. The one with the flying helicopter or plane that drops coke and a beach party begins. It was one of those moments if you see it on TV you’d say “Bullshit that would never happen.” Well in Sierra Leone it does!!
The group that were partying it up were a Christian group from Freetown. I find African Christianity fascinating. The western worlds Christians really need to grasp the concept of how Africa plays it. Young crowd and a fun atmosphere that encourages through music what would probably see drugs, alcohol and teen pregnancies in our society. (Actually Hillsong is like that isn’t it.) I’m pretty sure the first two were happening and the other of the three was probably replaced by gyrating hips with the music.
At night the music and locals left and I expected more stars than what was on offer so instead I noticed crabs would dig a hole in the sand to rest up. I brought out a torch which Samuel provided and flashed the light in the holes. You can see the confusion as they hesitate. “Oh you’re kidding its not that hour already?” Once
they get out of their homes they’d realised they’ve been ‘punked’ and zoom back into the hole. During the day they’d roam around and freak out and go on kamikaze missions to the crashing waves to avoid me. Again only a secluded place like this can provide mass crabs living on the sand a footstep away.
My last day on the beach was an interesting one. I thought it was about time I asked a question about the war. The pursuing answer stretched out to over an hour. The never-ending response was when I said. “With what is going on in Ivory Coast - and I heard that Burkina Faso there are problems. Does the people of Sierra Leone look at these other countries and see how stupid it is and think, ‘Hey that was us!’”
That question or comment lead to this, an animated story about the war. It was told like how I would tell one of my classic Rugby League tries from 10 years ago. With a lot of passion and demonstrations they’d talked about a guy Mosquito, the hatred towards Nigerians and how the attackers would surround the village and instead of confronting or
calling out they would shoot bullets in the air to inform the village that they are surrounded and no chance of escape. They spoke about people who got the soles of their feet cut off and the palms of their hands.
There was a guy who joined the conversation; he started telling with all smiles and gap teeth how he left the army. He has got no problems telling the story and coping stick from his mates. He is still alive because he told the army to get stuffed he is going back home, he is not killing another person. That is not why he joined the army.
They described how in some villages people killed someone’s father or brother and they have to live as neighbours. So basically 10 years ago if you put it in western terms. A person living on the next street killed a family member of yours gruesomely and they live on the road you have to take every day to go to work. That is what these people have to put up with. If they can’t forget they have built enough courage to forgive. They have seen enough and hopefully it was
not all just words to me but there was a strong desire to not go back to the way things were.
I found out on my last day Osama bin Ladin was killed. A few hours later two Pakistani Muslims on a mission in Sierra Leone pass by and chat to me. After a brief conversation about cricket he asked whether I have looked to the words of Islam. I disappointed in my response and they admitted that they do not know me but are concerned about me living alone.
He asked basically, “If you saw a dog in flames would you try and help it get out of the flames?” I thought he said the dog had dug a hole and made a fire (miscommunication) so I found it very confusing and didn’t answer. He then said “I see you in these flames and it is my duty to try and help you out of the flames of hell.” Not caring that he just likened me to a dog we left it with him preying for me to realise reality and study the word of Allah. I thanked him for his time and wished him all the
best in his mission.
Departing this piece of confusing paradise is hard. Not because you don’t want to leave. But because after a while the thought of being able to do an enclosed turd seems a good enough reason to leave. But leaving is hard because there is no moto taxi waiting for you. Instead you have to take the local route which is an around the world experience.
I was lucky to have Samuel with me and he kept me company most of the way. A long wait and dark clouds approaching we lucked out at last with 4 other village members and cramped into the sedan and picked up others along the way. We were only going to Tombo a few kms away but we picked up other passengers as well. 4 people in the front, 5 in the back seats, two in the open trunk and one on the bonnet. That’s right sitting on the front body of the car.
West Africa brings a new meaning to poor countries and its moments like this that bring it to light. We ran out of petrol about 500m slightly downhill from our destination so on goes
my backpack which the strap broke before we left. So lopsided I move uphill to another car and the same compressed formation of 1-4-5-2 would takes us to Waterloo.
Waterloo is 30kms inland from Freetown so instead of travelling through the beautiful coastline the locals have to go around the hills and come in the back way. We enter a minibus, which was going the wrong way and the traffic officer for the bus station arks up and slams his hand on the bonnet of the bus. This leaves a dent, which the bus driver is naturally not happy so he gets out. This is a sign that this country won’t take shit anymore.
The young officer had no friends; no one got physical just discussion in a raised tone. Okay there were a lot of hand gestures and we had to change buses but it’s a sign things have definitely changed. Actually Guinea people just drive past traffic police laughing. But there is a realisation that authority needs to act a certain way to gain respect and if it doesn’t it needs to be called out.
Samuel said diligently “If you have a problem write his
number down than tell the next check point your problem and than they can punish him. To hit his vehicle and create all this for what he did. It’s not right.” In truth the guy went the wrong way for 20m.
There is a long road ahead for Sierra Leone but maybe, maybe the expectations of the people I spoke to and who came up to me briefly to express their excitement will rub off on the politicians and it can be successful. Corruption is a problem and a few westerns who have come over here are researching fishing. A reduction of fish in the waters is a problem and a rumour I heard was that illegal West African fish was found in the European market and was tracked back to Sierra Leone via Canary Islands. They might get banned for trading with Europe for 10 years I’m not sure how I can back that up though. What about the Cannery Islands is that the most nightmarish island to be governing. The poor Spanish!
I returned to Freetown surviving the 12 days on $300 and was greeted by more people encouraging me to return and invest. It was
like being in Hollywood and you are a good connection (so I’ve read and heard) instead of the budding artist wanting to be a celebrity. Here it’s the local guy trying to get a foot into helping you invest in projects or help you come up with strategies to help their cause.
Some places in Africa you can see will not change for a long while or ever. Freetown and Sierra Leone maybe the same but if ever I have seen a place made for tourism that is untapped than Freetown is it! Should the next few elections come by unscathed than Sierra Leone could be the next investor’s paradise? Hello Morocco and Turkey EU property investors. Come now before Europe ruins it… Again.
** Details of some contacts
Samuel at Bureh Beach – ph: 033860122
There are more photos below