I got up early and went for a run along Lumley Beach which was just around the corner from our hotel. It was a beautiful stretch of golden sand with palm trees and not too much rubbish which seem to plague the beaches here in West Africa. There were quite a few locals and expats too either walking or jogging for some early morning exercise.
After I showered up, we went down to the hotel breakfast, which had anything and everything, from crêpes, nutella and plantains to bacon and eggs. Definitely the best breakfast of the trip so far! There were also quite a few Americans at breakfast too, including a doctor in his blue scrubs, presumably here for Ebola work.
With the help of the hotel concierge, we then got a taxi to Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary. On the way our driver stopped to get some breakfast. While we were waiting we took a couple of random photo's, including the one I took below. A policeman came up to us, inquiring why we were 'snapping', and said we had to come to the police station to do some 'investigations'. We said we were just tourists and showed him the unremarkable photo's. He was still insistent and wanted our passports. Our driver came back at this stage, and after a bit of friendly banter we managed to get him to back off. He then asked for some help getting somewhere, indirectly asking for a bribe, but we managed to play dumb and fob him off.
The road to the Chimpanzee Sanctuary was up a hill and was in poor condition. Our guidebook said it was recommended for 4WD's only but our driver was insistent that his little Japanese car could make it up. It was slow going but apart from the last very steep 100 meters the little car did eventually make it!
The sanctuary has two tours a day, with the one in the morning starting at 10:30am. After paying our $15 entry and waiting for the tour to start, our guide gave us a brief introduction of the different species of Chimpanzee's and their ever dwindling populations over Africa. The sanctuary is set in the 17,688 hectare Western Area Peninsula National Park, and is currently home to 75 chimpanzee's that have been confiscated, orphaned or abandoned.
After spending some time in quarantine, the chimpanzee's are then put in a enclosure to allow them to interact with other chimps. Chimpanzee's are social creatures but as they arrive as individuals it is necessary for them to interact and form bonds with other rescued chimpanzee's.
The first enclosure was more like a zoo, with climbing ropes etc. The sanctuary was established in 1995 by a Sri Lankan family after initially rescuing a baby chimp in 1988.
As well as having their habitat destroyed for farming, the chimpanzee's are often hunted as a source of meat. 31 chimpanzees escaped in April 2006 after they had watched and learnt how to unlock the enclosures. One person was killed and several were badly injured during the escape.
Chimpanzee's also show emotion similar to humans, becoming visibly happy or angry when their mood changes.
We then went to another enclosure, which was much bigger with 4 hectares of forest and unlike a zoo except for the electric fencing. One of the chimps started throwing rocks at us! Apparently this is quite common as the chimps have had bad experiences with humans before being rescued.
Munching on some fruit.
In the following weeks after the 2006 escape, 21 out of 31 chimpanzees returned, of which 19 had done so of their own will.
We then went to the largest enclosure with 8 hectares of dense forest. We were very fortunate and the chimps were luckily in view while they were climbing up through the tree's.
It was my first time seeing chimpanzee's in Africa, and while they weren't in the wild, it was definitely the next best thing!
We then met up with our driver and then slowly made the descent down the hill down to Freetown again.
Driving back into Freetown we saw some of the wooden board houses (photograph below courtesy of Jordan). The style of houses was brought over from the Americas by the settlers who arrived in several waves from 1792 onwards. They are unfortunately slowly disappearing though.
After our driver dropped us off in central Freetown, we went to change some local currency. Although the official rate was ~4200 to the dollar, we got 5000-5700 (depending on bank note size) to the dollar at a currency exchange. Definitely made things a bit cheaper!
St. John's Maroon Church, built in 1820 by returning slaves from Jamaica, with their wooden ship used for construction of the church beams.
Freetown’s most famous landmark is a Cotton Tree in the centre of the old part of town. Supposedly returning black slaves from America in 1792 walked up to the giant tree in a large group, praying and singing hymns to thank God for their deliverance to a free land.
Kick Ebola Out! Sierra Leone had been declared free of Ebola for almost two months when we were there.
We then went to the Big Market.
Where there were lots of colourful fabric and jewellery on display. Jordan bought a few things for his daughter and I got a necklace for Rianda.
Up the stairs.
A local lady who asked for a photo and I was happy to oblige.
We then continued our walk on the streets of central Freetown.
Unfortunately several days after we left there was another confirmed Ebola death in the north of country.
No touching or washing dead bodies.
At about 2pm we stopped at a bakery for a cool drink and some meat pies for 35,000 leones. There was also an obligatory hand wash station here as part of Ebola prevention.
We then walked up to the Victoria Park markets.
Unlike the Big market, it was very busy and lots of locals doing their shopping.
And lots of clothes.
Another local happy for a portrait.
We then flagged down a taxi for a ride back to our hotel in Aberdeen.
Back at the hotel we got an email from Jason that our Air Côte d'Ivoire flight for tomorrow was nowhere to be seen online! Jordan rung the local office who confirmed it was still operating though. After the scare, we then headed out for a walk on Lumley Beach, where the sun was beginning to set.
