Submitted by Erin Nolan
We left very early to get on the road to Tamale. I didn’t need an alarm clock because the sound of the early morning Muslim prayer was enough to get me up and moving before the sunrise. As everyone piled in the car I was sad to leave these great kids but knew our adventure was far from over. As soon as we left town, the roads were a complete disaster. The roads are all made from dirt, there were huge pot holes every few feet, and are badly corrugated. I have never seen a corrugated road before and driving on one feels like you’re constantly driving over tiny speed bumps and it never stops until you hit another pot hole. Every single second the car is on the road it is literally being destroyed.
I couldn’t believe just after a short drive north how much the scenery changed. The dirt started to get darker in color and it reminded me of a clay tennis court, the communities started to get further and further away from each other, and people would just appear out of nowhere and would be walking along the road side. Everyone here lives on the land, no electricity, their houses are made from mud, water must be fetched if they are not lucky enough to have a bore hole and pump nearby, farm all the food they eat, and carry everything on top of their heads. I was so impressed by how much these women can carry.
It took us over seven hours to travel approximately 200km due to the conditions on the road. About three hours into our drive the AC decided it was taking the rest of the day off, trying to get some ventilation we opened the windows and the dry dust filled the car. It was up my nose on my clothes and literally all over everything. But it was a choice; suffer from the heat or the dust, my choice being dust. A few hours later we realized the car had a flat tire and the girls sprung into action again. The car was pulled over to the side of the road and the girls placed hazard markers on the road to alert the crazy drivers that we were in distress ahead. It wasn’t like a highway or anything but from time to time an overloaded truck, crazy Tro Tro, or just someone in a 4x4 would scream past us with no regard. Another talent that Patricia has that I do not is that she isn’t afraid to change a tire right on the spot. A few local men did come out to give us a hand which was a help when we noticed the jack needed an extra lift in order to get the car up high enough to change the tire. The car was chocked with rocks to keep it from rolling and the local men brought us some wood to put under the jack and Patricia went to work. I took this opportunity to find a clean tree to take care of my necessities because I didn’t see any rest stops along the way, the girls joined me near their own private tree, and again my baby wipes came in very handy.
Another awesome job done by Patricia because some how she remained clean even in this harsh environment. As we continued bumping along the roads the conditions never improved they only got worse, at times we had to get out of the vehicle and walk ahead in order for the car to pass some sections of the road. The extra weight of us 7 and our bags were just too much for the car to handle when it was facing a crater in the road. To be able to make this journey without incident you really need a high sitting truck with huge tires or wait I just had a thought, what about an airplane?
As we were three quarters through our journey I began to question our fuel situation. I hadn’t seen one suitable filling station along the way and was curious what we would do if we ran out of fuel. I was told not to worry calculations were on track and we should make it to Tamale before we need to refuel. As we continued along, the roads were just so awful that the dust was seeping through every opening in the car every time we bumped along. It was coming in through the vents and even up from the floor boards, I have never seen anything like it before. I am beginning to understand why Jonathan insisted on having the AC fixed prior to our departure, and I feel bad for all of us that it didn’t hold out. Our last half hour before making it to Tamale the fuel became critical. There was not a fuel station in sight and we still had some distance to travel, Jonathan began to economize by turning off the engine to coast downhill and would restart in order to make it uphill. I was very concerned about the fuel and what would happen if we got stuck. We were far from home and no one for miles that could come and help us. Jonathan continued to reassure me that any local person would be happy to take care of us until we solved our situation. Well luckily enough the fuel was just enough to coast into the first fueling station in Tamale. What a relief, we filled up and set off to find a place to stay.
Everyone was exhausted and we really didn’t have a plan for the night so we ventured into ask some people working in a water authority building hoping they could direct us to a clean and safe place to stay for the night. We piled out of the car and guess what? We had another flat tire! Here we go again I thought, I couldn’t believe it. Thank goodness Jonathan brought along 2 extra tires and a small air compressor in addition to the spare. Patricia and the girls did it all over again and we were on our way but now had 2 bad tires in the back and a really dirty car. We found the local tire guy and dropped off the tires for repair, I still can’t believe the over abundance of tire repair guys all over the country! Our accommodations for the night were pleasant and clean we had running water and again an added bonus of AC. Can you believe that the dust actually penetrated either the zipper or the fabric and made it through my backpack and on my clothes? Unreal I still don’t believe it!
Our next challenge was to track down safe food to eat. Tamale is the 4th largest city in Ghana, and you could immediately tell by the amount of people everywhere. People were on bikes, scooters, cars and on foot, I realized this is the second time I had seen any traffic lights and thank goodness for them. We were trying to find a Chinese restaurant in the area because it seemed that was the safest food to eat and I was sure to find something I could eat too but we began to all laugh hysterically when we keep driving around in circles and weren’t able to find it and kept missing the turn to turn around. We were all hungry, tired and very silly. We eventually found it but when we walked in it was empty and not very nice the concern came back and when the young boy turned on the AC the lights went out so we decided to leave. Good choice because we stumbled upon a very nice place on a side road just by luck. It was the Gariba Lodge which was a hotel that was still being built and it turned out that the owner had seen Patricia on TV and knew all about her being a Ghanaian pilot. How lucky was that? We all had a great meal and an enjoyable conversation.