Difference between revisions of "Liberia"
Revision as of 11:35, 14 August 2009
Liberia is a country with historical ties to the United States. It was founded by freed black slaves during the pre-Civil War antebellum era of the nineteenth century. The capital, Monrovia, was named after James Monroe. Liberia's flag closely resembles the American flag, reflecting the historical ties between the two countries.
Liberia is recovering from a devastating civil war that ended with a ceasefire in August 2003. While the country is on the mend, it has not yet redeveloped the necessary infrastructure to sustain a large increase in tourism, with little for the average visitor outside Monrovia. Towns like Buchanan, Ganta etc are little more than a collection of shanty houses with no decent hotels or food. Monrovia in general is calmer than the more far-flung areas although the situation is improving with the presence of UN Peacekeepers. Fear should not stop you enjoying your visit but act with caution. Travel outside Monrovia is very difficult and not advisable on your own.
A letter of invitation, yellow fever vaccination certificate, a doctor's letter that you are free of communicable diseases, & evidence of financial support are necessary to apply for a Liberian visa. For US citizens, a 3-month visa costs US$131, for all others the fee is US$70. One, two, & three year multiple-entry visas are also available.
Monrovia International Airport is located some 60 km's from the city center at Robertsfield. SN Brussels flies directly from Brussels but is expensive. Other alternatives include flying through Dakar or Accra. The trip from Monrovia International airport to the city was once infamous. Today, the situation has improved significantly with the restoration of peace and order. The road is now fully protected by UNMIL and safe.
From the United States, Delta Air Lines had planned to begin flying to Monrovia via Sal, Cape Verde in June 2009. This flight leaves directly from Atlanta, but has been postponed due to airport security concerns.
Brussels Airlines has flights on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. You can check in the day of your flight, at their city center location. It is easier, and faster than checking in at the airport.
By far the best way to travel, but helicopter flights are restricted to UN personnel. Poor weather in the rainy season often forces helicopters to return especially from Voinjama.
There is no real train service. One track, which previously belonged to a mine, has been opened for tourists. It travels to the Bong mines, a massive, defunct German run ore-mining and processing plant.
Road conditions are poor, so a 4x4 is necessary for travel. During the rainy season travel times are increased dramatically. In Monrovia things are not much better but nevertheless keep trodding on.
There are no buses for tourists. The government just received a few busses for public travel but they are not usable for travel.
The best way to get around Monrovia. Do not take a taxi off the street though as these are commonly unsafe and jam-packed.Getting robbed in a taxi is a common occurrance. Ask other foreigners if they know of a reliable taxi driver to contact. If you are unable to find one, at least insist that you are the only customer in the taxi, and of course pay accordingly.
Rain forests are usually found in remote areas, most are unique and have many attractive feautures,but on the other hand some are risky because of their wildlife.
There are plenty of beaches around Monrovia. Out towards the airport after ELWA junction is ELWA beach, set inside a compound there is a marked safe swimming area, clean beach and plenty of familes at the weekends. No facilites though. Further on is Thinkers (pronounced Tinkers) with a food and drinks service, though the waves are a bit rough here, and it is not safe to walk up or down the beach too far. CE CE beach out the other way, over the bridge out to Hotel Africa is very well set up with palm umbrellas, drinks service and a buffet, and a well protectd swimming area.
For an interesting day trip, Robertsport offers a glimpse of Liberia's cultural history as well as clean, beautiful beaches. A group of South Africans has set up a tent camp for those wishing to spend the night on the beach and the UN also offers accommodations on a first-come basis. Beware the strong tides.
The city of Buchanan, a several hour car ride from Monrovia, also offers sublime beaches and a selection of restaurants and guest houses.
Money & Banking
No bank transfers are possible to Liberia at this point, and there is no way to use credit cards. Bring US dollars in cash with you (most transactions are done in USD) or transfer money through Moneygram or Western Union. Ecobank on Randall Street is used by many foreigners. You can cash travellers cheques, although you need proof of purchase-paper. If someone gives you Liberian Dollars in change, accept it because it will be useful to have some on hand for very small purchases, but once you have a little, be sure to get dollars back (except when your change is less than a dollar, they use local currency in lieu of coins).
There are a few ATM's being installed in the city, but they have restricted hours, only work for Liberian bank accounts (i.e. can't draw from your bank account back home if home is not Liberia) and often do not work. As of May 2009, there is no way to access non-African bank accounts for the purpose of withdrawing cash.
