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Entries about liberia

Lies, Forgery and Other Ways to Apply for Visas

Talking point number one among African travellers...

sunny 30 °C
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Visas. Those stickers that allow travellers to cross borders. The regions describe as the “hardest to travel” usually have the strictest visa regimes. I would argue that that’s often why they are so hard to travel. Central Asia and West Africa stands out (as Central Africa still isn’t considered travelable). Countries in these regions insist visitors carry a prearranged visa, don’t issue them on their borders, and requires that visitors apply for visas in their country of origin. For overland travellers, this leads to problems. Visas tend only to be valid for three months, and many have specific dates printed on them. It might seem like a particular “travellers problem,” but it’s an existential one; without access, we can’t travel at all.

To combat all this, I’ve developed a broad range of skills, tricks and mischiefs to get my visas while on the road. To this date, the only country that has ever denied me is Saudi Arabia – a country notoriously difficult for travellers to get into as there are no tourist visas and strict, strict rules for transit visas. Sure, one embassy might have turned me down, but another have then always been willing in its stead. Sometimes, it requires a bit of persistence and once in a while I’ve been in for a proper fight.

For this purpose I now share my guide:

Step 1: Do the research.
Embassy staffers are bureaucrats. Bureaucrats hate sloppy and unprepared clients. Anyone stand a much better chance of getting a visa if they come prepared. Guidebooks, web forums and fellow travellers are usually able to point out which embassies are willing to give you are visa and which are not. If you can’t find the information, begin to visit embassies en-route and do the inquiries yourself. Take Ghana. Ministerial rules strictly insist that all visitors must apply in the nearest embassy to their home country. I already knew that embassies in Senegal, Mali and Côte d’Ivoire strictly follow this and will usually deny travellers a visa. The embassy in Burkina Fase is apparently a 50/50 chance, but too close to Ghana for my comfort. So I visited three of the more out-of-the-way embassies and found staffers in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone all willing to make an exception from the rule. The reason? Everybody travels through the former countries, while very few travellers make it to the latter. Therefore staffers haven’t grown tired of people dropping in to ask to be exempt from the rules. As a rule of thumb, the best places to try your luck are little visited, out-of-the-way embassies. Or even better, a small consulate instead of the capital embassy.

Step 2: Please the diplomats.
The reality is that ministries are far from embassies. And the consulates can pretty much do as they please; many do. Acknowledging the diplomats’ power over you (i.e., they determine whether you get the visa you want) helps tremendously. But don’t appear desperate. And never be in a rush! Rushed travellers give the diplomats an excuse to exercise their power. So does desperate travellers. Even if you are in a hurry, don’t show it. Rushed and stressed travellers are the diplomat’s equivalent to a bull’s red cloth. Even if you know all the requirements, take the time to show up a day before you apply to “ask about the visa requirements.” Even if it’s simply a matter of asking about photocopies or the number of passport photos required. Everybody likes humility and preparedness, diplomats more so. This will, by the way, be a theme through the rest of the steps. Also, on this initial visit, make sure to talk about how friends have told you all about the beautiful nature and the friendly people of country X. Be sure to name some of the highlights and how you always have wished to visit. That will melt the iciest of diplomat hearts. Even better, come up with a personal connection to the country – for Ghana, I used the Danish slave forts on the coast, something we aren’t thought in school. So my only chance to learn about the gruesome past of Danish history was to go and see for myself.

Step 3: Exceptions from the rules
If there is a requirement you don’t live up to, say, being a residence in the country you’re in, explain your situation and ask if it’s possible to make an exception. Other embassies need proof of flight tickets or expensive hotel bookings. Preferably, you would like to talk about this directly with the consul, not the paper-pusher out front – though you possibly still have to flatter them before being allowed to see the consul. When explaining yourself, never come off as a rich, spoiled, Westerner who feels entitled to be let into their country. This might be common sense here on paper, but it’s surprising how many who let their frustrations of these visa schemes get to them. Visible anger, frustration or arrogance equals no visa. Alway. (Admittedly I haven’t tried crying.) Again, please the diplomats.

