Monday, 8 April 2013

Magical Room Island

[Click here for full photo album]

Off the coast of Guinea's capital city, Conakry, lies two small islands and an even smaller island in between.  Google maps doesn't even know their names, but I do.  Room Island is the smallest.  It's full of jungle, beaches, and Rastamen.  All three of these are impressive beyond explanation.  The jungle; rife with palm trees larger than any even seen in South-East Asia, countless mango trees providing unexpected food at random times of the day, and as many plant species as you can imagine.  The beaches; quiet and perfectly white, unspoiled by tourists, and surrounded by beautiful scenery.  The Rastamen; ready to philosophise about spiritual life and always on the edge of song and dance comparable to the best in the world.

I met with my travel partner Wojtek (who I hitched with through the Sahara desert [link]) and we were welcomed to pitch our tents on the grounds of a small hotel owned by a French expat and his Guinean family.  This was our home for two weeks.

With the presence of other foreigners limited to weekends - mostly just French expats living and working in Conakry - Wojtek and I were treated to the full and undivided attention of the most entertaining people on the island.

Me, Ibrihim & Wojtek
First, there was Ibrihim; a hotel owner who would cook us dinner for a very cheap price and then get all three of us drunk on health- authority- unapproved gin.  The malaria which kept reoccurring made him look almost dead one day, before he would be sprightly running around unaffected the next day.

Second, there was Fire Bon Dem.  Mikey was his real name, but this Rastaman deserved a stage name; his musical talent exceeding most I've ever known.  Even jazz instrumental music could provide a base for his reggae singing. [Video below].  There was a problem one day when, whilst watching him and his band play, a local man caused a stir:
"Hey mon, ya spoilin uz! Dis iz a interview gon on naw!"  Fire Bon Dem shouted.
"But datz ma guitar mon, ya stole it!"
So cool is Fire Bon Dem that he can casually walk into somebodies house and borrow their guitar without them knowing!

There's many more amazing people on this island, but the last I will mention is Seka.  The cook (/singer/dancer/drummer/tourist guide) at the hotel who took a liking to me and started giving me free meals and after work taking me to his Rasta hangouts.

One night after a party, Seka and I waited on the rocks to get some hot bread that was being cooked for the village for the following day.  We were looking at the stars when I asked him if he knew what they were.  Me being a little drunk, I started talking rubbish:
"There are people just like us there; sitting around, eating, swimming..."
His face was hilarious.  Completely speechless.  Looking at me then back at the stars:  "Eh? Ah!? Eh! Wa?"
In his beautifully simple life of no conventional education, just growing up then his job of catching fish to cook for tourists, and knowing the same few hundred people from the village all his life... imagine how incomprehensible aliens must be?!

The parties were another thing altogether.  Guinean drumming from the best drummers in the world - you can look up anywhere about the reputation of Guinean musicians - a band of ten drummers pounding with incredible force and artistic beat was a show alone.  Then the villagers began to dance in the middle of a large opening, sometimes just one and sometimes a whole group; oh my, I have seriously never seen dancing so good - in the USA, Jamaica, Latin America, or anywhere on TV.  These people know what dancing is.  These parties were the best shows I've seen in my entire life.

Room Island really is a magical place.  The awesome nature, people, and entertainment (and lack of tourists) made me decide:
"One day, when I've finished with travel life, I'm going to come here to stay til the end."

[Click here for full photo album]

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