As of May, 2009, there is an Ecobank ATM inside the Cape Hotel in Mamba Point that accepts Visa ATM cards, so you can now withdraw money directly from your account in your home country.
DHL operates in Liberia. Expedited Mail Service promises 5 day delivery to the US. EMS counter is at the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunication on MacDonald Street.
The regular post office has just started to operate. The post office is at the very end of Randall Street by Waterside market. Post cards will cost 30 Liberian Dollars to send, and will probably arrive at their destination. Packages are packed on the premises.
To receive mail, you must get a locked box together with a P.O.Box number at the Randall Street post office. Do not send anything of value through the Liberian postal service. Numerous people have reported items being stolen while at the post office; in Liberia the postal system is new and very corrupt.
English is spoken by most Liberians but especially if you are travelling to more remote areas, a local guide will be useful.
Liberia is well-known for its beautiful masks. Masks are on sale around hotels and UN centres. After haggling, they will cost you about $25 (depending on the size etc.)
There is beautiful printed fabric in Liberia. It is sold in lapas (usually 3), a lapa is rougly equivalent to 2 yards. 3 lapas of the best quality, real wax, will cost about $15.
Liberia is a very expensive country for a tourist. There are no cheap and safe alternatives. Expect to pay what you would in NY or even more.
Like anywhere, travelers can find meals in Liberia to be either surprisingly expensive or enjoyably cheap. It all depends on where and what one eats. For Western-style or Middle Eastern food at restaurants in Monrovia like Diana's, Plaza Pizzeria, Beirut Restaurant and others, a meal will cost about US$15 per person. Eating at the Mamba Point and Royal Hotel restaurants can be even more expensive, although one can also find inexpensive items on the menus (falafel sandwiches and burgers can be had for US$5). The Royal Hotel in the Sinkor neighborhood is also home to one of Liberia's two good sushi restaurants, The Living Room. It has the ambience of a classy, New York-style sushi bar, but the sushi, despite abundant local fish, is merely average. A meal there, with a drink, will set you back around US$25. The other sushi restaurant is on the terrace at the Mamba Point Hotel. A less expensive option is the Bangkok Restaurant in Congo Town (up Tubman Boulevard from downtown Monrovia, on a turn-off to Old Road). The Thai food is good and relatively cheap (e.g., a plate of pad thai is only US$5). A few Chinese restaurants can also be found on Tubman Boulevard in Sinkor.
Eating Liberian food can be enjoyable and easy on the pocketbook. Liberian meals like palm butter, casava leaf, potato greens, chock rice, and jollof's rice will barely leave a dint in your budget (US$2-3 with a soda). Portions are usually enormous. Another popular local dish is fufu (fermented dough made from the casava plant) and soup (the most common are goat soup and pepper soup). Fried or roasted fish, especially snapper, can be delicious. And for those who like to eat on the go, fruit and snacks can be bought from street vendors throughout Monrovia. Peanuts, fried plantain chips, roasted ears of corn or plantains, bananas, mangos, and other fruits can be had for LD$5-20 (or US$0.10-0.30). Especially delicious are the various breads sold freshly baked in the morning. Some breads resemble banana bread, other breads are more like corn bread. All are delicious although somewhat oily. A good local place to try is Beatrice's Mini Market on Broad Street.They also eat many American foods they eat splitpeas,Gravy and much more.
Club beer is the staple drink, served everywhere. Local gin is also available.
Usually hotels are considered quite safe as the owners will employ guards. However, don't be complacent and make sure that you are aware of your security also in the hotels.
A number of oceanfront hotels are located within walking distance of the US and other embassies. Of these, Mamba Point Hotel, Krystal Ocean View Hotel, and Cape Hotel will cost you $100-$150 per night. These hotels are popular with tourists and business travelers. Many offer car rental services on site.
Budget travelers will find Metropolitan Hotel and the four hotels of the local Urban chain offer clean rooms and many amenities without denting the wallet (rooms start around $45). Metropolitan hotel has an onsite restaurant, a pool bar, and a casino all located within the heart of Monrovia's business district. St. Theresa's Convent on Randall St. offers basic rooms with shared bathrooms for $20.