Step 3 ½: Make a solid cover story
In other words: Be prepared to lie! On many embassies being a mere tourist, who well fully knew it’s required to apply from home, but ignored this because it didn’t fit with the spend-a-year-in-West-Africa plan aren’t necessarily given an exemption. Being an unprepared tourist who “didn’t know” doesn’t seem to do the trick either. My favourite cover story on this trip has been to claim that I’m in West Africa to do PhD research. This required me to stay longer than the three months most visas are valid for. Usually, I “study” the social and economic innovation of small scale business in Africa. This is a particularly useful topic as small businesses here are ahead of Europe. Thus I can claim to research how Europe can learn from Africa – something most diplomats like to hear. Again, please the diplomats. They never look closely at my passport anyway, so usually, I just pick a few countries and claim to have spent the majority of the time there. This worked at a number of embassies in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Step 4: Fake the right documents
In HR it might be called resourcefulness. In Law, it’s probably forgery. Demands like hotel booking, flight tickets, letter of invitations, and likewise are pretty standard. Usually, it’s possible to be exempt just one demand. Say, of residence status. It’s less likely to get out of all these minor requirements. Of course, it’s possible to make bookings on sites like hotels.com, bookings.com, etc. and get a full refund when you cancel the booking a few days later. Fully refundable plane tickets are also an option, but those are expensive. Embassies don’t call to confirm hotel and airline reservations, but departing with significant amounts of money isn’t my favourite thing to do. So I just make my own confirmations. I’ve made a couple of templates from older bookings, so when required I can simply update the details based on real flights and put in some of the nicer hotels in the country capitals.

Step 5: Pick up your visa. Smile (and try not to look too smug until you’ve left the embassy grounds).

While this all sounds well complicated, most visas are easy – as long as you know which embassies are willing to provide you with what you need. My visa for Burkina Faso and Guinea-Bissau both took just 20 minutes from I handed in the form to the sticker was in my passport. Mali took a couple of days in waiting time but at the cost of less than 8€ (most expensive was Mauritania, Liberia and my second visa for Guinea at circa 120€). Most challenging West African visas tend to be Côte d’Ivore, Ghana and Nigeria – I still haven’t secured the latter. While the embassy in Bamako, was happy to ignore my lack of residence status, their visa was only valid for three months – it’s still four months until I get there… But there're six countries with Nigerian embassies to go, so I haven’t given up yet.

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Posted by askgudmundsen 14:20 Archived in Guinea Tagged travel visa travelling liberia guinea mail west_africa visas nigeria sierra_leone ghane ivory_coast embassies Comments (0)

Hitching a Ride – with a Plane

Monrovia-Harper Round Trip part V – the end.

sunny 31 °C
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Read Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV here.

Harber beaches

Harber beaches

As difficult Harper is to get to, as fantastic it is to hang out in. The town occupies a beautiful spot, right where the West African coast breaks its south-eastern trajectory and begins to run due east. Surrounded by paradise-looking beaches and full of grand buildings from the 1950 – including a Masonic lodge – it’s Liberia’s most attractive city.

And while I don’t mind hanging out here, I immediately started wondering if there is an alternative way back to Monrovia other than the four-day trek I’d made to get here.

Harber Architecture

Harber Architecture

Two people are of great help to me in that effort. The first Mitch is an American stationed here by the Danish Refugee Council. Strolling past their offices on my way around town I couldn’t help popping my head in since I’m Danish. Mitch is kind enough to welcome me warmly and to tell me about a small Christian NGO that is flying between Harper and Monrovia a few times every week. While they are always booked out weeks in advance, there’s pretty often no-shows. So if I just show up and talk to the pilot, I might be able to hitch a ride with them.
The other person is my breakfast guy. Bob owns the shack I taking my breakfast. Beside the classic omelette sandwich he does a mean porridge and some good spaghetti – yes, spaghetti can be considered breakfast here in Liberia. Bob’s one of those people who knows everybody and everybody know him. He is promising to find me an NGO driving who can take me back to Monrovia. The NGO vehicles take the route on the coastal roads, which should only take two days.

MAF Flight Arriving

MAF Flight Arriving

Having talked to Mitch, I’m heading straight to the airport. There isn’t suppose to be a plane there today, but I might be able to find someone who can get me on a flight. In a stroke of luck, the plane is there having just landed with supplies for the local hospital. Passenger flights are Friday and Monday; today is Thursday. As I would like to hang around here for I, bit I prefer to get on the Monday flight. However, given the luck I need to get on a flight, I’m taking no chances. Not only is the flights usually book out, the NGO, called MAF, is a Christian NGO that primarily flies NGO staffers and missionary/church employees.
Chatting with the pilot, he told me a lot of what Mitch had already said to me and that I’m welcome to show up to see if there are any no-shows. Then he casually asks which organisation I’m with. The idea that any tourist would make it to Harper is too foreign for most people here. I panic fearing that not working for an NGO might lose me my chance for getting on the flight. I’m a pretty good liar, and before I manage to think about it, I simply answer, “DRC” - the acronym for the Danish Refugee Council. Being Danish, this is a pretty believable cover story. He bought it, and I stayed in character for the rest of the conversation. If you, the pilot, happens to read this, I’m sorry. I panicked.

