I’m awake at 7—the Alarm Rooster has followed us to Accra—and walk around the guest house looking for trouble. All the footlockers are ready to load, so all we have to do is get everybody up and out the door in an hour and a half. That shouldn’t be a problem.
Might as well take advantage of the last predictable web connection for a couple of days. Answer emails, do some reading. At 7:30 I tap on each bedroom door and announce, “Leaving in 1 hour!” I hear movement, so apparently nobody died in his sleep.
Soon there’s coffee brewing—that’s the most important thing for some people—and I try to get somebody to eat the last 2 boxes of the Kellogg’s variety pack. We’ll just leave whatever’s left to the Junges, who will be here another few days.
The taxi driver shows up a half hour early. He’s quick to tell us that we can take our time; he just wanted to be sure not to be late because of traffic. This guy’s getting a tip. He loads the footlockers into the back of his van while I check each room as it’s vacated. Nothing left behind, and the place is left in a used but not demolished condition.
We say our good-byes to the Owens—they arrived back in Accra yesterday afternoon—and thank them for their help, far beyond the line of duty. Ryan tells me the taxi should cost 70 cedis. It’s helpful to have info like that going into negotiation.
It’s a quick drive to the airport; the traffic is really light for 8:30 am in this hub city of West Africa. We pull up at the curb and load the luggage onto carts for each of us. I ask the driver how much. 70 cedis. I give him 80 and say, “Madasi,” which is “Thank you!” in Twi, the Ashanti language generally spoken in Accra.
Security is very good here. They scan all the bags coming into the building—and they did last year too; this wasn’t just a response to Brussels—then we queue up for check-in. The line is not long, but it moves slowly as they methodically check passports against passenger lists before letting you into the counter area. We drop our footlockers and other checked bags at the check-in counter, where I learn that we have a weight problem. The maximum weight here is 33 pounds per bag.
That’s a favorite trick here; drop the weight limit so everyone’s over-packed, and then make a little extra on baggage fees. This happened last year as well, and they nailed us to the tune of over $300. Since I didn’t have that much US cash on me, I had to use a credit card, and that meant I had to run all over the airport to get it authorized and in the process almost missed the flight—the one that the rest of the team wouldn’t have missed. Have a nice trip, folks …
This time I’m ready. They ask for $160, and I have it in cash, so all’s well. It’s a lot more fun to be calm and smiling and Madasi-ing all over the place.
Everybody’s in. Upstairs to ex-migration, where we fill out a form and officially check out of the country. (Well, what would you call it?) Several of the girls get comments from the female agents on their braids. They seem pleased that the girls have had it done, and especially that they had Ghanaians do it. Cultural respect goes a long way.
Then through security and the wildly overpriced duty-free shop and out to the gate area. It’s 9:30 am, and we’re smoothly checked in for a 12:20 flight. Yeah, that’s early, but it’s a risk you have to take. If check-in’s chaos, and it often is, you may need all of that time and wish you had more.
So we settle in to the common gate area and relax. I go back to the shop and buy a little something for the ladies at Tumaini (don’t tell them); we make use of the restrooms; I drop in to the VIP lounge and ask how much it is for a day pass, thinking that maybe we can relax in there for a couple hours. $27. Each. Nah. But if our area weren’t air conditioned, I’d think about it.
At 11 I see a fairly good-sized line going through the gate checkpoint, so I guess we’ll head over there. Stop at a lectern for one more passport check; then at a desk for another boarding pass check, where they give me my receipt and change for the baggage fees. Very proficient system, to all appearances.
Eventually they call us down the stairs to the bus and out to the plane, a 787 Dreamliner. It’s next to a much larger Emirates wide-body; kinda wish we were riding on that. Emirates is famous for having lots of luxuries on their flights.
We take off toward the south, over the ocean—over Osu Beach, in fact—and then turn left toward Dar. But as I follow the data on the flight maps, as is my custom, I note that we’re not climbing at a normal rate. In fact, about 15 minutes in, we’re only at 10,000 feet and then begin descending slightly. Well, that’s odd. And then I realize that we’re going to land at Lome, Togo, just a 30-minute flight from Accra. I had noticed a lot of empty seats on this flight; now I know why. No one will get off at Lome, but a lot more will get on.
As we land at Lome, I reach forward a seat and tap Jojo on the shoulder. So you made it to Togo after all, my friend. Good for you.
We’re on the ground for about an hour but of course stay on the plane. Then we take off again, this time really headed to Addis. And then I notice some more stuff, such as, we’re not going to get into Addis anywhere near the 9.05 pm that my itinerary says. More like 10.25. And our flight out to Dar es Salaam leaves at 10.56. And at Addis, as in most African airports, you have to go through security every time you change planes.
This is not good. If we miss our connection at 10.56 pm, there aren’t going to be any more flights out to Dar tonight. We’ll have to rebook and either hang around in the airport all night—fairly brutal by anyone’s standards—or get a hotel. I’ve been to Addis several times, but I’ve never left the airport. That means getting local currency, trying to find a hotel with 2 or 3 rooms available, getting taxis back and forth. Yecchh. I don’t like situations like this. It would be one thing if I were alone, but when I’m responsible for a bunch of other people’s kids …
I let the Crew know that we’ll need to hustle off the plane; we’ll give it our best shot.
So what do we know? We know that we’ll have about 30 minutes from touchdown to departure of the next flight. We know that we’re all seated almost at the exit. That’s good. We know that a short taxi to the arrival gate would cut our time significantly. We know that Addis uses both jetways and shuttle buses; the jetways would be faster. If the departure gate is close to the arrival gate, that would be great. And may there please be short lines at security? And we know that our connection is a Dash 8, a much smaller aircraft than the 787. So our 7 seats are a much larger percentage of their total tickets, and that makes us relatively more valuable. Maybe they’ll hold the flight for us. Maybe.
Touchdown at 10.25, just as predicted. OK. We have 31 minutes, and the clock’s ticking.
We taxi to the terminal and then allllll the way to the very far end. Longest possible taxi. And past all the jetway gates to one with rolling stairs and a shuttle bus. And the shuttle bus takes us alllll the way back to the other end of terminal. This is not looking good.
And then I hear the Magic Word. As we enter the terminal and head for the stairs, I hear a voice shout, “Dar!” There’s a gate agent meeting us. That means that the airline has recognized the problem and is expediting us to the gate—and that almost certainly means that they’re holding the flight for us. So up the stairs we go, following the gate agent. Alllll the way back to the other end of the terminal, but on foot this time. For a moment I think they’re going to waive security for us—I’m not sure what I think about that—but soon it’s clear that they’re just pushing us to the head of the line. They give Jojo some trouble with his wrist brace but finally let him through. And then half the length of the terminal again to Gate 17, where everybody else has boarded. I note that there are 13 in our special group, so our clout was even better than I had hoped.
Onto the shuttle bus—the same one we rode in on—and alllll the way to the far end of the tarmac to the Dash 8. I take a minute to tell the flight attendant that the airline has really done a spectacular thing with this tight connection. Ethiopian is one of the best airlines in Africa—or I suppose anywhere—and their stock is pretty high with me right now. Everybody go buy a ticket from them. They fly lots of places. And that language they speak is called Amharic.
We settle into our seats. Did I mention that it’s a smaller plane? Jonathan squeezes into his seat next to an older gentleman. I’m tempted to ask the flight attendant to reseat the gentleman to first class just on humanitarian grounds.
They give us a small sandwich and a Kit-Kat bar on the plane, just before midnight.