February 3, 2011 § 2 Comments
On reflection, I still feel a little guilty; apart from this little attempt, I have done a completely terrible job at giving you much of an indication of the cuisine in Sierra Leone. To ease my guilt I can say, well, it’s already been done. In case I have left you curious and wanting, look here for a detailed effort on many of Salone’s dishes. But the real truth is there are just so many other more exciting things to write about. You have to trust me on this one; food is definitely not the countries strong point. Although I cannot say the same for my last five days in Sierra Leone spent on the beaches of the peninsular.
To get to the beaches we take bikes. The going is fast and dusty, the mountains rising from the sea swallowing us up forested and deep. We stay at different places along the way sleeping in little thatched huts on the sand with mattresses made of old rice sacks stitched together and stuffed with grass. The water is bath like warm as we float in its blue and green. We laze in the shade of the palm trees sharing the beaches with the fishermen and their nets, their boats at sea tied to trees on the shore. The colourful wooden vessels are sharp-nosed and slim with names like “Believe in God”, Jesus is in the Boat” and “ Movement of Jah People” painted on their sides in blue and yellow. They have a certain knack for names here, At John O’bay we meet a Mr. Perfect, and at Bureh a Prince William, just to name a few. In this tropical paradise we dine on fish, lobster, crab and oysters plucked straight from the sea.
We spend two nights in York staying with the Whale Foundation an NGO that works in the area. York was built by freed slavers once slavery was abolished (look here for more info). The town escaped the burnings of the civil war and the old buildings charm us, tall, wooden, shuttered and dilapidated. The windows look into shadowy insides, floating with curtains of blue and pink printed roses that are pleasing against the faded and pealing salmon pink and brown of the houses.
Each night we can see the lights of the illegal fishing boats out at sea. They pay bribes to the navy and the ministry of fisheries to rape the seas with their trawlers and fishfinder radars. The locals are no competition with their leaky rigs and nets that they scare the fish into by rhythmically drumming the sides of their boats. They tell us how the illegal boats will attack them and cut their nets if they get too close. They have noted the dwindling fish stocks since the illegal boats arrived. Now the locals need to go further and further for their daily catch. We meet a man from the Environmental Justice Foundation an NGO that do research and work in the area trying to stop the illegal fishing and to protect the local people from its effects. The foundation provides very interesting information and videos that you can find here.
Sadly our beautiful time on the beach, warm and relaxed, toes up in the sun, comes to an end. Heading back to Freetown from Tokeh we can only find one bike. So it is D, me, our bags, a big bundle of water under my arms and the driver all atop the Honda. The drivers slow and careful pace pleases me, until, that is, we start going down a hill and discover that the brakes don’t work!!! I look down at the bottom of the hill, an eroded and bumpy corner turning into a narrow concrete bridge with no railings over a rocky river. As we begin to gather speed, I notice that the driver has begun to direct us in the direction of the jungle on the side of the road. D, me, our bags, the big bundle of water under my arms, the driver and the Honda crash into the dense green scrub, sharp thorny branches breaking our fall, the bike falling on our legs. Lucky we’re only left with a few bruises and scratches. Somehow I don’t feel overly fazed. I must be getting used to break failures. This is our second one in less than two weeks. The last one leaving me petrified rolling backwards down a steep hill and a nasty cut on the underside of my big toe. I lose my shoe when I try to launch myself off the bike to what I think is safety. As a result, I get stuck, my foot dragging on the gravel as D desperately tries to pull me back on before my leg goes under the wheel. In hindsight I didn’t react in the most sensible manner. However, at the time it seemed better than continuing backwards down the hill! I had already calculated in my head approximately how fast we would be going when we hit the corner and it was pretty damn fast, especially for reverse. But somehow with me half on and half off the driver put the bike into gear and turned it sideways brining us to a stop.
Back in the jungle lying in the thorns under the bike, we decide to get a lift in a red sports car that comes by in a timely manner. Covered in dust, the axle grinding and bumping along the road we make it to Lakka and from there to Freetown in a taxi.
That night I fly out of Sierra Leone leaving the warm weather and my darling D behind, but not forgetting a bout of gastro to accompany me my 20 hour flights and stopovers to Belgium. One last departing gift.