Harber fishing boat

Harber fishing boat

Showing up Friday morning the poor pilot still thinks I’m a DRC staffer, and still nervous that it will lose me my privilege stand-by position I don’t tell him the truth. As a matter of fact, there is a no-show. Unfortunately for me, other two passengers showed up even though their seats had been cancelled. They just hadn’t received gotten the memo. The MAF flight is transporting a patient to the hospital, who takes up two extra seats. The pilot got those two guys fitted on the plane, but that makes it pretty obvious that there isn’t room for me. I happily have to spend my weekend in Harper.
To be honest, most of the weekend is spent hanging out on the beach eating lobster with Mitch and a bunch of other NGO staffers.Not doing that, I’m hanging out at Bob’s. He’s wasting no time, and in a few hours he is able to hook me up with an NGO driver, who can take me to Harper on Tuesday should I not get on the MAF flight. I have a backup plan!

Taking off

Taking off

Monday morning at the airfield the first passenger who’s name is called isn’t here. For next minute last forever but eventually, once the other six passengers are called up, the pilot tells me he’s taking me with him. Among the other passengers is someone who is actually a DRC employee – this makes me fairly nervous as she can blow my cover instantly if the conversation comes up. We’re boarding without any issues, and the small plane is soon bumping along the grass runway. Taking off over the palm beaches is nothing short of phenomenal. I made it!
We’re making a short stopover in Zwedru to pick up another passenger. Here the pilot pray for us, which feels kind of weird. The detour means that we, for most of the flight, are flying Eventually, above Liberia’s dense jungle. It almost seems like a charter flight.

On the plane!!

On the plane!!

The trip is 150 USD, but apparently, the DRC pay directly to MAF. This means that the pilot doesn't expect me to pay, as he still thinks I’m a DRC staffer. However, I’m not that bad of a person. Not paying would be the equivalent of stealing from a humanitarian relief agency. I paid the pilot as I ought to. In his surprise, he repeats that the DRC is paying centrally. As any good lier would I covered up my initial lie with another lie, stating that I’m based in Bissau and my costs are covered by another budget.

Eventually it takes me a little more than two hours to get back to Monrovia – not another five days!

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Posted by askgudmundsen 05:12 Archived in Liberia Tagged beach travel flight transport road travelling liberia west_africa harper adventure_travel monrovia rainy_season Comments (0)

Driving through the Jungle Night with no Lights On

Monrovia-Harper Round Trip part IV

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Part I, Part II and Part III here.

Post-flip

Post-flip

Spending the night in the village teacher’s house, I didn’t return to our car until it had already been pulled out from the mud. My fellow passengers were busy strapping all the luggage onto the roof. To my surprise as we didn’t take it down last night. What was up?
As the car was dragged free, it had apparently flipped over, landing on its side. No one got hurt; only the driver was inside the car. But all the luggage had to be taken off before they were able to push it upright again. The car had gotten some nasty scratches and the inside – where I thought my backpack was safe – had gotten a mudbath as mud and water entered through the open windows. Lovely.
Not that it matters. The important thing is that we are moving again. Everybody is pretty eager to get out of here. Though I am regretting not being able to say the teacher a proper goodbye as we race past his house.

Pulling out the lorry

Pulling out the lorry

Our next endurance is so typically Africa travel that it’s hard to describe: Rolling up to a bit of road too muddy for anyone to pass, a small diversion through the jungle has been made to get around the hard bit. Alas, yet another truck has gotten stuck in this deviation. Here are cars waiting in line on both sides of this mess. But as the truck is closest to our side, and we got the most capable vehicle this side of the mud pit, it’s up to us to pull it out. It’s a small lorry, so after a short struggle, we manage to get it out. We don’t even get the pull rope off before – out of nowhere – a second truck is blasting past the waiting cars opposite us, racing into the diversion and gets completely stuck. Totally unhelpable stuck.
The driver figured he better try his luck before all the powerful four-wheelers had gone past. If we all makes it nobody will be around to help him. Regardless, nobody can drag him out. Nobody wants to try. We’re letting the complaining driver cry about us not helping him. Most of us are relatively happy that he will now have to spend weeks sleeping here in his stupid truck. Instead, we’re beginning to chop down trees, building a new road around the lorry.

