Reality bites. After being arrested twice earlier on in the day for illegally trying to smuggle ourselves out of the Ivory Coast, and into Liberia, and having spent 2 days in hellish conditions overland to get to the border town in the first place, it looks like we’re going to have to go right back to where we started. 2 long days, shared taxis, minibuses, uncomfortable cramped conditions in the African heat and awful roads. F*ck. And then to cap it off, an overpriced 1 hour flight to Liberia’s capital ($350). Suck it up boys, nowhere left to turn.
So after our police escort back to the shared taxi stand, we bought our tickets back to Man. That was supposed to be a gentle start, 4 hours to cover 80km or so. We wouldn’t arrive in Man until around 6pm, so we’d miss all the transport to Abidjan which meant we would travel the rest of today, sleep in Man, wake up at 5am tomorrow morning and then travel all day back to Abidjan. At least that was the plan.
We take the last two seats in the shared minibus, which means I’m stuck on the ‘pop-up’ seat right in the middle of the bus, which isn’t actually a seat, just a metal frame. I avoid this seat like the plague on every journey, but this is the last bus to Man so I have no choice and jump on board. It’s about 40 degrees (104 farenheit), and this isn’t fun.
The journey ended up taking around 5 hours, and it’s every bit as comfortable as I had dreaded. My tshirt, and shorts, are drenched with sweat. Josh is sitting 2 seats away from me, and we frequently shared exasperated looks, sighing and ultimately laughing at the day we were having. We already did this same awful 4/5 hour journey once at silly o’clock this morning, then we were arrested twice thanks to the ill-fated smuggling attempts, and here we are back on the same bloody journey to Man for the second time that day. Horrific.
We got off the bus, body contorted, clothes filthy, backpacks strapped back on to our bodies. With the plan to go back to the hotel we stayed in Man the previous night, and then take a coach tomorrow, just as we were about to set off, a guy grabs me and shout “ABIDJAN?!?”. I said “Yes buddy, tomorrow”. “Abidjan today, today, now, right now” he frantically spat out at me. Oh shit. Seriously? Worst day ever, now an ‘opportunity’ to arrive in Abidjan even earlier, not to stay in Man but to arrive in Abidjan around 2am that night. But the catch was the journey would be in another sh*tty shared minibus, not a larger coach like before. Can we face it? Josh and I quickly chat. It’s about 7pm, the guy tells us we’ll be in Abidjan by midnight which I’m reluctant to believe. He assures us the minibus, while being much more uncomfortable, is far faster. F*ck it. We buy our tickets, $25 each (relatively expensive, but we’re desperate), and jump right back on another shared minibus, literally 4 minutes after getting off the last one. This hellish day is gonna get a lot worse, but at least we’ll be in Abidjan tonight.
And off we set. The bus is a dilapidated piece of sh*t. My chair is completely falling apart, and Josh’s, beside me, is no better. We’re wedged in with more people than seats, and I’m at the end of my patience for this horrible day. The sunsets, it’s now pitch black, no road lighting, and it turns out the bus headlights don’t work, brilliant. So we’re driving along, at breakneck speed (the driver is a d*ck, more on that later), and I don’t know if I’m more happy that we’ll arrive at our destination faster, or more terrified for my life.
We don’t get far anyway, after about an hour or so we pull up in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. Traveling in West Africa, you often have no idea what the hell is going on, and this was a perfect example. The driver hops out, and the passengers all just sit there for a good 30 minutes, hoping at any minute he’ll hop back in and we’ll set off. That never happens. Slowly the bus empties until it’s just Josh and me left in the vehicle, trying to chat through the various things that could be happening. It’s 100% dark outside aside from a few people grilling goat innards and roasting nuts on open fires, not the kinda place I want to be stranded for the evening, I think that’s fair to say.
We can hear the commotion outside slowly building, voices are rising and the energy in the air takes a turn for the worse. I’ve stayed in the bus the whole time, my fear gradually building, but it had been too long and it was time to get out and try to work out the next step – it’s pretty clear this bus is going nowhere. I try to open the back door, but 3 guys come charging at the back door and slam is shut. The main guy has a huge scar on the side of his face, screaming “NO NO NO EXIT, NO EXIT!”. WTF? Right, looks like I’m staying on the bus then. Just Josh and me sitting there, alone, in darkness, no idea what to think.
The crowd condenses a little outside, and people are fully shouting now. They’re chasing a guy around the bus, open hand slaps, man-handling someone that looks suspiciously a lot like our driver. The 3 scary guys join the crowd, and we spot our moment to jump out of the van, clutching our bags tightly at all times. Through my bad french and a nice guys bad English, we’re told that the bus driver isn’t a bus driver at all, he’s from a group of bandits who steal money from people everyday. And that all the $25 ticket money from the 20+ people on the bus had gone, he had passed it to his bandit friend and ran off, but they had found him and now they’re not happy. Wow. Looks like we won’t be in Abidjan tonight then.
