It was the scariest thing I've done since the last time I strapped skis to my feet and stared down a mountain! I spent at least the first 5 minutes repeating over and over in my head "God be with me, God protect me, godbewithmegodprotectmegodbewithmegodprotectme" A helmet wedged onto my head, no chin strap, the helmet slowly working its way loose with every bump we hit. My hands both behind me, gripping the small bar with so much force that had we been in an accident I likely would have dislocated both shoulders, because there was no way I was letting go. My first ever ride on a motorcycle can be described in one word: terrifying.
Let me back up a bit...
A couple of friends from the Gateway group, Sing and Huejong, have made the difficult decision to end their stay on the ship. So the day before their departure, they asked a few close friends to come out to dinner with them. I was one of them. Now, unless one of your friends on ship is a ship driver, you must use your feet or local transportation to get around. There are three main options for getting around in West Africa: Poda Poda, which is the equivalent of a 18passenger van, with metal benches and usually minimal choices in routes unless you pay the price of a filled van and the driver actually knows how to get to the destination (many a trip has gone awry thanks to this small detail). It's the cheapest option and often chosen just for that reason. Option two is to take a taxi. Second cheapest option for a group, and depending on time of day, they may let you squeeze far more people in than they are technically allowed (4 passengers is the official maximum,and they get fined if they are seen by police with more than that.) Third choice is Okadas. They are motorcycles that get used as taxis. While it's the most expensive option for a group, it also is the fastest option, since they can weave between traffic that is literally bumper to bumper.
As you've already guessed, we chose Okadas. Candace, one of the people going, had never been on an Okada before and was really hoping to get the opportunity that night. Since we knew traffic at that time of the evening could be horrible, it really was a good option. Only problem was the restaurant we were going to was a long drive away, approximately half an hour in good traffic. We waved down one Okada driver, told him we needed 5 total, and he helped us wave down the rest. After some negotiating, we brought the price down to approximately 3$ US per person. The first guy we had waved down was the kind of guy that is very vocal and likely a type A personality. For some reason, he had picked me as his rider, and all through negotiations kept telling me to get on his bike. As soon as we had struck a deal, he handed me his second helmet and told me to get on. So I did.
Those first few seconds sitting on the back of the bike I wasn't sure I'd ever find my balance. Knowing the power in the motor, this was no pedal bike ride, and I think the fact that I had no control over it made it scarier. We roared off up the hill, following behind 3 other bikes. I think we were about 10mins into the ride before I actually found my balance and learned when to lean which way as the driver leaned. Every time we were near traffic of any sort, my driver was yelling at them... sometimes it seemed friendly, other times he seemed to be frustrated, the way most drivers talk to people from a car, except in this case they could all hear what he was saying. I came to prefer the times with lots of traffic, because it slowed him down. I didn't have sunglasses on (whoops, forgot them on ship), so slow was nice because it meant I wasn't being pelted with dust in my eyes. I squinted but wouldn't close my eyes because I NEEDED to see what was ahead so I could lean properly and brace for the potholes. And we LITERALLY weaved through traffic. Circling some vehicles, sliding between others with bare inches to spare. I slowly grew to trust my driver's instincts and abilities, and relaxed, as much as you can whipping along mountain roads that twist and turn and aren't meant for passing. My driver and Candace's driver kept passing each other, and we lost sight of the rest. Some roads we used in the city couldn't have handled more than one car at a time they were so narrow. One time we went around a car waiting to turn into traffic that really wasn't moving, but the space beside was not much wider than the width of the Okada, with a ditch right beside it. (ditches in town here are concrete-sided holes running alongside the streets and are less than two feet wide and about 3-4 feet deep, running with "black water" or some sort of mix of run-off water, garbage and sewage)We made it past, very slowly and carefully, but I think I held my breath the whole time. At another point, a mother literally grabbed a child who looked to be about 18months and toddling across the dirt road, out of the path of the okada a few seconds before we got to that point.