Building our own road

Building our own road

We’re actually forced to make a new road. It’s taking us most of the afternoon, but nonetheless, we’re able to chop enough trees down to pass. Leaving the driver and his truck behind; not without smug smiles on our faces. Karma – not that I believe in that bullocks – soon catches up to us, though. Rather suddenly, the cooler starts to leak from two small holes. Now we can’t drive any further because the engine keeps overheating. We’re in the middle of nowhere. Kilometres from the nearest village. Almost routinely now, we put our driver on a passing mototaxi and sends him to the nearest town to bring back help.

Motor Trouble

Motor Trouble

We would later learn that instead of getting help, the driver simply went home to his mistress in said town. Obviously, we wouldn’t be pleased.
On the road, dusk is coming. This close to the equator, twilight lasts for mere minutes. Not in the mood to spent another night in the jungle, I pop the hood. It is here worth to mention that I know nothing about cars – let alone anything about fixing engines. But I am the only person left with a driver’s license, so Alex and my fellow passengers cheer me on. Pouring more water on the cooler two clear sprays of water shoots out. Clearly, we’re not going anywhere like this. Thinking back to some stupid TV commercial about the sucking ability of tissue, and still not knowing what the hell I’m doing, I pluck the two holes with my emergency toilet paper.

It fucking works! Unbelievable!

Struggling

Struggling

We’re still leaking water, but only by a fraction of the speed. Alex and I agree to give it a go. No spending the night here. We are quickly figuring out that we’re able to drive for 10-12 minutes before all the water has leaked and the engine is getting too hot. Refilling the water and waiting for the engine to cool down again is taking another 10 minutes. But even by this speed, we should be able to reach the town to where we sent the driver in about two hours. So off we go. In a car, I’ve repaired with toilet paper…
Luckily the road condition is improving. But we have a new problem. The battery still isn’t charging. Driving with the headlights on I’m draining the battery quickly. The lights are slowly dimming. Finally, half an hour from the town they set out entirely. It’s pitch black around us now, and I’m still driving. The battery is so drained that I don’t even have light in the dashboard. With the exception of three red warning lights, that is, one of which is telling me that the battery’s power. Thanks.

View through the windshield

View through the windshield

We’re too close to town to give up now. Too damn close! Africans tend to be more innovative than Westerners, and Alex is quick to come up with the solution. We’ll simply put the teenage kid, who’s with us, on the roof with two small flashlights. It’s not enough light for me to see anything else than two small circles of light on the road, but at least other cars can see us (not that there are any other cars). Thus, I continue forward at a crawling pace. All I can see are the two small circles of light, nothing else, so we agree that the kid on the roof(!) will just keep the lights pointed on the middle of the road and I’ll try to drive wherever he point the lights.
Incredibly, we reach our destination a place called Fish Town, without too many mishaps, at 10 pm. Here’s no fish (we’re still in the middle of the jungle) and there’s barely a town. But we’ve made it. In a car, I repaired with toilet paper and drove through the jungle night with a teenager on the roof holding showing me the way with two flashlights. I feel genuinely proud of this achievement!

Harper!!

Harper!!

It takes the mechanics four hours to fix the car the next morning. Four hours to repair the wreck I drove into the town. The good news is that the road improves from here. Massively. A Chinese company is paving the road. They’ll supposedly be done at the beginning of the next decade, but the gravel is fresh and flat and here’s no mud. At some point, we even manage to drive 500 metres without hitting a pothole. A rarity on any West African gravel road! Almost unbelievable. On Day 4, we’re at the end of the road and reach Harper – the last town in southern Liberia. It’s 7 pm and dark, but Harper still feels like a treasure reached after a long adventure. And I’m pretty sure that it is. It is certainly a personal victory! I send one of the boys from the guesthouse out to get me a beer. Drink it in my room. Fall asleep.

The last thing I want to think about now is how the hell I get all the way back to Monrovia. I don’t want to spend another four days one these roads. But is there another way?

