West Africa has a grip on you. No, it isn’t the Ebola virus that recently broke out in Guinea. It’s the vast, untouched coastline. The deserted beaches keep luring you to Senegal, the Gambia, and even Mauritania. Far from the crowded cities, traditional ways of life haven’t changed much along the Atlantic shores. Handmade boats are the fastest way to get around. Fishing techniques and favorite spots have been handed down through generations. The sea is both respected and feared. And biosphere reserves protect the rich marine life. This time, you’re off to the Bijagós Islands.
You’ve never heard of the Bijagós Islands? Good. That’s exactly the way the people on the nearly 90 islands want to keep it. The islands sit off the coast of Guinea-Bissau. They were an important stop along the West Africa trade route and built up a strong navy to protect themselves. When the Portuguese arrived in the 16th century, the Bijagós people held them off for nearly 400 years. Despite eventually becoming part of Portuguese Guinea, the islands remained fiercely independent and wonderfully undeveloped.
It takes a long day, including a couple of flights and a couple of ferries, to reach Rubane. The small island is covered with a thick forest lined with pristine, white-sand beaches. Sea turtles, dolphins, and stingrays swim just offshore. The villagers hold ceremonies and wear decorative headpieces to mark important life events, from circumcision to coming of age. Everyone is welcoming and generous, though never pushy. And a single hotel, Hotel Lodge Ponta-Anchaca, sits on stilts overlooking the crystal-clear water.
Despite how long it took you to travel here, you relax in no time. Your stilted wooden box has simple furniture and unobscured views. Comfy chairs surround the pool. Pampa beers seem to appear just by thinking about them. The seafood was caught a few hours earlier. The giant trevally marinated in lime tastes like heaven. And a guide is already set up to take you jack fishing the next morning. Hopefully the Bijagós Islands remain our little secret.