On the previous post about this grand adventure, our intrepid explorers Andry and Maret (aka andry1961 and cerres) from Estonia were driving south to Senegal, in the middle of the Budapest to Bamako Rally.
Slowly, the landscape became greener and transformed from desert to savannah, as they head down to Saint Louis. The French colonial city was the capital of Senegal until the middle of the last century, and is located at the mouth of the Senegal River. Their place for the night is the Hotel La Poste, a very important stop in the Aéropostale, which was an old air route connecting France to the French colonies in Africa and South America.
There’s an airmail museum inside, but you can see bits of its history everywhere, from the carpets to the patio and even the rooms. Pilots used to rest here before their perilous journeys across the Atlantic, including Jean Mermoz, who first flew the 3,058 kms (1,900 mi) from Dakar in Senegal, to Natal in Brazil in 19 hours, 35 minutes, carrying 122 kg of mail on his plane.
Turns out, they arrived in town on All Saints’ Day, and the post office was closed… so they had to delay their departure the next day. This wasn’t a hardship though, as Saint Louis was their favorite city in the entire trip! The next morning, a beautiful post office opened their doors to them, and they could finally mail their postcards. Postage prices to Europe were 500 CFA (≈ €0.76, roughly the same in US dollars), 550 CFA (≈ €0.84) to the USA and 650 CFA (≈ €0.99) to the rest of the world, and the fastest postcard arrived in Germany in just 9 days.
The next country on the rally was Guinea, which was the biggest question mark for them. They made their way to the town of Labé, one of the only four places with a post office in the country, but their journey was a bumpy one. The roads they drove through in Guinea were in bad shape, and consisted mostly of potholes.
Crossing a mountain on their way, they met two trucks which had broken down in the middle of the road while passing each other, leaving just a narrow gap of road. They retracted their mirrors (and bellies) and miraculously squeezed between the mountainside and the truck unscathed, making their way to Labé at nightfall.
The next day, they located the post office (which the owner of the campsite/hotel they stayed at doubted the existence of), but things did not go well… While preparing the trip, Andry and Maret had checked the postage on La Poste Guineénne’s website and even wrote them a letter to double-check, because the prices were so outlandish that they thought perhaps there had been a mistake with a decimal point… On top of this, the postage stamps they had acquired before the trip didn’t seem to be accepted (despite being valid), and communication was difficult. The price of sending a postcard via normal mail or registered mail were both equally outrageously high, so they opted for the latter, but even the registered mail stickers were hard to find. People were called, discussions ensued, stickers were located and they were finally able to fill out the forms and stamp their postcards with the day’s postmark.
These postcard are now making their way to the recipients (the first one reached its destination in 39 days). And now for postage prices, which came into effect on April 2021: sending a letter to Europe costs 88,000 GNF (≈ €9.61), while registered mail costs 95,000 GNF (≈ €10.44); mail to the USA costs 104,000 GNF (≈ €11.42) for a normal letter, and 111,000 GNF (≈ €12.20) for registered mail… wow! Could this be the country with the highest postage in the world?! Let us know if you stumble on any other country with higher rates!
They made it to Sierra Leone on November 7. This was the last country of the rally, and as they crossed the border, they were hit by the only rain of the trip. In the capital Freetown, an impressive committee awaited the participants, including the country’s president!
They made the 7 km journey from their hotel to the post office using public transportation, marveling at the only traffic rule that seemed to apply to all these countries (except Morocco): follow the other driver. A red light is not a mandatory stop, and the give way sign is also just a warning of an intersection. The first postal worker they found was uncooperative (first, there were no postcards, then their stamps could not be used…) and made their task difficult… but luckily, a friendly gentleman came to their rescue, and not only did he help locate some postcards, he also took them to the third floor, from where their postcards were sent to all around the world.
The gentleman was Donald Thomas, the current postmaster and pastor of the Methodist church, who treated them as friends. English is the official language in Sierra Leone, so communication was much easier here than in previous countries. Among other things, they learned that postcards mailed to Estonia are sent through Germany, but mail to Lithuania next door would go through the Netherlands, and mail to Finland would travel through Belgium.
Despite also having gone through a recent monetary reform that shaved a few zeros to their currency, the stamps they had procured were still valid until the end of the year. Pffew! International postage prices from Sierra Leone were 20 SLL (≈ €1.1), and some of the postcards they sent from there arrived in less than 2 weeks.
Since this was the last day of their trip, they traveled again to the post office the next day, to donate their intact travel medicine supplies, undistributed gifts (soccer balls, pens and notebooks for the children, etc.), donations from another Estonian team… and Elvis.
Elvis was their daughter’s teddy bear, who thought that the bear could be a pillow for her mom during the trip, a mascot during the day, and at the end of the rally, it could be used to make someone else happy. When they met the pastor, they made a joint decision that the Elvis would go to him, so that he could find a good home for him. Seeing the teddy bear, Donald mentioned that they did have small crying children in the church, so Elvis could be their comforter. They left Elvis with a t-shirt of the Estonian Postcrossing stamp.
Unexpectedly, they managed to get a Liberian visa 15 minutes after walking into their embassy in Freetown… so they decided to extend their trip a little further south, and make one more stop before flying back to Europe.
Have you noticed how the flag of Liberia is really similar to the one of the USA? This is because the country was founded by former black slaves from the United States and the Caribbean, which moved here at the beginning of the 19th century. The country was the first African republic to declare independence, but its history hasn’t been smooth, with several coups and wars since then. They use US dollars in parallel with their own currency today, and since elections are coming this year, everyone was talking about them. With a taxi driver, they chatted about wedding customs: for instance, grooms must get the approval of the bride’s parents in order to marry, but this is made difficult when families have a history of fighting in different sides of the conflict. Additionally, they heard about a strange historical “tax”: $49 must be paid to the bride’s family, the modern-day equivalent of two cows.
The main post office of Liberia Post is located in the building of the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications. There, they were immediately directed to the philately department, which had a very decent selection of stamps… but not so many postcards. After some searching, postcards were also found — two on the first day and three more of different types on the next day. Understandably, sending postcards is not popular in this country either, as Liberia is not a touristic destination, and there were also none to be found on the streets or in the history museum.
Here too, the post office manager gave these rare visitors a tour (which they reciprocated with Estonian Kalev chocolate, as they had been doing in all their post office visits) and then got down to the business of sending some mail. They noticed as they were postmarking the postcards that the date stamp was still set to August 2014… Had no one used it since then? 😅
Postage for postcards to the USA were 350 LRD (≈ €2.19), and 500 LRD (≈ €3.2) everywhere else. The first postcard arrived to its destination in 16 days.
Liberia is where this adventure comes to its end, and where our heroes take their flight back to Estonia! Andry and Maret, thank you for this amazing travel report, and for sharing it with the community too. It’s fascinating to read about the challenges of sending mail from these countries, which we rarely get a glimpse into. Thank you for sending so many postcards from all these special countries as well, a rare treat in Postcrossing!
Hurray for postal adventures! 🎉