Welcome to Liberia
After crossing a bridge on the back of a bike, I was on the Liberia side of the border, where at first the immigration point seemed very relaxed. A nice officer named Anthony, greeted me with, “How are you today?” Then asked me some questions and called my host to speak to him. He took me to a building across the road where another officer, who said he was the Director of Immigration asked me some more questions, then apparently took issue with the fact that I was travelling by myself and no one was meeting me at the border. Why that would be a problem, I have absolutely no idea.
After looking up the definition of tourism, which in essence is someone travelling to a place to sight-see, (you know, exactly what I was doing!), he decided he was going to send me back to Sierra Leone to get a visitor visa, because if I was staying with a local, I wasn’t a tourist and couldn’t enter on a tourist visa. Umm, what now?
This was despite him showing me a WhatsApp message from the consulate in Sierra Leone, with my passport details, telling him I was coming and to let me enter. He also called my host to speak to him, then said he probably couldn’t let me in because my safety was their problem and they couldn’t guarantee it if someone wasn’t here to collect me. I think I’ve been pretty good at guaranteeing my own safety so far.
I’m not proud of what happened next, but the early start and the long day of travel had taken their toll on me and I broke down. It was at this point that the first officer, Anthony told me, when the other officer was out of the room, that I shouldn’t worry, I’d be let in. Apparently, the other officer should’ve never said he’d send me back, as I have a valid visa and there was no reason not to let me in.
The whole saga ended with my host’s mother calling the Comissioner of Immigration, who then in turn called the Director to tell him to let me in. The director then tried to re-itterate the, “We’re doing this for your own safety” argument, to which I politely disagreed when asked for my opinion. I let him know that I’m aware of the risks of entering any new country and my safety is my own responsibility, citing the fact that I’d travelled to over 70 countries by myself with no incidents. He didn’t disagree and replied with, “Welcome to Liberia”. Umm, alrighty then.
Part of me was thinking that this may have been a subtle bribe request that went too far. Maybe he thought that if he threatened to send me back, I’d offer money to solve the problem. Something that Anthony, the nice officer from before, said also compounded that thought. After he helped get me into a car heading for Monrovia, he stated explicitly that I shouldn’t hand over any money at any checkpoints on the road, just my passport, if required. I can’t be sure if he was trying to imply something there, but I’ll take the win anyways!
Kez = 4; African Border Corruption = 1
Once in Monrovia, I told my host I needed food, but he thought it was more important to walk to his place in the community to meet all his family first. I was pretty hungry by the time I finally got some food, so I got through it fairly quickly. My stomach felt better after that, but I then realised I was super tired and told my host I just wanted to sleep, but he kept putting me on the phone to his friends and family. It was only after I actually fell asleep talking to one of them that he let me retire for the night.
By the time I got to bed, I had a thumping headache. When I first laid down, I kept getting bitten by some kinda bugs. Then, all through the night, the girl sleeping in the bed with me kept rolling over and hitting me, or almost pushing me off the bed, which meant I was constantly walking up, so the headache just wasn’t going away. I spent most of the night awake because of that. The headache had finally gone by the next time I woke up at 6ish. Not the best way to spend the first night in a new country.
My main aim after waking up was to go to the Cote d’Ivoire embassy first thing, then see some of the city and find some WiFi. I’d advised my host the night before of what I wanted to do, but he instead took me somewhere else in the city so he could see one of his friends. We had to get another 20 minute taxi and walk 10 minutes to the embassy, so even though I’d aimed to get there at 9am, I didn’t make it until 12pm. Africa time strikes again!
While running around from place to place, I had gotten small glimpses of how things were in the city. It seems people were selling stuff everywhere and using what ever was available around to display their stuff. I bet there’s some stiff competition to get some spots! The traffic is a also pretty crazy. At times it seems that it would be quicker to walk than sit inside a hot car in traffic breathing in the fumes from cars in front.
Thankfully, the lady at the embassy was super nice and despite the fact that she didn’t really speak any English, she let me use the WiFi to get some information I needed for the visa. She also let me pay the visa fee in Euro instead of US$. She said she had done these things specially to help me out and it was a one-off. Of course I was super grateful!
After we left the embassy, we continued on to find some WiFi, but my host kept saying that there wasn’t any around. I showed him my map, which was indeed showing WiFi in the area. He admitted that he knew of places that had WiFi, but didn’t want to go to them because we had to get a taxi back to his place before 4pm, otherwise there would be no taxis available. That was something he hadn’t mentioned earlier and I’d presumed I’d have the whole day to do stuff. He then took me to an internet cafe, which of course, I couldn’t use my laptop at. In the end, I found a bar with WiFi and we went there.
The bar was called The Basement and when we approached a lovely lady inside, she ushered us to an office upstairs, where a nice man running an NGO said we could sit down and use the WiFi. I ended up talking to the man and he told me a bit about his organisation, which aims to elevate the poor in Liberia and stop them being taken advantage of. After telling him about the volunteer work I do in Hong Kong, he decided that we should network. I find it funny that anyone would want to network with me, but sure, let’s do it.
Once leaving the bar, we were back in my host’s community, with no issues by 5pm, less than an hour after we’d gotten transport. My host disappeared for hours as soon as we got back, so I think he’d lied about there being no taxis and just had something he needed to do in the area. I actually would’ve liked to have seen some more of the city, so I was a little disappointed. I was also bored. There really wasn’t anything to do in the community.
