Posted by on Feb 22, 2012 in Blog, Personal Stories | 4 comments

This weekend I traveled over 300 miles on my motorcycle. This might not sound like a huge distance if you’re using the interstate as your point of reference, but realize that it took us over 16 hours to cover that amount of distance. That’s over 16 hours to get from Spokane to Seattle.

Lome-to-Abomey

So there’s some context. The point of the trip was twofold, one was to see my dad all the way up in Abomey, Benin. The second was to relax. We saw my dad at least.

We started out a bit late Friday afternoon, two bikes and four people. Everything went smoothly to the border with Benin, we got our stamps to leave the country without much difficulty and didn’t even have to bother getting passes for our bikes. As we sped off into Benin we felt pretty excited, we’d been allowed to cross for free and it hadn’t taken any time at all.

gas-in-Ouidah

gas-in-Ouidah-Benin

It was smooth riding to Ouidah, where we filled our bikes up and turned north to head for Abomey. That’s when the road turned to dirt. We got so covered in red dust we looked camoflauged. The hope had been to make it to Abomey in roughly four hours, just after dark. Dark fell long before we made it.

Up until the end of the dirt road things remained fairly uneventful, aside from a truck that almost ran me off the road. But we were getting sore and nightfall was having its effect, namely in that my headlight had tilted up and I couldn’t really see.

We got back onto pavement as our road crossed paths with the highway to Cotonou, and we thought we were scott-free. Unfortunately the paved road was worse in that it was littered with potholes. I don’t mean little bumps and dips in the asphalt. I’m talking 6-8″ pits that could span the entire breadth of the road and that, if hit right, could flip your bike.

I hit two of those, in quick succession. This was partially due to the fact that I couldn’t use my high beam to see farther as it just shot off into the sky. The other reason was that an oncoming truck decided it was a good time to turn on his high beams and effectively blind me. Cyle swerved ahead of me, but I didn’t know why until I almost went over my handlebars. Kris slid into me as we slammed into one pothole at 60km/h, the second after it was even more jarring. Each impact somehow caused my bike to drop a gear, so I found myself in third gear at a speed that third gear was never intended to handle.

Dragging the tops of my feet on the ground in an effort to stabilize us, I fought with my bike to bring it to a halt in utter blindness. Why am I blind? I wondered as I struggled to find the shoulder without going into the nearby ditch. A quick inspection revealed that the impacts had popped my light completely out of its housing. It was no longer tilted towards the sky in a semi-useless fashion but was now pointed directly down at the ground in a completely-useless fashion.

map-potholes

Some little old guy on a scooter came over and led me to a nearby village where we got a new screw and weaseled the light back into place. It stayed for a glorious 20km, during which I could use my high beam and actually SEE things. Then we hit a bump that dislodged the light again.

Thanks to Kris’ ingenuity and Cyle’s supplies the light was put back in place with pink zip ties. This worked decently until we made it all the way to Abomey, but not before Cyle’s gear shifter fell off on the side of the road.

bike-visibility-improved

Motel-d'Abomey

We saw my dad, had dinner, and went to bed. In the morning we got our bikes worked on, and for a delightfully cheap $10 were back in business. My precious light was fixed. We went to a local museum housed in the palaces of the former kings of the region and I learned more about voodoo in the course of two hours than I had in weeks of living here.

cyle-and-Nils

Cyle's-Bike

We parted ways with my dad and headed south along the road we had taken to get to Abomey. This time we had a lot more fun with the road. The potholes were even worse than I had thought, but in daylight I could navigate through them at speed most of the way. The real danger was the cars, and especially trucks, that would swerve across the entire road to miss any and all potholes. They generally sped up enough that I couldn’t get past them only to slam on the brakes at the last minute and swerve in whichever direction I had decided to navigate the potholes on.

Otherwise things were relatively uneventful. I was sore and a bit tired of the attempts to kill me, but otherwise was faring decently. We stopped for a brief stretch break at the crossroads at Allada again, then headed back down the dirt road. At this point my main apprehension was the sheer nastiness of the bumps awaiting us. Then the goats struck.

goat

Goats, when you think about them, don’t necessarily come across as nefarious or conniving, and there’s a reason for that: they aren’t. They’re simply, well… stupid. Cyle and some other guy were speeding on ahead down the road as we passed through a small village. The majority of a herd of about 15 goats crossed right behind them, which caused me to slow down as I approached. It was the stragglers that were the problem.

