It was a glorious sunny morning (as it is pretty much every day) and myself and five expat friends packed up the car ready for a long weekend away over the Easter holiday. Our destination was Tiwai Island (said T-Y) which is a wildlife sanctuary and one of the few reasonably well known tourist destinations in Sierra Leone. We set off early to make the most of the day and it was a good job that we did as the journey there took rather longer than expected. The first reason for our delay was that Meredith, who was driving, had been given directions to take a route that passed via Bo rather than going directly south. The second reason was that the car we had borrowed from her organisation broke down when we reached Bo. The silver lining to the longer journey route was that Bo is a much better place to break down than the middle of nowhere which is where we would have been had we taken the other route. Bo is the second largest city in Sierra Leone and Meredith’s organisation have a mechanic based there (how lucky are we!) so we called him to come to our
rescue and after a trip to the garage, a few beers, some lunch, meeting a local celebrity, seeing a monkey handbag, and a giggle at the 20 people it took to fix the car later...we were back on the road.
The car still wasn’t completely happy and as we reached the end of our journey is started sounding unhealthy again. We decided the best course of action was to keep our foot on the accelerator, reach the destination as soon as we could, and forget about the car for a couple of days, which thank goodness we were able to do. To reach Tiwai Island you have to leave your car on the main land and take a small motorboat for about 15 minutes to reach the point where you can access the campsite. We carried all of our supplies down the narrow path to the boat, loaded everything inside and set off. It was lovely to be out on the water and surrounded by forest on all sides.
The campsite on Tiwai is in a clearing in the forest a short walk from the waters edge. There are tents there permanently which you
can use so you don’t have to take your own and they are set up underneath a shelter to offer protection when the rains are bad. Food is cooked over fire and you can either take your own supplies or ask them to cook for you – we did a bit of both.
Once we were settled in our tents we headed back down to the river to swim and cool off. The water was really refreshing and the flow of the water running downstream was very relaxing – much calmer than where I’ve swum before. We were very lucky as shortly after we got down to the water we saw movement on the other side which turned out to be monkeys moving through the trees. Our view wasn’t good enough to identify them but it was the first time any of us had seen monkeys in Sierra Leone so it was quite exciting. Before it went dark we took a short walk into the forest along one of the marked trails to explore the island a little. The forest is really dense so it was very hard to see any animals but I still really enjoyed
being surrounded by nature. We spent the rest of the evening sitting out in our camping area eating dinner, having drinks and enjoying lots of random conversations. The group that I went with are a really nice bunch and it was fun to talk and laugh with people that had different experiences and had all been to lots of interesting places.
We got up early the next morning to go for a two hour guided forest walk. We split into two groups of three with a guide each and were led off in different directions to explore. It wasn’t long before we headed off the market trails and after a few twists and turns I was glad to have a guide showing us the way. Along the way we asked our guide to tell us about the different plants that we saw so he told us which ones can be used for medicine, which fruits the monkeys like most (we even got to try some) and about a tree which produces white sap which the locals turn into glue. They use the glue to catch food by spreading it on tree branches and catching the birds that
Not long into our walk we got our first proper monkey sighting and this time we could be sure it was a group of Red Colobus monkeys as we could see the bright colours through the trees. There were at least four in the group and they were moving around in the upper branches of a very tall tree and jumping between the neighbouring trees. I had my binoculars with me so we all got a good close up view and I also got some nice photos. We also managed to see Black and White Colobus on the walk but they weren’t as clear or as active, and we heard Sooty Mangaby and Diana Monkey but didn’t manage to glimpse them through the thick forest. Halfway through the walk the sun was high enough in the sky to break through the canopy and everything was dappled with rays of light which were really beautiful and I kept getting left behind taking photos!
Back at camp we spent a few hours relaxing and enjoying the environment, and then we headed off on our second trip of the day which was a boat ride
to the beach at the tip of the island. The beach was much bigger than the river beach I have been too before and the water was very calm so Katrice and I swam all the way across to the other side. We spent the afternoon lounging in the shade, exploring the on the rocks, and soaking up the view. The only thing which disrupted the view was the billowing smoke coming from numerous fires that were on the mainland where locals were burning community forest to clear space for planting crops. Traditionally the land is used on a cycle where it will be burnt, used as crop land, and then left to go fallow for seven years. Due to increased pressure on the land this fallow period is often reduced and new areas of community forest are being burnt every year at an unsustainable rate.
After another evening around the campsite, another morning forest walk, and a final dip in the river, we packed up all of our belongings and made our way back across the river to the car. It was now early afternoon but we wanted to leave extra time for the journey in
case we had trouble with the car again. Thankfully The Beast (car) got us back to Kenema without breaking down, the roads were rough and it was hard work for Meredith who wasn’t used to driving them but we got back safe and sound in less than two hours. We ended the weekend with a celebratory drink to toast our safe return and then headed home to prepare for another week at work.
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