Archive for the ‘Nigeria’ Category

There is a post just published before this one by Russ. You may want to scroll down to view it first. Also remember you can click on the pics to enlarge. Good to speak to you guys from CLC earlier

Written By Darren 28/1/11. Photogaphy by Darren

We said our goodbyes to Des and his family and hit the road again, easing the growing itch in our feet and our need to press on. Our route was via Takum and thereafter, on rough tracks, south towards Bissaula. Before Bissaula we camped off the track after following a small path for a km and finding a peaceful spot to hang our Hammocks and get a restful sleep (the last peaceful night for a while). Not long after starting our dust eating day, before reaching the police post at Bissaula, I lost view of Russ who should have been in my mirror. I rallied back as quickly as the road would allow, for it was likely he had had a fall. I reached him soon. His bike was lying on the floor facing the wrong way and Russ was sat on the verge holding his leg with grimace in his face. Again, not that long after the previous injury had healed, he had fallen on the same ankle. It predictably started to swell as it had before and again Russ was in a familiar pain. Ouch.. Prayers please.Fulani Wommen In Nigera, on their way to market

It was another 50km to the border on a gradually disintegrating track and over river fords. Eventually by lunch we forded the river that divided Nigeria and Cameroon. The Vegetation had started to become more lush and the relief, mountainous. Africa as it seemed was changing again and signified a new chapter in our journey was about to begin. On the far bank of the river (Cameroon), we prepared lunch after having bathed in the cool mountain water. I shared out some shampoo with a local Fulani woman. I don’t think she had experienced shampoo before and was quite impressed with how it cleaned her and her child’s hair! Will offer some shaving foam next time.

Crossing the border

Clean, fed, happy and relaxed we continued unaware of ‘God Almighty’ around the corner.

'God Almighty' This pic doesnt show the angle nor how loose it was

 God Almighty is the name Russ gave to the mountain track which was the first to defeat us. A section over about 80m was

at about 45 degrees steep and full of loose rock. Fully loaded I managed so far until the front wheel went in the air and bike followed to the floor. I picked it back up but every time I tried to ride up the back wheel traction would fail and I’d only manage to slide backwards.  With Russ’ help we managed to get the bike the few more meters where there was a slightly flattened section about a third of the way up. Then some Kids appeared and offered their help. On top of their heads they carried Russ’ Panniers and luggage to the top and Russ took on the first part of ‘God Almighty’. It started well but after only a few meters the track claimed his attempt too. At this point some men had appeared. The Kids took, to the top, my luggage and us guys spent an hour slowly pushing my bike to the top. Absolutely exhausting!  A short rest and we returned for Russ’ bike until eventually we found ourselves so grateful to be at the top and with bikes in one piece. Down the other side was as steep and braking almost impossible as the bike would slide. Still, it was so much easier and with concentration, quickly achieved. Good bye to the guys and onwards in to the ‘Grasslands’ of Cameroon.

Fulani crossing the border

Not sure why they are called the grasslands. It was a mountain range which has a road circling it known as the ’Ring Road’. It was this ring road that we were trying to get too and the most northern town of it had immigration. The Grasslands area was also historically and presently, where numerous Fondoms (Kingdoms) have been forged. Each one different in size but with a degree of autonomy within Cameroon, followed a similar monarchy structure as to what we know. We never made it to immigration but a few hours short we stopped at a village where we were welcomed and invited to sleep the night. We chose not to take some ones bed but camped in the palace compound and entertained the villagers by simply being ‘white’.  The Fon (King of that particular Fondom) wasn’t at home that evening for us to greet but other villagers we did. One of these introduced herself as Princess Helena. She turned out to be such a laugh and good fun to spend time with. This was probably because she was more confident with us than most.

Pulling water for princess Helena and the white me

 The children that night sang us songs. Beautiful voices with one leading and all the others following in cannon, the children sang church hymns translated from their own tribal tongue.

Bye bye to princess Helena and all, including the Fon who had returned, and we were on our way again. The roads remained challenging but the mountainscapes were fun and picturesque to traverse. We finally stamped into Cameroon and headed South West down the ring road. The roads did not improve but proved to continue to be the most difficult on our journey so far. Large rocks, deep dust and washed away parts of the track that had formed deep gullies, continually threatened to throw us from our bikes, which they did on the odd occasion. It continued like this until we reached Nyos Village where a paved road took us up to Lake Nyos. Here there was a small military camp that had been there the last decade since a gas eruption in the lake claimed 1700 lives below. Their job was to ‘guard’ it. It was quite odd with a fountain in the middle that was allowing the gas to escape. We camped with these guys that night and they turned out to be helpful in collecting fire wood and water. Even our washing up was done for us. The Rest of the way (about 50 miles) was easier with parts of the road tarred. We soon arrived to Bamenda city, 1234m up with a cool mountain climate.

The 'Ring Road'

 And it is here we are again stuck with maintenance issues. At least Russ will get time to rest his ankle and we can wash the red dust from our kit.

