In my crazy adventures around the globe, folks sometimes ask me how I manage. Let’s face it, what I do means landing in a place where I most often don’t know anyone, the language, the cultural nuances, the terrain, you name it.
While you can do all the preparation in the world, most often this falls to the wayside as soon as the first bump in the road comes along – of which there are plenty.
So the moral of the story is that it is to go with the flow and problem solve to find solutions, often minute by minute. Going prepared is all well and good, and definitely essential, but the most important part of surviving travel hiccups is going on to find not only plan B or C, but all the way down to Z.
For example, in my recent return from Sierra Leone to Liberia, I ran across many such hiccups. First, I came prepared, in that rather than giving myself the extra fifteen minutes to sleep, I opted to get an early start and leave the hotel at 6am to beat the traffic.
I had my office staff call the helipad to ensure that a flight was leaving when I needed it, as I had a sneaking suspicion that it wasn’t going to be there. Even after the call to confirm departure, when we showed up, there were no such flights available. This meant that we had to drive to the boat docks, which were truly on the complete other side of the city, with morning traffic starting to congest the rainy streets.
One of the keys to this adventure was my reliable taxi driver. I was connected with him through our former staff, but my effort to build a rapport with him paid off in dividends when it came to answering my questions about Freetown and his experiences in the civil war, and more importantly, showing up when I needed him. He was flexible and canceled his other rides that he had scheduled to help me get across town.
Once we arrived at the docks, the ferry wasn’t leaving for another 45 minutes. More important was that it would put me at the other side with less than enough time to comfortably make it to the airport. We sussed out the options of a speed boat, a common by more expensive way to go. There was one such available speed boat, thankfully.
After some negotiations they took their time in getting the boat unstuck from the low tides, with about 15 guys trying to pull the boat free. At last it was free, and I had to navigate around piles of human feces and slimy rocks to reach the boat. I was helped by one of the guys, him grabbing ahold of my arm in an act of genuine assistance, but non-the-less made me pause to consider the strong grip and being the only white woman with a group of fifteen men in a culture where rape is an every minute occurrence. The driver was also concerned, and wanted to ensure that I made it safely. After more fully assessing the situation, I felt comfortable taking the trip across by myself, luckily only with two of the guys.
Once onto the other side of the water, I was whisked off the boat – first thinking I was getting another helping hand – and then being lifted right the boat and carried to the shore without getting my feet wet. For this one I was thankful.
I then negotiated for another taxi, as well as debated about the exchange rate with the speed boat driver. Once got in and finished dealing with the folks milling around my door asking for money, the back door opened. At first I thought that this was someone coming in to harass me further, but then it was just the local bus school service in action. About six school children, in their blue and white uniforms, all piled in to the backseat. They clearly knew I wouldn’t have the heart to refuse them. I saved them about a three mile walk to school, as we passed all of their classmates on the way.
About ten meters from where we started, the driver stopped to change the tire. We’d already had to stop and do the same once on the way from the helipad to the dock.
Of course when I finally made it to the airport, all I had to do was sit relax, and read a book.
You never know where the journey might take you, how long it will take, or what the ride will look like. But it is important not to get hung up on the first, or even second hiccup, because there will be others to come. This is certain.