So my update last week mentioned that I was about to leave Monrovia, heading towards the town of Harper on the border with The Ivory Coast ( Cote d'Ivoire), which I will now abbreviate to IC. I left on the Thursday morning from Monrovia, but rather later than I had planned at 11a.m. As a resut of this it meant that I would not reach Harper, but instead opted for a bush-taxi to the town of Ganta, which is in the north of the country, only 2k from the border with Guinea. I arrived here after an ( thankfully) uneventful journey, at around 4 o'clock. The guidebook barely gives this town a mention, strange when it's meant to be the second biggest in the country, although you wouldn't think it as it's pretty small. After a few minutes walking I found an absolute gem of a place. It was 25 dollare a night, double what I would be looking to pay, but for an African cheap hotel it was simply fantastic, and included my own bathroom, running water ( when the generator was on), and was really clean. You don't get power in many countries in West Africa till about 7 at night, as that's when the generators are revved up..before that time, well, there is basically no power at all, and Liberia was no different. So I spent the night here, had a quick look around, although there wasn't much to see or do, and arose the next morning and went to the "transport garage" where a few bush-taxis were hanging around. It was 6.30,and I had been told that the road to Harper in the far south-east of Liberia was terrible, barely passable in the wet season, and that it could take a whole day to get there. It did take nearly a day, but not because of the road..why?..this is why...
As I mentioned, I arrived there at 6.30 in the morning, paid my fee, which was pricey at nearly 50 dollars, and proceeded to wait for more people to come, as they won't leave until they are full, and this particular taxi was built for 6 people, 2 in the front, and 4 squeezed into the rear. Anyway, I waited, waited, and then I waited a little bit more, and by the time I had finished waiting, and the taxi had received its sixth paying customer , it was 2.30..8 hours later!! Now as I had no idea what time we were going to reach Harper I wasn't too bothered, but , as always, I was hoping to arrive around 7 in the morning, as arriving late at night is never easy. Anyway, off we went, and by 7 we had reached the town of Zwedru, which was roughly half-way. Once there , some of the passengers left as this was their final destination, but there were 2 others still with me, and I was then slighly bemused as I noticed them getting out and going to another taxi, just as someone grabbed my backpack and started to walk away with it. I shouted at him to put it down, but he then said that he was the driver of the taxi I was to change into , and that he would take me the rest of the way..fair enough. This next taxi looked like a disaster , and I couldn't help thinking there was no way in hell it was going to make it all the way, which, as it turned out, was indeed the case. At around 10 o'clock this particular taxi broke down just after a police stop, and as he took the wheel off and tried in vain to fix the problem; I had a sinking feeling that I was going to be spending the night in this random little village. When we were at that police stop the driver actually started going crazy and wanting to fight with one of the guys in charge of letting him through, now I don't think these guys are actually memebers of the police, but rather civilians helping the police , either way they are just out to make money from the drivers, as I think they all have to pay to get through these checkpoints. Anyway, all hell was breaking loose, and as they went at it hammer and tongs, one of the other guys came up to me and said hello, and it turned out he was a plain clothes policeman who I had been having a chat with at the transport garage in Ganta. The argument soon settled down, and as my driver continued to work on his wheel I chatted further with this guy, and was dropping hints that I could maybe stay the night in his plice staion if my taxi was unable to continue. I think he ws about to suggest that as a possibility when he said to had to go and arrest someone futher up the road, and I never saw him again.
The problem with the taxi turned out to be with the bearings, and, well, it was now going nowhere that night, but, as luck would have, it another taxi was passing, and as it was heading to Harper I could jump into that one, which I duly did, leaving my fellow 2 passengers to spend the night in the broken down taxi, which, to be fair, they said they were willing to do.
So I jumped into this taxi, which now had 6 passengers , and we drove off towards Harper with the radio blaring with Nigerian hip-hop music..god knows I am sick to death of hearing that being played at ridiculous levels of noise. About an hour into this trip one of the large women by the window shouted something to the driver. For a moment I thought my bag had fallen off the roof, but it turned out to be one of the wheels that were sitting on the roof that had fallen off. Anyway,everyone got out and started to walk back looking for this wheel; I didn't, I just stood there in the darkness and took pleasure in listening to the sound of the jungle with no one around. A few minutes later, they all returned with their torches, but with no sign of the missing wheel! We squeezed in again, and set off for Harper, however, we didn't reach Harper, and instead stopped at a place, which I forget the name of, about half an hour outside of Harper. It was now 2.30, 20 hours from when I first went to the the garage in Ganta, and it was here that I was to spend the night.