The water was quite warm and definitely more inviting than the cooler water that I swam in The Gambia!
Some of the local kids striking a pose. Everyone seemed to be generally quite friendly and inviting.
We were asked a few times if we were here for 'Ebola' (i.e working for the aid agencies etc.) and they were surprised when we said we were just tourists.
For dinner we walked a few blocks to the Lighthouse restaurant which overlooked the Man O'War bay. We both had the mixed seafood grille, which was a great sampler of the local seafood.
At about 9pm we got a message from Jason to say he had arrived ok so we met up with him at the hotel bar. Apparently the ferry from the airport was grossly overloaded and after a very rocky ride he was glad to have survived it!
After breakfast at the hotel we headed down to Lumley beach again. It was Sunday morning and the beach was very busy with lots of locals playing football, swimming and generally having a good time!
Fresh from the sea.
Some of the football matches were casual.
But a few were quite organised with goal posts, referee's and uniforms etc.
And one of the winning teams!
The options for getting to the airport for our 3pm Air Côte d'Ivoire flight were either a 3-4 hour bus ride or a 30 minute ferry.
At $40 each the ferry wasn't cheap but definitely preferred over the long overland route.
Our ferry for the ride, luckily as it was only a 737 flight today, so they had two smaller boats versus one larger (but overloaded) ferry which Jason had the day before.
Wearing my lifejacket for the trip across the bay.
And disembarking at Mahera Beach before catching a bus for the 2 kilometre ride to Lungi International Airport (FNA).
My boarding pass and Ebola paperwork. They also later wrote our temperatures on the boarding pass (a very normal 36.4°C).
Boarding our Air Côte d'Ivoire flight ontime. It was my first time flying Air Côte d'Ivoire, who started operations in November 2012 and is 65% owned by the government of Côte d'Ivoire and 20% by Air France.
Climbing up above Sierra Leone.
Our arrival at Roberts International Airport was luckily uneventful with no requests for bribes etc. Just outside with my freshly stamped Liberia visa in my UK passport. After having alot of issues with the Liberia consulate in Dubai, Jason had thankfully organised my visa through the embassy in Washington D.C. a few days before Christmas. His five star visa service definitely performed above and beyond and saved me from having an otherwise premature end to the trip! We then met up with the driver we had organised for the 65 kilometre drive in to Monrovia.
At our hotel, the Bella Casa. For $120 a night it definitely wasn't cheap but Monrovia unfortunately is not known for it's affordable accomodation.
Banana's for sale.
After a short walk from our hotel we arrived at the Golden Beach bar & Restaurant. It was Sunday evening and quite a few locals and expats were here enjoying the last few hours of the weekend.
With Jason leaving tomorrow, and myself and Jordan the day after, it was a great to relax and reflect at the end of a fun and amazing trip. Both Jason and Jordan had now visited 190+ countries each, and it was really great to tag along and travel with such experienced travellers, especially in this not often visited part of the world.
A cool place to watch the sunset and enjoy an ice cold coke.
After saying farewell to Jason as he left to catch up with some friends who had just moved to Monrovia, myself and Jordan ordered some dinner. I had the Golden beach burger and Jordan had the Liberian Spicy chicken and rice. A great end to our first evening in Liberia!
After coming back from a morning run, I met Jason in the hotel lobby as he was just checking out. His Kenyan Airlines flight wasn't until the afternoon, but it had been delayed by another 6 hours, which would mean he would miss his connecting flight in Accra. Hence he was off to the airport to try his chances to get on the 10:30am Arik Air flight out. I thanked him for the awesome trip and bid him farewell for his journey back to the US.
I then met up with Jordan for breakfast at the hotel restaurant.
We then ventured out to see some of Monrovia.
The flag of Liberia. Liberia was founded by freed and free-born Black Americans from the United States, and hence the resemblance to the flag of the USA is not coincidental.
A monument in town to an Americo-Liberian who was born in the USA but died in Liberia.
Get the hell out of Liberia, Ebola! Two days after we left Liberia, it was declared Ebola free.
The Liberian National Museum.
After paying our $5 entrance fee, a guide gave a tour of the exhibits. During the Liberian civil wars, ~5,000 artifacts were looted and now less than 100 larger artifacts remain.
A traditional fertility mask.
And a memorial tree for the victims of Ebola in Liberia.
We then went out to explore the streets again.
An empty and derelict building with bullet holes from the civil wars. After taking this photo we were approached by a local lady who was also accompanied by two police officers and about 20 locals tagging along. She spoke very good english and wanted to know why we took a photo of the derelcit building. We explained we were just tourists taking in the sights of Monrovia. She was friendly and explained about the local history, and explained that Monrovia wasn't always this run-down, and even showed us some photo's she had before the civil war. An very interesting encounter, and from her entourage she must have been someone quite important.
A Methodist Church in the centre of town. 85.5% of Liberia's population practices Christianity.
This big monolithic concrete building was also another church.
A statue of Joseph Jenkins Roberts, the first President of Liberia.
The old Ducor Palace Hotel on Snapper Hill.
