Life, Liberia, And The Pursuit Of Happiness

Though liberty is enshrined in the name of the country, Liberia hasn’t always been such a free place. Let’s explore this America-esque West African nation and see how it is overcoming war, warlords, poverty, and decay… and maybe find a little sanctuary along the way.

After a few good days exploring Guinea and then Sierra Leone, I took a boat to the airport and flew on to Liberia, where I would stay for a short, two-night visit.

Welcome to Liberia 🇱🇷

Liberia 101

In Guinea and Sierra Leone, I just had to take a PCR test to get in, but Liberia has quite strict covid regulations, so it was a bit more complicated there. I had to pay for a test online before I arrived, and was then tested for covid upon arrival. The process is not very straightforward, so it took a lot of time to get through immigration and get tested before I could finally enter Liberia in the early evening. I was met at the airport by my driver.

Ready to see what this country has to offer

Liberia is very similar to America because it is where many formerly enslaved people went back to after being liberated in America. It began as a project in the early 19th century by the American Colonization Society (made mostly of Quakers and slaveholders), which believed that newly freed people of African heritage would be more likely to prosper and avoid discrimination in Africa than in the United States. However, I’m not sure how well that worked out, really, given that more than half of the population of Liberia is currently living well beneath the poverty line and only about 15% is employed.

The culture was considered to be Americo-Liberian, and even though the country declared its independence in 1847 (it was actually the first African republic to do so), it still has kind of American vibes, thanks (in part) to American investments put toward developing the country’s infrastructure. 💰

The emblem of Liberia, a country modeled after the United States.

While many indigenous languages are still spoken there, English is the official language of Liberia. They speak proper American English, unlike Sierra Leone where the people mostly speak Krio, the local Creole language. The country feels very American in terms of the buildings, streets, and culture. It really looks like the black ghetto of some American cities. Unlike America, however, Liberia has already had a female president, the first female president in all of Africa, who served in office from 2003 until 2018.

Much like its neighbor Sierra Leone, the recent history of Liberia has been stained by coups and terrible civil wars. The civil wars actually resulted in the deaths of 8% of the population — that’s about 250,000 people. This shrank Liberia’s economy by 90%, causing a hard economic hit. Later, in 2013-2016, Liberia was also severely affected by an ebola outbreak, which I guess kind of explains why they were so strict about covid regulations. 😒

Not the nicest beach town

Liberia is very poor with barely any electricity anywhere, because of the civil war and other various hardships that they had experienced. I had been wondering why everything was so dark until I found out how sparse electricity was.

We drove from the airport to the nice part of Monrovia, which is the capital of Liberia named after former U.S. president James Monroe, who was a big supporter of the colonization of Liberia. Even in the nice parts of Monrovia, though, the city doesn’t have electricity at night, except in the best hotels which have their own generators.

A nice part of downtown Monrovia

We stayed in a nice hotel in Monrovia where I had probably the best dinner of my Africa trip so far, with pizza and steak and everything else I could have wanted at a good restaurant. 😋 There were a lot of black Americans there, who had come to visit Liberia to find their roots or learn something about their ancestry.

Some tasty hummus with cubed beef

There was a casino adjacent to the hotel, which was seducing me, but in the end, I didn’t go, and just enjoyed the hotel facilities instead. My room wasn’t all that nice, and I was surprised that it didn’t even have a window. The hotel was cool, though, so I enjoyed my evening there and had a late dinner just before the restaurant closed. I was looking forward to having a full day in Liberia the next day when I would take an extensive city tour.

Sightseeing in Monrovia

There was a lot to see in Liberia, such as the memorial hall in the Centennial Pavilion located in the middle of the historic old town. The Pavilion was built in 1947 to commemorate Liberia’s independence and features portraits of all the Liberian presidents in this lavish memorial hallway. This year, Liberia will celebrate the 200th anniversary of its founding as a settlement. At the Centennial Pavilion, I had a good time sitting on the president’s chair and exploring the building.

The Centennial Hall

We went to visit some museums about the history of Liberia, saw some memorials of the civil war, and did every typical tourist thing that you can do in Liberia. There were a lot of colonial-style buildings, although Liberia was never colonized. It was always a free country; it was just built by freed slaves who returned to Africa from the United States.

An Abandoned Hotel

The most interesting thing to see was probably the viewpoint on top of a big hill where we found the abandoned luxury Ducor Hotel, established in 1960. It was the first premier and finest hotel in West Africa where a lot of celebrities and politicians used to stay.

After being looted in the Civil War, it was bought by Gaddafi in Libya for restoration, shortly before he was captured and killed. The hotel is still in Libyan possession, so it’s protected, even though it’s abandoned and poorly maintained.

This hotel has clearly seen better days.

For a while, it was not protected and squatters who had been displaced from Monrovia’s slums moved into the building, but nowadays it is off-limits to the general population. Also, because it is owned by Libya, Americans are not allowed to visit.

