Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Trials and Tribulations of Travel in West Africa, Part I

I have a love/hate relationship with traveling anywhere in the world, but especially here in Africa. On this side of “the pond” it weighs out a bit heavier on the “hate” side of things because it involves a lot of waiting, not one of my strong points; e.g.

  • Waiting to leave. (Bush taxis don’t leave until they are full; this is only 7 passengers, but it may involve a wait of many hours or overnight to get that last passenger. Sometimes I’ll buy the last ticket to move things along, but if there are two or more empty places, I usually can’t afford to buy more than one.)
  • Waiting for officials at roadside police posts to inspect ID cards or merchandise so they can extort bribes. (They don’t bother Americans, but in spite of international agreements allowing free travel between African countries, local officials will find a pretext to charge a fine to each traveler from a different country.)
  • Waiting for repairs. (From a flat tire to a broken chassis, we’ve seen it all!)
  • Waiting to arrive at my destination. (The 500 mile trip to visit my children, for example, is an all day voyage; we have spent as few as 11 hours and as many as 45 [!] depending on road conditions. Currently, I am happy to say, most of the road is in good repair or at least being worked on.)

The “love” part of such trips is finally getting where I am going, especially if it’s a visit to see my kids. And you’ve never enjoyed a shower as much as the one that comes at the end of a long day on a dusty road. Or if Jim & I are traveling together, it means having a whole day to ourselves with nothing to do but talk or fall asleep on each other’s shoulders. Plus, the vehicles are pretty tightly packed, so we end up snuggling as we haven’t done since the early days of our romance (but on the “hate” side again, if I’m traveling alone, that means the same close quarters with a stranger, possibly a man).

Another thing that’s really fun about these trips is shopping enroute, but that’s another post for another day. Until then I’m here today, gone to Mali…

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