Why they stopped here and didn't go into Harper I have no idea, but the large women beside me in the taxi told me that her friend had a hotel here , and that I could sleep there for a few hours, so we jumped onto a motorbike which randomly happened to be about , and we travelled a few minutes through the alleyways of this non- entity of a town in the still of the night before arriving at a horrible little place, and I was told that I could sleep in this horrible sauna like room till 6, where I would then take a taxi into Harper. They wanted 4 pounds for around 3 hours sleep here, a total rip-off, but I didn't really feel like I could say no as she had taken me here, plus there was no way in hell I could get back to the area where the taxi had stopped, although I would have liked to as the benches there were certainly more appealing that this "hotel", which, by the way, had more cockroaches that I have ever seen in my life. I think I maaged 2 hours sleep, simply because I was knackered. At 6 a.m she knocked on my cell ( room) door anD we walked back to the point where I had been dropped off, and by 7 I was finally in Harper!
Harper was a lovely little place actually, very quiet and peaceful, apart from the thumping sound of that Nigerian music which puntuates the air from around 7 p.m. onwards It took me ages to find somewhere to stay however, and again, at 20 dollars, it was way overpriced, but it was clean which is a bonus. I had originally tried to stay at the Catholic mission in town, but alas they were full, although I am not sure they were, and that perhaps I shouldn't have wandered up with my Rangers top on! So the night was spent in Harper, and the next day I hoped to be in the IC.
I arose at 7, and the only way to get to the border was by motorbike, so I flagged one down and siad goodbye to the nice woman who owned the hotel. The people in Liberia had been very nice, if more reserved than those in Sierra Leone, and despite the LP guidebok saying that travel anywhere outside Monrovia was still considered too dangerous, I had no problems at all, even taking night travel which is supposedly a no-no. It should be noted however that many people who write these books haven't visited the actual country they are writing about in years, and, as such, I find them to be pretty useless. So , as I was saying, I flagged down a motorbike and we made our way on the 45 minute trip down a dirt track road towards the Cavally river which seperates the two countries. I arrived at 8 at the border, and got stamped out in the little immigration hut, before waiting for the car ferry, which I could see across the river in the IC, to cross to my side of the river where upon I could jump on it and cross to the IC. There was a canoe which I could have taken , but the guys hanging around were wanting payment for it, where as I was pretty sure the ferry would cost nothing. After a 15 minute wait, the ferry crossed over and I got on it free, despite the Liberian kids coming on with me and demanding a couple of Euros for the crossing..they got nothing! Once in the IC, I cleared immigration, which again was nothing more than a hut, before taking an overpriced bush taxi ( there was only one there) to the town of Tabou, from where I was hoping to get further transport to the town of San pedro, where I would most probably spend the evening before leaving for Abidjan.
I managed to find a minibus going to San pedro, which took ages for a relatively short journey, and once I got to San Padro I was accosted by loads oF blokes telling me that their bus was going to Abidjan, so I decided what the hell, I might as well just head straight there as it was only around one o'clock, and going by the scale of the map I should be there by 5 at the latest..how wrong I was. Firstly, the nice big shiny bus that I was meant to be travelling on turned out not to be the bus I was getting, and after being shunted around 4 other buses I was eventually put onto a crappy little minibus which eventually left at 2.30. Not to worry I thought, the fact that there was buses now available was incredible, and would be comfortable after all the bush-taxis I had taken. So we set off on what I thought would be a short journey; I arrived in Abidjan, a city of 5 million people, without any map ( thanks crappy LP guidebook,yet again), and without any idea of somewhere cheap to stay, at midnight exactly. How it took so long I have no idea, but it was one of those journeys in which you begin to feel sorry for yourself and wonder just what the hell you are doing in West Africa, after all, no other bugger seems to come here. First of all, the road for the first few hours was terrible... paved, but with so many potholes; secondly, the amount of military checkpoints was ridiculous, they were simply everywhere, and I stopped counting them at 20! Every little town we passed had them and they would want to check the identification of most of the passenegers, myself included. I actually got my first glimpse of the military in the IC at the border, where the first person you encounter is a guy with army trousers on, a string vest and an AK 47. From there on, all the way to Abidjan, you constantly see thee guys, and they do appear quite intimidating. I just found out today that there is still rebel activity in the west of the country bordering Liberia, the exact place where I came form, but I never felt in any trouble, perhaps ignorance is bliss at times.
