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Fisherman at Kent Beach, Sierra Leone.

It’s been a long, long time since I wrote a proper blog here! For the last couple of years nearly all of my time has been taken up by my new work as a co-owner of an adventure travel company called Lupine Travel. If the name sounds familiar, it may be from when I was originally a client of Lupine in my old blog posts from 2012 about visiting North Korea for the first time, a very long time ago now!

I’ve decided to break this dry streak and get back in to the habit of writing on a regular basis and thought I’d kick this off with a report from a recent trip I did to Sierra Leone and Liberia in West Africa, firstly for a couple of days holiday and then a week leading a Lupine Travel group around.

So where to start? Sierra Leone and Liberia sit in West Africa, just south of the beach resorts of The Gambia and to the west of Ivory Coast and Ghana…

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Both countries are regularly listed in the poorest 10 on Earth, and their names are frequently more associated with civil war, war lords and being hard hit by the recent Ebola crisis. All of these are true, but both countries have rich histories and a surprising amount to offer the adventurous tourist.

Liberia was founded by freed slaves in the US, who returned to Africa hoping to have a better chance of freedom and prosperity there. Much of the countries constitution, laws and government is modeled on the US, even as far as having a very similar flag.

Sierra Leone achieved independence from the UK in 1961 and after a period of peace, and a single party state system, descended into chaos as the RUF (Revolutionary United Front) launched their atrocious civil war…

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Arriving into Freetown airport, Sierra Leone.

I landed into Lungi airport in Freetown on the regular Brussels airways flight from Belgium, a great option if you are flying into the region, as they offer good multi-city tickets with several capital cities including Monrovia, Liberia.

Lungi airport is in a unique position as being one of the few capital city airports that require you to take a boat to the city, as going by road can take 3+ hours in awful traffic…

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Boarding the water taxi to the city itself

After reaching Freetown itself, I headed south for a couple of days scuba diving at Dalton’s Banana Guesthouse, the only place to dive in the country. This was a futile endeavor in the end though as unfortunately Greg, the Greek dive master, had sadly contracted Malaria. I still got in some good snorkeling though, and when I ran into Greg again a few days later with the tour group he was on the mend.

Back in Freetown after the island, I met up with the Lupine Travel group I was leading and off we started our tour taking in the cities famous Cotton Tree and memorials to the conflicts…

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Freetown is really not the highlight of Sierra Leone though, whilst the people are warm and helpful, the poverty is widespread. We headed south to River No 2 beach for a relatively relaxed couples of days on the beach, eating plenty of local fish, and taking some boat rides up River No 2 itself…

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Boat trip along River No 2

The next day, in quite an epic 2 hour sea crossing from River No 2 we all piled into a couple of longboats to explore the island and learn about it’s role as a slaving hub during the Portuguese and British occupations…

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Long boats across the sea to Banana Island in the distance

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The boat crossings were long but the views made it worthwhile. We headed back in land first to Bo but then onto Tiwai Island, a nature reserve where there are rare chances to see the Colobus monkeys. I wasn’t so lucky, and almost trod on a python during an early morning nature walk…

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As we pressed on towards the border with Liberia the roads quickly deteriorated, although they are still being worked on by local firms and and a French engineering firm is working on the bridges. Once this section of road is complete there will be a tarmac ribbon running all the way from Morocco to Nigeria, connecting all of West Africa together. But, in the meantime, basic pontoons ferry cars and people across the Moa River…

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Bridge not yet finished so here’s how we crossed the Moa River on the war to enter Liberia from Sierra Leone

I then spent a lovely 2 hours being shouted at by Sierra Leonen border officers and medical officers on behalf of of the tour group but finally got us released and on to Liberia, my 84th country I’ve visited in the world. Another couple of hours on bad roads and we finally reached Robertsport, Liberia, a center for fishing and an unlikely emerging surf community…

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Daily catch in Robertsport, Liberia

My long standing leg injury begun to play up, so I was unable to join some of the Lupine Travel group members on an exploratory hike down the beaches, something I sorely regretted when I saw the pictures of an abandoned shipwreck they found along the way…

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But I did manage to take in some of the former President Tubman’s abandoned museums and estates in Robertsport itself…

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It was a shame to leave Robertsport, I think the idea of facing more time on the roads around here wasn’t too appealing, but before we knew it we’d made it Monrovia after a short detour to Lake Bomi for some swimming. A night of drunken karaoke at Monrovia’s very British named Red Lion pub was had before a real highlight of the trip the following morning.

The Ducor Hotel was at one point the only 5* hotel in Africa and claims to fame that Ugandan Dictator Idi Amin once went for a swim in the hotels pool whilst armed with his golden pistol…

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Exploring the Ducor Hotel in Monrovia, Liberia.

The hotel is now abandoned and in disrepair, and at one point was even occupied by locals. There’s constant rumors that it will be renovated, but due to the brutal humidity here, I’m not sure how you could dry the structure back out after such long exposure to the elements?

After eventually finding all the right staircases we made it to the very top of the Ducor to take in the views over Monrovia…

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View from the top of the Ducor Hotel, humid as it gets!

After this we headed off around the city visiting various sights, but a real star for me was finding Charles Taylor’s personal G-wagon out the back of the National Museum. This former warlord had this custom made with bullet proof windows and in the back there is just a single seat for him…

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Charles Taylor’s personal mercedes G-Wagon in Monrovia…

All in all a fascinating set of countries to visit and I was lucky to be leading a fantastic group of people! I’m already excited to be returning to this part of Africa with a planned trip heading to Nigeria, Benin, Togo and Ghana in February 2020. I hope this has been a good introduction to these countries, albeit a fairly brief one!

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If you’d like to keep up to date on my various projects and events, feel free to join my mailing list here. I’ve set a loose goal of visiting every country in Europe and at least 100 of the 193 UN member states by my 32nd birthday in 2020, so hopefully more blogs will come!

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