Sorry, Americans, these haunted hallways are off-limits to you 😏

To get access, I actually had to speak to the Libyan administrator of the hotel. Apparently, they plan to renovate it, but clearly, nothing has been done so far and it’s decaying.

A dizzying, dangerous, and decaying stairwell

It’s still a great tourist site to visit because you have fabulous views of Monrovia from there on top of the hill. You can see lots of parts of Monrovia from there, including some of the nicer parts of the inner city, as well as the surrounding slums.

A bird’s eye view from the top of the hotel

From above, we could see a shanty town built by the harbor that was packed full of crude wooden huts directly at the beach. We could see people shore-fishing there with nets on the beach, so it was quite an impressive sight from up there.

Shore fishing from the slum

We just walked through this old hotel, which there was not much left of, except the drained swimming pool and empty, wrecked tennis courts. We could walk through all eight floors and see some of the 106 hotel rooms as we wandered through the old building.

The empty swimming pool

It was a very spooky experience, but anyone who likes to see rotting, abandoned hotels or buildings would think it’s great. I really enjoyed being there in this bizarre, abandoned place, and taking lots of pictures of the views.

At last, a room with a view

History at the Museum

The First Liberian Civil War began with a coup led by Charles Taylor. Taylor had attended university in the U.S.A., where he was later imprisoned for embezzlement. After escaping from prison, he was trained as a guerilla fighter in Libya under Gaddafi, where he was proclaimed to be Gaddafi’s protege.

Later, Charles Taylor returned to Liberia in 1989 as the head of a rebel group that was backed by Libya. After executing the sitting president, Taylor went on to become one of the most famous African warlords. He ran for president under the disturbing slogan, “He killed my ma, he killed my pa, and if I don’t vote for him, he kills me.” He won the presidency in 1997.

Inside the car of infamous local warlord Charles Taylor, the first war criminal to be charged for all cases in The Hague since World War 2.

Because of his involvement in the Sierra Leone Civil War, Charles Taylor was indicted for a slew of crimes against humanity, as well as war crimes, and by 2003 he had lost so much power in his country that he decided to resign, and went into exile. Today, he is serving a life sentence in prison in the U.K. for his crimes.

Anyway, in Monrovia, we went to a museum where we got to learn a bit about Charles Taylor, and we got to see his car which was very notorious. It was quite interesting to see the country still recovering from that period.

Last Stop in Liberia

The next day I would already be flying directly to Cote d’Ivoire, otherwise known as the Ivory Coast, but on the way to the airport, we could see more nature. We stopped at Libassa Wildlife Sanctuary and Resort, which are two separate places.

We went first to see the wildlife resort right on the beach. It was a nice resort that had a lot of American investment, with lots of pools, a restaurant, and so on.

The wild Liberian coast, as seen from the resort

The Wildlife Sanctuary was actually closed that day, but I managed to get a private tour, which I paid forward in a big way with a 3,000 U.S. dollar donation. During my Black Friday Week, I donated all of my digital product income to several charities. This Black Friday Week was just about one week after I visited this place, so I had the visit to the sanctuary fresh in my mind. I saw that they did a lot of good work with very little funds, so I chose to donate to support them.

The sanctuary saves animals from the bushmeat market and the pet trade in Liberia. Bushmeat markets are still pretty common because the population is so poor that they’ll eat anything they can catch, so lots of protected animals are on the market to be eaten. Those animals are saved from slaughter and market by the sanctuary, which cares for, rehabilitates, and releases the animals that it can back into the wild. They do a very good job there.

A cute little dwarf crocodile at the wildlife sanctuary 🥺

It’s very difficult to get the animals used to living in the wild again, but they showed me how they work and told me about some of their success stories. They are a sanctuary, not a zoo, so they try to release all of the animals that they can back into the wild. We saw a lot of animals there such as some monkeys, crocodiles, other reptiles, some antelope, and so on, so that was quite interesting to see for an animal lover like me. The managers of the project gave me a good private guide to show me around the facilities.

Moving On

By then, it was already time to go to the airport, so we drove the rest of the way there to catch my flight to the Ivory Coast. Overall, it was a pretty short two-day visit to Liberia, but there was not really too much to see anyway outside of Monrovia and Libassa, so I didn’t feel like I missed much.

I preferred to stick to the coast anyway.

There is more to do inland, such as meeting indigenous people or checking out the mining or agricultural industries, but I wasn’t so interested in that. It’s kind of dangerous inland because there is still some fighting going on, so I skipped that and went to the much safer and more stable Ivory Coast instead.

From Liberia, I was supposed to fly to Abidjan, the capital of the Ivory Coast. It sounds simple, but of course, nothing is that easy in West Africa. But that’s a story for another day. 😜

Wondering how I ended up back at the Conakry airport again? So did I. Check back in soon to read about my misadventure!