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Hitching a Ride – with a Plane

Monrovia-Harper Round Trip part V – the end.

sunny 31 °C
View West Africa on askgudmundsen's travel map.

Read Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV here.

Harber beaches

Harber beaches

As difficult Harper is to get to, as fantastic it is to hang out in. The town occupies a beautiful spot, right where the West African coast breaks its south-eastern trajectory and begins to run due east. Surrounded by paradise-looking beaches and full of grand buildings from the 1950 – including a Masonic lodge – it’s Liberia’s most attractive city.

And while I don’t mind hanging out here, I immediately started wondering if there is an alternative way back to Monrovia other than the four-day trek I’d made to get here.

Harber Architecture

Harber Architecture

Two people are of great help to me in that effort. The first Mitch is an American stationed here by the Danish Refugee Council. Strolling past their offices on my way around town I couldn’t help popping my head in since I’m Danish. Mitch is kind enough to welcome me warmly and to tell me about a small Christian NGO that is flying between Harper and Monrovia a few times every week. While they are always booked out weeks in advance, there’s pretty often no-shows. So if I just show up and talk to the pilot, I might be able to hitch a ride with them.
The other person is my breakfast guy. Bob owns the shack I taking my breakfast. Beside the classic omelette sandwich he does a mean porridge and some good spaghetti – yes, spaghetti can be considered breakfast here in Liberia. Bob’s one of those people who knows everybody and everybody know him. He is promising to find me an NGO driving who can take me back to Monrovia. The NGO vehicles take the route on the coastal roads, which should only take two days.

MAF Flight Arriving

MAF Flight Arriving

Having talked to Mitch, I’m heading straight to the airport. There isn’t suppose to be a plane there today, but I might be able to find someone who can get me on a flight. In a stroke of luck, the plane is there having just landed with supplies for the local hospital. Passenger flights are Friday and Monday; today is Thursday. As I would like to hang around here for I, bit I prefer to get on the Monday flight. However, given the luck I need to get on a flight, I’m taking no chances. Not only is the flights usually book out, the NGO, called MAF, is a Christian NGO that primarily flies NGO staffers and missionary/church employees.
Chatting with the pilot, he told me a lot of what Mitch had already said to me and that I’m welcome to show up to see if there are any no-shows. Then he casually asks which organisation I’m with. The idea that any tourist would make it to Harper is too foreign for most people here. I panic fearing that not working for an NGO might lose me my chance for getting on the flight. I’m a pretty good liar, and before I manage to think about it, I simply answer, “DRC” - the acronym for the Danish Refugee Council. Being Danish, this is a pretty believable cover story. He bought it, and I stayed in character for the rest of the conversation. If you, the pilot, happens to read this, I’m sorry. I panicked.

Harber fishing boat

Harber fishing boat

Showing up Friday morning the poor pilot still thinks I’m a DRC staffer, and still nervous that it will lose me my privilege stand-by position I don’t tell him the truth. As a matter of fact, there is a no-show. Unfortunately for me, other two passengers showed up even though their seats had been cancelled. They just hadn’t received gotten the memo. The MAF flight is transporting a patient to the hospital, who takes up two extra seats. The pilot got those two guys fitted on the plane, but that makes it pretty obvious that there isn’t room for me. I happily have to spend my weekend in Harper.
To be honest, most of the weekend is spent hanging out on the beach eating lobster with Mitch and a bunch of other NGO staffers.Not doing that, I’m hanging out at Bob’s. He’s wasting no time, and in a few hours he is able to hook me up with an NGO driver, who can take me to Harper on Tuesday should I not get on the MAF flight. I have a backup plan!

Taking off

Taking off

Monday morning at the airfield the first passenger who’s name is called isn’t here. For next minute last forever but eventually, once the other six passengers are called up, the pilot tells me he’s taking me with him. Among the other passengers is someone who is actually a DRC employee – this makes me fairly nervous as she can blow my cover instantly if the conversation comes up. We’re boarding without any issues, and the small plane is soon bumping along the grass runway. Taking off over the palm beaches is nothing short of phenomenal. I made it!
We’re making a short stopover in Zwedru to pick up another passenger. Here the pilot pray for us, which feels kind of weird. The detour means that we, for most of the flight, are flying Eventually, above Liberia’s dense jungle. It almost seems like a charter flight.

On the plane!!

On the plane!!

The trip is 150 USD, but apparently, the DRC pay directly to MAF. This means that the pilot doesn't expect me to pay, as he still thinks I’m a DRC staffer. However, I’m not that bad of a person. Not paying would be the equivalent of stealing from a humanitarian relief agency. I paid the pilot as I ought to. In his surprise, he repeats that the DRC is paying centrally. As any good lier would I covered up my initial lie with another lie, stating that I’m based in Bissau and my costs are covered by another budget.

Eventually it takes me a little more than two hours to get back to Monrovia – not another five days!

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Posted by askgudmundsen 05:12 Archived in Liberia Tagged beach travel flight transport road travelling liberia west_africa harper adventure_travel monrovia rainy_season

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