Posts Tagged ‘Nigeria’

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.

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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!