By Mike Fulcher, KC7V
16 years of travel to West Africa…a lifetime of memories. For us ‘dudes that live in Arizona the trip is long. The average number of hours it takes to go door to door is about 34 hours. This is includes layovers, airport waits, airport customs, and finally transport to the hotel. To cap it off, we find a bar and have a cold beer to celebrate our arrival in Africa.
The excitement of heading off to another adventure made the trip go relatively quickly. However, after nearly 2 weeks in Africa and lots of lost sleep, the trip home was arduous. To say it seemed like it took forever is an understatement. Many times after arriving in Africa you got about a day or less to relax and it was off to load the stockpile on to a bus and be off for another 12 to 24 hour road trip. Those were always interesting though as it was neat to see new places, villages, how folks lived and the pit stops for a Coca (Coke) and bathroom breaks, although many time the bathroom was a bush off the road in an isolated place along the way!
When the flight lands in some West African country and the door opens, you immediately know you’ve arrived. The smell of wood fires immediately fills your nostrils and stays with you the entire trip.
I remember the early days, before K2’s and K3’s lugging a TS930 around the world. 930’s are not light. I wrapped mine in bubble wrap and used a wash cloth wrapped around the handle so that the handle did not cut into my hand while carrying the radio. After 3 trips or so I invested in a pull cart to make it easier to lug the radio. I never tried to hide the fact it was a radio and never had a problem with customs. The introduction of the K2 made travel immensely easier and it fit in the carryon bag with a keyer, paddle, headphones and laptop just fine.
The transport for an Alpha transformer was usually a bigger cosmetic case with a piece of wood inserted in the bottom and holes drilled through to bolt down the transformer. This was a carryon for the airline trip. You acted like it was lightweight so you did not draw attention. I remember a customs agent questioning me about it upon arrival in Africa and trying to hold me up. I told him it was for an “engineer” and I had to go quickly. He looked at me and I walked away through customs and out the door. You had to act like you knew what you were doing and many times no one asked questions. I finally smartened up and invested in a new transformer at home so I could leave the other in Africa. One less thing to carry.
After arriving home from a long trip, exhausted, and a week or two to recover and get sleep patterns back to normal, I would start thinking about the next year. Would I do it again? Yep, in a heartbeat!