Surviving Malaria COMPLETELY Alone in Liberia

If you ask most people out there, the thought of traveling alone is NOT exactly the most appealing idea. Many like the idea of exploring the world, but with the comfort of a friend, family or significant other by their side.

However, COMPLETELY ALONE…..that raises too many fears and doubts, right? 

The talk about fears as a solo traveler comes up ALL the time in my conversations, especially when people find out how much I actually travel.

Just to get the perspective from other women, I like return the question and get their personal opinion of travel, especially in regards to going alone, and find out what holds many of them back.

When I ask non-traveling women, or ones that have the desire to venture out on their own (but are too nervous to make that decision, I typically hear three main fears:

    1. Getting abducted by some crazy stranger
    2. Being stuck abroad, completely alone, with a sickness, disease or hospitalised.
    3. Feeling overly lonely.

I hear these three common fears ALL of the time. They are very normal and most women travellers have had at least one of these fears at some point or another while on the road, whether it was before they started, or during the time that they are gone. I have had all three of these fears many time throughout my time abroad.

Unfortunately, in April 2019, one of these three fears actually happened to me.

Without a doubt, I can say this one experience (until now) has been one the scariest things that has ever happened to me as a traveller…

 

So, let me start off with how it all started……

In early 2019, I was looking for a new kind of experience. I was going through a stage where I was completely bored with European travel. I had finished a long trip through Southeast Asia about 6 months prior and was saving South America and the Caribbean for another moment.

My adventurous side was calling out my name. I searched endlessly for a wild experience that I had never had before and something most solo female travellers would never think about doing. I had no idea what I was looking for, but I just knew that there had to be some sort of exciting adventure that I could have that was totally off the beaten path.

I looked up routes all over the world and FINALLY ended up finding my next adventure: Overlanding West Africa.

Traveling West Africa has its own share of challenges. When I made this plan, I had just finished 6 months of physical rehabilitation, due to a bad motorcycle accident I had over the previous summer in Thailand. The doctor had just given me approval to get on the road and the pain was finally under control to the point that I could carry a backpack again on my newly healed collar bone.

I bought a one way ticket to Nouakchott, Mauritania and started making my way south by public transportation. All I wanted during this time was pure adventure: staying with local families in their homes, public transportation (some hitchhiking) and an authentic immersion into the African culture, that would place me WAY outside of my comfort zone.

During this time, it was was just me, myself, and I.

No plan.

No expectations.

No time frame.

No travel partner

Everything was truly going PERFECT….

I was having a genuinely great experience, meeting incredible people and visiting places that I did not even know existed on the map.

I continued on with my positive experience into Liberia, visiting a beautiful Eco Lodge right outside of Monrovia, called Libassa. The location of the lodge was perfect. My cozy eco cabin was located on in the middle of the woods, only a short walk from the white sandy beach. I literally had the best of both worlds!

I quickly unpacked my bags and anxiously walked around to get familiar with the area, which would be my home for the next three days.

Out of no where, the first symptom hit hard: an overwhelming feeling of exhaustion.

I had just traveled hours to get to the lodge, in the hottest part of the day, so I blew it off and took a small nap. I woke up shortly after feeling unrested, so I took a brief walk and decided to call it a night.

I woke up feeling better the next day, just knowing that all I needed was a good night’s rest in order to feel myself again.

During the day, I relaxed and then visited their private animal sanctuary. I was able to see the rescued animals and learn about all the positive work they are doing to save and protect wild animals in Liberia. I felt completely normal!

As the evening crept in, the new symptoms appeared: bursting head ache, a thirst that felt like not even 100 bottles of water could quench and absolutely no appetite (which is not normal for me).

I laid down in the bed and felt anxious and restless. I tossed and turned and continued to drink water, telling myself it was ONLY dehydration. On the second night I was unable to sleep. I felt all of the muscles in my back aching and no matter which way I turned, I could not get comfortable. I went through moments where I felt like I was on fire, followed by uncontrollable shivering and chills.

On day three, I woke up so weak that I could barely walk. I knew something was seriously wrong at that point and it was WAY more than just dehydration.

After days of ignoring the signs and thinking I would just get better on my own, I decided I couldn’t go on any further.

I could literally hold myself up to get to the reception of the hotel.

Everything from that point was an absolute blur. My knees were weak and shaky and I urgently called a taxi to take me to the international hospital. Honestly, I barely remember that long ride there. All I remember is stepping foot in the hospital and collapsing on the floor the moment I walked in.

