A Travellerspoint blog

Liberia

The roads don't improve much heading into Liberia, if anything the use of the term roads in our first parts of Liberia is a bit of a stretch, just dirt with lots of potholes and ditches sort of positioned in a road or at least dirt track type fashion. I really enjoyed Liberia it has a feeling of being 'untouched', definitely no tourism infrastructure her or "big sights" just stunning landscapes and scenery, it also feels less populated, although I haven't done any population comparisons.

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We enter into Liberia near Yepeka which used to be a thriving iron ore mining town run by Lamco who were forced to move out during the civil war, all the equipment they used remains abandoned as you'd expect once the war started they literally just up and left. It's a beautiful part of Liberia with soaring mountain vistas and a man made lake and it's really interesting to see nature doing what it does best, claiming back the land gradually removing the evidence of damage to the natural environment that was caused through the mining. The locals are now trying to preserve the area and have declared it a national park to try and protect it. We bushcamp at the old quarry, next to the man made river surrounded by mountains and fall asleep to the very loud but peaceful sound of a million frogs, it's probably up there as one of my favourite camping spots.

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We drive further into Liberia and whilst the roads continue to not be great the surrounding forest and lack of tro-tros and street sellers make for a scenic and peaceful drive, we finally hit Tarmac at Gbaranga making the drive quicker and even more enjoyable. Again we are a bit of a novelty and get stopped a few times by officials wanting to see all our passports and amusing themselves by asking who is the oldest, who is the youngest?, at one they made us all pile off the truck but once we piled into their tiny building they suddenly asked why we all got off, all of a sudden there were too many of us and it all just looked like too much hard work. The Tarmac was short lived as we approached our destination for the night Kpatawee falls,
it was only about a 25km drive but with the small dirt track took well over an hour drives, but it was worth it with us pitching our tents right next to the cascading falls, this time not being drowned out by the sound of frogs but the crashing of the water. It's also nice to be camping by another bit of water where we can freshen up in the absence of showers.

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Civilisation beckons and we enter into the capital Monrovia probably via one of the busiest routes, through the Red Light Market where the traffic is insane with the sprawling market, tuk-tuks, cabs, pedestrians, walking sellers, cars all travelling whichever way they feel, stopping whenever, turning whenever, it's just a heaving wall that is almost impossible to drive through, aside from the chaos it's an interesting African/European mix, with lots of people in traditional African dress but with an equal mix of Africans in more western (expensive) clothes, as we get into Monrovia proper the city is like that too a real blend of the old shanty town feel mixed with modern european influenced buildings and businesses. We get a real taste of this when we stop at a supermarket to shop, it's got an incredible range but is ridiculously expensive, $8USD for a small cabbage, $6 for eggs, where we've been paying under a dollar, it really stretches the $3 per person per day that we are allocated to feed everyone. Monrovia itself, like most of Liberia doesn't have any real sights as such, although we are encouraged to visit what remains of the Hotel Ducor, which back in the 70s was the place to be seen and apparently a favourite of Idi Amin, they seem quite proud of the fact he loved swimming in the pool there, now it's a decaying building that presumably was evacuated during the civil war, it does offer spectacular views across Monrovia though.

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It would be remiss of me if I didn't mention Liberia also provided the best non western style toilet of the trip (even better than most western toilets we've had) at Libassa Eco lodge near Marshall, which provided us with a dry toilet that uses saw dust to keep it clean and smelling lovely they almost were better than the half dozen pools and lagoon we were able to use whilst camping there.

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Our final stop in Liberia was the sleepy fishing village and surfing hotspot of Robertsport about 10miles from the Sierra Leone border, we spent two lazy days and nights here camping on the beach and not doing much but relaxing and swimming, just a perfect way to,round out our time in Liberia before heading into Sierra Leone.

