the leader, chapter 3

September 26, 2015

Day 3 was the wild card of our trip. A suggestion had been to take a day trip to the nearby monkey sanctuary. While the other girls nodded excitedly at the prospect, I grimaced. I then explained that, thanks to far too much time spent protecting my belongings from thieving wild monkeys, and observing their unappealing social habits, I have a decided distaste for the creatures. So when day 3 actually rolled around, we decided to split the party. The girls would go see their monkeys, and Peter and I would stay in the village. By this point I had another seed of a thought: could I possibly repeat the exquisite experience of yesterday’s swim? We did, after all, know the way, after finding our own way back yesterday. Peter agreed to try out our idea, and we set out walking in the general direction. What we were to discover, however, was that if a guide were to notice a pair of walkers, and were to follow them all the way to the falls, he would be very angry indeed. He would berate the pair for setting out without a guide to lead them. He would tell them that if the authorities found out, we would get in a great deal of trouble. He would advise us to tell them, on our return, that we had simply wanted to spend time taking photos of butterflies while we walked. And he would suggest that we give him some money, to assure that he had the same story as to our activities.
We would never have wanted to get in such trouble so I tried to forget about my happy idea of the day: and we took many pictures of the lovely butterflies.
That night we all went for a sanbu. The girls regaled us with monkey tales, and Peter and I described our collection of beautiful butterfly photos. We passed a church and paused at the door to see where the music was coming from. When we did so, a trio of musicians summoned us in and we sat for a bit to watch them rehearse with sax, trumpet, and keyboard.
IMG_2860 Then we slipped back outside. One in the group mentioned out loud her wondering as to whether we had crossed the border into Togo while hiking. None of us knew, but Peter and I told her that we had seen the border patrol just down the road at the other end of the village. We walked down to see about the prospect of stepping foot across the line. When we got down there, one of the border officials came over to us, and we mentioned the idea; he said that he was sorry but we could no longer cross–it was too late in the evening. We would have to come back in the morning. Kara shook her head sadly, explaining that we would be leaving first thing in the morning, so could not do so. The man then scanned our group, looking at each face for a moment. He settled on one—the youngest in our party—and said, “I would like to marry a white woman.” Peter put his arm around my shoulder. Still looking at Amanda, he continued. “I would like to marry you.” At this, Kara (who, I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned, happens to be a particularly loyal friend) brightened, “There’s a church just down the road—you can go get married now . . . if you let us into Togo!”
We did not cross into Togo that night.
We did, however, make it safely back home the next day, arriving once more creaky and sticky, and vowing never to make such a long trotro journey again . . . or at least not until our next holiday :-)

the leader, chapter 2

September 25, 2015

Day 2 held the main goal of our trip: hiking the mountain. This time, we would follow the leadership of a proper guide. His name was Charles.
The office where we purchased our tickets informed us that, due to the poor trail conditions, the long hike was closed: we would need to hike the short trail to the Falls. Disappointed to hear this, our trip organizer questioned if there was any way to hike the long way if we wanted to. The answer she was given left just enough ambivalence that, shortly after starting out, she asked the same question of our guide. He gave about the longest, circular answer, I could imagine, involving tales of other hikers asking to do such a thing, tales of other guides asked to lead them, and descriptions of the amounts of money involved. “I never talk about money,” he repeated finally, “but if one were to pay 10 or 15, or maybe 25 or 30, each person . . . because your safety is on my shoulders.” We solemnly nodded and repeated that yes, we would like to go the long way. This decision would be revisited (and questioned) over the course of the next 5 hours.
Several hours into the hike, nearing the summit, we had grown silent, slowing down in our chattering and singing . . . and encouraging each other that we would not die. We had grown weary enough that the feeling-like-death-was-imminent was just a fact of our existence. I was jolted out of my hiking trance, then, by the sight of Charles suddenly sprinting ahead of me, springing back and forth across the trail. Stopping after a bit, arms flailing and legs kicking, he hollered “Stop!” Then he said, “Ants—biting ants. Stop where you are and then run as fast as you can to pass the ants.” Adrenaline pumping, we each did as we were told, the others following my lead as I was the first behind Charles at that point. In the middle of my sprint, however, I looked down at myself at began to scream. I was absolutely covered. The others pitched into a party of helping me pull off articles of clothing and pull the ants off me as I cried out each time I felt a new bite, grabbing for them and crying out angrily. Once the majority had been removed, we kept going, with me periodically stopping to grab at a hidden one. “So guys,” I began, “you know how I was telling stories of my lack of animal fear?” (I had been telling tales of Zambia, and of being the “snake dancer” to scare away the snakes that had been spotted near the school dorm). “Well, I lied . . . I’m terrified of biting ants.” And of course I, who had been forever scarred by a near deadly run-in with the little monsters early in my childhood, would be the one in our party who managed to sprint straight into their welcoming arms.
On a brighter note, however, we had now reached the summit. It was all downhill from here.
From this point on I was a horse heading for the barn—or, perhaps more accurately, a sea turtle heading for the sea. With itchy crawlies from ant bites, plus my general watery inclinations, I was single-mindedly zeroing in on that waterfall, and on my dive into its pool.
We reached a fork in the path, at which Charles informed us that we were free to pay him: he would be leaving us now, as this was the point when we could go to the falls on our own, swim as long as we liked, and then make our own way back. It was an easy path back and he was too hungry to come with us. This last point made a great deal of sense, as he had completed the entire 5-hour hike with a single packet of crackers in his pocket (and no water with which to wash those crackers down). He was also carrying nothing, except for his hiking stick, and wearing flip-flops, to create an appearance of skipping along (periodically plopping down on a rock to wait for us to catch up) while we painstakingly trudged along.
Being free to pay him, we did so, and said our farewells before continuing on to the Falls.
It was all I could have hoped for.
That night, once we had all recovered, Peter and I went for a walk. The girls laughed at us when we announced our intent, asking why in the world we would want to walk after the day we had already endured. We explained that the concept is so relaxing that where we have been there is a specific word for an “after-dinner-stroll.” They were not convinced. We went for our sanbu. Peter followed some village men to find out about the strange giant “fruit tree,” and to learn its medicinal uses. I followed a trail of little ones, singing various language versions of “Jesus loves me” as we went.
And the next day . . .to be continued :-)

