An impromptu market spring up on the shore as several of the big mammas who were catching the fish in their bowls were passing them on to others on the shore lines. It was not clear but it looked like several of these women were managing the sales of the fishermen and ensuring that they got their cut even though many were still out in their boats. But there was the odd opportunistic guy who dipped a single bucket into the water to get enough food for his week.
The concentration of fish in this little area had caught the attention of much of the bird life in the environs and they were swooping in on the catch, or stealing the odd fish from the periphery of the market place. Some of the fish were being cleaned right on the beach there and the entrails were picked up by birds and by the lucky crabs who lived just where we were standing.
We watched for a while as the final stragglers of the catch were brought up and the remaining net tidied up into one huge pile ready to be loaded on to a cart and taken back to the village to be repaired and prepared for the next haul.
We bade our farewells to this village, privileged to have been included in a huge community ritual and started to walk back to our resort. At this point I realised just how far we had travelled and it took over 30 minutes to get back. We’d been away a couple of hours but it did not seem to bother the rest of the group who had been reading, drinking and doing a bit of pottering of their own.
The tide was completely out now and only a trickle came from the lagoons and the river. Laziness had taken over the whole world, whether it was the sun, the beer or the palm wine. Kids who had been playing now leant on a nearby wall and said a seldom word to each other. Dogs had half buried themselves in the sand to cool down and probably relieve the tics or fleas. The sun was setting over the ocean and turned the bay a distinct purple grey hue. Reluctantly we packed up our belongings and headed back to Freetown and work.
We thanked the man for all his help and edification, and we returned to the vehicle. All our assorted stops en route had taken up both the morning and a good part of the afternoon and I was getting hungry. Jan had already decided we were to stop for lunch at another resort not far from Kent and I was eager to get there.
We parked up in the Mama Beach Resort in the appropriately named area of Eden Park. It was a usual mix of chalets and function rooms spread under the shadiest of trees. It had obviously been existing for years but was going through the final stages of a thorough overhaul. With great pleasure we sauntered through the gardens and by the pool and ordered some food from the bar before asking for a table to be set up on the beach below. While waiting for food I had a saunter around the beach. The tide was low so I was able to traverse the little estuary of a river that poured from the forest and walk across the flats beyond. Having turned onto the south side of the peninsula, we were partially protected from the Atlantic swells and this was a calm oasis of water which a few fishermen were taking advantage of in their dugout canoes. They had to angle way out as the water was so shallow. I looked to the south east and saw just the fringes of the coast as it headed towards Liberia. It reminded me that the Freetown Peninsula is very special in the whole of West Africa, it is the only place that mountains of any size come down to the sea. The coast to the south looked so boring and flat, and was probably a maze of mangrove swamps and mud flats, whereas this was a tropical oasis.
We had fresh fish with rice and vegetables washed down with a couple of Star beers. Thoroughly relaxed I was not too keen to head back to Freetown but the start of another week was beckoning and turn back we had to.
Jan had no fear and also a much stronger 4WD Toyota Land Cruiser. He had been running around the back streets of Freetown looking out for historical artefacts. Freetown was at the head of a peninsula that always feels separated from the rest of Sierra Leone. It was the gateway to a large part of west Africa, having the best deep water harbour along a stretch of the Atlantic Coast from Nigeria to Morocco. The original inhabitants of the peninsula were the Koya Temne and the Krio that now dominated culture and ethnicity there were descendants of freed slaves that had been given the land “forever” by the local tribes. Hence the name Freetown. The British could not keep their hands off the region though and used Freetown as a base for their trading. The usual trappings of colonialization were set up; not just the old warehouses and substantial merchants buildings in the centre of the old city, but fortifications on the many hillsides to protect this fortuitous location.
Jan had scoured old documents and maps and found that several of the cannons still existed across the city and had spent some weekends looking for them. He had also visited the oldest school in west Africa, and gone searching for other historical colonial artefacts.
Jan and I made a couple of other excursions down the peninsula. One day we drove down to the point where Kofi had turned back and Jan gingerly dropped down this potholed but once tarmacced road. The road, flanked by thick vegetation turned to the right onto a badly maintained concrete bridge across a river. The potholed highway continued up the other valleyside and then … bump bump… you were up onto a smooth well maintained bit of metalling. Kofi and I had turned back less than half a kilometre from where the good road started. The chaos of the road out of Freetown was all down to the construction from the Chinese who decided to tear up the whole countryside one time before laying a road, as opposed to progressively rolling out a finished product. To the north of us was thirty miles of dust and mud.