Monday, April 23, 2007

The SAGA OF OUAGA – Part 1

I spent a few days in Ouagadougou last week. Where, you might ask, the h*ll is Ouagadougou. It is the uneventful, hotter than parts of hell, capital city of Burkina Faso (which is a country directly north of Ghana, bordering on the Sahara desert).

It would be an understatement to say that the trip was ‘quite an experience’. It all started with the pre-flight nightmares. I arrived at the airport, bags in tow, only to discover there was no check in desk for my airline. I should have heeded the signs at this point and gone straight home. But, being me, I didn’t. I was sent to multiple buildings on the airport property in search of anyone who might know when and where I could check in for Antrak Air to Ouagadougou. Eventually I found one other man who was looking for the same elusive plane.. When we met he was on the phone, calling a friend in Ouaga to find out the weather, as he had heard from an Antrak staff member (who was now nowhere to be found), that the flight would only go if there was no rain up in Ouaga. He figured if he didn’t phone to find out the status, no one else would. The two of us stood and shared ‘madness of traveling in Africa’ stories, and waited. And after an hour or so a few ladies from Antrak showed up and explained that the captain should be here soon and we should ‘exercise patience’, but his car had overheated in traffic…

Three hours after the scheduled take off time, myself, my traveling companion and eight others who had been in a nearby hotel after the Antrak flight from the night before had been cancelled, all set off behind a check in clerk, to the boarding gate.

When I saw the plane for the first time I was gripped with panic. It sat on the runway like some boy’s toy with two propellers – one on each side. It only fit 10 people!!!!!! All my instincts said DON’T GET IN!!!! Still, I walked up the little 3 steps to get in and realized the aisle was about 4 ft tall – meaning all of us had to crouch to get into the seats. Can you say claustrophobic?! The seats were tiny too. No space for an air hostess (so there was none), nor a toilet (must be a luxury), and we could see our bags in a pile at the back. The cockpit was fully open. The two captains (finally having arrived after the car troubles… ) never spoke to us or looked back – not on take off, forget safety instructions!, nor as we landed. I guess the key words here are ‘we landed’, alive.

I must throw in a few more details though - It was so loud in there when the engines started that none of us could believe it! It was like forcibly sitting beside a massive diesel generator. And it shook and vibrated the whole TWO AND A HALF HOURS of the flight.

The icing on the cake was when I first noticed something in my peripheral vision, moving beside me on the wall and realized it was a cockroach. During the flight I think I saw a whole family of them crawling around on the walls and ceiling. It was great. I was wondering whether I’d find one in my luggage!

It was one of the scariest flights I’ve been on yet. (And this includes the time I was flying to Sierra Leone on Bellview Airlines and the crew told us they didn’t have enough life jackets for all the passengers, and we should all bear with them!).. By the way, as an aside, that very Airline had two major crashes in Nigeria last year, killing a total of over 200 people…

Luckily we landed without dying, though it felt pretty terrifying when we hit the runway and the back of the plane skidded from side to side…

I managed to find my way to the hotel at 11:30pm - though we were scheduled to arrive at 8:30pm... The hotel rooms were nice (if decorated like many wedding cakes) – great comfy bed, and the pillows were actually made of chipped foam and not the usual chipped wood or rock that you normally find in West African hotels…

I hit the pillow and slept with an appreciation for solid ground, unknown in my life to date.
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