People are now desperate, it’s 8pm or so and they want to get home. Random vans stop and pick up one person here, another person there but they are few and far between and none of them are going the 400km or so to Abidjan, we’re stranded. Shit.
My 3 scary friends who wouldn’t let me off the bus come and grab me, screaming “Abidjan, Abidjan”. I ‘follow’ him (like I had a choice) and he brings me to some old, run down car says “They go abidjan, you friend and you go”. I peer into the car and see FOUR guys staring right back at me. The guy literally tries to push me in the car. NO F*CKING CHANCE MATE. A bit of hustle and bustle and I back off. The moment passes, close call. We need to get the hell out of this place.
Finally the mob pins the driver, they physically force him back into the minibus. Everyone screams at us to get back in, which we do, and the driver takes off. What the hell is going on? This guy, a bandit who stole our money an hour ago, is gonna drive us the next 4, 6, 8 hours back to Abidjan?! Not ideal. We drive 15 minutes or so outside the sketchy town, and although the situation is far from perfect, and I don’t even know where the bus is going, I’m just delighted to be away from Scarface and his buddies, that was turning sour.
We pass a police station and the passengers go WILD. They demand we stop and explain everything to the police. So once more, pitch black, we’re out of this bloody van and in a police station. The THIRD visit to a police station for me today. We linger around there, they press charges against the driver, it’s all very weird. We still have no idea where the bus is going, but we wait around until the police business is over, then we get told to get back on the bus. Much to my surprise, 5 minutes later the same bandit/driver guy comes out of the police station and gets back in the driver seat! And off we go.
2 hours of terrifying driving later, aaaaand we break down. It’s about 11pm or so by this point, and I cannot literally believe that after everything that has happened, the bloody bus has broken down. Out we get again. They take out the engine, and start working on it while we aimlessly linger around. A really nice guy comes and tries to speak English with us, he invites us to a wooden shack at the side of the road where they serve us some spaghetti stuff and he foots the whole bill. He explains, as far as he knows, what’s happening. We wait around for another hour or so until two cars arrive FULL of cargo. They start loading all the cargo onto our van, heaping it so high that it doubles in height, the suspension almost buckling under the weight. They can’t fit it all on, so they start putting it on the back seats at which point they tell 10 of the passengers or so that they can’t come on the rest of the journey because the van is now full. Wow. They leave to find their own way home, from the middle of nowhere, in complete darkness, in the Ivory Coast, at midnight. This driver really is something else. It turns out the bus never did actually break down, it was all a ruse so he could carry some dodgy merchandise across the country, he pretended it broke down because they had to wait for the merchandise to arrive. This was beyond a joke.
Finally, we get back on board, Josh and I are now on the seats furthest back, right up against the boxes of stuff, out seats are so upright it’s uncomfortable. As bad as I feel for Josh and myself, there has been a guy sitting in front of me the whole time who looks like he’s on death’s door. He has no flesh on his bones, just angular bones sticking out from his elbows, sternum, knees, cheekbones. Each time we had stopped for whatever reason, he stumbled out of the bus and lay on the ground, looking ready to die. It was horrific. His seat was the one directly in front of mine, and predictably the seat was broken, so the support was gone and his chair was squeezed up against me now, as I was wedged between the cargo and this cancer/HIV/something horrible victim. He couldn’t have long left. Heading to Abidjan perhaps for the hospital, or even more morbidly, to die with his family? As heartless as it sounds, having this guy have draped against me on this horrible journey, was almost more than I could take. But I had nowhere to go. So on we went.
We were truly stuck on the back seats, hardly any space to move, let alone sleep. It was maybe 1am by this point, Josh and I squeezed together in hell. Then I feel Josh rubbing his foot against mine. “P*iss off mate” thinking he was trying to have a laugh and cheer me up. Nope. Now it’s on the other foot. I look down, a scurry of cockroaches are now beneath our chairs, running up and down our feet and ankles. I try to shake them off in disgust, but there’s not much I can do, I’m stuck here, with these little bastards, and it’s gonna be that way for the rest of the journey. And i HATE cockroaches. F*cccccccccck this sh*ttttttttt!
