Banana Islands is one of those places that makes you wonder why people live anywhere else. It’s the kind of place that I thought existed only in travel brochures – Robinson Crusoe meets Treasure Island meets Survivor. I half expected Jeff Probst to jump out from behind an avocado tree and announce the rules for today’s immunity challenge.
The islands lie just off the southern-most tip of the Freetown peninsula about a two-hour drive from Freetown. Our taxi driver, Almummy, took us along the inland route which is longer in terms of distance – but the roads are much better. We got to see some of the small hamlets within the peninsula and it was nice to feel
better-acquainted with village life, and be reminded once again that not everyone lives in Freetown, which can really seem like the centre of the Salone universe at times.
We got to Kent (the closest point on the peninsula to the islands) around 2 p.m. on Sunday. Waiting there was Dalton, the owner of the guest house we were staying at. There are two guesthouses on the Island: the Banana Island Guest House and Dalton’s – aside from coming highly recommended, Dalton’s is only 50,000 Le/night (about CDN$15) compared to 220,000 Le/night at the Banana Island Guest House.
Dalton ushered us down to the boat launch, scattered with
brightly-painted wooden canoes – the seafaring vessels of the small-business fisherman. No wharf or dock, just a small cove with a sandy beach and lots of people milling around… with the Banana Islands looming green and gray in the distance. There, with the Atlantic lapping at our toes, we met Debra, Dalton’s wife (and who, it would turn out, is perhaps the best cook I have ever met – especially considering the conditions she’s working in). We piled into what he called his “small” boat (about 16 feet long, with four sets of seats) and he revved up the outboard motor for the 30-minute trip across the water.
The day was windy and the trip was choppy – we roared over the waves and crash down the other side, bobbing in the water like a cork. A few times I thought the bow might go right under, but Dalton knew what he was doing and we landed safely in the cove on the main island, Dublin. We clambered out of the boat into the shallow water, and Debra led us up an old stone staircase into the jungle – marked with a single remaining lamppost from the days of the Portuguese settlers. The island is home to a scattered village – traditional wooden Krio homes tucked in the jungle, along cleared footpaths in a grid pattern. There was one store, which didn’t seem to be operational. The walk to the guest house was about five minutes with flowers and small plants brushing our ankles, along the well-worn paths made slippery by rain and moss.
We were the only guests at Dalton’s (although I don’t think there were ANY guests at the Banana Island Guest House, probably because the rainy season is getting underway). Arriving at Dalton’s, Debra seated us in the open air restaurant – two six-foot tables overlooking a rocky beach, and a giant tropical tree growing through the thatched roof – while she went to make up our room. Each room at the guesthouse is half of a round, thatched concrete hut with a bed frame and side table made of poured concrete. No electricity except for about an hour during and after dinner time, provided by a generator. We opted for a room with a built-in bathroom, since finding our way to the outdoor latrine at night in the rainy season might have proven challenging. While Debra prepared the room, we sat and watched the clouds drift in, eventually opening up and pouring rain. What do you expect from the rainforest in the rainy season?
When the room was ready we dropped our bags, changed into swimsuits and charged towards the beach… about 15 metres from our front door. It was still raining but the mix of the cool rain and warm ocean was the perfect antidote to 2 ½ hours of traveling. We rinsed off the sweat and dust and mud, then returned to our room to dry off for dinner, which Dalton had gone back to the village to fetch.
Dinner was half a grilled chicken each (a chicken which had been alive when we set foot on Banana Islan only hours before), and rice with garlic sauce. We sucked the bones dry and ate every grain of rice – Debra’s cooking was just fantastic. I know it partly has to do with the Maggi (a “spice” mix that comes like a bullion cube, my suspicion being that the main “spice” is monosodium glutamate)… but they put Maggi in everything here, and Debra’s cooking was still above and beyond – especially when you consider she’s slaving over a tiny outdoor fire in the middle of a rainforest on an island. We retired to our room for some of the coconut cookies we brought from Freetown, and lit a candle once they turned off the generator. We read for a bit, then fell asleep to the sound of the creatures of the rainforest on one side and the ocean on the other – the waves crashing on the beach, so close to our room it sounded like the biggest crests might even slip under our door and lap at the foot of the bed.