Liberia (not Libya...), AFRICA
A bad case of the trots, and cops...
(12 minute read)
After three day's stuck in a bullet-holed Monrovian brothel with the trots (I don't want to talk about it... but suffice to say that a brothel wasn't my first choice of accommodation), I can finally get going. Today's ride has to be perfect. Anything less than that and it'll be the end of me.
I’m done with Monrovia.
I dare not eat anything. It won't touch the sides...
Being crook is exhausting, and the lack of food, energy and sleep is starting to show.
I feel totally spent and the day hasn’t even started yet. I drag my feet when I walk. I'm all stooped over and old looking.
Loading the bike takes everything I have left, and I ride out.
So long, Monrovia, you’ve been bloody awful.
I sit at a set of traffic lights, musing over the chance of a wet-season coming soon. Two policemen pop up out of nowhere.
They’re in full riot gear.
All in black.
They look like an African SWAT team.
Scared the shit out of me.
They’ve come from a police post at the side of road that I didn’t spot coming into the red light. There's a handful of hardcore cops milling about over there, watching.
I leave the bike running and hand them my UK rego papers; it's all I've got. Thanks, Uncle Sam
They’re as confused about these as everyone else is when I hand them over; no one seems to ever be sure what exactly they’re looking at. But it looks very official...
“Where's your permit?”
Uncle Sam has fucked me.
The lights go green. And all the cars backed up behind me go fucking berserk. Beautiful.
“This is my permit. See?”
“No. You are under arrest!” Bam! The other cop grabs my keys, turns off my bike and shoves the keys in his pocket in one swift movement.
“Oi! Hey! Give those back!”
“No, you are under arrest!”
Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck. “No... No I’m not. I’m not under arrest. Why do you think I’m under arrest? What for?”
“You have no permit, you are under arrest.”
This one, the shorter one, seems to be a little dim.
"Bring the bike over here", the tall one gestures at the side of the road side. The cars behind me are going apeshit; they’ve missed the green light...
What choice do I have? Gotta do it.
Leverage lost, I try the usual arguments that the registration is fine, I don’t need a permit. I’m allowed to be here. “You go and ask Uncle Sam, the boss man at the border, big boss man, you ask him, the boss man, he says 'No embarrassment', you ask!”
That throws them... So I push it harder.
The short one picks up his chorus line “You are under arrest! Yes, embarrassment!”
I’m too tired. My thick brain can't come up with anything clever...
A small, plain clothed man comes up to me from out of a growing crowd, and starts telling me what the problem is.
Who the fuck is this guy??
According to him it's not a problem that I don't have a T.I.P. - The problem is that motorbikes aren't allowed on this road without a special permit.
“Who are you??” I ask him. I'm totally out of patience. “Are you the police??”
To that he whips out an I.D. card.
I lean in and squint. I’m talking to Colonel Williams of Liberian Immigration.
Am I supposed to believe that? That a Colonel just happened to be passing by? On foot? I smell a rat. The fattest of rats. This is a stich up. It’s gotta be. But the I.D. looks legit...
"I don't get it. It's a road. I shouldn't need a permit."
"Do you see any motorbikes on this road? No. And look," the Colonel points to the corner of the intersection "you see all those scooter taxi's, they wait there because they don't have a permit"
There's a handful of scooters with riders just sitting on them, doing nothing, going nowhere...
While I think that over, the riot police have pulled over some other poor bastard on two wheels.
He looks terrified.
He frantically pulls out of his shirt a laminated A4 sheet of paper that is roped around his neck.
I’m not making it up; an enormous permit, laminated, hung from around his neck, stuffed down his shirt.
I take a close look.
It looks legit. Some sort of permission granted for using a scooter or motorcycle on the main road. Stamps and everything.
I scan my memory for motorbikes I’ve seen on this street in Monrovia. Not a single one comes to mind. And it's Africa, they should be everywhere...
"You are under arrest!!!"
Fuck. That might be right.
No one ever told me about this. How was I supposed to know?
I’m so tired.
“Can I have my keys back?”
“You are under arrest!”
It’s time to change tack, and fast.
“Hey guys, do you know how I can get to Buchannan? Which way is it, you know, without using the wrong roads? Is it down this way?”
It’s a dumb thing to ask and completely off topic.
