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Togo Hairpin Turns of Life

2007-05-03 23:21:00

Togo Hairpin Turns of Life
Badou Togo, West Africa
Thursday, May 3, 2007

My motorcycle accident a week ago has my observations and analysis or transportation very strict. I am trying to weigh the pros and cons, then the risk of the various types of transportation in Africa.

I travel on the hairpin turns of life and over the edge I go but for the Grace of God.

I will never forget my friend Khalid, in Mosul, Iraq, we sat down to eat dinner and there were no forks, spoons or knives. I may be wrong on this, however not really the point of the story. Then while we were passing food around, and somewhat every persons plate was included in the food buffet I thought.

- You just put your hand on my plate and ate my food. -

They would reach here and there, grabbing food as they wished a very close and intimate eating custom, complete sharing of food and of germs, bacteria, virus, and sickness etc.

I asked Khalid,
- Are you afraid of getting sick,
He held up both hands and reached for God, the Heavens and said,
- Allah be with us. -

This is all a faded memory now, I am sure the words, and the exact story has change in my mind, however the engraved vision of the smile on Khalid’s face and the reach for the heavens will never be forgotten.

Grace is when a guilty person, deserving of punishment is absolved of all guilt, and granted mercy, they never have to pay for the bad they did, they are forgiven unconditionally.

To be forgiven unconditionally is maybe only accomplished by a mothers and fathers love. In my drinking, I hurt some of the loved ones in my life, and they have never forgiven me completely, except my mother and father. All my other friends are in waiting, they are waiting for me to hurt them again, to embarrass and cause them to look bad. This is the punishment I must accept for the rest of my life from these friends, the look in their eyes of that tells me, they do not trust me. Alcoholism kills, it is a slow suicide, and a fast one would be better. Nevertheless, the look in their eyes is the payment I must make for their trust, as it slow fades with time to understanding.

And there but for the Grace of God, I go…
Death is always a hairpin turn away.

Ok, Adventure Travel defined by me is when there exists the possibility of dying. I do not think of my life as an adventure, I think of my life as a life less normal, however maybe some days it is an adventure.

I was on Motorcycle driving down a dirt road trying to go and see Hippos in Nangbeto, the driver is tracking a rut, he is going faster, increasing speed, and the rut is growing deeper. As the speed increases, I know the danger increases. I finally said,
- Dousmahl -

I cannot find the word in the French dictionary, but it is pronounced DoosSmah, which abstractly in my mind means go slow and be careful, I do not know for sure what it means. However, I do know if we lay the motorcycle down and my head hits a rock at 40 miles per hour, I will or can be killed.

I remember walking in Pie de La Cuesta, Mexico along the road, a big water truck goes by so fast and so very close, I can feel it wind friction, if I stepped five inches to the right, I would be dead.

I am in the back of a small van, carrying 15 adults and 3 babies yesterday, I am in the rear seat holding 4 people. I have my backpack on my lap so the driver has no ability to throw it, inside is the computer, drives of taxis, buses, and the worst airplanes throw bags, they drop bags.

The van that broke down, talking and looking, sort of normal here. Think my life is dangerous, think of that man with his head under the rear end of the van.

I have the comfort of knowing, I have a big bag, and 14 human bodies between me and a head on collision with a large truck.

Drivers dodge potholes, the are looking at the road. When they do a swerve to miss the pothole, is a person standing in their path?

As I am sitting in the seat, I feel the shift, the sudden sliding action from left to right of the rear end of the van. I am looking and feeling around, is the side of the van coming open. As if the door was open, however there is not door on my side. It does a small wiggle, and I can feel it, soon there is a scrape of the wheels as the tires are rubbing the fender and I can smell burned rubber.

This was a trip of smells, can a person describe smells?

Body odor of 18 people who carry water to shower, this man was a good guy, but just does not understand armpits should not be pointed at people. I would see this as one of them universal understanding in life, my armpit has the possibility of stinking.

The smell of mother’s milk and the baby claws and rips at the breast of this young woman in front of me, which has to hurt.

Red dirt dust.
Cooking fires along side the road

Now, this unusual smell, burned rubber.

I know, and I keep remembering reading in the guidebook,
- Hairpin Turns. -

There is supposed to be Hairpin Turns on this road, these two words forced my poker hand, I chose the Van and not the Motorcycle Taxi because of these two words.

I do not trust the maps, the road to Nangbeto looked like a major highway on my map, it was half gravel and half paved. The road from Kpalime to Notse for sure looked like a paved road and it was 100 gravel.

I never know where I am going or what I am doing, I never have more than a preponderance of evidence, there are zero guarantees, and I travel with the faith. I know if I move, I will arrive.

I only complain when we do not move, stopping is the problem, moving is the solution, how fast is just a preference.

I remember being in the back of a large bus in Venezuela, I was traveling between Maracay and the ocean, one of the prettiest road on the planet and a great beach at the end with almost no people, very lonely. The bus would go plowing into a curve, then stop, back up, do a three point repositioning of the van, these were hairpin turns, and the bus came to a complete stop. Maybe that is my definition of a hairpin curve.

