My enthusiasm for sharing my impressions of Bonthe meant I wrote the last blog before this one, which explains how we arrived there. So, apologies if you are at all confused!
We never really intended to go to Bonthe, but are glad we did. The real aim was the Turtle Islands (TI on map above), but my propensity for motion sickness had put me off this trip. Most travellers arrive on the Turtle Islands by boat from the Banana Islands, with estimates of the time involved ranging from an optimistic ‘around 3 hours’ (in a speedboat with a following wind and favourable tide) to the actuality experienced by many of 7-8 hours in an open boat (no shade) with optional marooning on sandbanks depending on tide. None of the tales I had heard filled me with the enthusiasm to say ‘let’s go!’. Additionally, on arrival on the islands, the only option for overnight accommodation is to camp, having taken all your supplies with you.
Back to the drawing board. We were then advised the best way to get there is to go to Bonthe, stay there, and take a speed boat to the Turtle Islands for the day – an hour and a half to 3 hours each way, depending who you spoke to.
So we settled on this route and drove to Yagoi, where the speed boat would meet us for transfer to Bonthe. The route is very easy, we were told, go to Moyamba Junction, then take the road for Rutile (Sierra Rutile Company) and just go straight!
We passed the large settlement where the workforce live in the hills before the rutile extraction area which was flat with turquoise lakes.
The route wasn’t quite so straight forward as described, not helped by a few signposts which appeared misplaced, but really depended on how you approached them! We arrived in Yagoi in good time. The Maritime Safety office (hut) was very concerned to record our names to ensure our safety on the water. Though there didn’t seem to be a system for recording our return.
These photographs were taken on our return and look as tranquil as it was. However, our outward journey was a little more lively! I was carried on board and sat behind the driver, whilst the others clambered on board. I wondered how old I looked! We set off along the river, which soon widened and the wind picked up. First a little spray whipped off the waves and I had a refreshing shower, then the breeze increased and buckets of spray headed my way. The driver suddenly noticed, slowed down and suggested I move up front where my companions were blissfully dry. We set off again and this time the wind whipped waves, enhanced by the tide, began to get higher, causing the boat to rise and fall with waves crashing over the stern and all down my back, to complement my wet front! It was, thankfully, not a long ride.
As the river widened we passed areas of rice cultivation along the banks and plenty of mangroves. Some pelicans had found some isolated plants for their nests. It is remarkable how quickly the low shoreline is reduced to a thin line on the horizon (these photos were also taken on the return journey!).
We passed York Island which was once a base for the Royal Africa Company during the 18th century, exporting camwood, ivory and slaves. In 1880s it became the headquarters of Patterson Zochonis trading company (now PZ Cussons of Imperial Soap fame); their abandoned warehouse remains in Bonthe.
Rounding York Island, Bonthe came into view, and we landed beside the Bonthe Holiday Resort where we were to spend the next two nights in comfort.
The bougainvillea along the fence was the prettiest on the island. The paths between buildings were made of cockle shells (not to be tackled in bare feet!) but remarkably effective; being hard wearing and visible at night as they shine in the moonlight. They are also noisy to walk on, so you have warning of visitors!
The resort primarily caters for deep sea fishermen who fly in to grapple with tarpon, a game fish found in these waters. We were the only guests. There are a number of round buildings, named after fish, each with two or three bedrooms, ensuite, and a shared living area. Meals are served in the restaurant block.
Before sunset we wandered around the town, becoming acquainted with its unique ambiance; for more details see my blog Bygone Bonthe. The Turtle Islands beckoned, but that was for another day.