Thursday, May 24, 2007

If you ever want to travel to Liberia...info. we're learning


Quick Facts
Capital Monrovia
Government Republic
Currency Liberian dollar (LRD)
Area 111,370 km2
Population 3,042,004 (July 2006 est.)
Language English 20% (official), some 20 ethnic group languages, of which a few can be written and are used in correspondence
Religion indigenous beliefs 40%, Christian 40%, Muslim 20%
Electricity 120V/60Hz (USA & European plugs. NOTE: there is no unified electrical system so bring adaptors for both)
Calling Code +231
Internet TLD .lr
Time Zone UTC

EAT

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 Liberia's only sushi restaurant, 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. 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 African 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.

Stay safe

Do not walk around at night, and make sure that your car doors are locked when you drive around. 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 Cemetary 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 you 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 from the street.

Respect

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 norm, 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 somekind. Usually the most persistant beggers are former combattants. 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 beggers.

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.

Buy

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.

Bottled water (about $1/ bottle)

By car

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.

By bus

There are no busses for tourists. The government just received a few busses for public travel but they are not usable for travel.

By taxi

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.

Costs

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

We are staying at the Royal Hotel, 125/night average price of the 7 hotels in the city. It will be worth every penny for airconditioning and wireless internet access. It's not surprising toursim is expensive, that's how they make what little money they have and figure if you can get there you can pay for stuff.

2 comments:

Janie said...

Do you have a video camera? You can take our consumer unit to record every minute. We can edit it when you get back too.

I bet you lose a few pounds on this trip--

Lisa said...

We are looking at adopting from Liberia, did the three of you travel?
Lisa from NW Iowa