the leader

September 24, 2015

Follow the leader. For three days, perhaps. And don’t get too set on any one leader, for, in our game, the leader changes.
Our first in-country travel adventure has just concluded, during which we traveled, in a party of five to hike the country’s highest mountain
IMG_2817, and visit its biggest waterfall.IMG_2836
The first leader was our trip planner-my running buddy and fellow fifth-floor teacher. A worthy leader, managing to get us the entire way by trotro, which is by far the most economical mode of travel. Comfort must be tossed to the wayside, to be sure, with the long hours spent bouncing from one pothole to the next while packed into a rickety van with as many people and possessions as can fit. And if one passenger requests a stop, no doubt the tro will stop again shortly thereafter to add a new roadside passenger to the mix: an almost seamless motion of door-opening-as-tro-slows-while-new-passenger-is-pulled-into-the-tro. The door may or may not make its way closed again before the action repeats or is reversed.
As for what to expect if inclined to seek out a trotro adventure oneself, the basic expectation should be that there is none. There is no departure time, for instance: it departs once every nook is filled with a body or a belonging, and every one of those space fillers is paid for. There is also no guarantee: the aim is to make as much money as possible; so if someone is willing to fork over a bit extra for bags of grain, luggage will be removed from the back and placed on the owner’s lap. At one point in the trip, we were eyeing my bag for quite some time as it was displaced, looking as if we were going to leave without it
IMG_2870; at least, as far as we could tell, there was no place for it to go. Eventually, instead of being closed, the back doors were tied together with cord so as to create a little pocket of extra room for luggage.
By this point, with an hour and a half of sitting on the tro while it filled, I was so relieved to be starting to move that I lost my earlier questioning as to whether we should abandon this tro and look for another. But at least one never need go hungry or thirsty while waiting–any groundnuts, fried plantain, water Baggie …or mouthwash, you might need can be purchased through the window from a basket perched on someone’s head.
But for all that might fill an interest level on this mode of travel, there is nothing to make it pleasant. So by the end of the six hours getting there, it was with creaky bones and sticky skin that we stiffly made our way down to the lodge.
First order of business being a creaky and sticky walk, we set out to stroll through the village and see what we could find. Within a few minutes, though, we were no longer wander in but rather following an insistent youngster who’s entreaties to “follow me” and “this way” we could not resist. We investigated the cocoa nuts she showed us
IMG_2813, meandered down some paths behind herIMG_2814
and then, when she safely deposited us back where we were staying, we decided to keep going a bit. With time before sunset, I assured everyone that if we kept going down the path and then turned right, we could loop back to the main road and make a triangle leading us back to where we started. After a series of right turns with which I led them right into clearly wrong destinations, the party was primed to accept the leadership of another: a gentleman exited to show us all his field, and the rice growing in itIMG_2819
(does rice really look, and grow like this, we wondered?).
At this point we all noticed two important factors to consider:
#1 being that the sun was setting, and we were wandering in an unfamiliar village.
#2 being that said setting sun was bringing with it the accompanying insects and critters that we generally avoid (one round of malaria so far for Peter and I hopefully not to be repeated too soon!).
Two points considered, we turned on our heels and came back
…the group graciously allowed me to resume leadership, at a significantly speedier pace, on the condition that our path would henceforth not diverge from a direct route. We made it safely back, before dark, and that’s about all she wrote … For day one of the trip, and chapter one of the story, that is. Stay tuned for the rest of the story: the mountain :-)