getting to the airport: no small matter

I was on today’s 10:30am Bellview flight from Freetown (Sierra Leone) to Banjul (the Gambia). Bellview is Nigeria’s airline notorious for delays, cancellations, and worse. A significant amount of water lies between Freetown and the airport, and there are several ways to traverse this: helicopter (fast, expensive, dangerous), ferry (slow, cheap, slow, slow), hovercraft (fast, expensive, inherently awesome, prone to break down – but at least no one gets hurt), and speedboat.Someone told me the hovercraft left at 8am, so at 7:30 I took a taxi from my hotel and arrived at the hovercraft site. No hovercraft today! Saturday is maintenance day! The taxi man then took me to the helicopter pad. No helicopter today! (If you have a fancy UN passport, you can fly in the UN helicopter, but I do not.)

Taxi man (Daoud) took me back to the hovercraft, where I argued for a long time with the speedboat captain about price. After waiting a half hour to see if someone else might show up to split the cost, I paid a crazy price and sped across the waters.

The speedboat dropped me on the beach of a hotel. First the beach boys demanded money for walking across their beach (No, I said, Do you own the beach? Show me the title! – I was grumpy at this point). Then the hotel proprietor wanted to be paid for walking through the hotel, and after a fight, I agreed, walked through the hotel, walked up a big hill, took a taxi to the airport, and arrived just one hour before my scheduled flight time. Phew!

I walked up to the attendants. Bellview to Banjul? They laughed. Maybe by 3pm or 4pm. I should have taken the ferry. Twice.

Update: The plane finally took off six hours after the scheduled time.  No one batted an eye.  The napkin my in-flight beverage rested on read “Bellview…the preferred airline.”  Perhaps preferred by people whose alternative is a donkey cart.  That said, the flight felt completely safe, for which I am grateful.  And what a view of West Africa!

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