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Posted by Kaz76 07:29 Comments (0)

Where has all the fuel gone

Quick foray into guinea then into Liberia

Cote d'ivorie has treated us well, it does however give us some awful roads as we get closer to the guinea border, making the drive feel a lot longer than what it probably was, several times we had to jump out of the truck and assess whether it would fit through a gap or make it through water filled pot holes without getting stuck, we are also treated to a pretty awesome storm making the locals trying to get quickly home on their motorbikes a bit cranky when we block the whole tiny road with our truck, the border we cross into guinea has only recent,y been opened which probably explains the state of the road but now it's open the roads are getting worse as more people cross this way. Our last stop in Cote d'ivorie is the immigration point for the truck with the immigration head honcho putting us up for the night, basically letting us pitch our tents at immigration and letting us use his bucket shower and hole in the ground.

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We always seem to be an endless source of entertainment, this time it's exiting out of Ivory Coast, the border post only has us there which is quite unusual every border I've been through in Africa is always chaotic with trucks, motorbikes, pedestrians and tro-tros as well as all the people selling their wares off their head, so needless to say the guys are bored, one jumps into the truck to take selfies with a few of us as well as the truck - at least it gets us a smooth exit out and into guinea which is as easy and as quiet.

It's only a short foray into the south-eastern part of Guinea, we return again later in the trip. The roads from Cote d'ivorie into Guinea remain terrible slowing us down considerably but putting that aside it's a pretty nice drive through the forest region and we drive through a bamboo forest, the bamboo curves over the top of the road with the light shining through creating a pretty spectacular bamboo canopy, definitely a bit of a highlight for me. It seems the more we drive north through west Africa the poorer it feels, we are also getting a more tropical vibe with plenty of palm trees around and a return of the humidity.

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Our first stop in Guinea is Nzerekore, guinea's second largest city, we are really here as a good place to base ourselves to investigate the vine bridges. The vine bridges as they sound are these bridges made entirely out of vines, it is said only the elders and who they trust know how to build them and they not only provide practical means for crossing the river but supposedly hold spiritual meaning as well, it's all pretty secretive and pretty hard to get any information on them, our guide was only interested in getting as there and back as quickly as possible without saying a word only blasting local music out on his phone running what would have been a really peaceful trek through the forest. I will say though the craftsmanship is really good, the bridges had no problem holding a couple of us hefty gringos at a time.

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Nzerekore is also our base to stock up on at least a weeks worth of food (noting we have minimal refrigeration) and enough petrol to get us through Liberia where we may or may not be able to get either of these things, or if we do, we'll have to sell all our arms and legs and then some! Food Nzerekore does have if you are prepared to subject yourself to the sauna that is their market, we spent quite a bit of time navigating our way through the closely positioned stalls in a filthy market that stretches over many, many blocks with many, many more people in stifling humidity and heat, to finally find some veggies that already look past their use by dates with a few random tins of tuna, tomato paste and chick peas - gonna be a lot of pasta and rice over the next week I think.....or we should stop being so fussy and grab some of the cat that we saw being grilled on the side of the road.

Petrol turns out to be more of a challenge, Nzerekore is considered one of the more reliable places to get petrol with obtaining a 1000 litres being no problem, at 1030am we are told 'diesel is coming in half hour', couple of hours pass, still no sign of this diesel, we head back to the hotel we were camping at with its 'no stress' discotheque and casino to wait, our crew go back at 130pm, at 6pm theynreturn having managed to acquire 27 of the 700 litres we require, so we get to spend an extra night in Nzerekore, crew start the hunt again at 8am and by 130pm the following day we have enough we think to get us through Liberia.

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Before we head to Liberia we have one last stop in this leg of Guinea in Bossou camping at the headquarters where they organise chimp trekking. What an awesome way to end this quick dip into Guinea, trekking through dense forest in the morning, after 40 or so minutes we are rewarded with our first chimp just hanging about in front of us with a couple of others behind him, he soon realises we are here and starts letting us know he isn't too happy, throwing sticks down at us, doing his warning screeching and eventually appearing to pee on, pretty entertaining in our eyes. We are lucky to get so close and watching how lightning fast they move through the trees was pretty amazing, as we walk further on we see a mumma and her baby, the mumma just keeping a close eye on the baby which is busy playing around in the trees. It really was one of those times where you just put the camera down and watch these incredible creatures so close up.

