The Little Island off Lakka Beach, Sierra Leone

  • The Little Island off the Lakka Beach, Sierra Leone
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Lakka Beach is barely half an hour drive from the center of Freetown city and despite its proximity to the city, it is largely pristine and spotless clean. The sands are fine, light golden yellow and the beach itself has a wide sweeping curve.

Charlotte – a colleague of mine from London, who was visiting our office in Freetown for work, was staying back in Sierra Leone for an additional week on holiday, which she was going to spend at Lakka beach. It was a Friday and she has left around five in the evening. Inspired and egged on by her earlier in the day, on the spur of the moment later in the evening, I decided to pack my bags and make my way to Lakka beach as well. I called up Charlotte who had already reached Lakka and she promptly booked me for the night at the guest house of my choice.

Mohammed, my elderly driver dropped me off at the beach around eight in the evening and I was received by George, a staff of the guest house where I was booked for the next couple of nights. Mohammed knew that I would be staying on a little island off the beach and bid me a rather shaky good night, neither very sure of where I was headed for the night, nor very confident of leaving me entirely to my own devises in a country on which I had recently set foot. I had to assure him that I had a confirmed booking at the best guest house available and would be just fine.

George and I walked from the parking area, through the woods and along the beach to the guest house in which Charlotte had booked herself. From there I was to proceed further to the guest house that was booked for me. The sun had long gone down, darkness had fallen and it had begun to drizzle. It was a new moon night, the sky was overcast, the tide was high and there was a thunder storm. I could hear the powerful waves breaking on the shore and crashing violently against the rocks, but could not see anything – it was dark all around.

While my colleague was staying in a guest house on the beach, I had chosen to book my accommodation on ‘Hard-Rock’ – a guest house on a small outcrop of rocks in the sea, just off the beach. Generally a strip of sand and cluster of rocks join Hard-Rock with Lakka beach but during high tides, Hard-Rock is converted into a full-fledged little island to which one has to either wade or swim through. The latter of course is very risky because of the current and presence of rocks. For the same reason, one cannot take a boat either.

By the time I reached Charlotte’s guest house, the tide was very high and wading through to Hard-Rock was out of question. So I spent about three hours on the beach under a thatched canopy, waiting for the tide to recede, chatting with Charlotte, a gentleman by the name Adikalle and another international aid worker – a German lady by the name Marlow who was also spending her weekend at Lakka. Marlow too was stuck on the beach, waiting to cross over to the little island.

We could see Hard-Rock faintly lit at a distance amidst the darkness and it appeared like a magical little island in the middle of nowhere. I couldn’t wait to cross over.

A full-fledged storm had picked up and the waves had begun to reach up to where we were sitting. Because my guest house was further into the sea on the tiny island, I began to feel nervous, wondering if the gigantic waves would swell and sweep over the island where I was to spend the next two nights. I reminded myself that we were not in Tsunami zone and felt a bit reassured. It had begun to rain heavily and flashes of lightning lit up the beach and the sea from time to time. We caught fleeting glimpses of the sea rising and falling. We could see the huge waves building, crashing and foaming furiously.

It was around eleven in the night that a gentleman named Tommy, the owner of the Hard-Rock guest house emerged from the darkness, introduced himself and informed me that it was now possible to cross over to the island, provided I was prepared to get drenched in the process. It was completely dark and I was as good as blind. I could hear the roar of the sea, the lashing of the waves and the howl of the winds all around. But then I suppose a sense of adventure and bravado gripped me and I enthusiastically agreed to cross over – a decision, that on hindsight appears was nearly suicidal.

Tommy’s assistant, the same George – a young affable man barely out of his teens took charge of my back-pack and lap top and led at the front. He had my luggage hauled up on his head, his one hand holding it in place and the other hand holding a flash light. He led the way slowly but confident and sure footed amidst the lashing waves and rocks. His surefootedness could give Mr. Spiderman a run for his money, I thought. I just hoped my laptop wouldn’t fall into the water.

Tommy – a big, sturdy and muscular man guided me, as I held the second flashlight. We found our way through the narrow strip connecting the island to the beach – a low tide access that was well under water and on which waves came unleashing from both sides. The rocks beneath us were sharp, when not slippery and we had to take one step at a time. On two occasions twaves came crashing and the water was up to my chin. The second time, I would have been thrown over and would have smashed my head against a boulder, had Tommy not grabbed me on time. Because he felt a sense of responsibility towards me, from that point forward, he kept an iron grip on me till we had crossed over on to the rocky island, to higher grounds.

Although it is the best guest house in Lakka and is endowed with an extraordinary location, the Hard-Rock facility by itself is very basic. There is no electricity supply, the aged, ailing generator, when it runs, does so only between seven in the evening and twelve midnight and there is no hot water supply. Taken together, these lend a unique – rather medieval feel to the place. The toilets however are modern, clean and with running water. I had confirmed that before making the booking.

Just as we crossed over, as luck would have it, the generator at Hard-Rock gave up and complete darkness descended on the little island. It almost felt like a welcome gesture and I smiled to myself. We found our way to the top of the island, over a narrow steep flight of roughly hewn steps amidst the rocks and trees, with the help of our flashlights. My room was located right at the edge of the island and I was promptly provided two candles in my room. Hard Rock had eight rooms and that night only two were occupied. I was in one and Marlow, who crossed over after me, was in the other. I almost felt like being in the middle of nowhere.

Once in my room, in candlelight, I peeled off my dripping cloths, took a shower, got the sand out of my hair and salt out of my mouth and changed into dry cloths. I had carried some drinking chocolate powder with me and hoped to have some before going to bed. Since there was no way of making the chocolate drink, I gave up the idea and had a few biscuits and bananas instead. Smearing mosquito repellant all over my body, blowing the candles out, I crashed into bed, to be soon lulled into deep blissful sleep by the cool moist sea breeze, the rustle and murmur of the leaves and sounds of the crashing waves just below my window.

I woke up early next morning around six, again to the sound of the waves and call of the sea birds. To my delight I found outside my window a small patch of sand and below that, huge boulders, with waves lashing. Through my window, I could see the wide swaths of the pale golden yellow sands of Lakka beach, colorful fishing boats bobbing up and down with the waves and the hills in the background at a distance. It was in the morning, that the beauty and splendor of the place fully dawned on me.

I had my breakfast of bread, fried eggs, bananas and Darjeeling tea and then spent the day walking along the beach, watching fishermen go out to the sea and bring in the catch, chatting up with local fishermen and women and taking photographs. Lunch was some bananas, oranges, biscuits and tea, after which I reclined on a deck chair below the thatched canopy in front of my room and read a book. Eventually I dozed off in the mid-day heat, under the canopy. Evening was largely a repeat of the morning and dinner was some more bread, cheese, avocado, banana and a big glass of chocolate milk. Day two was not much different from day one.

Taken in an automatic digital camera – the photographs from this trip do not do full justice to the splendor of the place. True beauty and the experience of the infinite; of profound peace and joy that is to be found in nature, can never be captured fully in two dimensions, or in writing. Images and words alas are but vestiges of what the eyes have beheld and the spirit has felt. All I can offer you is merely a hint … just an idea.

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