Upcountry Travels

Cestos River (l) meets the Atlantic (r)

Cestos River (l) meets the Atlantic (r)

In March/April, I took a couple of trips upcountry.  One was to the north, to near the Guinea border, for a conference, and the other was to the southeast, along the coast, to observe a by-election.  Based on this, I stand by my assertion that there’s no reason Liberia should be food insecure.  Stuff grows here.  You can’t really stop it.  Rather, your task, and a hard one it is, actually, is to help the good stuff grow and try to keep the weeds from overtaking it, the snails from devouring it, or the various fungi and molds from turning the produce into goo.  Good luck with that.

The country is approximately the size of Kentucky, so I’m told.  But that simple comparison belies the reality of Liberia roads.  Or lack thereof.  It took a good three hours to make it to Gbarnga (on paved roads), and another hour and a half to get to Zorzor (on unpaved, but graded roads).  It took about four hours to Cestos City, basically on unpaved, ungraded roads for most of the trip.

And now for a travel tip:  wait about 24 hours after taking Mefloquine before traveling by car or plane.  Vertigo/dizziness can be one of the side effects, and we suspect that it can exacerbate motion sickness even absent full-fledged vertigo.  Did I follow this advice on the most recent trip to Cestos?  Nope.  About 20 hours after taking my weekly dose, and I’m on the road.  I realized that I might be in trouble before we got too far outside of Monrovia.  The accupressure point on your wrist works pretty well for paved roads, or it does for me.  Once we hit the more winding, unpaved, potholed, washboarded roads, the trick was less effective.  I managed to ask the driver to stop before nausea got too bad two times, and I was good for another 45 minutes or so.  The third time…well, not quite as successful, but I did get out of the car before losing breakfast.  Still, after that, things were pretty OK.  We were also about 25 minutes out from our destination by that point.

The north has some economic activity going on, with farms clearly working and people selling fruits on the side of the road.  I also drove through rice growing country, and things (the right things) seemed to be growing.  The southeast has less.  Very few fruit stands on the side of the road.  The central “market” in Cestos is really modest.  My Liberian colleagues wanted to buy fish to cook for dinner and were sent on something of a goose chase.  They also wanted to buy vegetables to go in the fish soup, such as hot pepper and bitterball (think really small, and yes, really bitter, eggplants).  They couldn’t find garlic.  The bitterball had been imported from Monrovia (so probably grown in the central/northern part of the country), and the fish was caught by Ghanians, not Liberians. 

Again, the country isn’t that large, and the landscape doesn’t vary all that much.  The north is hillier/more mountainous, but the roads in the southeast are windier because of rivers running to the ocean.  In Cestos we did get to see where the Cestos River enters the Atlantic Ocean, which was very cool.  The main attraction in Gbarnga was looking out over rolling, verdant hills.

Some hotels in Monrovia run generators 24/7.  Outside the capital, you always need to ask when the generator runs.  Some will run a split shift, with some power in the morning and some at night.  Others will run it evening only.  It just depends, and is an important thing to know.  Neither place I stayed had functional a/c, no possibility of a fan overnight (either due to generator or absence of a fan), and only one had a window in a place to provide any sort of a breeze.  Even then, the breeze wasn’t strong enough to really make a difference through the mosquito net.

Traveling in Liberia is definitely not for the faint of heart, and you have to be ready to rough it, even in main cities, but well worth the trip and minor annoyances.