I was in the back my head out the window, vomit streaking down the side of the bus and everyone laughing at the Gringo.

On hindsight, there was no as I define them hairpin turns on the road between Atakpame and Badou, the road was at least 25 miles per hour all the time, slowing to avoid some potholes.

This was not even close to the road between La Paz, Bolivia and Corocoro considered one of the most dangerous roads on the planet. Bike riders like to go down this hill and as they go around dirt road, with only room for one car they go flying off the edge into Bolivia or is that oblivion maybe Boblivion.

My mind is comparing, analyzing, all my past travel experiences, this has remove my bliss, I am not ignorant, I am premeditated, fully aware, cognizant, I know the danger and I still go, I must be crazy.

I would say about 99 out of 100 people are not even aware of a dangerous situation until many year later, well after the trip was over.

I have had two TRAVELER friends, casual friends, two people, one in Mexico and one in Bolivia, human bodies I met along the way die in car accidents while traveling. I have had one friend be stabbed to death in the Philippines.

Three people I know have died while traveling, two thirds by car accidents, I am aware, I am overwhelming good at math and statistics, I can feel the probabilities, I can see the risk, and yet I go, my bliss has been surgically emotionally removed.

Ignorance is Bliss should be the defining aspect of a tourist and traveler. It is annoying to read information about a country like Togo, Bolivia, Cambodia, and Mexico that is all love-the-place, it was so beautiful; it was a HUGE CLICHÉ… I want to puke, I know I do not trust them, these writers are dangerous.

Full Stop

West Africa I would say is about 10 times safer than South America, Asia, etc. It is just my muse today.

The reason is this; there are no cars, and very few people. I was trying to count the number of cars we passed between Atakpame and Badou, there was probably in the 3 hours on the road, less than 10 cars and about 25 motorcycles.

I know a head on collision is dangerous, two vehicles going 40 miles per hour hitting is about the same as hitting a wall at 80 miles per hour. Sitting in the front seat is more dangerous than the back of the van with 14 bodies and a backpack on my lap…

Hairpin turns…

Falling down the side of mountain, on breathtaking road, weaving hairpin turns and shear cliffs is, well, but for the Grace of God, I would be dead. The back of the van is loose, the tires are rubbing, I can smell burned rubber, I know there is a time limit, the tire has about X amount of rubber and I remember the right front one was bald. I am know we are on borrowed time, every curve, I can feel the pressure on the right tire increase, the sound of about 16 gauge steel as it scrapes off another layer of rubber, the smell, everyone in the van is in bliss.

Yes, the driver stops, Thank you, we waited until we was at the top of the mountain, and we had been climbing for about 16 Kilometers.

This is Odette, she is a Coiffure, I think that gives her real and some imagined higher class status in Togo, She sits away from the common group, under a tree, I am with the locals. Status and class is important and I think hair dressers have a higher class rank. She ws dropped off to her parents on the path, a village of 5 houses, and she went upward mobile. Did you leave home and never look back, and see her family and village as WHAT?

I am safe, I get out behind the other 17 bodies, they unpack and we breathe. I am unharmed, life is good, and Odette, the Coiffure girls is still ignoring me, as is Africa Style.

This is the metal piece that broke under the van, this is rather like a U-Bolt that holds the leave springs on the axel. More or less the right axe of wheel was becoming detached at the axel because part of the spring was not attached. The vehicle could go around a curve and the back of the van would slide off over the cliff.

My mind can stop calculating the risk; I do not have to think about mutiny or sitting along the road waiting for another van. I regularly get out of vehicles and say, enough is an enough, this is just too stupid. Other tourist and travelers do not enjoy me leaving a van; they feel safer when everyone is together. When one person jumps ship, or mutinies, they have to stop being ignorant, they have to go from, the oh-I-am-safe mode to maybe-this-driver-is-stupid mode, to there is one person leaving, he has decided the driver-is-stupid.
This is the metal piece that broke under the van, this is rather like a U-Bolt that holds the leave springs on the axel. More or less the right axe of wheel was becoming detached at the axel because part of the spring was not attached. The vehicle could go around a curve and the back of the van would slide off over the cliff.

West African drivers have No Huevos in comparison to Mexico. West African drivers are amazingly slow. I see stretches of road and there are no speed bumps. I am thinking, what is wrong here, this is not normal, this is a go as fast as possible stretch of road, a third worlds dream road. The fast as possible driving does not happen here, West African cars are twice to three times safer than in Asia or South America. However, you have to remember, there is nobody on the roads, it is empty, and the probability of a head on collision, the most dangerous accident in my mind, in my calculations is close very low.

10 cars in 3 hours on the road between Atakpame and Badou.

This is a second breast-feeder mom, her child is a real tugger, this girl sat in front of me after the second van picked us up. She continually was peeking back to look at me, she spoke no French. I was having fun talking to here with body talk, she would look, I would look, and we would play, good fun.

This is the life, living in the back of a van full of 21 people, 18 adults and 3 children, this is the van that picked us up. I am 100 percent sure this passes all USA regulation for safety, weight, shipping, and transport of breast feeding mothers according to United Nations standards… NOT!

