The trip in the van was getting long and there was no end in sight. We stopped just before dusk for a bathroom stop. The roads were terrible and some of the uphills looked impassable, but Fatou kept going. The transmission was a little shaky and he revved and rested every couple of seconds going up the steeper hills, at times almost coming to a stop.
It was getting dark and passing through villages and along the essentially one lane roads was not at all comforting or safe. The sing-along had stopped. We were passed by a couple of motorcycles and passed a couple of suspicious cars that were stopped along the side of the road. Austin admitted later, and Becky agreed, that we were complete sitting duck targets for any criminals that wanted to rob or highjack this van full of white tourists.
I turned on mobile data on my phone to track a little using Google Maps and Becky was doing the same. Our progress was much slower than expected. George was getting frantic calling the hotel to make sure food would be available when we arrived late, while simply assuring them that we would eventually arrive. When we stopped to use the bushes, he thought we might be there by 2030. On our maps, it looked like 2130 at the best. About 30 minutes later, when we were discussing dinner, he admitted that he’d told them that he thought we wouldn’t be there until 2200.
We drove through one non-descript village and stopped along the side of the road just past a roundabout that, my map showed, we should take to get to Kumasi. We’d left the original route Google Maps suggested about an hour or more before, but I said nothing, nor did Becky because we just did not know the roads. Fatou, supposedly, drove this route almost every day and seemed to know the good and bad parts of the road. Unfortunately, we discovered we’d been used--or at least not told the full truth about our route. Fatou got out of the car and delivered a large box of rice, on foot, to his mom’s house in the village. We were starving and everyone was out of food. We walked back to the roundabout and found a woman selling piles of boiled peanuts in the shell for 1 Cedi per pile (about $0.23). I bought six piles and put them into three bags and then brought them back to the van. George bought himself a pile, too.
I was texting with the Tailor Made Travel folks telling them what was going on. They responded once but could do nothing. TransAfrica was not responding to texts.
At about 2030 we stopped at a gas station to fill up and use the bathrooms again. The shoppette was closed and we couldn’t get any snacks. By now, it was clear that the hotel restaurant wasn’t going to stay open for us, so George suggested that we hit another restaurant in Kumasi before checking into the hotel. As the length of the trip grew, that seemed less and less likely to be successful. Becky suggested that we didn’t need dinner, just a chance to stop at a shoppette that was open so we could get some food to tide us over. We did that at about 2130 and my phone showed that we were still almost 90 minutes out. George said that we were only 30 minutes away, but that was to a turn on the highway before Kumasi--he was using Google Maps on his phone, too, I could see. Therefore, he knew all along, as did we, how long it was going to take and how slow we were moving.
I can’t even imagine how many speed bumps we crossed going through villages. It must’ve been near 1,000. Each set caused us to slow, as intended, but Fatou would come to a near halt for almost every one. My back was killing me.
We listened to the entire Nigeria-Croatia World Cup Match on a local language radio station--or Fatou did. I could only understand the occasional English phrase and the names of the teams. When the game was over, Fatou, who’s rear-view mirror had a small banner hanging from it declaring him “Proud to Be a Muslim,” turned it to the 24-hour non-stop Arabic Muslim chant station. I was just loving this.
At one point, slowing for one of the probably dozen police traffic checkpoints, a large red bus stopped going in the other direction and so did Fatou. He actually opened the window and started a conversation with his friend, the driver of the bus. Then, I lost it, and just said, “Let’s Go!” We went. As we approached the hotel, George was trying to give the driver directions. Only about a half-mile away, we started to see signs with arrows for the Noda Hotel. They were in reflective gold and yellow and easily legible. The driver missed the first one and made the wrong turn. He stopped, reversed, and we turned right. We came to the next one. I said, “There’s another sign, turn left.” He turned left, but not at the road intersection with the sign, but into the parking lot of another hotel. He backed out and made the next turn. We came to the third and final sign directing us to turn into the hotel parking lot--the four-story hotel to our left with the name in red neon lights, “Hotel Noda.” He almost missed the turn again and had to stop. This time George told him, “Turn there where the sign is.” He did so. I realized that it was entirely possible that our driver was illiterate.
We arrived at 2325 to a dark hotel, but the receptionist at the desk was ready for us and we quickly got keys in exchange for passport copies. We went upstairs, found our rooms to be quite nice and spacious.
Becky and I did a little sink laundry before going to bed. George had told us that we would start the next day later, at 0900, and I was sure we could use the extra time. Before going to sleep, I sent the cadets a GroupMe note thanking them for being so positive and resilient during one of the toughest day of travel I’ve had in my life. Eight hours in a local, indigenous van with ten people and luggage, covering over 240 km, with more than half of the driving time on horrible dirt roads was more than enough for all of us.