We manage to drive for another hour or maybe 2, cockroaches seemingly planning their attacks for when I even entertained the thought of closing my eyes. I was so uncomfortable, and hot, and dirty, and scared. The guy was driving like a maniac, but I just wanted to get to our destination. I close my eyes for 10 seconds, finally…
“AAAAAAAAGH, NOOOOOOOO, MON DIEUUUUUU, NOOOOOOO”
Death screams. Wailing at the top of their voices. Josh shakes me to make sure I’m aware of what’s happening. The minibus infront of us has crashed, smashed into something and it’s on it’s side. We are driving super slow as the crowds gather around. African ladies screaming, and crying, and yelping at the top of their voices beside our bus. Just to the left of us, dead bodies strewn everywhere, all over the road, peoples kids, husbands, wives, blood pools. Horrific scenery. The one thing people are told not to do if they venture to West Africa is to ride transport at night, their road fatality statistics across the region are off the charts. Our guy was driving like a lunatic, with NO lights, and now we see this. It’s horrible. We finally pass the carnage and drive on, within 10 minutes our guy is back to speeding around blind corners with no street lights and no headlights, 100kmph. Josh wants to get out of the van, I don’t blame him, but go where? We’re convinced we’re next, this is horrible. Is tonight our night to die? We drive, on the edge of our seats, for another 3 hours or so. Watching every minute, every corner, every vehicle we pass. The cockroaches, or the sick guy in front, or the arrests today are the last thing I’m thinking about. Just don’t crash.
We pull to a halt, it’s 4am. We’ve broken down again apparently. Hmmm. I ask the driver what the hell is the matter know, he tells me it’s a flat tyre. I feel the tyres and everything seems ok, but he walks over to a canteen and orders some food. It’s been a long night, I hate this guy, but we all need a break from the intensity so let him eat his food, let him change the tyre and we’ll be on our way. Our midnight arrival certainly wasn’t going to happen, the sun rises in an hour or so and we’re still 3+ hours from our destination. Anyway, he horses down his food, then nonchalantly orders a coke, then another one. It’s been 30 minutes, enough is enough. We tell his friend that we have an international flight to Europe at 8am and we need to leave now (a lie, but f*ck this driver guy). He tells the driver, and the driver couldn’t care less. Enough. I go crazy.
March straight up to him, tell him he’s a thief, a fraud, faking two breakdowns, kicking people out of his van for his dodgy cargo, telling us we’d arrive at midnight yet it’s now 5am or so. I tell him to get our bags off the roof, give us our f*cking money back right now and find us a real driver and a real bus to take us the last 3/4 hours to Abidjan. He’s quite taken a back. But I’m not backing down. I demand he tells me what time he plans to leave, 8am he admits. That’s the final straw.
After a screaming match, mostly by me, his friend and he walks us to the bus station and buys my ticket for the 6am coach to Abidjan. No refund, but I take it as a moral victory, and besides, Josh and I are just delighted to be away for this crazy as*hole, all the cockroaches, the sick guy, the dangerous driving, and everything else that’s happened to us.
We are now rid of this guy, so we board the bus. Naturally it doesn’t leave at 6am, this is the Ivory Coast. A taxi smashes into an orange cart right outside the station and causes bedlam, so we’re delayed an hour. I couldn’t care less. All good, on a real bus, the sun is up and I’m happy to wait. Soon we’re off though, and we pull up in the disgusting Adjame bus station around 11am. Quite the night it’s been.
We jump in a taxi, he takes us straight to the airport where we book our flight to Liberia for the following day. $350 lighter, we take another taxi into Abidjan city centre. We have no idea where we’ll be sleeping, it’s 1pm and clearly we need to organise a hotel for the night. We go straight to the bar.
After a couple of drinks I remember that we had stayed in the Novotel in Abidjan for a night, so our iPhones would still remember the wifi password. Fast, free internet – perfect. We can organise a hotel there. Before we do that though, we head for a couple more ill-thought out yet very well-deserved afternoon beers. Around 4pm we headed to the Novotel to use their wifi, as I stand at the entrance I notice the super nice marketing girl who I had spoken to the last time I stayed here. We looked liked sh*t, seriously. We left Abidjan almost 4 days ago to go to Liberia, and we had been on the road, in transit, pretty much the whole time since, in hell and yet here we are having made pretty much no progress. Ouch.
“Aren’t you guys supposed to be in Liberia by now?” She asked.
“Eurrrgh, long, loooong story” I shot back.
“Come in and tell me over a couple of beers, my shout”
And in we went. I told her the whole story, and she whispered something to her assistant, we chatted about life, politics, travel for an hour or so. Really nice girl, and we were having a great time but we had to go and find a hotel. Just as I said that, she handed me two keycards, one for Josh and one for me.
“Wow guys, you must be tired, let me help you. Room for you Johnny, room for you Josh, buffet dinner and buffet breakfast included, and we’ll even drop you at the airport tomorrow. Free of charge, everything”
WOW, WOW, WOW. What a superstar. So we checked into the hotel, had one of the nicest shower and dinner of my life, chill with Josh that evening, recollecting the craziness of the last few days, and fall asleep in the lush bed of the Novotel. A perfect ending to a not so perfect experience.