They looked hesitant, anxious even, and at just the right moment decided to bolt across the road with such perfect timing that I’m convinced they were suicidal, bribed to undo me, or both. I had already slowed some, and hit the brakes but could do little more than put the bike down. Hitting a fat goat and flipping my bike was bound to lead to greater injury. We slid to a halt and as I realized my leg was pinned under the bike, so did Kris.

map-goat

It’s kind of difficult to lift a bike off of someone else when you’re still under it yourself, especially when it directly affects wounds you have yet to take inventory of, but I somehow managed to pick it up behind me long enough for her to crawl out. I wriggled my way free as well and went to check on her. She was in a bit of shock, processing what had just happened as best as she could, but thankfully she was alright.

I got up to check on my bike as two guys helped me pick it up. The only injury that it suffered was that the light had been shattered on the ground. By this point I’m thinking I’m not meant to have a light on my bike. It just isn’t in the proverbial cards.

broken-light

We got back on the road only to have a herd of cows try to take us out a few kilometers later. Not joking, a giant cow got out of formation on the road and charged us for a moment before the guy herding them started hooping and hollering at it.

I didn’t bother checking my injuries. My pant leg was torn and my arm was on fire but all I could think about was making the last 80km south before night fell again.

Gate-of-No-Return-Benin

We got back to Ouida and found our way to the Gate of No Return on the coast – the point at which people sold into slavery were considered beyond hope. The beach road that led to it wound up being more beach than road, and I put the bike down again. Kris hopped off and was fine, but in my haste to check on her I put my foot down too close to the engine and burned my ankle.

It was not a fun moment. We decided to find a taxi for the girls when we discovered that the hotel we were headed to wasn’ t 5km down this beach they called a road but 12km. Thankfully the taxi driver that we managed to find (through two local motorcycle taxi drivers) was greedy and he asked for the equivalent of $40 to drive us down the road.

The reason I say thankfully is twofold. One is that driving in sand sucks, and though by the end of the night I was closing in on competency it was incredibly stressful. After 3km in utter darkness we decided to turn back simply because of how difficult the trip was turning out to be, and because we would have to do it all again the next day. The second reason I’m thankful for the taxi driver’s greed is that in order to get to the hotel we were going to  have to take a boat that stopped running at dusk. We didn’t know that until after returning to the ship, however. We would have spent another hour or so getting there only to have to turn back anyways.

Thankfully there was a hotel near the Gate, and we crashed there for the night. Cyle managed to burn himself as well when he put his bike down in the sand, one of which was so bad that he couldn’t actually feel it. We got two little bungalows near the beach, and after a painfully long check-in process had a chance to lick our wounds.

And by lick I mean place in the scorching pain of cold running water. I had road rash on my right arm and knee, which had been eclipsed by the pain of the burn on my ankle, which had instantly blistered. The running water, however, felt great on the burn which I promptly forgot about in the flare of torture that erupted along my limbs. I forgot my burn so well in that moment that I accidentally rubbed the skin right off of it. I told Cyle not to worry about his burns, that mine felt great in the shower.

I didn’t realize that was solely because of my other wounds. I went off to try and find some first aid (no, we didn’t have any with us – yes, we realize we are idiots). Thankfully there was a massive group of Belgian high school students at the resort with a handful of teachers and, as we all know, teachers are not idiots. They had burn cream and said they would bring it to us. I went back to my bungalow to find that Cyle had passed out from pain in the shower. Apparently his burns hurt plenty without the distraction of any cuts.

road-rash-on-my-arm

I monitored him as I waited for the Belgian teachers to show up, and when they did Cyle bandaged up his legs. I took the opportunity to show them my own wounds, and after they stopped gasping at me I asked if they had anything that I could use to clean them out. They did. I don’t know what it was exactly, though Isopropyl made up something like 10% of it. I refer to it now as liquid fire. It was like someone invented molten hydrogen-peroxide and poured it on my arm.

After assisting Cyle to dinner, so he didn’t pass out and fall over, we had a great evening. We watched a storm come in (which actually sent me into shock when the temperature dropped suddenly – I hope my mom doesn’t read this…) and had a decent night’s sleep.

bandages

Jay-Kris

The next day we ate breakfast, packed up, bandaged ourselves with napkins, and rode our bikes back to Lome without any further incidents. Except for the fact that we hadn’t gotten visas to enter Benin. When we had entered the country for free it turned out that it was free because we hadn’t actually gotten visas. We had exit stamps from Togo. Those are very different things. Normally they arrest people for that, cart them to Cotonou (hours away) and charge them fines out the ying-yang for their belated entry visa. Thankfully they didn’t do that to us.

We got back to the ship, called the duty nurse, scrubbed our wounds with surgery scrub brushes (which hurt a lot as well), and resumed life as usual. Except that I found out that I got scheduled to work nights starting the next day. 6 day work week here I come!

Oh yeah, don’t worry: the goats were fine.