Fruit bats off for the night

Russell writes on 28/1/11: Photos by Darren

Abuja, an abnormal city in Nigeria, as the purpose built capitol with nice wide roads and neatly laid out streets, it was a good place for visa shopping. With the lure of apparent free camping in the grounds of the Sheraton Hotel, it seemed an ideal place to rest up for a few days and go looking for the elusive Angolan visa. As normal, the reality is somewhat different to the promise given by guide books and other travellers. The hotel had just started charging for camping, and they put you right next to the hotel dog kennels facing the enormous city mosque. So, as you can imagine, after a few nights of barking in one ear and the 4am call to prayer in the other, we were looking forward to moving on.

Sunset in Abuja

Just so I don’t sound completely ungrateful, it was a cheap place to stay in an expensive city (supermarkets were more expensive than the UK) and we were guided through a neat little loop-hole: free buffet in the casino at 10pm! You have to get there on time or the gambling Arabs will have loaded up all the nice food. One night Darren and I went along to the casino with Ben and Vipka, an overlanding couple who were also camping. We had some 2$ bills burning a hole in our money belts so we went and hit the roulette tables – and promptly lost everything! So we thought we’d try our luck at the buffet, but only to discover that a buffet is like a casino, the house always wins! Also, on the Shereton grounds, Darren Found a Coleny of Fruit bats he liked to hang out with.

On the boat and over the river

With our Angolan and Cameroonian visas neatly in place we were once again on the road and heading south to our next challenge, the back-water route into Cameroon. Taking these routes always proves interesting and challenging, and Loko was no exception. Pulling up for some lunch we were immediately the centre of village interest, like they’ve never seen 2 white people dressed in dust before, and certainly not seen 2 bikes of such presence. We also didn’t expect the ferry river crossing to be quite what it was. I was thinking roll on, roll off car ferry, but when we were led down to the river bank it was soon obvious it was more like a fishing boat – how on earth are we going to get our bikes in that? Well, easy actually, the African way. Get a large number of people and just lift the whole bike, luggage and all straight into the boat! Simples. Back-water routes equal so much more fun and adventure, especially going where the 4×4’s can’t even go!

Harmatan

Getting closer to the Cameroon border and back on the tar, we pulled into Kasina and as I stopped I noticed water pouring out of my bike! Not again! Oil and water had been spreading itself along the side of my bike and over my leg, and if we’d not stopped I could have been in serious trouble. So, now we have 2 problems to diagnose on my bike, poor fuel consumption and water overheating. We were scratching our heads looking at the bike outside a bar, but no one came out to see if we were ok, they were too busy laughing. Then we met the Nigeria we had been used to, a kind and generous guy called Desmond. He took us to a mechanic to help us find the problem, and when they couldn’t find one, he took us back to his family’s compound where we were secure, free from hasslers and free to stay as long as we needed.

Desmond

 Running through a series of theories and tests on the bike it took us another 2 days before Darren noticed something different about my radiator cap. All this kafuffle was down to a small disc that stopped coolant going from the radiator into the reservoir! We’ve learnt to persist until a correct diagnosis is found, because covering the symptoms with a bodge will lead to more trouble. Thankfully, with the bolts, washers and spring from a biro we had, Darren managed to make a functional radiator cap, a correct bodge at least! So a huge thank you to Desmond and his family who looked after us, fed us and showed genuine hospitality, you were greatly appreciated.

Remember guys, click on pics to enlarge.

Darren Writes 12.01.11

Nigeria, The Republic of.  You brace yourself as thoughts of extreme corruption, violence, robbery, gangs and elaborate scams, schemes up to take the dollar from the pocket of even the most seasoned and vigilant person, are conjured in your imagination. Road blocks, one after another, of police wanting to lighten your wallet and locals trampling each other to get ahead.  Bandits awaiting you on the potholed roads and a rip off on every corner are all the things you are preparing yourself to fight or endure.

Starting at the Nigerian embassy in Ghana the hoop jumping and much greater than average cost for the visa never helped to make you feel like you would be welcomed. Yet it was part of our route into central Africa and also a chance to obtain the elusive Angolan transit visa.

Green Turtle Lodge

With the Nigerian visa already secured and sitting neatly in our passports and with all our jobs done and bodies well and truly rested, it was time to pack our tents and leave the super chilled Green Turtle Lodge,  its palm fringed beach and warm waters. First stop was a garage in the first town we rode into and pressure water wash to rid of the salt covering the bikes from the sea breeze. The guys there literally fought to take on the job and the stronger elders won getting straight onto it. ‘Not there!’ I shouted as the pressure wash rose towards the radiator fins and again I repeated and finally threatened not to pay. Ok now they understand! Wow, afterwards, two shinny bikes.

Landy lift to get the bike

Back to Accra and the hotel we stayed at before was full so we negotiated a price to stay on the roof. Good news for our wallets and especially good as I managed to get a beer to share in with the price.

