Our original plan for New Year’s Eve was to head to Uganda and celebrate with friends and family but the flight from Cotonou was $1400 and from Lagos it was only $900 but everyone refused to drive us the mere 80 kilometers to Lagos, you can’t even take a bus there. Why you ask?! Because there are a number of road blocks at which people, sometimes police sometimes not apparently, constantly try to take bribes. While the total distance from Cotonou to Lagos is 80 kilometers, you are only in Nigeria for 40 kilometers and from what I hear it can take up to 12 hours to make that 40 kilometer trip. No thank you.
So we decided to meet up with friends in Accra. One friend, Francis, happened to be visiting his family for the holidays, we met in Japan when I was living there. Another friend, Frema, was visiting Ghana before starting the work search in the UK. We met at LSE.
In order to go to Ghana we of course needed to obtain visas. We called the embassy, got the details and showed up with our applications. The lady gave us such a hard time with the application. She told us that our address in Dassa was not valid. She insisted that I call the nuns to get the right address. I explained to her that perhaps things are different in Cotonou versus Dassa. She disagreed. Luckily for us a man heard the debate and came out and agreed with us that our address was valid.
Now at this point it is Friday, December 24th. The visa takes three days to process….uh whatever that means. The embassy is closed Monday and Tuesday, so our visas should be ready on Thursday after 2pm. The only problem is that our bus leaves Thursday at 12. So we beg to get our visa early and this evil…..hmmmm….witch…yeah, I will call her that….said she would see what she could do but it will likely be Thursday afternoon. So we left.
Wednesday morning comes and we need to go and buy our bus ticket, so the Italian called the embassy and low and behold the visas were ready, but of course she didn’t call to tell us that. So we head to the embassy to pick up our visas around 1pm. Once I entered I was greeted by that same emotionless face, shaking her head, telling us that we had to come back at 2pm. REALLY???!!! I know our visas were sitting right in front of her, but again she refused to show some semblance of compassion for another human being. Anywho, when I finally picked up our visas, I noticed that they were dated December 24th, it was the 29th. Usually I would’ve said something but I decided to just leave.
Ok, so the morning of the 30th, we do our usual trek to the street to find and negotiate with a Zim. We found one who wanted to charge us 600 CFA. Luckily a seamstress was opening her store and informed us that the trip cost 400. When we got to the station we noticed the bus wasn’t there. We arrived at 10:30 and were scheduled to leave at 12 but the bus wasn’t coming until 2 or 3 because it broke down. So we left to go grab a yummy Thai lunch and asked them to call us if the bus came. While at lunch, we received a call that the bus would not be leaving. :-/. My only thought was wow, I’m going to spend the entire day on NYE traveling. When we arrived back at the bus station one of the managers told us the bus would leave by 10:30am, latest 11 so we should arrive at 9. We told them we would see them at 10.
The next day we arrived around 10 and thankfully the bus was there. But that was only after we got on two Zim’s neither of which knew where they were going and I had to yell at them in my very limited French. Let’s just say I had to compliment that with a whole lot of lip-smacking/tooth kissing/teeth sucking (however you call it). If you have ever been to Africa you will know that things are very inefficient and people move very slowly so it took about two hours to check in, weigh and tag the luggage for about 35 people. We finally left at 12:04. :-/
The total trip to Accra is about 350 kilometers (217 miles) A trip that in developed countries should not take more than four hours and that is if you are driving really slow. This trip took 11 HOURS!!!!!!!! We crossed two borders. I begged the agent in Togo to give us a visa for eight days as opposed to seven because we wanted to come back on the following Friday. He refused. I don’t even see why I need to pay for a visa to sit on a bus for only one hour driving through the skinniest country I’ve ever been in. The visa was 15000 (23 Euros) CFA for Americans and 10000 (15 Euros) for the Italian. America needs to get their foreign relations together. So we lost that battle and realized that we would either need to come back on Thursday or forge the date on the visa.
NOTE: Togo’s coast trumps Benin’s coast. Lomé from the little bit that I saw seems to be a very nice city.
When we arrived at the Ghananian border we were greeted by more women who are clearly unhappy with their jobs. One lady questioned why the Italian did not apply for his Ghananian visa in Italy, even after explaining that he lives in Benin. After lots of teeth sucking and slow stamping we are finished with the border and off to Accra.
I watched each hour pass, getting closer and closer to the new year and feeling sadder and sadder knowing the celebration would be ok at best. In fact, midnight hit when we were in a taxi heading back from dinner and we were so tired from traveling that even though we went out, we didn’t have the energy to stay out, so….Happy New Year. :-/