November 2013: As part of a large 20-day trip across Asia and Africa that included Kuwait, UAE and Socotra, Yemen, Mali, Senegal, Sierra Leone, I also visited Liberia for 3 days with the intent to learn about the link between Liberia and the USA, surf and meet general Butt Naked.

Liberia is a fascinating country in west Africa that is small and mostly rain forested with some of the last remaining virgin stands of rainforest left in west Africa. It’s reserves in the south of the country are some of the last places where chimps, pygmy hippos and elephants can be found in the wild of West Africa.

Liberia has an interesting connection to the USA. When the north freed slaved in the 1800’s, the northern states wanted them to return to Africa and President Monroe established a plan for them to colonize Liberia. Liberia is the only other country in Africa to not be colonized by a European country besides Ethiopia, if you don’t count the Italian occupation. Liberia became America’s first and only colony in Africa and thousands of freed African slaves in America would end up migrating there with the assistance of the American government.

As a Liberian man I met at my surf shack hotel who showed me around Robersport on his motorbike explained, Liberia was founded by ex-American slaves that were freed during the time of President Monroe. The freed slaves brought with them skills, education and more money than a typical indigenous Liberian had. With these resources they built buildings, some in the same fashion as the very plantations and American buildings in the towns of the south that they were enslaved in. The ex-slaves formed their own government in the model of the USA. They have a constitution and all democratic elections with one exception, only freed slaves from America were allowed to vote and indigenous Africans were not. The freed slaves established plantations and businesses and ironically began to enslave the indigenous Africans and even continued to sell slaves to European slave boats.

Liberia never became a harmonious home for freed slaves to prosper. Instead from 1989 to 2003 a violent civil war erupted in both Liberia and neighboring Sierra Leone, and hundreds of thousands would die giving rise to the terms blood diamond and child soldiers. The war saw different groups using diamonds being sold to the west for discounts to purchase weapons. Weapons were then used by rebel groups to terrorize local villages, using rape, and torture as weapons and kidnapped children forced to become soldiers. The war saw unspeakable acts being committed. Children were forced by their captors to kill their own parents. Villagers in mass were raped, had their limbs amputated or were killed.

The war gave rise to some of the most reviled warlords such as General Butt Naked, who led child soldiers on amphetamines into war. General Butt Naked believed that if he covered himself in baby blood and fought naked, he would be invisible to the enemy. he speculates that he killed thousands of men, women and children with his own hands. He now lives in Monrovia, the capitol of Liberia and is a converted Christian, pastor who founded his own church and seeking forgiveness of his victims and has even started a school to help ex-child soldiers. I found a taxi driver who knew the ex-general now pastor and we were on the way tohis small church on the way to the airport where I was due to fly out in the afternoon but the traffic in Monrovia was horrendous and the taxi broke down leaving me stranded and having to hitchhike and find an alternate ride to the airport. Besides I wasn’t really sure what I would say to the man and what it would be like to meet someone who has committed so much mass scale murder. But I was interested to hear his story of repentance.

Civil war is a hard thing for a country to recover from and Liberia struggles with mass poverty, crime and corruption. It is one of the poorest countries in the world and it is not an easy one to travel in.  I would see beggars missing limbs and orphaned children on the streets. African overlanders reported tome that in some parts of the north of the country, the poverty and hunger is the worst they had seen in all of their Africa travels. I knew visit to Liberia would be a challenge and it was. This is the story of my visit.

 

 

Liberian flag designed after USA flag

My route in Liberia

Corrupt Checkpoint Police

I finally reached the Liberian border after a long day of motorbike taxi rides from Sierra Leone’s Tiwai island. It was a long day because I sat on the back of a small motor taxi clutching on the waist of another man, while we hurled ourselves across bumpy pothole ridden roads through the jungle in the heat and repeatedly stopped by corrupt police officials who tried to shake me down for money. Then once I reached the Liberian border, I entered with no issues with the Liberian visa I obtained in Sierra Leone but the shared van ride to Monrovia turned out to be hellish. There were multiple checkpoints and the police at these checkpoints were the worst for attempting to shake e down for money. At the checkpoints I would always be singled out and taken into a room with an officer who would ask for my passport. I attempted to give a copy of my passport, but serious officers would insist on seeing my actual passport. Once they had my passport in their hand I was at their mercy. One officer closed the door and interrogated me with personal questions about my job and even accused me of not telling the truth. When he released me i was instantly seized by another officer and taken into another room and asked the same questions. it was as if the officers were looking for inconsistencies in my story to have an excuse to arrest me and they would ask me for gifts inlying that the headache would go away if I gave them money. But i didn’t relent and I stayed calm and friendly with the officers and eventually they let me go.

Monrovia

I eventuallymadeit to Monrovia, a impoversihed desperate city which was initmidating at first glacne. At an ATM aman came running towards me and tried to snatch my camera bag but Iwas able to push him off of me and he continued running. I went straight to the hotel and there were few decent affordable options. Prices for hotels were artifically driven up by foreign aid workers staying in town. I was advised not towalk around at night to avoid being mugged or worse and Idecided to heed the advice and linger around the bar instead. Then the next morning, I hired a taxi to take meto the beach town of Roberstport, a few hours away. My plan was tosurf in Robersport. 

Robersport

My taxi driver warned me that sometimes bandits’ prey on vehicle traffic on the lonely dirt road to Robersport but that security has improved as of recent. Despite his assurances, I was vigilant.

We arrived at Robersport, an old town formed in the 1800’s and the town has the sleepy tropical feeling of a small town in the deep south. The difference being the town is surrounded by tropical rainforest, miles of beached with great surf, and bombed out buildings riddled with gunshots from the recent civil war.

Robert Sport, Liberia Surf Camp

Aid workers who came to Liberia with surf boards left many of them behind for villagers in Roberstport and now many of the village kids are very proficient surfers. There are also surf boards available to hire for surfing at a tent camp I stayed at on the beach. There were no other foreigners except for a few African overlanders. I paddled out on to a powerful beach break wave and caught some good sunset waves. But the waves weren’t the highlight. Exploring Robersport with a local guy was what I will remember most. The local guide toured me around o the back of his motor bike and showed me all the abandoned war-torn buildings and taught me about Liberia’shistory and life during the war.

Robersport Surf Beach

Village net fishing Roberstport

Sunset

Abandoned buildings from before the war in Roberstport

The guy I hired in Robersport showing me one of the oldest trees in town with a signature of one of the founding slaves written intothe tree from the 1800’s-Old Pioneer Tree/Robert Sport

Graveyard in Robersport with many victims from the war

The Old Presidential Palace, Robert Sport

Abandoned buildings from before the war in Roberstport

Plantation Buildings from 1800s Robersport

Map of Guinea

Robersport Streets

Old Wooden Statue of Priest in Church Overlooking Robert Sport at an abandoned Catholic Church

Friendly Boy, Robersport

I decided to fly from Liberia back to Sierra Leone instead of traveling overland as initially planned. Iwas just too worn out by the overland travel and the one hour’s cheap flight seemed to be a better option. My 3-day visit will have to hold me over for now until I can return and see the vast rainforest reserves of Liberia’s wild south.

 

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