April 27- April 29
After one the trip’s wilder nights to date, we carried on to Robertsport, a chill breach town known for surfing, a few hours from Monrovia. We camped on the beach there and watched another Champions League football match. We had hoped to surf, but the waves were paltry by any measure. My top memory was spearfishing right off shore; three hours in the water yielded three decent-sized groupers. This spearfishing was different from normal; relatively shallow, rocky water and very low visibility sped up the “shot clock” and tested my reflexes. These fish, combined with a barracuda purchased by Nate, ingredients procured in town by Nate and Lee, and some amazing home cooking by the guys at our camping spot, made for one of the top meals of the trip.
On the way back from Robertsport, as we were driving through some heavily populated outskirts of Monrovia, traffic came to a crawl, then a stop. During the jam, some guy with a blue shirt snatched Dan’s Blackberry from my hands. I saw him scurry around stopped cars, and he seemed to disappear into an endless labyrinth of one of Monrovia’s rougher neighborhoods. The window being open, I somehow thought that it would quicker to jump through it to give chase than simply open the door.
So I started chasing the ghost of ten seconds past, asking everyone where he went. “He’s gone . . . gone” three different onlookers said. Gone behind his own brier patch of dead-end alleyways and half-completed yet over-capacity inhabited apartment buildings, with hundreds of residents hanging around in the street. No one seemed to know where he went, but one ambitious young bloke grabbed a metal road and said, “we’ll find him.” A pack formed, and by this time Nate had come out to join me. In the midst of a Monrovian slum, we had inadvertently formed an angry mob hunting down a phone thief. We hustled down alleyways, crossed the main street, and rumbled through a market, but predictably the thief had made himself scarce.
And that’s when we started with Plan B – call the original thief and negotiate the phone’s return through a series of shady middlemen who clearly know him. One guy in particular, a man named Fatboy who posed as a cop and might have even been one, became instrumental. We called the guy and Fatboy talked to him, arranging a meeting for a return of the phone. “He’s scared of me so he’ll return the phone very soon,” Fatboy assured us. We knew this would incur some sort of fee, with Fatboy seeing some of the proceeds, but we didn’t want to chill their motivation to find it. After some wrangling and movement away from the initial crime scene, a guy said he had the phone. While we were waiting someone rammed into our back bumper, removing some paint and creating a minor ding in the Cruiser. Fatboy, playing the cop role, took the driver’s keys while the driver pleaded with us to let it go. We did.
I then got into a car and they closed the doors for the final negotiation; inside was an all-star cast of the former rod wielder, Fatboy, and some other guy, probably the thief’s brother or something. They immediately handed me the phone. They wanted $50; I said “here you guys go, my final offer,” pulling a conveniently small amount out of my pocket, the equivalent of $12 in Liberian dollars. “This is not satisfactory,” the rod guy said. “But it’s what I have. Thanks for your help.” Didn’t they know they had crushed their leverage by giving me the phone? Game over, hehe. They were all just on the take anyway; the whole thing was a scam. The car wasn’t going anywhere in the traffic jam, so I simply opened the door, and that was that. A couple of minutes later, Fatboy was all smiles.
The Blackberry heist and recovery was an interesting experience, but not indicative of Liberia or West Africa as a whole, both of which are full of fun, vibrant, and wholesome people – and not petty thieves.
Soon it was time to leave Liberia, as Dan had a flight to catch in Ghana in about a week. We set out for the border with Cote D’Ivoire, spending our final night in the southern town of Gante. Right at the border the next day I tried muskrat and monkey, both on a stick, both for the first time. Surprisingly delicious on both fronts; I should have gotten more for the road. I will be on the lookout for both on a more formal menu.