Everyone wants to help me with directions. They're all talking over each other, finishing each other's sentences to explain it to me. I’m getting advice from tall cop, short cop and my mate the Colonel. Even passer-by's are throwing in their two cents. They're giving me directions on how to get all the way to Buchannan.
This is going to work...
I mirror back to them their own directions, and everyone’s all smiles and nodding and thumbs up.
“Great, thank you so much guys, I really appreciate it. Can I grab my keys?”
Short n dim actually gives me my keys back! This is going to work! What a gambit!!
I fire up the bike. I can see the moment everybody snaps out of their well-wishing hypnosis they were under; I can see it on their faces, as the roar of the bike shakes them out of it.
“You are under arrest!!!”
So friggin close!
“Come on man, I’m just a simple traveller, how am I supposed to know about this, it was an honest mistake, I won’t do it again. Just let me off this time. Give me a break.”
I look pleadingly to my mate the Colonel, who I’ve decided is on my team, but even he seems to be out of his league, or at least out of his jurisdiction: This is a police matter, and the Colonel of immigration doesn't hold court here, it seems.
He shrugs his shoulders and wishes me good luck and off he goes. The one guy in my corner and I’ve lost him.
The riot cops tell me to go and park over on the other side of the road next to their checkpoint, where the rest of the cops are.
I’m so hungry.
I wonder if I threw up all over everyone if they’d let me leave, or if that would make things worse.
Or maybe I could crap my pants. They’d definitely let me go. Pronto.
I reckon I could do either of the two, on cue.
"We are taking the bags, and the bike. You are going to prison. You are under arrest." Tall cop says it, with solemn finality.
Nothing happens. I just sit and on the bike and wait.
Hunger and exhaustion start crushing me.
Locals have all started pressing in, a big mob of them, keen to have a gawk and watch me get fucked. Like it’s some sort of spectator sport.
The riot cops tell them to move on, but they refuse, shouting at the cops, who are shouting back.
The cops start shoving people. The people shove back. Batons are brandished, the shouting ratchets.
I’m shitting it. I need to get out of here.
What the fuck is going on??
The mob scuffles with the cops, and then disappears.
I’m at the end of my tether.
Either they'll put me in prison, or they want a monster bribe.
What would I pay to get out of here? They sky’s the limit...
I'll pay all I've got.
How do I start that conversation? I haven’t the slightest idea.
I’ve never done it before.
What worries me the most about suggesting a bribe is that it could be used as further leverage against me, digging me deeper into the hole. I don't want another charge on the rap sheet. So I do nothing; it seems the least worst option.
I'm actually pretty proud of myself, I think that - despite being ready to meltdown - I would look, to the outsider, bored.
I really hope I do.
A new cop comes up to me, one I haven’t talked to before, a young man, but from the looks of him he might be the one in charge here...
“You’re under arrest.”
I shake his hand, and wait for him to go on.
“You are under arrest, yes? We are taking your everything, yes? And you are going to go to a Liberian prison for six months, yes? Liberia prisons are not a nice place. Very bad. Yes?”
I think he's finished...
“Wow... Six months is a long time for a minor traffic offence, don’t you reckon?”
“Yes” he nods his head, solemnly, “a very long time. Yes. Or, you can pay a fine now”
“Ok. What’s the fine?”
“Yes...” he thinks about it. “Fifty, American, dollars!”
I keep my hysteria in check. Just.
I want to laugh and cry and slap this dickhead in the face. All at once.
All this - all of this tension and pant-shitting terror and freak out and dread and anxiety - all of it, for fifty measly bucks.
I almost feel short changed... I raise my eyebrows.
“Whoa! Fifty! That's a lot!!" I shake my hands like they're hot. "That's a lot of money... I have a twenty here?”
He thinks about it. “Yes. Ok.”
My first bare-faced bribe in Africa.
I dig into my secret money pocket inside my leather jacket - very careful not to reveal too much - and dig a twenty dollar note out of a wad of a thousand.
He tells me not to pay the fine here, but around the corner a little bit.
I think He just wants to make sure that none of his police buddies see the transaction.
"You let me on the bike and we go together."
“Nah mate. You can walk.”
I follow him for a while and then go ahead to park the bike out of the line of sight of the checkpoint.
I stop the bike and I'm immediately boxed in tightly by three scooters.
"Oi!? What the..!?"
One has blocked my path in front, another blocked my path behind, and a third pulls up alongside me, with the cop sitting on the back.
All of them are grinning at me.