Luckily my host’s brother, Speedo, took me for a walk in the local area, where of course everyone knew him. While walking, he asked me if I’d ever played pool right as we stopped near a tin shed. I wondered why he’d stopped walking when he asked the question, but the entire contents of the shed we’d stopped near were a pool table and pool players! I stopped and had a game, then we continued walking, despite the guys in the shed trying to entice me to play just one more game.
We continued on to a pub on a lake which had a rickety wooden bridge running across it, to a house in the middle. We were going to sit down there, but the loudness of the music was not conducive to conversation, so we walked to another bar about 50 metres away, on the same lake. The music there was at a much lower volume level, so it was easy to sit down and chat. This pub was run by one of Speedos friends and he said that he’d deliberately kept the volume lower than the other place so people would find it a little more chill and be more likely to hang out there. It seemed to be working for him.
Chilling was certainly what most people were doing there! I’d say at least half the people there were passing around joints and a few were drinking some weird mixture of cough medicine and Coca Cola to compliment the joints. The rest were drinking beers while sitting on plastic garden chairs or retired office chairs in the sand. What a life!
The Long Way To The Border
I returned to Cote d’Ivoire embassy around 11am to pick up my passport and even though it wasn’t supposed to be picked up until after 2pm. I was hoping that the nice lady would hand it back earlier so I could be on my way to the border. I was right!
With passport in hand, I headed to the garage at Red Light, where I could get the car to the border. I was there by about 12:30 and bought my seat for L$2500(US$16). This was another small car with six people squeezed in, meaning I was again sharing a front seat that was only meant for one person. Luckily the girl I was sharing with was also small like me, so it wasn’t as uncomfortable as some previous rides.
By the time they sold the last seat in the car, it was 2pm, but because of the terrible traffic near the garage, it took us over 30 minutes to get out to the main road. Everything was going fine until about 200km from the border when an awful scraping noise started coming from the drivers side of the car. It turns out the tread from a badly re-treaded tyre had started peeling off and hitting the wheel arch. The driver got out his knife and started trying to cut off the affected area, until I suggested that it would probably be safer to just change the tyre. He agreed and said that was why he brought along 2 spare tyres.
We were back on the road within 20 minutes, but that stop had probably taken away our chances of reaching the border before it closed at 6pm. We then stopped at a town called Gompa, about 85 kilometres from the border, for the driver to get the shredded tyre replaced. It was around there that the road turned to crap. This was the second country in a row where road conditions worsened within 100 kilometres of a border; I hope this doesn’t become a trend!
By the time we reached an immigration checkpoint 50 kilometres before the border, it was already dark. The guy outside was really rude and demanded that I get out of the car and go inside, where 2 much nicer guys asked me a few questions, but didn’t even look at my passport. Another lady from the car was also told to go inside, but she didn’t speak English, so the officers had her in there for ages, with the driver trying to relay to her in French what was going on. I found out later that she’d actually overstayed in Liberia, but they let her keep going because they were only a checkpoint and couldn’t really stop her.
About 11 kilometres before the border, we hit a long line of stationary trucks and cars. As we got out of the car to investigate, we found a rolled truck stuck in a gully next to a bridge it had broken while trying to drive across. Now this was a problem, as this was the only access road to the border. Some people had made a fire and laid down blankets to settle in for the night, but luckily there was a car on the other side of the bridge that was willing to take us to the border, for a small fee, of course!
It was after 11pm by the time we got to the border town. A guy from the car took us to the local hotel, so we could sleep. When we found the manager, he said that he didn’t have any rooms left, but he wouldn’t send us back out into the rain that had just started pouring down. He would instead put a blanket down on the floor for us to lay on. Sometimes you just take what you can get.
I was woken up at 6am and proceeded to the immigration building, where after answering officers’ questions about where I was going next, they all declared that they wanted me to take them with me. This was a pretty chill border where it seems the officers spent more time chatting than stamping passports.
In a few words – crazy but chill
Language – English and local language
Currency – Liberian Dollar (LRD)
WiFi availability -📶📶
It isn’t so easy to find WiFi and locals don’t really have much of an idea where it is, as most use the data on their phones. Once you do find WiFi, it may not be the best.
Transport – 🚗🚗
🚘 Squeezy shared taxis are available for intercity travel, with their less squeezy, zone restricted cousins available for inner city travel.
Kekehs (tuk tuks) are also available, for a slightly lower cost, on a zone system.
Roads – 🛣🛣
Country roads in Liberia range from absolutely awful to terrible, whereas the city roads range from terrible to okay.
Scenery – 🌳🏞🌳🏞🏖
The Liberian countryside is very green and wonderful to look at. There are also a few beaches near the coast.
Prices, – 💰💰
Great on a budget.
Checkpoints – 🛑
I was only encountered one checkpoint, but others in the car advised that the checkpoint only operates at night.
Border efficiency – 🛃🛃
Upon entry and exit, it seems like most officers are more interested in chatting than completing immigration procedures in a timely manner.
Corruption level – 0
Although locals voiced their concerns about instances of corruption within the government, there didn’t seem to be any aimed at visitors.
Overall – 👍👍