Friday, June 5, 2009

Day of Travel

It was 4:45AM, 85 degrees, and my alarm was going off.  Unfortunately the electricity had yet to turn on, so I crawled from under my mosquito net with my headlamp shining.  I rushed to shower (cold), brush my teeth (with bottled water), and dress (not forgetting bug spray and my daily vitamin) and was out the door at 5:15AM.  The sun was up.  I was on my way to the bus station to catch a bus from Lome to Kara.  However it was a holiday, so there were very few cars on the road.  I walked 30 minutes, sweating, with my two bags, before I found a taxi.  After a twenty minute ride and $4 later, I was there.  I checked my one larger backpack and waited patiently beside the bus.  Togolese usually travel in 15-person passenger vans, but if you can afford it ($9), the once daily "Greyhound" bus is preferable.  You have to buy your ticket a day in advance and be there an hour early or they may re-sell your spot.  There is AC (more like air circulation than any coolness), and it is clean. 
7AM arrived, and I hopped on the board, sitting in my assigned to a mother with a 2-year old.  He behaved at first, and I was patient and understanding when he accidentally kicked me and threw his half-eaten banana in my lap.  The ride is 7 hours and has two stops.  Between the stops they blare loud, West African rap music and put a VHS in so we can watch French sitcoms.  I try and read and listen to my iPod. 
The first stop (after 3 hours...hope you haven't had to go to the bathroom) is for food.  We have 10 minutes to buy dried, smoked fish and big loves of sugar bread.  Women carry baskets of the food on their heads and you bargain for a fair price.  Luckily, there is also ice cream!  A man rides a sing-speed beach cruiser with a cooler attached to the front.  He sells small .25 cent plastic packages of vanilla and chocolate ice cream.  It's made in Ghana, completely safe to eat, and delicious!  By the way, if you need to go to the bathroom, you can squat right there and go.  A few minutes later, we're off again.  The child next to me wants my ice cream and has a tantrum.  After 10 minutes of screaming, a cookie calms him down. 
Our next stop is 2 hours later.  This time it's on the side of a forested road there's no food.  Everyone quickly jumps off and runs into the woods to do their business.  I haven't been drinking much water, exactly because of this, but opt to take advantage of the stop.  I will spare you details, but you quickly lose all sense of privacy. 
We continue on our way, hot, cramped, and ready to be in Kara.  About 45 miles from Kara there is a large mountain with one long winding road.  It is currently being paved.  It is almost impossible to pass other cars, but that doesn't stop drivers from trying.  As we inch along I see a man ahead in the middle of the road waving his arms, presumably telling us to stop.  But there is nowhere to go, as we are on a steep, narrow incline.  We move along and see a tractor-trailer broken down in the middle of the road.  We decide to pass.  Given the situation, it is not surprising, but still scary, that we read-end the truck and come face-to-face with a van.  The driver turns the wheel abruptly and we find ourselves halfway in a shallow ditch, leaning up against the mountain.  Everyone immediately stands and rushes off the slanted bus.  I am taking deep breaths and ignoring the tears that want to come.  We stand in a patch of shade under a tree and watch the driver attempt to salvage the situation.  He slowly reverses down the mountain, with the smashed bumper, until he is back on the road and in control.  He pulls up beside us and we all get in.  Not once does he apologize or explain and not once does anyone yell or complain.  I have a feeling this is more common than I first thought.  I call Nathan, take more deep breaths, and count the minutes until we are safely in Kara.
We do arrive safe and sound, and I collect my baggage.  I am off to the taxi stand, during mid-afternoon sun and nap-time, to find a car to our mail point, Niamtougou.  Luckily, this time, I only have to wait 45 minutes for a car to fill up.  Drivers will not leave until they have at least 6 passengers in a 4-door sedan.  Today I find myself in the backseat with three other women and four children.  Three men are in the front, including the driver.  I have paid $1.25 for the ride.  There are no windows and the front windshield is severely cracked.  There are also no side-view or rear-view mirrosrs.  The speedometer and the gas gauge do not work.  This car has not passed inspection in the US for the last twenty years.  After a push from two men to get us moving we quickly drive the twenty miles.  We arrive uneventfully and I again grab my bag and head off for the third and final stage of my trip.
I walk to the motorcycle stand and find a familiar face.  We have three men who are our preferred moto drivers.  I find our friend, Rasta, the only man I've seen in Togo with dreads.  I ask him to take me to Pessare, pay my $4 and off we go.  It is twelve miles and takes thirty min.  I wear my helmt and ignore the broken gauges and mirrors.  The road is sandy and rocky and a moto is the only vehicle available to make the trip at a moment's notice.  (Don't worry, Mom, we can rent a car to make the trip when you come - no motos!)  Moto rides are one of my favorite things in Togo.  There is uninterrupted silence and the landscape is beautiful.  It is when I think, "Wow, I am in Africa!" 
I get home exhausted and dirty.  But luckily Nathan an Asher are there to greet me with hugs and kisses.  I take a cold bucket shower, drink luke-warm water, and think, yep, this is Africa! 

1 comment:

Shelley Swanson said...

Oh Ann!! I'm so glad you're safe. What an adventure! You've become quite the traveler. Very proud of ya. :)