That Funky Monkey

Trip Start Jan 02, 2009
Trip End Mar 22, 2009

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Flag of Sierra Leone  ,
Sunday, February 1, 2009

After a full month in Sierra Leone, I've finally been able to head out and see some of the sights of this country.  The "village" of Bo (at least 100,000), is all good and well, but there is only so much pollution, garbage, and neighbors playing full volume radio 7 am - 9 pm I can take.  So with that in mind, we all headed to Tiwai Island for a little bit of camping and (for me at least) some much needed nature time.

Tiwai is one of Sierra Leones two National Parks.  It's located about two hours drive south of Bo, in the middle of the Moa, SL's largest river.  It's about 20 sq km, and in a country where every available piece of land seems either to be occupied, burned, or filled with trash (or all three) it is remarkably well preserved.

On the subject of trash, we left mid-morning on Saturday to find stopped cars lining the roads and the town for all purposes shut down.  Aparently, the last day of each month is a national cleaning day, where everyone is supposed to go out in the morning and pick up trash (which is bountiful).  It seems to work, certainly the streets seemed cleaner, and most people looked to be making an effort, although all the trash gets put into big piles that are presumably either a) burned on the spot, or b) left to be re-distributed onto the street.

It also made getting fuel a pain in the butt, but we were soon enough rolling in the jeep down a bumpy dirt road, through swamps, palm  forrests, and several typical mud hut villages.  We stopped at a roadside market along the way for some produce: a hand of bananas for 15 cents, a couple of coconuts for 10, and a large bag of delicious star fruit for another 15.  The produce is definitely something to enjoy here.

As we made our way to the end of the dirt track where Tiwai awaited, I couldn't help but notice that some of the local amenites looked a bit improved.  Certainly the villages still looked all about the same, but there seemed to be a bit more infrastructure, or the occasionall painted school or clinic. 

It seems that aside from being a natural preserve, the Tiwai proceeds go to supporting eight or so of the surrounding communities, a much needed boon in the poorer "up country" areas.  We stopped at the final village on the track, where we met our guide Marmadu and his father, the village chief, who was hunch backed and at age 86, far and away the oldest Sierra Leonian I've met so far.  We passed through a small farm and down to the river, where we were taken by boat accross to the island.

The island amenites were surprisingly nice.  There was a large covered veranda, or "visitors center," bathrooms with flush toilets, solar power, a small bar, and several covered tent platforms.  Certainly not resort quality, but in a country where the primary building material is mud, it might as well be.  To say the least, it was more than I expected, or usually get, while camping.  We took a late afternoon boat tour (good for bird watching), fixed dinner, and went out for a little bit of rain forrest spotlighting along the trail (not much to see though, some cool purple beetles and a lot of spiders). 

The highlight was an early morning walk in the jungle guided by Marmadu.  Tiwai is famous for it's monkey population, and we saw plenty, of at least three different breeds, one of which is endangred.  We also saw sign of the islands other inhabitants: some wild pigs and a troup of chimpanzees. 

We unfortunately didn't get to see the islands most famous creatures, the pigmy hippo, but that's not too surprising.  The pigmy hippo is a notoriously solitary and shy forrest dweller, and we met a woman who is the lone occupant of a research center on the island, studying the beast.  She's been there since October, has an array of twenty motion activated cameras, and in all that time has never seen one, and has only four photos (none of which are very good).  I'm still hopefull however, and we are most likely going to return to Tiwai in March.

Hopefully I'll be able to get up some photos soon, it was a great experience.  In a country torn by poverty, disease, and still feeling the fallout of a ten year war, it's nice to know that there is still a place of such peace.
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