The whole world want to solve AID or SIDA, and they are not sharp enough to see the real killers on the planet. I have never hear of UN saying, car safety, bus safety, etc, maybe, but not here in Togo.

I have questions.
- Is a driver more prepared and safer who leaves in the cool of the morning at 5 to 6:00 am, smarter, and better than a driver, that leaves at 9:00 am.

- I was not happy at the Gare; the person I chose to drive was changed out by another driver.

- If I wait at the road leaving the city, and not the Gare or Station are the car drivers smarter and safer.

- Are cars loaded in the station more dangerous than a car loaded as it goes?

- Will a normal nice person with a car pick me up? I am thinking hitchhiking is safer than going to the bus stops.

- The smaller the car, the less people.

- Asia, South America, Central America, Europe, and strangely NIGER has buses. Buses are safer than TOURIST brainless vans. I really despise vans as a way of travel, they are low, I cannot take photos, and always twice as packed as a bus, plus the driver goes faster, the air seldom works and I have no window.

Finding a big bus, and they do exist here Togo for long hauls, is very complicated and confusing and takes weeks of planning. I need to speak French better.

Small six passenger cars
Station Wagons
Micro Buses
Full size buses
A full size bus is safest.

I think walking in a city is very dangerous; bikes in a city are even more dangerous. Motorcycles a little less dangerous in a city, because you cannot be hit from behind as easy.

A motorcycle in a head on collision is wildly dangerous and a lot more dangerous than a bicycle.

A head on collision in a van, with me in the back is safer.

I can choose the driver of a moto; I have a tough time choosing the Van or Car drivers. How do I know I make good choices?

How must stake do I put in my ability to make a good choice, does the choice of choosing a moto driver outweigh the random van driver, yet safer because it goes slower and I am in a bigger vehicle.

A motorcycle on an open road can avoid an oncoming truck on a NARROW road better than a Van.

One big problem with Motorcycle Taxis here in Togo or West Africa is this, when they are on a dirty road, there is a smooth path, the will not leave this path. The road can be 30 meters wide, and if a person is walking in the path, they will start to beep their horns and force a person to step into the ditch.
DoosSmah. (Slow in silly use of French.)

I have to grab the moto driver with no doubt of my desire, slow down, and strangely, they slow down. I am not in Asia or South America; where macho says, go faster, never give. Strangely, Macho here in Vehicles is ten times less than in Asia or in South America. Maybe it is these driving schools; I see many car driving schools.

Walking is a macho not give the road event.

Decisions, I cannot just think forever, I travel.

I will…

1. Only enter vehicles that are moving, stop to pick me up, I want to see and make a personal judgment of the car and driver.

2. I will take a moto to the outskirts of town, then get off and allow this moto to return to the village. What this mean, there are stops or logical places to hitchhike or catch a vehicle leaving from one city to the next, it is the last stop as you leave the city. I had very good luck in Lome; I was on a personal motorcycle of a man who wanted a little extra cash on the trip between Lome and Tsevie, Togo.

3. No more pay in advance, removes my ability to negotiate with the driver.

Moto or Hitchhike with a paid Hitch…?

I would say Hitchhiking is safer here that going to the Gare or Station, as a normal car in good shape, they will not put five loads of bananas on top. The normal car driver will not risk breaking the car or destroying the paint.

Motorcycles give me the most amount of choice.

A driver that knows the road is a better driver than I am who does not know the road. If I hitch a ride with a moto or car going in the same direction, on the road leading to my destination, as it clear outskirts of the city, I will be with a driver that knows the road.

In addition, these drivers do not normally ask for bag fees, the ask the going rate or fee as the station or Gare. Note, I have only paid bag fees in about 1 in 50 rides, get out of the van and leave, and then they decided they do not need the money.

All of the above journalizing was for me, remember, this is my journal, not for you, but for me first. I have trouble forgetting others are reading when they write me emails, I calculate the consequence of some comments and think, do I want them emails or not.

Writing has this intriguing ability aspect, it takes a mind that is full of a clutter of feeling, thoughts, half-thoughts, random this and that, and says time to clean house.

This mind is a mess please organize and clean it, but first you have to write down in uncensored, and un-edited manner, journalizing your ideas, feeling, do not forget to explain how you feel. Clean them up, organize, and then, if you want, go back, re-write, and make legible, consistent and understandable by a reader. Then again,
- I cannot be bothered. -

I believe in the jumble of thoughts is authentic truths, if I want to learn about myself, I need to return later and Rorschach this writing and journalizing of mine. I will see where I alluded to some abstract, non thought out idea, I used one word, this word does not fit, yet I was compelled to use it why, the un-edited typing or narratives, missive as some call them is raw meat, not bologna.

On the other hand, not editing could just mean, I am lazy and do not care about readers, I am a traveler, I would say a person that travels more than one year has acquired a knack to know how to turn off the caring about others button. If a person is accosted by bad manners, rude and dirty people and beggars long-enough the ability to care for them or others is diminished in a visceral sense, becomes more intellectual and focus and prioritization has to be continually reenergize with introspective injections of common sense.

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Togo Hairpin Turns of Life