There is a moment of calm before the boat pulls out from the CMS jetty towards Tarkwa Bay, the island just off the Lagos Marina. A few feet away boats, painted in bright blue colours, and clustered like pigeons, collide mildly as the waves ebb and flow. And beyond them, two white cruise ships anchor, bound, I’m told, for Ikorodu.
Amidst all of this, there is a sprinkling of seaweeds, which add their own share of brightness to the dull surroundings. ‘Takwa Bay, Takwa Bay’, one young man calls out as I step out of the car and onto the concrete floors of the jetty just as a boat, loaded with people and cartons of groceries, gets ready to leave. The boys on duty clear a path for it.
From my perch on the jetty, I scan the boats more intently. Like I’ve seen in Port Harcourt and other riverine cities in the south-south, these ones too have been christened by their owners: Baba Ahoy, Creek New, Sea Trader, Comfort Marine. I hop onto the next available boat with a scratched paint surface. Against its side is written West Point.
While waiting, I see the familiar Union Bank, First Bank and UBA buildings in the distance, rising starkly against the midday sky. Shortly after, nine more passengers have strapped on their life jackets and taken their seats, the driver powers the engine, and West Point is on its way to Tarkwa Bay. If nothing awful happens, we will be safely delivered to the jetty on that end, and it will be my first time on that patch of Lagos that I have heard and read about but never had a reason to visit—until now.
For a reason I can’t understand, the mention of Tarkwa Bay brings images of Snake Island to my mind, a place I visited just once as a secondary school senior (with a dozen other students from other schools) as a guest of the Man ‘O War Sea School in 1991. My uninformed guess was that both islands were in the same area. But I am wrong. They are, literally, poles apart.
As West Point charts its course, with its front end tipping skywards, the usual human and vehicular noises overland (from nearby highways) fade away gradually; and soon all I can hear is the splash of water on both sides of the boat. To my left I see the cityscape, typified by countless high-rise buildings around Broad Street, also recede in the distance—Sterling Towers, NITEL, plus the unmistakable columns of Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS).
But the view to my right is different, and pleasantly so. For many nautical miles ahead is the wharf (also a port), packed with cargoes and container ships. The sight of the vessels is a refreshing change from what one sees daily while commuting on Lagos highways. The multiple cranes on them are still, spiking the sky in every direction.
‘They are off-loading cargoes’, the boat driver says from behind me. ‘Cement, salt, rice, and so many things like that’. On the spot I wish I could get on the deck of one of the ships to see how things work aboard; or even sail on it. But that will be a trip for another day.
West Point pulls gently into the Tarkwa Bay jetty, which is teeming with locals and passengers anxious to jump onto available boats, and head back in the direction of CMS. A shed comes into view, bearing the words ‘Tarkwa Bay Boat owners and Drivers Association’. Half a dozen men are seated in it, some chatting, and others have their gazes fixed on the jetty. The security man on duty collects the latch from our driver, and gently steers the boat to the side. We all climb out.
On the ground in Takwa Bay the setting is uninspiring. After a few steps, walking on the sands, I see the island is another community of peasants who have settled here from various parts of Nigeria, and whose lives could have been more beautiful if Nigeria took tourism development seriously enough. There are shacks and kiosks everywhere, complemented by a sprinkling of modest bungalows. A woman is frying fish, dundun and akara on one side of the sandy ground, under the shade of a tree. There is also a mini-market nearby, but not much buying and selling is going on.
However, the atmosphere is calm and laid-back, which is a good omen for me; and nowhere is this more so than at the beachfront.