Exploring the Islands
Located directly off the coast of Conakry are a small group of islands named Iles De Los. Throughout Guinea’s history as a colony these islands served as an important asset to the English and later the French during the time of their occupations. The English used the islands as a hub for anti–slavery activity in the region before they relinquished their rights to the islands to the French in 1904. It is also rumored the center island of Roume was the inspiration for the novel Treasure Island. My first Saturday in Guinea would be spent exploring these islands.
The first stop of the day was a small fishing village island named Fotoba. Our captain navigated our exceptionally large wooden fishing boat to a small grouping of rocks where we bailed over the side and waded to shore. While the village of Fotoba was littered with old fishing boats and unfinished stone houses, it also was home to one of the oldest English churches in Guinea. I was impressed at how well the priest spoke English until I learned that he had been educated in London.
We left the church and walked along an old trail through forest until we reached an open field surrounded by a very old brick wall. Our guide had brought us to the old French prison built in the early 1900’s to hold both men and women without the slightest shred of comfort. Much like the prison on Devil’s Island, the cells were built to hold no fewer than 10 Africans during whatever time they weren’t standing in the hot sun. We left the prison and were picked up by our captain at the old English port directly below the prison. While the French prison was the most authentic and impressive site I had seen, it would only remain so for a few hours.
We traveled to the opposite end of the island where I was told a military base was located. I was confused as to why my guide would be taking me anywhere near the military but, after seeing the French prison, he had my full confidence. We exited our boat and proceeded to “convince with dollars” the military guard to allow us to move to the top of the island. We cont inued through the small village of Broom, stopping only briefly to speak with its chief before we arrived at another open field close to the edge of the island.
The cleared area was full of old WWII style bunkers, long range cannons, and even mobile artillery left behind by the French. This part of the island had been used by the French to defend its shipping lanes during WWII. It had been fully explained to me that if we were caught by the military, we would be in severe trouble and that pictures were forbidden.
I simply couldn’t allow this opportunity to pass. I felt like I was in a low–budget movie. I explored inside the walls of the old dark bunkers while my group kept a lookout for Guinea military. I knew that if I got caught taking pictures I would more than likely be shot and disposed of but the idea of coming back without proof of what I was seeing seemed far worse. I had never in my life been as excited or as scared, and I’ve been to prom... twice!