Banana Island Excursion 2006

This is posted on behalf of Rosalyn Wright.

A trip to BananaIsland held much significance for me to a few reasons. Firstly, some of my family originate from there and secondly this same family had warned me that I needed a truck, a canoe and the power to fend off snakes if I ever wished to go there.

Well….go there I did and luckily I did it with no truck, no canoe and luckily without encountering any snakes.

On a misty Friday morning the twelve of us gathered at the Aqua Sports Club in Aberdeen to go on the VSL 2006 Excursion to BananaIsland.

Now there are two ways to get to BananaIsland. Take a ride towards the east through the new section of the peninsula road to Kent and then the boat ride from there takes about 20 minutes. Or you can go the scenic route from Aberdeen and take in all the picturesque beaches.

I was amazed and excited to find two speed boats docked and ready to take us on our trip. Nothing prepared me for when I rocked up to that speedboat, no lie, I felt like the next Bond girl. The boat ride was exhilarating and awesome. The view of the West African coastline took my breath away. Goderich, Lakka, Hamilton, Sussex, Baw Baw, John Obey, Black Johnson, Tokeh, No2, York, BurehTown and Kent. As each beach slid by my eyes picked up the changing colour of sand like a high definition camera. So so san san! (so much sand!)

The morning mist lifted rapidly revealing the cut of landscape. No wonder it is named LionMountain - the terrain is majestic.

I was just imagining what life would have been like for the first free settlers of Freetown when we approached BananaIsland. It looks like three dense patches of forest floating in the sea. When the boats stopped we couldn’t wait to get in the water. A few of our group snorkelled and got to view the amazing fish and sea life. The water was extremely salty which made it quite easy to swim but I tired quickly and decided to go back to sitting pretty in the boat.

Finally we all climbed back on board, the boats docked by the shore and we disembarked. At this point there was only one thing on everyone’s mind – food. We enjoyed a picnic lunch of Jollof, pepper chicken and plantains, fruits followed by a lot of shortbread.

After lunch came the tour with our guide Edward Johnson. He wasn’t a local but he travels over to BananaIsland from Freetown at the weekends to do the tours. The Island is approximately five miles end to end. There are no roads only clearings, a few small village communities and a lot of churches! Banana Island was where a lot of the first settlers went to live after the abolition of slavery - maybe because it was uninhabited, close to the main land but far enough to avoid conflict with the existing population.

In terms of wildlife the island had an array of beautiful flowers- pink, orange, red and yellow. I have no idea of the species but I do know that similar flowers can be purchased in pricey florists up and down the UK! On BananaIsland I enjoyed their beauty for free.

As we walked we met a villager who introduced us to an eight week old monkey whose mother had recently died. He seemed petrified of so many humans staring at him but we all kept a non-threatening distance from him to reduce his anxiety. But he soon loosened up for pictures – we live in a celebrity driven world and he wanted his 15 minutes.

One of the historic sites on BananaIsland is a slave cave which predates the first settlers and it is located further along from an area called Banjoko beach. The enclosure was built to hold slaves before they were forced into hard labour in the Caribbean and America.

After a lengthy trek our guide still insisted it was “not far”. We all know that is one of the great lies in Sierra Leone. Time is just a concept and “not far” tends to be about a good 40 minute stretch away. By the time we returned to the dock it became clear to us that this had been a very important trip for us all. We all love to think we know a fair bit about the country but most of us have only seen a very small corner of the red soil that is Sierra Leone.

I was very proud to learn more about my heritage in the hours spent on the island. I sat back on the speedboat and watched the island disappear into the distance. As it floated in the ocean so too would it float in my mind forever.

Being on the open water is very freeing. I know it’s a cliché but fresh sea air really does make you sleepy and as my eyelids became heavier I felt a sharp dig in the ribs and somebody mentioned dolphins. Not one but a school of them. Like a rocket on the rise they jumped out of the water and I squealed with delight. Sweet sweet Salone.

Rosalyn Wright