Though much of Monrovia remains in post-war shambles—with potholed streets and spotty electricity—new hotels and beachfront resorts are cropping up. A small flyer posted where I stayed caught my eye merely for advertising yoga classes. I don’t recall many yoga studios operating under the Taylor regime.
I grabbed my fins and hit Barnes Beach, a good alternative to the adjacent, and more touristy, Thinkers Village Beach. Two large thunderclouds on the horizon blemished the sky while terrific whitecaps rolled to shore. Once in the water, though, I realized these waves were far too big and erratic for me to face this early in the trip. I hiked up the beach and into a surf-side eatery, thinking I’d consider my options over a plate of palm butter—a wickedly spicy-sweet stew, served over pounded cassava. I asked the waiter about the meat in the dish.
“That’s bush meat,” he told me.
I frowned. While I’m all for free-range livestock, I appreciate something less free-ranging than what I imagined we had here. “What kind of bush meat?,” I asked.
He shrugged. “Forest meat.”
Falling into the repartee of my earlier Monrovia days, I feigned displeasure. “That bush meat climb trees?,” I asked, pantomiming the act. “It fly? That meat dig holes?”
“It’s bush meat,” he said with a laugh.
I ordered the chicken instead.
The next day, an old buddy from “Taylor time” picked me up in his dented Toyota. Harris Johnson, a computer technician in a Yankees cap, grinned as he gunned his car downtown, Monrovia’s fire-scarred skyline looking like something out of Mad Max. We passed over the bridge to Bushrod Island, a hardscrabble industrial section of town, and I spotted the ruins of a pre-war movie theater and remembered the exquisite little groundnut-soup shop that had been tucked behind it. Harris pulled over. Throughout the war, the place had always been half empty, but we found it buzzing with a lunchtime crowd. We were shown to the only seats left and heard from the kitchen the rhythmic sounds of cooks pounding the cassava-yam dough called “dumboy.” A pair of goats bleated from a room to our left as we savored each spoonful of peanut-flavored soup.
Five miles down the road, Harris and I arrived at Cici’s Beach, where we shed our flip-flops and crossed an expanse of powdery sand to the shoreline. From there we could see a problem: a collection of large offshore boulders breaking the waves. There would be no surfing here, we realized.
“Boss Man,” Harris said—and I wondered if he was being polite, ironic, or both—“you need to go to Robertsport.”
Of course. I knew that Robertsport, three hours up the coast, would have the waves I wanted. A deep underwater trench off the coast there created no fewer than five celebrated break points. But leave the known safety of Monrovia for the uncertain bush? My frontal lobe knew that Small Boys no longer roam the backcountry with AK-47s, but the reptilian portion of my brain was squirting caution hormones. Robertsport is near Sierra Leone, with its erstwhile amputation-happy Revolutionary United Front. No, thanks. I’ll eventually find that perfect wave … in Monrovia.