From there we decided to travel up the Volta region and into Togo through a smaller border, the route that would take us through Benin and finally Nigeria away from all the main and hasselfull Customs and Immigration posts along the coast. The only problem was we weren’t sure if we could get transit visas on these as you could on the main route.  So leaving Ghana we explained this to the Ghanaian officials before stamping out and one of them kindly walked us over the border to find out. The podgy Togolese official on the other side didn’t get up to greet us but spoke with the Ghanaian official and agreed we could enter.  Fine, so we checked out of Ghana and rode over.  A 10,000 CFA (15GBP) bribe was what the Togolese officer wanted in order to allow us, with his ‘lad’, to go into town to buy the 10,000 CFA Visa. We protested but each time, he gave us the choice to return to Ghana and go around. Knowing that we weren’t able to cross back into Ghana without a Ghanaian Visa (Which Ghana doesn’t issue on borders) he remained sat on his stool turning his back to us. Life in no-mans land was the only alternative. ‘Ok.. here, have your  10 Grand’. Still sat on his stool he barked instructions for the barrier to be raised and we could see exactly why he was fat! A bad start to Togo but one that was remedied by the welcome of other officials and warmth of the Togolese people. It was therefore a shame not to see more of the county than we did as the dirt road took us laterally across to Benin in a day.

Some are shy, most are not!

Here, a warm welcome and a visa allowing 2 days to transit though. It was getting late so 40 miles later we stopped to sleep. Our first beds in over two weeks were so comfy in a hotel in Amerbey. Onward, with one more whole day allowed, on our Benin visa, we wandered up to the Nigerian border, changed some cash with the money changers and then my heart sunk. Russell’s quickly sunk too as I told him I couldn’t find our carnets (our documents that allow temporary importation of vehicles into most African states).’ Opps… I think I left them on the Togolese/Benin border’. So back west across Benin we went! We had to ride pretty fast to get there and back before our visa expired all the time hoping we would find them. I ran into the immigration office and studied the desk we had previously sat. And there they were piled between some other papers. I rejoiced and then got roared at for my incorrect procedure but ironed things out with the official and off we sped back across Benin to the Nigerian border.

The start of a new Africa

We reached the border by 5 but with all the visa chasing and charging across countries we were quite tired but still bracing ourselves for what we were expecting to be one of the most difficult borders in Africa. ‘Ok so there’s the border. Where are the Immigration posts?’ We found nearby where we could stamp out of Benin and then crossed into Nigeria on a particularly bad dirt road into a Nigerian town of complete chaos. Riding around we couldn’t find the immigration so eventually stopped to ask one of these crazy Nigerians. We didn’t want to be shown the way as inevitably this would require a dash (tip in Nigeria). But lost and tired we agreed.

Smile, you're Nigerian!

In some isolated place accessed by narrow paths we were led to immigration. And then the first surprise… No dash required by our guide… He was just helping out some visitors to his country. And then we walked in to the immigration, met by a big smile and a hearty ‘Welcome to Nigeria’. The most friendly officials we had met were also bending over backwards to try and help us with our onward travel. Over  to customs to import the bikes and the same thing. Not even a hint of a dash or to pin something on us for a bribe. Is this Nigeria? The road there after had several road blocks where we were welcomed. We arrived to the next town, found somewhere to stay and were asked for N3000 (13GBP) for a dirty room without water. We said we couldn’t afford it but had N1500. ‘You are quests… that will be fine’. Is this Nigeria? So far such warm people and no sign of corruption.

Help at every turn in Nigeria

And so it was over the next 2 days and 500 miles to Abuja. Police waved us through road blocks with their thumbs up or friendly waves. Whenever we stopped we were surrounded by people glad to meet us and offering us help with our directions. And in Abuja, we are even camping in the back of the Sheraton hotel. Nigerians, as it seems, aren’t bad at all but in fact are the most welcoming in Africa so far. That said, every one warns against travel at night due to banditry and the travel along the roads Russ calls ‘Road Wars, if you lose , you die’ For Nigeria, though the most welcoming, has got to be the most chaotic, craziest place in the world. Towns go on for ever and are filled with bustling, music and crazy traffic.

Taxi bike, not even fully loaded.

The roads, though full of pot holes and congestion, are racetracks where even when we are at 70 mph we’re being consistently passed in places where you wouldn’t think possible. Oncoming traffic is often on your side of the road pushing off the road whatever is in its way and the verges are lined with the results… wreck after wreck. I couldn’t imagine what the road death toll could be. And we have agreed also that there can’t be any speed restrictions. We’ve passed police cars as fast as we can (after others of course) and no sirens.

"Darren, you've got a flat"

So a lot of fun to Abuja… only because we didn’t lose. One hiccup though in the form of a M12 (12mmwide) 80mm long bolt went through my tire and ripped the inner tube and rubber around the hub. But that was quickly fixed, tyre and tube, and off back to our game of road wars.

We haven’t really worked out what there is to see in Nigeria, but the culture and people here are worth so much more than almost any landscape!