The first day of our overland trek to Kaieteur Falls started early. We were asked to be ready at 6.30, though Oma didn't arrive to pick us up until 7. She then dropped us off for our bus, throwing at us envelopes of cash for our guide, the boat, the boat captain, dinner and our hotel that night.
We were taking the local transportation to Mahdia, a crowded van. Oma said she got us 3 seats so we would be more comfortable, though given we had 3 big boxes of food, drinks and hammocks with us, plus our own backpacks, we didn't have a lot of space left on the bench seat.
The van was hot and uncomfortable with no leg room (we had to put our feet up on the raised section behind the front seats), and the ride took 8 or 9 hours. The first 3 hours was on tarred road, but the rest was a really bumpy dirt road. We stopped a couple of times including a lunch stop at a service station where they had a monkey tied to a tree where he could only walk 1m before being snagged on his rope.
At one point we hit a bridge that was completely falling apart. Our driver had to stop and readjust some of the beams so they actually connected in two rows for the wheels to run over. We are pretty sure they all fell apart again as we drove over. Fortunately the fall wasn't huge if we hadn't made it.
About 2 hours from Mahdia we had to cross a river via car ferry that left every hour. We must have just missed it as we had to wait close to an hour for the next one. It was so hot we were dripping in sweat.
Eventually we arrived in Mahdia where "Soldier" our guide met us. He showed us to the hotel where we were given a room. We asked if we could look around town after a quick pit stop in our room, though given he had disappeared when we came back out he either didn't understand us or thought we wanted to walk around ourselves.
The town was small. At one end we found the local soccer field, and at the other end and old disused cinema, with very little but a few shops and houses between. We found Soldier again who took us somewhere to get dinner.
We discussed with him what time we should be ready in the morning but couldn't understand a word he said. Funny how the country we have had the most trouble communicating is English speaking! At first we were sure he said 6.30, then 8, then ended on 7.
The service and cleanliness in the hotel were terrible, but being the only hotel in town they had no reason to improve. Our room stank of cigarette smoke and the toilet ran constantly. When we asked if they had a non smoking room they asked what we meant.
Even more difficult was trying to get a second towel! The room only had one, so Fergus went to the front desk to ask for another and was told we could only have one, because our room only had one double bed. To get 2 towels, you had to get a room with 2 beds. After much negotiation with the front desk and then supervisor, he eventually reappeared with another towel.
We went to bed reasonably early, as we had a big day and was getting up early. However the hotel and about 3 other pubs/clubs/other had music blaring as loud as there stereos went, so getting to sleep was difficult. It was only after Fergus decided to pad out the window with toilet paper did it stop rattling from the bass beat! Then it was a tiny bit quieter and we eventually drifted off to sleep.
After this first day of our tour, we were really worried what we had gotten ourselves in for. This tour was the cheapest we could find (though still cost us 2 weeks of our budget for 4 days)! We were starting to wish we had paid extra.