The Ducor Hotel closed in 1989, just before the First Liberian Civil War. There were plans for a Libyan-funded renovation, but these were abandoned with the start of the 2011 Libyan Civil War.
We had heard that it was possible to look inside if you slipped some money to the security guards. When we arrived we were offered a personal guided tour up to the top by one of the guards for $10 each. A bit more than we expected but it was still reasonable and we quickly accepted.
Built and operated by Intercontinental group in 1960, the Ducor was among the most famous luxury hotels in Africa at the time.
More recently it was a barracks for Nigerian soldiers and a shelter for the residents of the beach slums who camped in its rooms to escape the fighting during the Liberian Civil Wars.
The squatters were evicted in 2006 when the government decided to sell the building to the Libyan government.
The inauguration ceremony of the hotel was attended by President Sekou Toure of Guinea, and Israeli Foreign Minister Golda Meir, among others.
The Ducor’s three hundred rooms have been stripped bare and just the shell of the building now remains.
Some interesting geometric graffiti in one of the rooms.
An unhappy face and a razor blade.
More interesting lines, shapes and curves.
On the top floor with our personal guide/guard.
And the view out to the ocean where the roof-top hotel bar used to be.
Former Ugandan president Idi Amin is said to have swam in the Ducor pool while still carrying his gun.
The view to the West Point slums, which were infamously quarantined during the Ebola outbreak.
And the view of the rest of Monrovia to the east.
Making our way back down.
More local artwork.
Aquamarine. It was great to explore a very interesting and slightly unusual historical sight at the end of our trip through West Africa.
Jordan buying some cold water as we walked back down Snapper Hill. Monrovia was probably the hottest and most humid it had been all trip.
The Monrovia Masonic Lodge, founded by descendants of US slaves.
We then walked to the Mamba Point Hotel for lunch. A thank you letter was on the wall from George W. Bush from his stay at the hotel in 2008. There was also an article from a Japanese newspaper, written by a visiting Japanese journalist who had proclaimed that the hotel served the best sushi in Africa!
Although I was tempted by the sushi, I decided on the Liberian-style spicy chicken.
We then caught a tuk-tuk for the ride back to the hotel.
Signs and symptons.
After chilling at the hotel for a bit, we went back to the Golden Beach Bar again to enjoy a cold drink, and (what I thought would be) my last African sunset for the trip.
For dinner we shared a tasty pizza. I then said farewell to Jordan back at the hotel, thanked him for the great trip and wished him well for his upcoming adventure to South Sudan.
After getting up at 1:30am, I met up with my driver at 2am for the ~1 hour drive to the airport for my 5:30am flight to Casablanca (CMN). There was a bit of fog on the road but I never clicked and realised that it could affect my flight this morning. Check-in was uneventful and about an hour before our departure, heard an aircraft fly quite low overhead. There was then an announcement that our Air Maroc 737 had diverted to Conakry, and that our flight had been delayed by an hour.
When the sun came up at about 7:30am, and 2 hours after our scheduled departure, the fog was still quite heavy. At about 9:30am they finally announced that our flight had been cancelled, and that it would be rescheduled for 11pm that night. We then were taken into the airport carpark for a ride back into town. Unfortunately they had only one mini-bus though, so most of us had to wait until 11am for another bus to arrive.
We were then taken to the Kendeja Hotel.
It was about 10 kilometres from downtown Monrovia, but was right on the beach so wasn't too hard just to chill out and go for a swim in the pool.
Lunch was also provided while they worked out what connecting flights everyone had and what airlines to contact to rearrange them. I was flying on Emirates from Casablanca back to Dubai (CMN-DXB) and as it was on an Air Maroc issued ticket they said it could be sorted out when I arrived in Casablanca.
They didn't have enough rooms for everyone at the Kendeja Hotel, so they bussed some of us to a couple of other hotels, where I finally got a room at 3pm and crashed after the early morning start.
The new hotel was still quite abit out of town, so I just went for a random wander.
At a seaside village with a beautiful mural...
...and an amazing view where I was treated to another great African sunset.
A very picturesque place to have one last taste of Africa. While IRROPS is not often fun, I was glad that it happened at the end of the trip, and not during where it would have cascaded and really disrupted our travel plans.
Back at the hotel we were given $15 allowance for dinner. They weren't sure when the bus to take us back to the airport was going to arrive, so I just grabbed a shwarma to go.
Our bus finally arrived at 8:30pm, although it very nearly lost its roof! Luckily the driver realised in time, and managed to back the bus out.
No blood diamonds. A sign at the airport for rough diamond exports. In 2001, the UN applied sanctions on Liberia for trading in conflict diamonds during the Sierra Leone Civil War. Liberia is now a member of the Kimberley Process however.
And finally boarding for our 11pm flight to Casablanca, over 17 hours late!
At Mohammed V International Airport in Casablanca after finally getting my flight on Emirates to Dubai rebooked. I contemplated going into the city but they took forever to sort out the new boarding pass so I was stuck just waiting around.
About to board the EK777 for Dubai.
And back in Dubai after an eventiful, fun, memorable and amazing trip to West Africa!