Progress reports: Day 3, 161 km in 15 hours. Day 4, 129 km in 9 hours after 4 hours of mechanical work.

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Posted by askgudmundsen 02:07 Archived in Liberia Tagged travel transport road bush travelling liberia west_africa harper adventure_travel monrovia rainy_season fish_town Comments (0)

Spending a Night in the Jungle

Monrovia-Harper Round Trip part III

sunny 29 °C
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If you haven't read this story from the beginning, go to Part I and Part II here.

First trouble of the day

First trouble of the day

(…) As the truck is dragged out of the way, we continue. Not fast, mind you, the mudbath we are driving through is still worsening. At least we have company now and are driving in convoy. During the wait, a pick-up truck, a bush taxi and two Landcruisers from the Red Cross have shown up. To my surprise, Jungle Law is actually what’s being following here in the jungle. It’s every car for itself (the two Red Cross cars naturally stuck together). We only get help when we have gotten stuck in a place where we’re blocking the road for the other vehicles. This results in a race. Our driver is constantly trying to be ahead of the other cars. The other drivers have the same idea: Get in front and hope the cars behind can’t pass once we get to tough bits.

Convoy

Convoy

Somewhat different what I have encountered elsewhere. And particularly contrary to what I have experienced in the Arab World, including North Africa, were hard conditions mean everybody help each other out in order to survive. But not here. Not here Liberia’s muddy jungle. Later afternoon's approaching, and we have now lost all our company. The bush taxi and pick-up are stuck far behind us, while the Red Cross trucks managed to slip by as our drive went for the wrong of two tracks and had to back up. NGO cars are in much better condition that the local vehicles – even the ones being driven by the immigration police. So we aren’t going to see them again.

Getting tired of mud

Getting tired of mud

The road is slowly becoming muddier, and as a result, we get stuck more frequently. At one such break, looking at the driver trying to rescue the stuck vehicle, Alex, my new friend and chief of the car turn to me: “You know why I have to take passengers?” he asks. I shrug. “Because my boss only gave me enough money for 30 gallons of gasoline. It takes at least 50 gallons to get from Monrovia to Harper.” The fact that there isn’t enough money, even for the immigration police, to move a car from one part of the country to another is mindboggling. Whether the district lacks money or the commanding officer simply decided he can’t be bothered to pay the full amount I don’t know. But what’s even more ridiculous is that Alex would get in trouble if his boss found out he takes passengers to cover the extra expense.

Zwedru

Zwedru

Otherwise, the day proceeds as slow as we do. I quickly take my eyes off dark jungle scenery. It’s 9 pm. As I look out the window again, I’m surprised to see concrete buildings, tarred roads and light poles. All of a sudden a town has simply grown out of the jungle. We have reached Zwedru. The half-way point (-ish) to Harper. Progress report: We’ve managed 114 km in 13 hours. Finishing the day with a cold beer and a bootleg version of Mission Impossible (hilariously, in a quality way too poor for the big flat screen TV it’s shown on) is nothing short of bliss.

Stuck

Stuck

After a proper night’s sleep, we set out again at 9 am. We won’t get far. At 2 pm, five hours later have we managed to get 30 km. The car has developed an ignition problem overnight, meaning that the motor won’t start unless we push the car to a roll. This quickly becomes important. As we hit a whole covered in mud, the engine stalls. We are now stuck with a car we can’t turn on. The driver sets out for a walk to the nearest village to see if they have a car that can pull us out. The rest of us wait. Of course, they don’t. Realising this takes no less than two hours. Frustrating. Finally, a mototaxi comes by, and the drive hitches a ride back to Zwedru to find someone who can rescue us. We rest of us wait some more. Eventually, we also walk into the village. What else is there to do?

IMG_5782.jpg

I walk a little behind the others and just before the village I’m called to a house on the roadside. It’s the house of the village teacher, who is being visited by the teacher from the area’s main village, who’s responsible for the smaller schools. The coordinating teacher is touring the smaller schools to discuss how to get the village kids to attend schools. This is apparently a problem as they are busy helping their families in the fields. They invite me to come with suggestions. I’m pretty blank. The only thing I can come up with is to take some of the older, “cooler” kids from the main school, who like to study, on a tour to show the village kids how awesome learning is. They both like the idea, and maybe – just maybe – I have actually contributed something to the area.

