Tiwai or Big Island is a wildlife sanctuary and community-led tourism site in Sierra Leone. Located in the middle of the River Moa, getting there was an adventure in itself. Having arrived at the village of Kambama, where we left our vehicle, we were quickly surrounded by a posse of villagers, including children, who helped us unload our belongings, and carry them down to the river, mostly on their heads. After some hollering across to the island, our motorised boat arrived, and we all piled in. A 10-minute ride took us to the first of two jetties where we collected a lady with a laundry basket containing our bedlinen. A further 10 minutes took us to the second jetty, the landing stage for the research centre where we were staying. It was a five-to-10-minute walk from the jetty, along a flat and well-marked path.
The research centre had four double rooms in one block, and two further rooms with bunk beds. Our room, grandly described as the master bedroom, was the largest of the four. It was relatively simple, but unlike our previous accommodation, had the luxuries of electricity, plug points and a fan. Despite being relatively spacious, the double bed with unfurled mosquito net hanging above, was pushed against the wall, so we moved it away to allow both of us to easily get in and out. A desk stored our open suitcases, but there was no chair.
Our block had two shared bathrooms, but as we were the only visitors during our two-night stay, we had his and hers. Both had cold water only, shower, loo and basin but no mirror. The tap in one didn’t work, the loo in the other was decidedly grim and the floor quickly flooded in the absence of a shower curtain.
The window in our room had a mesh, but no glass and there was no key to lock either our bedroom door or the door to the block. As the latter was virtually off its hinges, it was left propped open.
The power was solar, and on our first night we’d just got ready for our evening walk, when the lights all went off, which we assumed was a temporary glitch. On return, the place was in darkness, and we ate dinner wearing head torches. Eventually someone discovered that the electric pump used to get water from the well into the storage tanks, had been left on by mistake and had drained the power. The pump was switched off and the lights came on, but as it was unclear how long the power would last, we were given a large solar torch to take to bed.
Although food can be provided by the local community, as we were the only visitors, we took our own cook, Suzanne. However, unlike the previous two nights in Gola rainforest, where Suzanne’s kitchen was a table in the outdoors, Tiwai had a large purpose-built kitchen adjacent to the comfortable communal dining area. All in all, whilst it was simple, the fact we had the place to ourselves, and a fridge for chilling the beers we’d brought along, it was much better than anticipated.
Once again, Suzanne excelled, with dinners of chicken on the bone in a rich peanut butter sauce with rice, and pasta with chicken and vegetables. Breakfasts once again, were omelette and fried plantain, but this time with toasted yellow bread, pineapple and banana.
Leaving turned out to be a slick operation with men waiting at the allotted leaving time to carry bags back to the boat. Reunited with our driver and vehicle, it was time to set off on our next adventure.
See also the review of Tiwai Island for details of our activities whilst staying on the island.