Going Home on a Motorcycle
GOING HOME ON A MOTORCYCLE By Steve Manning, (13) 65-66
In those days, Peace Corps issued Honda 50 motorcycles to most volunteers for use at their stations. I was stationed in Ibadan where, Peace Corps decided, I did not need a Honda 50. Some of my students brought to school in their parents’ Mercedes Benzes, and felt sorry for me because I had no car. But I became accustomed to walking and taxis.
Perhaps, to compensate for my two years without a Honda 50, I decided to start my journey home on a motorcycle. I joined Doug Hoecker, (11) 64-66, and Eldon Nelson, (12) 64-67, on a bike journey planned to take us 3000 kilometers. This would be the most significant motorcycle experience of my life. It turned out to be the only one.
We splurged a large part of our readjustment allowances on brand new Suzuki 80 cc's, the largest bikes available in Lagos. I squandered a whopping $330.
I was much less of a motorcycle aficionado than my two companions. To tell the truth, I would rather have been in a car. I had a high center of gravity. Given that natural fact, and the large load I had to pack on the cycle, I was secretly convinced most of the time that I was going to topple over—or get run over.
We started in Lagos with the idea of riding all the way to Dakar, Senegal. Our route took us along the coast through Benin (then Dahomey), Togo, and Ghana where we would go inland through Akosombo to see the then newly completed dam of the Volta river, on to Kumasi, the garden city of West Africa, and into Cote d'Ivoire. There we dipped down to the coast again to see Abidjan before heading north to Mali en route to Dakar.
We took our time, ever mindful that it was prudent to assume that the right of way was inversely proportional to the size of one's vehicle. Although those cycles admirably hugged the roads, we really learned to appreciate folded-over pillows to supplement the manufacturer’s seat cushion. Our parked cycles were used as tent poles when we emerged from the forest into the savanna.
We had some of the best food imaginable in places like Berekum, Ghana, and Agnibilekrou, Cote d'Ivoire.
After a month, and 2,000 kilometers, we arrived in Bamako, capital of Mali and smack in the middle of the cattle-raising region of the country. We ate super steak and fries at incredible prices and watched a James Bond movie in French with an audience so enthusiastic you’d have thought it was a live performance.
We were disappointed, however, to learn that a bridge was out and we could not get through to Senegal with our motorcycles. Having arrived on tourist visas, without import licenses, we needed government permission to sell our cycles in Mali and we negotiated for at least a week with officials to get permission. We finally sold our cycles (a scarcity in Mali) for about 30 percent more than we had paid for them in Lagos. That profit was enough to pay for our trip from Lagos to Bamako.
Unfortunately the local currency had no value outside of Mali. We pondered our dilemma. Finally we discovered a loophole. We could buy our Air Mali tickets from Bamako to Washington, D.C., in local currency for a bit less than we had gotten for our motorcycles.
But relief was tempered with sadness. We were leaving our beloved cycles, leaving Africa, and trading winter temperatures for those never-to-be-traveled, last 1000 kilometers of our adventure.
Editor’s Note: The author worked in Peace Corps training programs, and in 1968 on a USAID contract went to Ghana where he met his wife, a Ghanaian elementary teacher. In 1986-87 worked for the Missouri Botanical Garden in Cameroon while pursuing his PhD in biology from St. Louis University. He now teaches at the University of Arkansas, Beebe campus, and has five children, including three stepchildren all of whom have become American citizens.