Must've thought I was making a getaway...
I give the cop the twenty bucks, the scooter rider guns it down the street, away from the police checkpoint, laughing.
Jokes on you, ya spud.
I go to leave but the guy on the scooter in front of me moves his scooter to block my path. Grinning.
I'm going to use my last ounce of strength to deck him...
I rock back, change direction, and ride off.
Even though it's over I feel the need to flee.
The damage was nothing - in fact, it's a victory if ever there was one - but it’s left me feeling frazzled and vulnerable. Unsafe.
I hate being at the whim of these bastards. Hate it. It makes me feel like a hunted animal, makes me edgy. Tense.
After flying through the streets - spending more time than is safe with my eyes on my mirrors - I finally start breathing normally again, and decide to take a break.
I pull over where I see a lady selling the biggest bananas on the planet.
The bananas are so big they go from the tips of your finger to your elbow. A banana as big as a baguette.
The lady seems a little perplexed, like it's odd that I'd buy one, but she sells it to me anyway.
As we're changing money she just starts screaming.
I follow her gaze, and see a ute reversing over the top of my bike.
The metal on my bike is shrieking.
"Stop! Stop!!!" I run.
The driver stops the car, the bike still underneath the tray.
"GET OFF!!!!" This is it. It’s all over. He’s just fucked my bike.
He puts the ute in drive, fucks up the hill start and rolls back further. I scream. I can do nothing.
The car drives forward to the screech of metal on metal.
My bike... My Enfield...
It’s all too much. I'm making noisy breaths. I want to go home.
The bike is still, somehow, on it's wheels, but pushed way over to one side, warping the kickstand. On the side that took the contact the metal crashbar has been bent all the way back so that it’s pinned against the side of the bike and the exhaust. The tank has a ding in the bottom of it, inches from the motor. It's taken off paint.
I keep looking.
"Is that it???"
The driver has jumped out of the ute and is absolutely shitting it. I would be to; I'm fucking furious. He's apologising profusely. I can’t even really hear him; I’m too busy swearing. Not at him. Just at everything. I don’t even know what I’m really saying anymore. Just randomly walking about, nonsensically but profusely venting my spleen.
It feels better.
This morning has been more than I can deal with.
The exhaustion's in my bones now.
All I wanted was a banana. Is that too much to ask?
I give the kickstand and the crashbar a good kicking to re-align it a little, and go get my banana.
I peel it, and the thin outer layer of the peel comes ripping off like sticky tape, leaving all the peel behind.
I’m gonna cry.
I rip the whole thing apart with my hands and nails like a monkey might. Finally, banana. I try to take a bite but it’s impossible, it’s so tough I can’t even bite a piece off with my back teeth like a rat.
I hate this banana.
The screaming brought in a huge mob, and I ask it if someone would like my banana. A man steps forward and takes the mangled, half-chewed banana off me.
And now. This.
After Monrovia it's been three days of riding through secluded, gorgeous, old growth forest in the Liberian outback.
Totally worth it.
I could leap tall buildings in a single bound.
It’s incredible what a good night’s sleep and a full, settled stomach can do. And showers; I've taken five.
It's so green out here.
On this well graded dirt road I cruise, take it easy, enjoy the ride, head in the clouds, soak it all in.
The track is never straight, following the contours of the land.
The red stuff under the tyres has gone a deeper, rusty red after last night’s rains. The forest has become way, way denser since yesterday. It's older. Untouched. It’s so thick that anything a few meters into the forest is lost to sight; you can only ever see as far as the next corner.
The rain has wetted the leaves, cleaned them up, and made the shades of green that much richer.
There are heavy storm clouds hovering in the sky, threatening to ruin my day. For now though they're content just shading me without pissing on the parade.
Fuck it’s beautiful.
It feels so old. Ancient, even. It’s got to be old growth forest; It must have taken hundreds of years for the trees to grow to this size.
The Enfield sounds incredible today. I'm happy.
And, I have it all to myself.
Except for the U.N. ...
Enormous, tank like vehicles, all in white. "U.N." emblazoned in black.
I freak out. Am I not supposed to be here??
The soldiers are dressed like soldiers, except they're wearing sky blue helmets.
They’ve got big road graders, and trucks, and tractors. All perfect white.
I ride past, and they're disinterested. I actually get a couple of waves.
Pulling into Harper, I'm stunned.
I've never seen anything like this before...