So it was not much of a surprise to find out when I got back in the dry season that most of the resident project team had made Franco’s a regular spot to hang out. About ten of us travelled down in convoy, there were no problems finding the turn off in the light and when we entered the compound in the full sunlight it was like I was in a different world. It was now bustling with several families, the kids running in amongst the bushes. There were groups of young people, obviously aid workers of one sort or another. Some more affluent Sierra Leonean families were there too and we were lucky to find a couple of free tables.
We set up on the beach around a couple of pulled together plastic tables and we ferreted around the compound for enough plastic chairs. I sat down on mine which promptly sank eighteen inches into the sand, buckled and tipped me onto the ground. Any attempt at cool beach behaviour was now lost. We ordered some food and I took a beer and wandered around. The restaurant and main house of the hotel was sat on a small artificial spit of land built on a lagoon. One the east side the mud flats extended out naturally into a patch of mangroves, on the inside there had been some dredging of the sand which made a slight harbour from which both fishing and pleasure boats with shallow drafts could nestle. In front of the beach was a large estuary that curved back on itself before discharging in the sea a couple of hundred metres away from us. At the moment the lagoon had a fair amount of water in it and only a few more adventurous people were wading out across to the far side where there seemed to be a high bank of sand dunes.
So we ate lunch and chatted and joked, fell asleep , sun bathed and relaxed. It was a good day after all the hardships of living up in Fintonia and the work we had done the previous week. We observed a few people swimming out from the jetty, a couple of locals passed by with dug out fishing boats to inspect their nets up the river. All the time the tide was retreating and more of the sand became exposed. At one point a large group of young guys all in the same style of red t-shirt but dressed in various shorts, boxers or briefs, energetically ran across the largest emergent sand bank. They did acrobatics, tossed a football around and fooled around with each other before heading out over the sand dunes.
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.
Wallilabou was in the bay beyond,. As we drove into a small car park, I noticed these huge warehouses, and out in the bay a massive jetty and two tall derricks sitting on a solid stone base. This was like a major harbour, although you could see that it was not currently used. Of course I knew what it really was, but I’ve kept up the illusion for you as the view was so realistic it could easily pass for an old dockyard. In reality it was the leftover scenery from the first couple of “Pirates of the Caribbean” film. And everything I was looking at was less reality, more fake. The “stone” building behind was made of plywood, as was the small bridge crossing the river, and the stone base to the derricks. Look closely and you could see that the cobblestones that were so solid and tactile in the houses of Kingstown were painted on here at Wallilabou Bay.
Real or fake?
Milking a fiction
Could almost be real
If you have seen the first two Pirates of the Caribbean films the bay was used as the main centre of Port Royal. Most of the town was taken away but these three or four artefacts have been a huge tourist trap for the west coast of St Vincent. The later films did not the same location it though so now both the set and the tourist trade is decaying back into the undergrowth.
We took a tour around before lunch. You could not get far onto the jetty as the boards had collapsed into the sea, but up close you could see the painted facades lacking or peeling away to reveal the plywood underneath. You could walk across the bridge but you could feel it creaking under you to remind you that this was not a solid structure. And we wandered round the sole remaining building of the town; this had been carefully maintained and the central space could be used for weddings and parties. We lunched on the beach and had a couple of beers in this bizarre location.