Liberia’s Monkey Island

It is hard to find any information other than scientific articles about the monkey island in Liberia. There is almost no information about people who have visited it, probably for the reason that it is in fact not a tourist site.

What it is: Monkey island is just a nickname for several islands about a 100km drive from Monrovia where chimpanzees from science labs were released out into the wild about twenty years ago. This was due to pressure from the growing number of people protesting on animal testing.

How to get there: From Broad Street in Monrovia you need to take a shared taxi (45mins/80cent) to the LRA building. From there you need to take another shared taxi (50mins/1,20$) to the airport. From the airport you hail down a motorcycle taxi and haggle hard for the last 35km on a bumpy dirt road, in my case I got it for 250 Liberian dollar which is 1,75$).

The boat ride: You can either go with a speedboat which feeds them mornings and afternoons for 30$ or you can ask one of the fishermen in a canoo like I did. I paid 10$ for a 30min ride at 1pm so that we made it there to the second feeding at 1.30pm.

Taking pictures: is not allowed. Probably because this, like I mentioned, is not a tourist attraction, but money always talks in Africa so you could ask the locals not to tell anyone if you want to take some pictures once the workers who are feeding the animals have gone.

The experience: was incredible. It was absolutely exhilarating watching them from a boat just a couple of meeters away, knowing that they can tear you apart if they would get angry and jump on your boat.

Be prepared if you are going there. Most people will not know where the place is, but you can find it on Google maps and just be persistent when trying to make the local fishermen take you. Chimpanzees are an endangered species with less than 100 000 of them left the world and everywhere else you would have to pay hundreds of dollars to see them in the wild. Seeing them walk around on two legs, stretching their hands out with humanlike expressions is something truly unique. I feel really lucky to have experienced it and if you read this I would urge you too to go see them while it is still possible.

A Week in Monrovia

The New Market near Mamba Point

Oh how I had longed to come back to a West African city. To the lovely chaos, dirty streets and water served in plastic bags. To the simplest shack restaurants were people were drinking beer from the morning on and all you could order was rice with whatever sauce they were cooking that day. Liberia was my last country to be visited in West Africa and had all of that, but with a little bit of an American twist. This is probably as the country was given to people who had been freed from the slavery in the US.

A monument next to the Duncor Hotel

For some reason I had imagined there being american diners and maybe some Miami style art deco architecture, but after walking around the city for hours every day I did not see any of that. Instead I found the Liberians to speak a bit different English than the British colonies of Sierra Leone, Ghana and Nigeria, they used the US dollar in addition to the local liberty dollar and a lot of big american automatic gear cars driving around on the road.

Most of the time I was couchsurfing with a local guy called Henry who ran a simple shack bar on Mamba Beach, but after a couple of nights sleeping on his floor I decided to move into the 5$ Chief’s lodge on Miami beach. The best time spent was sitting with locals in the evening chatting and drinking local beer while the widespread marijuana smell and the sound of loud afro beats and crushing waves in the background. The last nights I got to spend couchsurfing in a more comfortable upscale apartment, relaxing and reflecting on my experiences in the last months traveling in Africa.

For anyone visiting Monrovia, a couple of days should be enough to see the markets, the huge Duncor hotel constructed by Gadaffi and enjoying the view from the hilltop, but another extra days could also be relaxing hanging out with friendly English speaking locals around the beaches.

The Pygmy Villages Around Mbaiki

With nothing to do in Bangui I decided to rent a motorbike taxi for yet another day. This time to look for pygmies south of the capital.

Pygmies are tiny people living in small settlements, usually far away from cities and civilization. My host Desire took me to a chief he knew who were sitting by the road as we arrived. He had taken tourists on the two hour hike to his village before, but he said that he didn’t want to take people there on weekends as that was the time that men were out hunting with bows and arrows, dressed only in leafs. We therefore continued south to Mbaiki, on the edge of the rainforest and famous for its pygmy population.

We asked people on the way and finally arrived at a village where a woman chief came to greet us. She said that the men were out hunting pigs, dogs, caterpillars and whatever they could find and would be back by the evening. She was fine with us taking some pictures and answering some questions for a small donation to the community. She said that most people didn’t know their own age and that school classes consisted of young and old people. The only problem was that the teacher had suddenly left two months ago without telling anyone when/if he would be back.

We didn’t stay many minutes though, as I didn’t want to feel intrusive, but I was happy to find them and to get a little peek into their lives before we headed back home to Bangui.

Bang-oui! The C.A.R Capitol

f you haven’t been to Bangui yet, you haven’t seen many people it is possible to fit into a five seater taxi. In Bangui that number is somewhere between fifteen and twenty. At least seven people in the car, three in the trunk, one in each window and as many as possible on the roof. A few times I even saw people standing on top of the engine, leaving the driver to look through legs of the passengers. Having seen prictures like there before arriving I would expect the cities to crowded and chaotic too, but the streets were actually not full of traffic, maybe there are just really few cars in this country.

The quiet City center of Bangui

The local police didn’t care about seatbelts, but they were pretty serious about taking pictures. Taking a selfie in public can put you in jail, and apparently having facial hair too. A Russian couchsurfer who came before me spent three nights in a cell because his beard looked terrorist-like according to the police. The city felt completely safe to walk around though, and with all the blue helmet soldiers around I think it was too.

Most of the city center is unpaved. There are not many beautiful buildings, monuments or things to see, so I had it all covered within a couple of hours walk. I asked if some local fishermen would take me on a five minute pirogue trip on the river for a dollar, but apparently they misunderstood as they took me for half an hour and demanded ten dollars instead.

Every night I went to different bars with my couchsurfing host Desire, and every night he had stories about life in Central African Republic. These evenings, drinking the local brew Mocaf was my favorite time in the capital as the city itself did not have much to offer.

In Bangui they also have the cheaper soda versions of Bangui Fanta, Bangui Cola and Bangui up!

Chutes de Boali

Bangui is a city divided in so called PK districts. When I was there in may 2016, PK0 to PK3 were considered the safe zones, while I stayed just a littlebit outside with a couchsurfing host in PK4. A few steps further would have gotten me in the Muslim district of PK5 where a lot of the violence, including the recent church massacre happened.

The road to Boali was fairly good

The city doesn’t have much to offer, so I negotiated a fair price (25$+gas) with a motorcycle taxi to take me to PK90, about 100kms away. Why? To see one of the country’s most famous attractions, the Boali Waterfalls.

The road was good and we were only stopped once at a police checkpoint where they told us that we needed a letter from the ministry of tourism to pass, which was bull****. I tried to talk my way out of it like I do every time, but before I managed to do so my driver had paid them 4$ and we were told we could go.

The falls were quite spectacular, even though it was June and the dry season. The entry was a fair 1000cfa/2$ considering that they had built stairs and viewpoint for visitors. Just know before you go that there will be guides approaching you who will not take no for an answer, so I had to just get on the bike and tell the driver to go while the locals started angrily demanding money for parking, guiding and whatnot.

I had hoped to walk the suspension bridge over the falls but was told that this was destroyed by Seleka rebels who also had killed all the restaurant workers to use it as a strategic defense point. This was years ago though and I was told that the place had been quiet ever since.

Boali is also a good chance to get a shower

Central African Republic is a crazy place to be at the moment, and I would therefore advise all to do proper research before venturing out of the safety zones, but if you are there during quiet times I would highly recommend giving the Boali Falls a visit as it was an experience a thousand times more rewarding than staying in the boring capital city.