The doctor gave me one look up and down and said,  “WOW, you look terrible!”

He took my blood, gave me some tests and within minutes told me that I tested positive for a bad case of malaria. Without even asking, he told me that I would be instantly admitted into the hospital.

The local doctor looked at me in shock and asked me over and over, “Why did you wait to come in? Miss, did you know that this could’ve EASILY killed you. You are so lucky.”

At that point, his words did not really sink in. I felt worse than I had ever felt in my entire life.

The symptoms only grew worse and I honestly felt like I was out of my mind. The doctor put an IV in my arm and told me to not panic and a few minutes I found out why he had given me that warning.

A strong sense shock took over my body. The medicine started to kick in all at once and it was simply too much for my small body to handle. Frightened, I called the doctor and told him that I was having an adverse reaction. I could not think or see straight and I felt so much anxiety that I thought I was going to rip off the IV and jump out the window. He assured me that all of the feelings that I was having was completely normal.

I sat up in the hospital bed, shaking profusely, while frantically looking at the clock and waiting for time to pass.

The more I let my mind roam, the more anxious I felt. I was there all alone, with no family, friends or contacts, and honestly doubtful if I was going to make it out alive from this living nightmare.

Those were some of the worst hours and thoughts that I have ever had in my life, but in the end, I made it.

I was released from the hospital and agreed with the doctor that I would finish my medications by mouth over the next three days. Keep in mind that most people that get malaria can get rid of it by just taking medication at home by mouth during three days.  My situation was more serious and I needed double dosage, which is why I had to continue taking the medications after being released from the hospital.

My Couchsurfing host was traveling outside of Liberia at the time, but he allowed me to stay at his house while he was gone so that I could continue on with my recovery.

I just assumed that I was going to get better from that point on, but I was COMPLETELY wrong….

In the middle of the night, after arriving to the apartment, my fever spiked again out of control. I did everything the doctor told me to lower a high fever, but no matter what I did, I could not seem to get it down.

I admit, I panicked.

All I could do was cry hysterically. I was in pain and I was so terrified that I would not wake up the next morning. No one was around to check on me, which only made that fear grow stronger by the minute.

During those long weeks getting over malaria, I lost all my strength and looked like a bag of bones. In a given day, I was lucky enough to force down a mango or avocado.

Despite it all, I continued to look forward and stay positive.

The day finally came that I woke up feeling better, but it was a long process towards a fully recovery.

I had to reevaluate my plan and quickly decided to end my West African trip shortly after. All of the malaria medications destroyed my body, messed up all my blood levels and left me with very bad anemia.

The road to recovery was VERY slow. Even after 6 months, I did not feel my normal self…

Traveling the world can be such a beautiful and rewarding experience, but there are some serious dangers out there, especially regarding health safety.

I’m writing and sharing my story with you the midst of a national health emergency with Coronavirus. I am trapped inside my Airbnb in Ecuador, unable to walk the streets (unless I have a good reason) and with a strict curfew of 9pm-5am.

The world is in a state of panic right now and this time being quarantined inside has given me time to reflect on my life experience and this awful health scare that I had just 11 months ago.

I want to urge you to NEVER ignore any odd symptoms that your body may be having, ESPECIALLY while traveling to a country where disease and infection are common.

When you notice a change in your body, go to the doctor and get checked, especially if you are traveling in a country with malaria.

There are more than 195 million cases of malaria each year and over 500,000 deaths.

What I learned from this horrible experience is that strange, out of the ordinary symptoms are NOT something to play around with.

The moment you these symptoms, you should immediately visit the doctor to get checked:

  1. High fever
  2. Shaking/chills/sweating
  3. Headache
  4. Unusual muscle pain
  5. Nausea/Vomiting

Unfortunately, if you have malaria and wait too long to get tested, it might just be too late.

Malaria DOES and WILL kill you…..

 

Don’t forget to also check out:

IS SOLO TRAVELING WEST AFRICA WORTH THE EXPERIENCE?

OVERLAND TRAVEL TO LIBERIA, AFRICA: A COUNTRY OF LONG STANDING RESILIENCE

THE ONE THING THAT YOU SHOULD NEVER TRAVEL WITHOUT

 

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Is Solo Traveling West Africa Worth the Experience?

While other people see traveling alone as an act of courage, I now consider it normal. That could not be further from the person that I was in my late teens, that frequently mentioned, 

“I would NEVER consider traveling all alone. That would be too dangerous and scary!” 

