Good-bye Africa

So, finally, it was time for the big journey, after waiting, planning, preparing and thinking about it for such a long time. We always knew it was going to be hard work and exhausting to leave Africa. But we didn’t expect it to be that stressful….

Just the drive to the airport and the planning of it was stressful. We got a phone number of guy who could have taken us to the airport. He had a big car which we needed with all our stuff, including the kennels for the dogs. So we arranged the time and price for the trip over to the airport a few days before the flight. On that day though we decided to go with someone else. It just started with a weird feeling but then grew stronger and stronger and we always listened to and respected those feelings. We heard so many stories and have our own experiences as well and just didn’t want to take the risk of a set up which would have been easy to have organized: We had agreed to the trip a few days before so there was enough time to think of something, we were leaving in the evening/dark and there are lots of dark and remote areas we had to drive through (plus the guy had just been arrested –and released- for a cocaine deal together with his police friend…)
So a few hours before our departure we found a new taxi driver in the village just to be more relaxed. We asked that guy to come to our place a few hours earlier than needed but you never know… “Oh, no petrol. I’ll just go to the next village because there’s no petrol in town today.” Or there are problems with the car or the driver gets an emergency call or whatever. We have had some crazy stories!

We tried to organise our last day as useful as possible without too many hours of just sitting and waiting. But we finished packing at 10 in the morning (of course we were awake at sunrise) and due to rain we couldn’t go to the office before afternoon. We also said good-bye to the beach – we have been living near the ocean for so long and you really get used to that kind of lifestyle, just going for a walk along the beach whenever you feel like, the dogs just love to run and splash through the water and we fell asleep and woke up to the sounds of the waves.

We went for pizza at night but were too excited and nervous to just sit and enjoy the nice atmosphere so we came back quickly.
Surprisingly, the driver came even earlier so we just had a quick cup of coffee with our “landlord” (the guy who ran the guesthouse we lived in) and then left for the airport. So in the end we were there way too early and check-in didn’t start until 12:30 in the night (although Royal Air Maroc had said 11 the day before when I had called to confirm the flight and dogs).

We had been training the dogs to go and stay in their kennels so they were kind of okay when they had to go in before entering the airport and going over to the check-in counter. And then of course the “grande catastrophe” started: We were told that we cannot send our dogs through as luggage but would have to pay for them as extra luggage. “Oh, and because you are having a stop-over in Casablanca we cannot give you the normal rate but some other rate and this would be $25 per kilo.” Our dogs weigh 25 and 17 kilo plus cages!!
So of course we started the discussion and told them all about Royal Air Maroc’s information about having the dogs as one piece of luggage, stop over does not cost anything extra and wouldn’t affect the deal with the dogs either. We were allowed to bring 2 pieces of luggage per person, each piece 32kg. And so on…
The woman at the counter said dogs would always have to be checked in separately even if you didn’t have any checked in luggage at all! And of course that night no one from the airline was there (although we were told there is always an official from Royal Air Maroc during check-in) and the lady was not helpful, supportive or understanding at all.
It was a long discussion but somehow we did manage to get the “normal” rate for the dogs and she wrote a receipt that the dogs had been checked through/paid for all the way to Canada – but of course we had to pay (a lot!). We had to beg and beg for every tiny little thing, no support, no nice word, nothing. We were lucky that we had enough cash on us because credit cards were not accepted at the international airport of Ghana…

The dogs had to be checked in right away, she said, although it was still 3 hours before the actual departure. When asking if we could somehow walk to the plane with them or check if they had been loaded into the right plane we got some rolling eyes and, of course, a “no, impossible.”
So we had to hand them over to those guys who were responsible to carry them into the plane and into the special area and also tell the captain/pilot that dogs were on board and temperature and pressure had to be adapted. That was the hardest part because we just didn’t trust those people at all – which really is not easy considering the fact that lots of people eat dogs in Ghana and dogs are just not seen as living creatures.
(Just before we left we heard that a friend’s dogs had been poisoned by his neighbour. The dog painfully died 2 days later in his arms.) There really are some very mean and malicious people around. People don’t care about dogs – and very often about us either. There was little empathy to be found anywhere, no one thought about how we felt, how stressful it might be for the dogs. My worst nightmare became reality when one of the guys kicked the cage – just like that. And another guy had dropped the cage off the trolley when we had to weigh them. And what really frustrated me was that I had to stay calm and friendly because I depended on those people. If I upset them they might just leave the cages somewhere outside and not put them onto the plane.

It was pretty bad and it was like saying good-bye to the dogs.
Of course there was one more big argument when a woman came out of her office just after we had checked the cages through a plastic curtain. She asked for some special papers and permissions to bring the dogs out of the country (as if they cared about dogs there and wanted them to stay!). We had our yellow books for the dogs with our names in them as the owners. Just by the way we insisted and stayed firm she finally let us pass.
At some point the dogs disappeared through the plastic curtain (with terrible crying) and we were through the controls and sat down at the gate, waiting for our flight. We were so exhausted. When we finally got onto the plane we talked to the flight attendants and the captains and asked them to check if the dogs were on board and in the right place. They didn’t really, all they said was “everything is ok”.