The coordinating teacher drives off, while the local teacher’s family provides me with a late lunch. Rice, mashed pumpkin and “bush meat,” which they promise isn’t monkey. I’m grateful. As I eat and dusk arrives a few of the other passengers come back. The driver called. Help can’t get to us before tomorrow morning, so we’re spending the night on the road. Fan-fucking-tastic. Progress for Day 2 is five hours of driving, five hours of waiting, 30 km gained.

Village Kids

Village Kids

On the upside, I get to continue my talks with the teacher. He has 24 kids and doesn't even want to guess how many grandkids he has (so much for family planning). He’d managed to put two of his girls through high school, but it’s difficult due to the costs. Most of his other kids are living of sustainable farming, much like himself as the teacher’s pay isn’t enough to live off. Though his biggest concern is the village’s kids. Government public school costs the equivalent of 35 US dollars per semester. Most parents are struggling to finance that. Especially, those with many children. For high schoolers is it even worse. Most spend their time working, rather than studying, simply so they can afford tuition fees and test fees. Test fees!!
The teacher provides me with another meal, as well as one to some of my fellow passengers, who’ve shown up. I shortly go back to the car to fetch a few things. Including a postcard from Copenhagen as a gift to the teacher. The older passengers have already lit a fire. They’re settling in for the night, having found a relatively dry spot to lay out blankets. If it rains, I guess they can find shelter in the car. I, contrary to my fellow passengers, is living the good life on the simple notion that I’m foreign. The teacher has offered me a spot in his hut for the night. Again, I’m grateful! In order not to feel too bad about this, I offer my fellow passengers to put up my tent for them, but they are more confident with what they know and decline.

Village Sunset

Village Sunset

As I’m again sitting with Osman, the local teacher whose name I’d finally learned, he uses most of the evening to ask me questions on Europe. He doesn't want to go there he assures me; he is simply curious. I avoid being too specific and too accurate. I don’t want to tell how big difference in living standards are between the world’s poorest and the world’s richer. It would be embarrassing.
I go to bed in a mud hut in the middle of Liberia’s jungle, with the teacher by my side. I haven’t made much of progress towards Harper, but I’ve become immensely wiser on lives in rural Liberia...

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Posted by askgudmundsen 15:29 Archived in Liberia Tagged travel transport road bush travelling liberia west_africa harper adventure_travel monrovia rainy_season zwedru Comments (0)

Finding a Ride

Monrovia-Harper Round Trip part II

sunny 31 °C
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Commerce

Commerce

Arriving in Ganta on my way to Harper I had no plans to linger. Border towns are usually characterised by a lot of commerce and a lot of hassle for visitors like me. Ganta is no exception. At the main ‘garage’ (or bus station if you will – though there are no buses) tickets to different destinations are sold in small shacks. For most destinations at least. Not for the south-east where I’m heading. The poor state of the roads in that region means that drivers can charge whatever they feel like for transporting people there. The only car heading out today is a blue Toyota pickup. With a straight face, the driver demands 150 US$. He wasn’t even going all the way to Harper; he was only heading to Kahnwiekehn, 160 km short of Harper.

Too much money

Too much money

I did expect this journey to be less than cheap, but 150 dollars and a driver unwilling to negotiate? No way. I’d rather not go. He even claimed that a local woman paid him 300 dollars to have the front seat for herself. This might be true. It might also be a lie. I resorted to questioning how a local woman from rural Liberia had come up with 300 dollars when most families struggle to pay their kids public school fees at 35 dollars per semester. Not particularly smooth, I know. Not getting an answer to this, I continued by questioning the driver’s sanity. To my innate surprise, this didn’t make him more willing to negotiate…

Robertsport

Robertsport

Annoyed, mumbling curses about hustlers and white man prices, I walk away. The only thing to do now is to find a bar, buy a beer to cool down my hot temper and consider my options. I could just leave Liberia behind. I have my Guinea visa, and Ganta is right on the border. But then I would have to leave Liberia behind having only visited Monrovia and a surfer town called Robertsport. That would be a waste of country.
No. I would give Harper a change. Wait around for the next car towards the south-east. Maybe just go to Zwedru, the halfway town. Just like Harper, Zwedru is the home of a former Liberian president, who developed it beyond other upcountry towns. And a few mototaxis had already offered to take me there for 70 US$ - this could surely be negotiated further down.

