Memories of a Hard Rock – Lakka Beach

This article was sent in by our friend Sabrina Mahtani. She submitted this piece about Hard Rock in Lakka to a travel competition many years ago. She shared with us and well, we thought it might offer some nostalgia for those who are familiar with Hard Rock. Enjoy.
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It is hard to believe I was staying where the community toilet used to be located.

At the end of a yellow sandy beach dotted with coconut trees and framed by forested green hills is a small island surrounded by rocks, aptly named Hard Rock, in Sierra Leone on the coast of West Africa. More than twenty years ago Tommy, a fisherman from Lakka village, had the foresight that this small island had more potential than just a defecation site. Slowly he began to clear away plants and build foundations, to the disdain of the local community. He battled through years of civil war, forced to fish for the rebels, and take-overs by elite business men envying his vision. Hard Rock has come a long way and now houses six white chalets mirroring the style of traditional huts, secluded from the lively beach activity. Preceding years of NGO workers have paved the way for intrepid tourists and Tommy is well prepared to respond: air conditioned chalets, tiled bathrooms with running water and constant electricity. Staff, from the community, are warm and welcoming, offering well presented cuisine. My favourite is freshly caught barracuda skewers, marinated in Sierra Leone’s special blend of lime juice, peanut and chilli, roasted on a burning coal fire. For the sweet toothed, Tommy will bring tropical fruit in season, including mangoes, pineapples and, my first experience of, “chook chook” plums – sweet and sour delicacies with a prickly seed.

Though it may not have the comfort of a resort or chic boutique hotel, in many ways Hard Rock is more charming. For a few days it is as if I own a private island, shaded by trees and carpeted with soft sand. Rhythmic sounds of waves breaking onto rocks are the perfect natural orchestra. The tropical panorama surrounding me pleasantly does not include towering concrete hotels but rather colourful wooden fishing boats bobbing gently on green sea reflecting the rhythm of the community.

Lakka Village presents a home away from home. Within a few hours I know children playing football on the beach, Uncle Paul who runs a nearby beach bar supplying tasty seafood and villagers selling items made from coconut shells or brightly coloured fabrics. As the sun sets, millions of stars emerge. Tommy arranges for a bonfire to be lit and we sit with fishermen and others from the village, drinking cold beer or palm wine for the daring. We share songs, stories and wishes.

Almost two decades since the civil war ended, Sierra Leone is very much at peace and a unique holiday experience is on offer for those with more adventurous flair who can swap perfect roads and home comforts for comforts of a different nature. But come quick. In a few years, this slice of Sierra Leone may be carved apart by boutique hotels and resorts offering a standard (though pleasant) beach holiday experience. My wish is that Hard Rock will still be there to give you that special flavour of Sierra Leone.