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Maps Lie!

Monrovia-Harper Round Trip part I

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Lynn H. Hough, an American theologian, once said, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” Today, travellers and pseudo-philosophers alike ignore the religious implication (where Heaven is the destination) and distort the quote to something like this: “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.” Forgetting all the symbolism and metaphors for a moment that is, essentially, what long term travel is – one long journey. A string of destinations where we linger before moving on to the next. Eventually, to travel back home. Me, I have most often enjoyed the act of moving between destinations more than the destinations themselves. The expectations of arriving somewhere new and the feeling of going somewhere – anywhere – fits well with my restlessness.



On any journey, distances are of particular importance. And anyone travelling developing countries should be aware of one fundamental rule of thumb when it comes to distances: Maps lie! Maps suggest that 10 km in Liberia is the same as 10 km in, say, Germany. But it would be wrong to measure distances in the function of space when travelling in Africa. What matters is distance as a function of time. Ten hours of driving in Europe is enough to travel the 1,000 km from Berlin to Paris. Ten hours of driving in Liberia, or the Congo, might cover a tenth of that distance. If you’re lucky.
I got to experience this first hand on some of Liberia’s worst roads. Frequent readers might find my fascination with West Africa’s infrastructure boring. And I do apologise for writing so much about it. But imagine yourself in my seat, actually having to spend hundreds of hours on those roads. You would share this weird fascination with me.



Liberia’s south-eastern region, Maryland, is all but completely isolated from the rest of Liberia throughout the rainy season. It’s simply not possible for people or goods to get here in any significant numbers between June and October. It’s so far away that not even the Ebola Virus managed to infect this part of Liberia. A bar I frequented here had been without beers for three months because supplies kept stranding en-route. A bar. Three months. Without beer. I cannot express my relief at the fact that they finally received a load of those precious golden drops just days before I arrived. Maryland’s provisional capital is named Harper. It was the birthplace of Liberia’s president between 1944 and 1971, William Tubman, who plastered the city with grand architecture. Though it is now all in a state of disrepair. Tubman, a Freemason, even build a Morning Star Masonic Lodge here. Harper is probably Liberia’s second most attractive destination. It’s just so damn out-of-the-way.

Hahahaha, 9 hours...

Hahahaha, 9 hours...

Getting here initially involves a drive from Monrovia to Ganta, a border town just before Guinea. Ganta is about three hours driving northeast of Monrovia. While it does seem counter-intuitive to drive three hours to the northeast to get to a place in the south-east, there’s a simple explanation. The road is paved. That being the only paved road in eastern Liberia, it’s simply the fasted way. From Ganta, it’s a mere 560 km to Harper. Approximately the distance between Rome and Milan. Or just 50 km (30 miles) short of the drive between San Francisco to Los Angeles.

But maps lie! So in the coming week, I’ll post a few blog entries from those four (!) days it took to reach Harper from Ganta. Needless to say, it didn’t help that my travels in Liberia correspond with the last month of the rainy season. It’s the absolute worst time to attempt this journey. Nonetheless, any four-day road trip is an adventure, and this no less so when the drive is through some of West Africa’s most dense jungle.

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Posted by askgudmundsen 15:15 Archived in Liberia Tagged travel transport road travelling liberia west_africa harper adventure_travel monrovia rainy_season

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