The immigration truck

The immigration truck

The bar I’m cooling down also just happens to have rooms on the floor above the bar. Rather bordello-ish, but there’s one upside to this. Once I’ve mentioned that I consider staying the night, these places usually clean the room to spotlessness before they let me have a look at it. It’s a sure way to find a clean and cheap room in West Africa. The only other problem is the noise from the clientele in the neighbouring rooms, but today being Friday I gambled – correctly – the music from the bar would drown every other sound.
However, cheap rides don’t just show up by themselves. I better start spreading the word that I’m looking for a cheap ride south-east. Talking to the bar owner, as well as the guy who had initially shown me the place, they’re promising to speak with the different drivers they know. As the day begins to slip into night, a few of the touts from the garage are also showing up at the bar. Buying them a beer, one tells me that a car from Maryland’s immigration police is going to drive down there tomorrow. I might just be in luck.

My Ganta room

My Ganta room

Sleeping in Saturday, not getting up before noon, should prove to be a splendid idea. Walking back to the garage for a ‘breakfast sandwich’ (fried egg, mayonnaise and onion in a small baguette), I’m chatting up the ticket shack guy. Next car towards Harper would leave tomorrow. In general, I’m receiving a lot of contradicting information on rides, prices, forms of transport and destinations, which I’ll spare you from here. But the short story is that I’m settling in for another night in Ganta at this point. Especially because the tout who’d talked about the immigration car is nowhere to be found. This being Saturday I’m wasting the day away by watching Premier League and U17 Women’s World Cup (!) football in the bar.

That is until the tout suddenly reappears: “The Immigration Police’s car is leaving for Harper now!” Rather surprised I follow him around the block. 50 dollars for the drive down to Harper is a steal. However, stubborn as I am I want to negotiate. Finally, after much pondering, we settle on 40 US$. But I still need to go pack up. I hurry back to the bar, explain that I’m not going to stay another night, pack and run back to where I left the truck. It’s gone. The tout is still there and eagerly flags down a mototaxi, while mentioning something about me paying him for the help as the mototaxi starts pursuing the immigration police. They’re buying gas a little outside town, and I catch up quickly. The tout also jumped on a bike, and as I catch up to the car, there's a sudden frenzy of touts and mototaxi drivers who all want money.

Back of the truck

Back of the truck

Enter Alex, the immigration officer in charge for the car. He basically grabs me and shoves me into the car. I barely manage to throw a couple of dollars’ worth of notes out the window. We leave the ensuing brawl in the rear mirror, driving into the night.

Sitting in the darkness, I can’t help smiling. This is the parts of travelling I enjoy the most, the parts most foreign to home. It’s bumpy and unpleasant. Everybody’s tired and cramped in on too little space. But none of my fellow passengers seems to mind. This is rural Liberia and hardship is met with a Stoicism; it’s accepted as a part of daily life.

Lorry road block

Lorry road block

The smile should soon fade, though. The road is full of bogged down and stuck trucks. Large lorries too heavy to make it through the mud. I stop counting as we pass stuck truck number 32. We are only a few hours into the drive. It is here, stuck on the road, that all those provisions (including the beers for the bar in Harper) have stranded. Most of the drivers stay to guard their loads. Sleeping for weeks or months in their vehicles, surviving on rice bought or donated to them in the nearest village. At a point, more than ten trucks are completely blocking the road. We have no choice to turn around and try out luck on the smaller roads, zig-zagging through the rainforest. This backtracking means that we waste three hours of the night.

The Route

The Route

At 8 am we finally reach the first town en-route, Tapeta. We’ve been driving for 12 hours and have only made it 101 km out of Ganta (459 km to go). We make a short stop to get gas and breakfast before pushing on. However, we wouldn’t get far. A few kilometres outside Tapeta another truck is stuck in the mud, blocking the road. Luckily for us, this truck isn’t left to its own devices. The driver has already gone back into town to get an excavator – or “big yellow machine” as it’s called in Liberian English – that can pull it out, so we can pass.

It turns out to be a four-hour wait. Most of my fellow passengers decided to walk to the village up the road and wait there. I, instead, use the wait to catch some shut-eye, finally being able to rest as the car has come to a standstill and there’s now sufficient space to lie down.

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Posted by askgudmundsen 03:29 Archived in Liberia Tagged travel transport road bush travelling liberia west_africa harper adventure_travel monrovia rainy_season tapeta Comments (0)

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