Just the single thought of traveling alone years back, without the comfort of a friend or boyfriend by my side, brought me severe anxiety and an over whelming feeling that I could not even think about facing. 

Sure, traveling across Europe and North America is not so scary, right? 

While there are dangers to be found in any part of the world, for the most part, many European countries tend to be safer than other locations, with easy transportation and up to date infrastructure, allowing for trouble free travel between the countries.    

Let’s face it…there is an obvious sense of comfort to be found while traveling to more organized and developed countries. You still get that sense of adventure, but it’s less risky.

HOWEVER, that comfort easily diminishes the further you travel off the normal path, especially to parts of the world where most travellers do not step foot, like West Africa. 

West Africa is known as one of the most difficult areas of the world to travel to overland. Lack of infrastructure, unpaved roads, unsuitable conditions for the public transportation (I have no idea how there are not more wrecks with how old and run down the taxis and mini busses are) and a lack of connection between countries, which makes it very difficult to travel with ease across borders. 

After many years of traveling, I became addicted to this lifestyle. After becoming a “true addict,” I decided that I wanted to travel to every single country, and from that point I set off to make that goal become a reality.

In 2019, the time came to plan my next adventure. I was contemplating many places close to Europe and the thought came to my mind to organize an independent overland adventure across West Africa (no tour), something that you cannot find much credible information on while searching online. 

I honestly had NO idea what I was getting myself into.

All that I had in mind was the time in which I wanted to go, the countries that I wanted to visit, and I told myself I would plan the rest along the way. I bought a one way ticket to Nouakchott, Mauritania from Spain and my plan was literally unplanned and up in the air the rest of the way. 

The lack of information online can cause even the most experienced traveler a bit of discomfort, ESPECIALLY for a solo female. 

I decided to face a huge fear of mine and try to make the long journey from Mauritania all the way to Angola (I will save that dramatic story of why I didn’t make it all the way there in another article). 

This overland path would entail crossing by foot across some of the most corrupt borders in West Africa, such as Rosso, Mauritania to Senegal. Other borders that I was planning to cross did not even have a single piece of information online to direct me and in many cases I eventually found out that some of the plans I originally had in my head of how I was going to get from one point to another, was completely ridiculous and unsafe. 

I often had to change my plan, especially the further south that I got, towards Guinea Bissau–Guinea–Sierra Leone—Liberia. 

Given that there is such little information available, I felt like the majority of my trip was trial and error and that I was literally planning each border crossing and experience day by day, depending on the advice I got from local people that I asked along the way. Obviously, I listened to the locals advice in many situations, but it was very common to hear,

“Ohh, it is SO safe here- do NOT worry. The people here are really nice and never hurt anyone.” 

Sure, maybe they would not hurt or rob their own people, but a solo American female, with a nice back pack (people tend to think of $$$), could possibly be another story. I am not out to think that people are out to get me, but I do understand that a locals experience is sometimes a bit biased. 

I have to admit, the unknown kept me up at night (especially on days when I was exhausted, alone for countless days without an interaction with another person or traveler or had a bad travel day), wondering and reflecting on all the possibilities.

What if someone kidnaps me at gunpoint?

With all of the ridiculous drivers, what if I get in the hands of the wrong person?

What will I do if someone tries to violate me?

What happens if I am in the wrong place at the wrong time? 

When people see my travels across the world on social media, they often think that I am some kind of fearless traveler because I do unordinary things. The truth is that I fear on a daily basis, especially when I allow my mind to take control.

However, one truth that I stand behind is that:

No matter how much fear that I have, I will never allow it to hold me back and be a barrier between me and my dreams. I have taken on the motto for my life, “Feel the fear and do it anyways!” 

Regarding my route across West Africa, it consisted of this: 

Mauritania — Senegal — Gambia — Guinea Bissau — Guinea —- Sierra Leone — Liberia — Ivory Coast — Ghana — Togo — Benin

When major hardship took over my travel and I realized that I was not going to make it all the way to Angola, I decided to turn around in Benin and return to Togo and back to Ghana, before flying to the island of São Tomé and Principe. 

During this wild four month journey, I decided to do everything by public transportation. When we talk about public transportation, we’re not thinking about these big elegant, coach buses that you see in in western countries.

 

NOOOO WAY!! 

What I’m talking about is traveling in awful, run down cars/vans, which are prone to break down every few hours, crammed full of sweaty strangers/animals, in the boiling heat, stacked one on top of the other.