By the time I got to Abidjan I was tired, feeling a little sick, and was just desperate for somewhere to sleep..anywhere. The bus stopped , well, I don't know where it stopped, it could have been anwhere in the city, but there was nothing about, and certainly no sign of hotels of any kind. Anyway, one of the guys on the bus ( a worker not a passenger) took my bag off and flagged down a taxi for me, and I told the taxi driver to take me to the cheapest hotel in this expensive city ( couldn't find a couchsurfer here), and the cheapest place was 50 quid a night!!! I was desperate though, and I was so glad when he got me there and they had a room available..at 75 pounds a night!! Anyway, there was nothing I could do but check in, and it has to be said, it is a wonderful boutique hotel, with all the mod-cons including air-con, free breakfast, fast wi-fi, and a shower..god, a proper running shower with hot water!! Since there seemed absolutley nowhere cheap in the city, I had to book 2 nights so that I could look around the city a bit today, so that's 150 pounds for 2 nights. To say that it's slightly more than I would pay is akin to saying that Sumo wrestlers are slightly overweight, so as this is a free blog, then please feel free to deposit some cash into my account! As a result of this I will be leaving here straight for Ghana tomorrow, as I simply can't afford to see anymore of the county, which, by the way, is also very expensive. That's a shame as there were a couple of places I would liked to have visited. Anyway, the Ghana border is only 3 hours away ( allegedly), and, since Ghana is cheap, I will be looking to get back to my 10-15 Euros a day budget. I usually spend around 100-150 per country, which is usually a week , so as you can see I have used that up in 2 days here.
They also do free laundry here, so for the first time, I actually feel clean, and with fresh clothes to wear, which is fantastic, as the amount of red dust that has accumulated onto my clothes and bags has to be seen to be believed. I sometimes feel like the dust has penetrated my very soul! One incrediby dissapointing thing I have noticed is the amount of people wearing Celtic tops, I have counted 4 thus far in the IC, Northern Sierra Leone and Liberia..how upsetting. In fact, one of the workers on the bus was wearing an old Celtic away top..it seems that there has been an Irish NGO/UN worker around these parts as I have also noticed people wearing Ireland t-shirts, too, but in the IC that could well be down to the fact that their flags are pretty identical, apart from the colour on the hoist.
Being in this hotel just now is absolute heaven, and to be honest it is what I needed after that trip yesterday, which really, really tested my resolves more than any other so far. I have uploaded the last of the Liberian photos now, and have also updated the IC ( Abidjan) photos. Abidjan is like no other city in West Africa, it really could be in Europe, and trying to compare here to, say, Monrovia is impossible. The city stinks of money, hence the reason for the expensive hotels , and there are fancy restaurants absolutely everywhere. It really is unlike anywhere else in West Africa, it's very plush and simply seems out of place in West Africa. What is even stranger is the fact that is is juxtaposed with van loads of military roaming the streets, it really does have a strange feel to it, but it's certainly a very liveable city. Taking pics here can be very difficult, so the French owner of the hotel here gave me a lift around town for a bit ( and it is one big old town), as it is really only possible to take photos from the safety of a car if you want to avoid hassles from the police/military. Did you know that the Rough Guide series of guidebooks on Africa actually doesn't include Livberia and the IC as they class them both as too dangerous to visit...utter crap!! I have tried to secure a visa for the DRC ( Congo), but to no avail, so it seems that Nigeria will have to be my last port of call before flying home. I have just actually seen that Emirates Airlines do a cheap flight ( 350 pounds) to Glasgow via Dubai, so it looke like my African adventure will end there, probably in about a month, so I will probably be back by June. But, if I am being honest, West Africa has been so exhausting that to try and do the whole of Africa in one goe was a bit much, and not many people do that. East Africa and the South is apparently much much much easier than the West, and if you can travel West Africa then you can travel anywhere!
I had intended to visit Niger, and cross the border into Northern Nigeria, but having done some further investigating I have decided to knock this on the head as it is simply way too dangerous . The reason for this is the Islamic Nigerian terrorist group based in the North of Nigeria called Boko Haram. They are the people who are responsible for many of the kidnapping and executions in the area, and they are also the guys holding the French family hostage at the moment, and given their history it doesn't look good for that family. So, as I say, I have decided to skip that crossing as even for me that is far too risky, in fact, when I got my Nigerian visa, the consulate advised me not to go there..words I shall heed! What does seem strange to me is that one minute you are a 60's pop combo belting out classics such as "Whiter Shade of Pale", and the next you are an Islamic terrorist group..must be the natural progression of things, so I looK forward to McCartney and Starr forming their own terrorist cell soon! One thing I did forget to mention in an earlier post was that a motorbike ran into me in Guniea, nothing serious, he was just coming to a stop but failed to stop quickly enough, and so ploughed into me as I was resting against a taxi looking the other way.
Talk again, possibly from nice and restful Ghana. TTFN!
Ok, I think that's all for now, anf hopefully I shall be in Ghana tomorrow, don't know where, but I shall most definitely be searcjing out a beach somewhere, as my tan lines are looking ridiculous just now.