Harper Stories and Tips

Overland from Ghana to Cape Verde

I bought in Spain one ticket to Accra and two months later the return from Sal, in Cabo Verde. It was my intention to follow the coast overland crossing Ivory Coast, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea Conakry, Guinea Bissau, Senegal, Gambia, and finally Cabo Verde.

The beginning of my journey was great. Ghana is a safe African country. I landed already dark and walked until Accra downtown, with my bag, and nobody paid attention to me, any beggars, or thieves, or unwanted “guides,” or policemen looking for money. The Portuguese castles around the coast of Ghana (UNESCO Patrimony of Humankind), especially the one in Takoradi, were impressive.

I was afraid of Ivory Coast because some years earlier I got sick of malaria when returning from a trekking to Taï National Park looking for dwarf hippopotamus, and had to be hospitalized in San Pedro with high fever.

This same day I crossed to Liberia and rested in a place that I will never forget: Harper. I arrived there suffering sunstroke and rested in a mattress under a fan to sleep for a whole day; I vomited even the water that I swallowed. When I woke up I was hungry but in the kiosks of Harper there was nothing to eat except canned sardines and eggs. The weekly truck to Monrovia was within four days. There was no other transport; I had to wait four days in Harper eating sardines and omelettes. One day, when going to buy a beer, the seller, a young boy, started to shout: “the seven seconds! The seven seconds!...” and ran away. Then I noticed a slim green snake. Besides there was a broom, I took it and killed the snake of three strokes. I called the boy telling him that it was a very small snake; he was not a child anymore and did not need to shout so loud. The boy then explained me that this snake is very poisonous, and it is called the seven seconds because when it bites you, you count: one, two, three, four, five, six, and after seven, you die. Feeling myself a hero I invited to drink beers the parents of the boy and the chief of Harper.

When the truck arrived I was the first to board it, and when we left Harper I did not risk looking back of my shoulders for fear to get transformed into a statue of salt. In every military control the government soldiers first, and the revolutionary guerrilleros second a few kilometres further, tried to get money from me, being European, but, apart from the first two or three times that I gave some 1 dollars notes here and there and invited to some drinks to the officials, during the rest of my journey to Monrovia I refused, without consequences. After three days and three nights of agonic travel in that truck and in old jeeps later through earthen and muddy roads with enormous holes everywhere and without asphalt, and many times rowing because there are very few bridges in Liberia, I arrived to Monrovia and slept in a hostel managed by Lebanese people. Two days later I left to Sierra Leona overland.

Before entering Freetown, Sierra Leone capital, there was a rigorous control of the Peace Forces, young soldiers from North Europeans countries. They were asking everybody the reason for travelling to the town in pre-war times. My companions had advised me to invent any excuse, but never to say that I was just “travelling”. What could I explain to them? How to explain to somebody who never travels the passion that feels a traveller? Had they contemplated the sunrise from the Sphinx of Gizah? Had they admired the highest peaks of the Himalaya in springtime? Had they shared the food with the Uighur people in remotes villages of Sinkiang, or with the Kafir Kalash of the Hindu Kush, or participated in the way of life of the Yanomamis in the Amazon jungles, or had they been subjugated when contemplating the starry sky from the Antarctica?...

Probably no. Therefore I said that I went there just to meet a friend working in a Non Governmental Organization. They allowed me to continue.

There was curfew in Freetown, and the United Nations offered a boat to evacuate the foreigners given the increasing danger of the country. The local authorities asked me money to issue a document to leave Sierra Leone. It was the first time that I was requested money for an exit visa. Once in the boat (after being robbed of some of my possessions by the customs), and with much difficulty, I made my way up to the roof of a metallic tower pushing through thousands of stacked people, then I got 1m² to lay on top of the roof, and fasten with the help of my belt to an iron tube to avoid falling down in case I fall slept. I was the only European. The boat, seen from the distance, looked a human mountain

The arrival in Conakry was unexpected. Policemen with sticks asked money to every passenger of the ship and hit them in the legs and ribs, even to the women, until they gave some money. People cried: “Ay!” and gave more notes occulted between the folds of their clothes to satisfy the policemen, and then they left them go out of the customs premises.

Finally, after many other misfortunes and robberies crossing Guinea Bissau, Gambia and twice Senegal, I arrived by boat ten days before foreseen by my air tickets to Cabo Verde, and given that if I wanted to change the date of my flight with TAP I had to pay a fine (€125), I decided to wait in the beaches of Cabo Verde digesting my adventures and, at the same time, drinking Portuguese vinho verde until the stipulated date of my ticket back to Spain.

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