We had one more situation that made our anxiety level go up again: The captain welcomed us on board through the loudspeakers: “Welcome on board to the flight to Cotonou, Benin!” Nowhere on tickets or monitors was a stop-over in Benin mentioned. And in our situation this was very symbolic: We were trying to leave Africa and move north-west – and in the end we were going east, further into the heart of Africa. Another landing and take-off for the dogs, noise and stress, loading and unloading (Will the dogs stay on the plane?) and a new crew (Do they know that there are dogs on boards? Will they set the pressure and temperature correctly?)! I felt like I couldn’t take it anymore. I was so angry at the airline and all those people involved who just didn’t care about anyone. But of course I was stuck in that situation, totally helpless and dependant on those people. Terrible situation and at one point I fell asleep, so exhausted, physically and emotionally, I couldn’t cry anymore and couldn’t argue and discuss with the crew anymore, couldn’t take the “all is fine” talk with them laughing right in my face.

Really, it was not a pleasant journey and we were disappointed because we were excited about going to Canada and the whole trip and it could have been fun but it wasn’t.

We finally reached Casablanca and thought: “At least we will now know how it went, one way or the other.” We saw the cages when getting off the plane which was a relief (at least they were on the right plane) but we couldn’t see any movement inside.
The controls were just a matter of minutes and then we were in the baggage claim hall and saw a few guys carefully placing down the cages – with the dogs standing inside. I guess you can imagine how relieved we were to see our dogs alive in Casablanca! They looked scared and stressed and had soiled their cages. The customs guy just waved us through, just asked us if we had the right vaccines. And then we were outside, opened the cages and spent some time outside the airport, walking, running, playing and cuddling with our 2 dogs.
We then organised a taxi, managed to put our entire luggage in the car and the cages on top and drove to a fancy hotel which allowed dogs. Unfortunately, we didn’t se anything of Casablanca; we were way too tired, just checked in and went straight to bed – a nice huge soft bed in a nice fancy air-conditioned room. At sunset we woke up and joined the super all-you-can-eat buffet downstairs and ate all kinds of Moroccan specialities and enjoyed a nice, peaceful and calm atmosphere. Everyone was so friendly and helpful, no problems with the dogs at all, some people even talked and played with them!!
We had a great evening, eating and drinking for hours in a beautiful setting and talking about the successful first part of the trip.

The next morning we had breakfast (all-you-can-eat again!!) and drove back to the airport. We were all way more relaxed than before the first flight and had a much better feeling about the people and their attitudes towards dogs and us/other people. And of course we saw that the dogs are able to fly, that a flight is doable, in theory.

Our plane left from a separate smaller terminal which was great – less possibilities to get lost or to get onto a wrong plane. Everyone was really friendly, we could walk inside the airport with the dogs (didn’t have to be inside the kennels), checked our luggage in and organised everything with the dogs (we had to pay again though!!) and were then allowed to take them outside again until the last minute possible. Basically, all information we had got from the Royal Air Maroc office in Accra was wrong, concerning the dogs and also the luggage (instead of 2x32kg we were allowed 2x23kg but because we had got rid of all our stuff beforehand in order to have the dogs as luggage we only had one bag anyway, so no problem there.). What a terrible organisation there, not really surprising but of course very tiring, expensive and stressful for us.

The flight itself was okay, a bit long (almost 8 hours) but we were so much more relaxed – the check-in people actually explained where and how the dogs are kept (in a separate section, nothing stored next to them so they have enough air to breathe and don’t feel closed in, the captain regulates the pressure, cages are strapped so they don’t slide etc.) which raised our confidence level drastically.

Well, and then we landed in Canada. What a weird feeling! We had been planning and thinking about it for so long and all of a sudden we were there, at the airport of Montreal. Crazy! Again we saw the cages when getting off the plane and this time we saw at least one dog standing in the cage.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to our luggage as fast as last time because this time the controls were handled very differently (the first immediate difference we felt!).
We entered a huge hall with a few hundred people at least, all waiting to pass the immigration. It was all super organised, we were standing in a long queue, like in DisneyLand or those big parks, one line up and one line down (but none of those signs with the waiting times indicated). It was quiet and calm in that hall, considering all those people in it. I found it quite interesting just to stand there and observe everything and be astonished about how well and quietly everything went. 2 people collapsed while waiting in the queue and within minutes security and medical people got there (some on bicycles! In the airport!) and took care of them, with modern equipment and a friendly calm attitude. Even the people around stayed calm, no panic broke out, no one ran over to just stare at them or block the way – it was amazing.

Finally, it was our turn to go through and we got our papers sorted out.
We ran down to the baggage claim section and found our dogs in their cages waiting for us quietly in the middle of maybe 100 baby carriages (our plane was full of Moroccan families with children!).
We had to pass customs but that wasn’t a problem either. We had all the necessary papers and vaccines, had to fill in a few forms, pay $40 for the dogs (together!) and then they were Canadian dogs!
Walking through the arrival gate with many people picking up their loved-ones (of course no one was there for us) we had to stop right there and celebrate. We really made it to Canada! All of us! Alive and happy with official papers! What a journey, what a struggle, what a relief!
We had booked a rental car at the airport and drove out to a campsite outside of Montreal.
During the drive and every few moments during the first days we thought: “Wow, we really made it! We are in Canada!”