In some countries the transportation was better than others. Strangely enough, if you risk your life and ride on the top of the SUV in some places, you can actually get half off your ticket price. 

Hmmmm…….

While the West African countries are quite small, especially in comparison to other countries in the world, it does not take away the fact that the distances are extremely long, especially in the old, broken car. I can’t tell you how many days I spent 13 + hours crammed on top of an old lady or man (or vice versa), in 95 degree heat (obviously, with no air) and crammed to the point that I thought I was going to explode.

It brings you quite a big of anxiety just reading this no? (I feel anxious just writing and thinking back on this myself) 

Most recommend that you should avoid overland travel at all costs, due to the fact that accidents occur on a regular basis from the crazy drivers (lots of drunks on the road).

In fact, it is a known belief within the locals that you are more likely to die from traveling by car than you are in disease in this part of the world ( and there are A LOT of disease) —  I am not sure if this is actually true, but this is what the locals swear by. 

Looking back on all of this (and lucky to be alive), the experience was one that changed me from the inside out and took my ability to travel as a solo traveler to the next level.  It gave me a new sense of confidence in myself that I never knew that I had and literally pushed me outside my human limits.

It was NOT easy.

In fact, it was quite exhausting, but it was hands down one of the most rewarding journeys that I have ever taken. 

So, was it really worth the risk, you might be asking? 

 

To be honest, I left the experience feeling completely empowered, knowing that I faced a huge fear and did something that most people would never dare to do. It’s easy to have an idea in your mind of what you want, but quickly get discouraged and convince yourself of all of the things that could possibly go wrong, like I did in the beginning of my trip through West Africa. 

But that’s what life is about: RISK

It´s about daring to do something outside of the box and going down paths that the majority of people wouldn’t even think about going down (this is applicable for life, not just travel). 

There is a sense of empowerment in these types of experiences and honestly this feeling helped me to power through on those difficult days of traveling throughout West Africa, when my body and mind were both screaming,

JUST GIVE UP!!!

 

Over those four months of traveling,  I wanted to throw in the towel and give up on many days. I was tired, exhausted, lonely, fearful, frustrated and anxious in so many different occasions. But, I tried to keep in mind that those were JUST moments, like the passing of a big storm in the night. This helped me to realize that if I just stuck to my goal, then this uncomfort would die down soon enough. 

So the question you are probably asking yourself is, “Why in the world would you EVER put yourself through that? Where is the fun?

Still to this day I have not been able to find a good answer to this question.

In a twisted way, there was something so beautiful about being outside of my comfort zone and completely terrified to the point that I thought I literally could not go forward.

There was some sort of twisted beauty as well about being crammed in the back of a small shared taxi in the torturing heat, with children and chickens sitting on my lap and a sense of dirtiness that seemed like not even 100 showers could clean off me. 

Despite the difficult moments that I had in this adventure, I truly felt more connected to humanity than I had ever felt in my entire life.

Sleeping on hard floors/beds every night, using a small hole in the floor to go to the bathroom, having a small cold bucket for showering daily and traveling thousands of miles in terrible public transportation humbled me as a person and genuinely put me in my place.

Those late nights eating from a big shared bowl on the floor, in the pitch dark, with a family of Africans, were unique experiences that connected me more with others and gave me a deep sense of pleasure, realizing that happiness is truly something that you can find in the most simple and ordinary things. 

My thought for anyone reading this: The next time you think about taking an adventure across the world, don’t always go for the most comfortable and touristic destinations.

 

Dare to do something different.

Dare to step outside of your comfort zone and see where life takes you.

Dare to live an experience that greatly challenges you.

Dare to directly feel the sensation of uncomfort and fear. 

,

If you open your heart and mind to new experiences and chances, each and everyone of us has the possibility to be transformed and completely alter the lens in which you see the world and humankind.

Would I return to West Africa? Absolutely

Would I do the whole thing by land again? NO WAY! 

Do I recommend this experience and this route to other travellers? Without a doubt

 

Get outside of your comfort zone and take the road less traveled. 

 

……

Don’t forget to also check out:

10 MOST COMMON QUESTIONS & ANSWERS ON TRAVELING ALONE TO SAUDI ARABIA

WHAT TRAVEL ELECTRONICS & ACCESSORIES DO I USE?

OVERLAND TRAVEL TO LIBERIA, AFRICA: A COUNTRY OF LONG STANDING RESILIENCE

 

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