ACoN Diary 7: A less than smooth journey which had a happier ending than Ghana's

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As Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang missed the decisive penalty in Sunday’s quarter-final in Libreville, a dreading realisation dawned: Mali v Ivory Coast was clearly a far less interesting semi-final than Zambia v Ghana.

I checked various websites for flights to Bata but without success, so began trawling the various agencies. Eventually, at around 1030 on Monday morning, I found one that could sell me a ticket to Bata, leaving at two that afternoon. Excellent, I said, I’d take it and texted a friend already in Bata to reserve me a hotel room. I was scheduled to arrive at 2000, I said. The hotel agreed to send a car.

The agency didn’t take cards, so I dashed outside to find an ATM. I found one, put in my card, and it swallowed it. I ran to the bank round the corner. “The guard will be here later. Come back on Friday.”

Fortunately, another journalist was with me and I borrowed money from him, jumped in a taxi, raced back to the house I was staying in, grabbed my bag and my spare credit card and dashed off to the airport.

I checked in fine. The flight was schedule to go first to Sao Tome, then on to Malabo, where I had to change for Bata. But when they began boarding just before 1400, the stewrard suddenly announced the plane was for Sao Tome only. “We’ll come back and take you to Malabo,” he said. I pointed out that I – and four others – had a connection to Bata, and he shrugged. There was a Chinese group who had to be brought back, and that took precedence over the schedule.

The plane took off at 1430. I watched it go, then checked online how far it was to Sao Tome. A little under 200 miles. Maybe 35-40 minutes of flying time. I tweeted my calculations. We needed  the plane back by 1715 to have a chance of landing in Malabo before 1900. The woman next to me, who’d been fiddling with her Iphone, suddenly turned and stared at me. “Is that you?” she said, waving the phone at me. It turned out she was the Nigerian TV presenter Chisom Mbonu, and she followed me.

I was beginning to give up hope, but at 1714 a speck of white and green emerged from the clouds. We boarded and took off with remarkable haste (there were only eight of us). The grey Atlantic seemed to go on forever, but we landed at 1850. A bus was waiting to take us to the terminal. As we boarded, though, I saw another plane in the same livery boarding on the other side of the airfield.

I got off the bus and asked a steward. He confirmed that was the Bata flight. “Can I run?” I asked. He shook his head at which, from nowhere, a minibus appeared. “Bata?” yelled a cheery man in an orange vest. The five of us boarded.

“What about the bags?” somebody asked.

So we got off again and picked through the hold to find them, jumped back on the minibus and rattled across the centre of the airfield to the other plane. As I sat down, we began taxi-ing.

We touched down in Bata bang on 2000. “Exactly on time,” said the woman from the hotel who’d come to meet me. “Smooth as can be.”

Not quite. And nor was the simple progress many imagined Ghana would make. Zambia defended deep and well, and scored with their only shot to reach their first final since 1994.