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(apologies for the bad photo)
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Time to jump back on to the awful dirt roads and see what Liberia offers us.

Posted by Kaz76 07:55 Comments (0)

No need for toilet paper, we have pigs...

Yamassoukro, village near Man, Cote d'ivorie

A very long drive day along some very bad "roads" gets us from Korhogo to Yamoussoukro, or Yakro, the political and administrative capital. Yakro would be the strangest African city I've seen, other than the market area, you wouldn't know you were in Africa with its deserted, streetlight lined boulevards, no noise, no chaos, no sign of the poverty that completely exists in the area. Truly bizarre and all the work of a past president, Felix Houphouet who clearly had some vision that far exceeded any reality.

The main reason for stopping here was to witness the Basillica of Our Lady of peace, a basillica that ole Felix wanted to be a replica of Rome's St Peter Basillica. It's rumoured to have cost around a billion euro and is adorned heavily with gold, marble and stained glass from France, there is even a 1km of marble road leading away from the basillica to a road which really seems to head nowhere, clearly money well spent in a country so poor. The 24 stained glass windows within are incredible, telling traditional stories from the bible with a bit of local anecdotes thrown in as well, there is even a carved statue of Mary draped in Muslim garb, it was apparently carved by someone whilst in jail and the president was so impressed with his work he released him upon completion. It really is as impressive as Rome but it really does make you question the sanity of the man.

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Yakro itself could be the home of insanity, a few of us grab dinner at 'la Bella pizza' and whilst we are dining the owners proudly produce a scrap book, they used to provide a home for a couple of baby hippos as well as chimps, the photos appeared to indicate both lots of animals were happy playing and being walked by humans, but apparently they had to transport them to more appropriate lodgings as the locals weren't across how to continue to look,after these animals. It does prove though that my dream of having a pet hippo is not unrealistic!

On we push through Cote d'ivorie passing through Man, which rolls out the traditional African welcome, ear splitting music being pumped through the crazy, chaotic and dusty streets, at least these guys had speakers that they hadn't blown yet, so the sound whilst ear splitting was actually recognisable and not nails down the chalkboard annoying. Man was really just a bit of a passing jaunt to stick up on supplies, about 70km on is Guenimanzo village, who have set up a bit of a gig where they take tourists through, for us we are welcomed in to set up camp for the night.

We arrive late arvo and are greeted overwhelmingly by the village, but once they've had a good look at us they leave us to set ourselves up and wander about the village which is full of goats, cows, pigs as well as all the villagers, definitely not high on the appropriate sanitation list! As I wander the women are knocking off work, they are singing and dancing with gusto to end the day - reckon this could be something worthwhile instigating at work :-), and the local lads making bricks are really excited to show off their muscles and have their pictures taken, whilst the older folk of the village are just curious as to why we are there.

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In the evening they invite us to their local music and dancing, this time round it's stilt dancers, masked men dancing on impossibly high stilts, occasionally getting in our face screaming but mostly just walking around with a pot looking for money, money which at the end they count up and announce to the village which ensures more dancing. The older women of the village are the highlight of the evening, some dancing with babies on their back, even the lads of the village are enthralled, yelling out their appreciation as a mark of respect.

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And finally to round this one out, being part of the village we are welcome to pee anywhere as the locals do and if number 2s are required, anywhere is fine too...just be mindful of where the pigs are, as they are only too happy to help you out, negating the need for the use of any toilet paper...

Time to push on to Liberia.

Posted by Kaz76 11:05 Comments (0)

Côte d'Ivoire- Korhogo

We say goodbye to Burkino Faso and head along the dusty, excessively potholed roads into Côte d'Ivoire, upon entering you get a bit of a tropical feel to it, with palm trees dotted around very now and again.

Our first stop is Korhogo we camp at a hotel that boasts not only a pool (completely maxed out with local lads preening) and nightclub but a gym promoting muscle finesse, by the looks of the hand drawn pictures on the outside I think its a gym specialising in Arnold Schwarzenegger physiques, circa 1970. I splash out here and grab a room, which came with a free local lady showering, or perhaps the hotel also offers another service not on the sign?

