When everyone tells you the same thing, I guess you should believe them. Before we came to Sierra Leone the three things everyone told us were: lovely people, fantastic beaches and delicious seafood – on the first two counts they were right (seafood yet to be tested)! The peninsula beaches are wonderful! White, squeaky sand, warm ocean and very few people – this is my idea of a beach.
This is Tokeh beach, looking north
Although only about 20 kilometres, it took nearly an hour to drive to Tokeh. The road is another of the ongoing construction projects to improve the road infrastructure. This project has been ongoing for over 10 years – dynamiting, leveling and bridge building – but still much to be done. Several sections have reached the ‘leveled’ status, many have not. It will eventually be dual carriageway, but for now, the traffic often has to share the same side, dodging lumps and bumps. The last section to Tokeh turns inland away from the new construction. It rapidly becomes lumpier and bumpier and is definitely 4×4 only – saloon cars simply would not make it. It crosses three narrow bridges, just wide enough for a single vehicle. Therefore, it is necessary to give way to oncoming trucks, of which there is a regular stream. They are heading south empty, and back north laden with sand which is being ‘mined’ from some of the beaches. This is potential ecological disaster!
Fortunately no sign of mining on Tokeh, where we set ourselves down under a thatched umbrella at the top of the white beach, which widened as the afternoon wore on and the tide receded. Just offshore is the remains of the helipad which once brought the jet-set from Lungi airport to the luxurious Club Med. The final few yards to the beach were along a wooden jetty – now long gone. Sadly Club Med was destroyed during the war.
Part of the remains of Club Med – to see how it was click
At No.2 River Beach, later in the afternoon, we were told how the local men hid in the bush while the rebels were in the area. They had started their community staffed and run beach resort in 1995, so when the rebels arrived they buried as much as they could in plastic lined holes on the beach, then fled. They continued to fish and try to protect their village, but had taken their women and children to the Banana islands nearby for safety – seen in the far distance of this photo, on right hand side.
No. 2 river beach, looking south towards Tokeh beach
The beach area is still run for the benefit of the local community, who charge an entrance fee and hire out tables, chairs, beach huts, barbecue facilities and overnight accommodation. They also run a restaurant and bar and employ ‘security’ to keep those not part of the resort away from the beach. There are some community run craft stalls beside the parking area. Definitely a venue for future days on the sands.
We walked south along the clean, white sands of Tokeh past the fishing village where the latest catch was being landed and on return enjoyed ladyfish and barracuda for lunch at the beachside restaurant. There are several well-built, private houses towards the southern end of the beach. The creatively named No.1 river curves behind the village, creating a safe anchorage for fishing boats, and a lagoon before it enters the sea at the end of the beach, just beyond the thatch you see on the right hand side below. Beyond this, the shore became rocky.
The beach walk took us past more construction, not a road, but a luxury resort ‘The Place’, due to hold its official opening and soft launch at Easter. That looks a big ask, although some of the bungalows look close to completion, each with its own solar water-heating unit. They are promising ‘the best that Sierra Leone has to offer’ along with ’21st century amenities and international service standards’. We hope they are right!