Liberia has just come from devastating war, so the learning cirrculum is not the best at all. As a tourist personally, you can learn about many attractions in Monrovia one of the many "the statue of Joseph Jenkin Roberts". You can personally learn alot about Liberia's culture, art, design,etc. It would be easy if you associated with trusted foreigners to give a personal tour and as a tourist, you can learn about this poor but interesting historical country.
Almost every international NGO operates in Liberia. It is very possible to find voluntary (unpaid) work here, if you are willing to stay for a bit. Paid work is almost exclusive through international organisations. Most of these organisations require foreign staff to be recruited abroad, so it is unlikely that you would be hired just because you managed to make it to Liberia.
Liberia has very high rates of unemployment. If you are in the country for longer, try to encourage local production and employment by buying local goods and paying for services.
Do not walk around at night, and make sure that your car doors are locked when you drive around. Thieves will often reach into a car when stopped and grab whatever they can, so keep the glass up especially in busy areas of Monrovia (redlight). Rape and armed robbery are common and on the rise. Hotels etc have private guards and are rather safe.
There are some gangs of former combattants, armed with machetes, who walk around poorer areas of Monrovia (Redlight). There are also former combatants in the Palm Grove Cemetery on Center Street. Do not walk there alone at all.
The corner of Randall and Carey is also considered dangerous and supposedly a hang-out for drug dealers.
Avoid any desolate places, and stay in groups.
Keep an eye on the locals, if they are carrying on as normal and you see plenty of women and children about, it is unlikely that there will be major sources of concern. If, however, people have disappeared from a usually busy location, or you find yourself surrounded only by youths, you should try and make a hasty retreat.
UNMIL has calmed the country (in general) but it is already now anticipated that when UNMIL leaves the security situation will be worse.
It is advisable to inform your embassy that you are in the country in case of evacuation.
Furthermore, learn as much about the security situation as you can. Locals are a key source of information. Be careful, however, not to believe everything you hear. Rumours spread like wildfire in Monrovia as they are the main source of news. Details, however, are often inaccurate.
Local newspapers are interesting reads. Daily Observer has the largest circulation but there are also several others. You can buy them in the street.
Rape is on the increase so be hesitant to walk by yourself in previously unknown or remote areas. Men on the whole will treat women with respect. They may tell you how beautiful you are, that they "love you" or ask you to marry them (more for the status rather than the money), but will not grab hold of you or be in any way improper.
HIV, while still low, is on the increase. Prostitution is rampant. Typhoid, malaria, and worms are very common. In general Liberia is a hotbed for infectious diseases so disinfectants and gels are advisable (especially as handshakes are the norm). There are few doctors usable by international travellers so getting medical help may pose problems. There is apparently a Jordanian wing at the Kennedy hospital for private patients. MSF will also see a traveller, but only in dire cases.
Bagged water is sold on most street corners. While it is supposed to be filtered and safe, it is not guaranteed to be. Stick with bottled water to be sure. You can buy bottled water at any supermarket, restaurant, or at the Total gas stations.
Liberians are very friendly and sociable. However, they do not take kindly to being ignored and will call you "rude". Make sure that you greet as many people as possible and smile when you do so. Make friends with any guard, cleaner etc that you come across, introduce yourself and remember their names. Your security will also improve as the locals will warn you of security threats if they know you and know that they can talk to you.
Handshaking is the normality, usually followed by a finger snap. Shake hands with people you meet, even fruitsellers.
As Liberia is incredibly poor, you will inevitably be asked for money or help of some kind. Usually the most persistent beggars are former combatants. Giving money to the elderly or the physically disabled will not go amiss. However, with most children and others, it's best to spend a little time with them, play a game, take digital photos (loved here) and then possibly give something as a gift to your friends. Liberians are proud people and their desperate need is no reason to treat them as beggars.
School fees are expensive (up to a $100/year) so often foreigners are asked to pay for school, but this can also be used as a ploy.
Most people in Monrovia, with the exception of internally displaced people, are relatively well-off in Liberian terms. The worst conditions are in the countryside, where help is also most needed.
Rather than saying "no" to the requests, considered rude here, say "later" or "tomorrow" or "I will see what I can do". Do not ignore people.
It is advisable to bring some business cards. They are given out at every function.
The wars of the 1990's and 2000's is very fresh in MANY people's minds so it is advisable to stay away from talk of the wars.
The higher the social status of an individual, the more respect is due to them, even though that does not mean you don't give any respect to the extremely poor or bathe the wealthy with gifts of gratitude.