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It's an interesting town, the surrounding villages have created various co-ops based around the natural resources of the area, spend the day cruising on the back of a motorbike visiting them, this is also where I acquire my cashew nut juice addiction.

The clay from the local river is used in Kapele to create the most stunning, colourful beads, that the local people no wear as part of their dress and which I'm easily persuaded to buy, they are smarter enough to realise not everyone wants a necklace or bracelet so also offer larger beads which can be used as ornaments/collecting dust knick knacks.

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Cotton is the resource of choice in Waranieine, where men when they turn 18 are first trusted with preparing the spools before gaining the necessary skills to do the actual weaving, the village has 456 weavers, generally with the skill being passed from father to son...and yes I buy something did here too, a nice throw for the bed.

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On the way back into Korhogo it's batik and wood, with a guy showing us how he produces his batiks, he knocks up a pretty impressive batik of an antelope type animal in no time, just using the juice from different crushed leaves as his paint. Unfortunately the wood place is more just an opportunity it's for them to sell so we don't learn too much about their trade, which is a shame as they produce some incredible masks that are representative of their culture and tradition.

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We are invited back in the evening to watch the Boloi-Sanfou dance, which is an incredible display of acrobatics and local music. The dancers come out in the creepiest head to toe covered costumes which we later learn represent the panther, the kids who learn the dance at school as part of their mandatory education scurry back in both awe and fright, but once they start their acrobatics everyone is completely engaged and mesmerised.

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Great way to start our week in the ivory coast

Posted by Kaz76 13:22 Comments (0)

Peaks, domes and a waterfall

Banfora and Senofou regions

After leaving the bigger cities we head south west first to the Banfora region which is quoted throughout with sugar cane so the area is quite green and lush. Karfiguela falls proves a nice spot for a bit of relaxing and a nice dip in some pretty cool waters, looking out of the falls provides a really nice view of the surrounding sugar canes.

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From there we head to my favourite bush camp of the trip so far, camping amongst the Domes de Fabedogou, essentially giant domes of rock that have formed over 1.8 billion years ago, its one of those indescribable places that really needs to be seen to truly appreciate and enjoy, it's really easy to climb the domes to get some pretty nice views too. Camping here was incredibly peaceful with only the sounds of heavy breathing owls, which sound like people saying 'shhhhh' all the time.

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The absolute highlight in the banfora region for me was meeting the guardian of the sacred baobab tree, an absolute character and really proud to be the guardian of the baobab. He became the guardian of the baobab at 30 when he was called to the tree at midnight and it told him he has been chosen, he is now 70 and knows he still has a while to go yet as the tree told him he won't die until he is completely bald, he is on his way but not there yet. After doing all his serious work for the baobab he has jokingly asked the baobab to stop him fathering children he currently has 14! From what I can gather the baobab became sacred after it provided shelter for the local villagers when they were rounding people up for the slave trade, the baobab was able to hide them all within, whilst we sit within it we are allowed to splash ourselves with its sacred waters, all being prevented from being poisoned.

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Leaving banfora we head to the senofou region which not only covers part of Burkina but also Mali and Côte d'Ivoire, here we spend our time checking out some more "big rocks" which are 'less domey and more peaky" as someone so eloquently put it. Walking around these ones feels quite different and almost like the movies you see after the world has ended, surreal but very beautiful, with fragment of village life still able to be found throughout the rock formation.

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Our final look in the Senofou region was to visit a Troglodyte village an hour or so drive from Senofou, we all boarded a rusty mini van that had seen far better days over some bone rattling roads to climb a steep rocky mountain in the stifling heat to find the old village that is built into the escarpment. It's been there since the 16th century and was inhabited as late as 1981, now they only do sacrifice up there, the villagers found it more practical to live at the base of the mountain with ready access to water and food (took 'em awhile to realise this!). A fair chunk of the village is intact, with mainly graineries to store their millet, a brewery, pharmacy and the sleeping quarters easily visible, well worth the bone rattling drive and climb to get there.

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Time to leave Burkina now and head across the border into Cote d'Ivorie.

Posted by Kaz76 10:23 Comments (1)

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