Thursday, December 25, 2008

Treasure Island

I completely forgot to write this post before.

And now it's Christmas Day, and everyone has cleared out and the camp is quiet, I finally have a chance.

Back in November, with S&J visiting, we travelled to Banda Island, one of the smallest Ssesse Islands just south of the Equator in Lake Victoria.

Banda is the stuff of backpacker myth and legend. You see it written about online, with equal measures of outrage and awe, depending almost entirely on whether or not you get on with it's owner.

Yes, it's a privately owned island. Privately owned by Dom, its muzungu owner. Dom is famous for purposefully offending people he does not like but some people love him. Where would we fall, we wondered?

The place is, in fact, a perfect cross between The Beach and Lord of the Flies. Dom does what he likes, and why not? He does own the place after all.

The accommodation is very basic, but clean and very reasonably priced. We stayed in a small twin banda overlooking the beach, with a box latrine loo and a bucket shower up the track in the forest.

It's full board (or in Dom's words, "very full board" - he throws in all sorts of extras including a rather lethal homebrewed banana based moonshine) and the food is spectacular. Well, apparently not so spectacular if you don't get on. If he hates you it slips right back to beans and rice. On our second night we were upgraded to Pumpkin and Coconut Soup, Fish Paella, Green beans and bacon in soy and ginger, and a lot of the afore-mentioned rum... All the cooking is done on these funky looking solar parabolas.

So I think it's safe to say we got on. We even had a tour around Dom's pineapple patch and Banana groves.

There is little to do there other than eat, drink, sleep. And read. And maybe if the weather's right, take a kayak out or borrow a fishing rod. But you can amaze yourself with how long you can sit and stare out over the lake for.

We spent one twilight looking out over the lake from the roof of Dom's castle. He's been building a rock tower, with a massive great hall style dining room at the bottom. The man is king of his island, and now he has his castle to match. We had sundowners on the roof, watching the sunset and then the lights of the fishing boats come out in the gathering darkness. It reminded me of Goa.

The next morning, I woke early. It was around 4.30am and dawn was breaking. Normally I'd dive for the covers at that sort of time, but I found myself out and about with the camera instead.

They have a resident hippo, that sometimes walks up the beach. When we were there, the hippo came to see us off on our final day, blowing bubbles and rolling around in the water just off the beach.

Banda is a wildlife haven - hundreds of bird species and lots to look at, even if you know nothing about that sort of thing.

Getting there is an adventure in itself. You can get there via the main Ssesse Islands, but the most direct route is via local lake-taxi from Kasanji.

These are essentially massive canoes, seating around 100 people, piled higgledly-piggledly on top of sacks of rice and cartons of water that are getting transported to the islands.

Banda is the first stop, and you hop off into Dom's leaky dinghy to be ferried ashore. On your way back, when you get to Kasanji again, the canoe is instantly surrounded by porters whose sole income comes from earning money carrying belongings AND people on and off the boats. It's 500 shillings a go, which is what we paid, but only after our porter had the cheek to try it on, asking for 20,000 shillings.

I don't mind paying a little over the odds, but that much over the odds? Needless to say, 500 shillings it was.

So if you feel the need to chill, disappear to Banda for a few days. Just be careful to leave yourself plenty of time. It's a hard place to leave.

1 comment:

deborah d. lattimore said...

stumbled on your blog this morning after i googled "cancer blog." am so glad to have read your entries in 2007 during your chemo and radiation treatments. thank you for such explicit description of your emotional and physical experience. i'm facing chemo in a couple of weeks and am terrified. reading about your experience and especially how your life evolved after treatment is an inspiration. much continued good health, deborah