Today was emotionally charged but we
have had a wonderful first impression of Nigerians. We have
experienced nothing but helpfulness, kindness and politeness. I
will elaborate on two specific events which made our first day
in Nigeria memorable.
As we were driving into Abeokuta, which was
our destination for the day, we got slightly snarled up in the
crazy traffic and managed to lose our way. On trying to do a U-turn
we failed to spot the hole in the middle of the road which opened
onto a sewer further below. Unfortunately with a jolt and a crunch,
which caused our hearts to pound after our previous accident, our
back left wheel fell into the hole leaving the Mpudi at a rather
precarious angle. We dreaded the worst and the trip flashed before
our eyes once again. However, we needn't have feared as within
seconds we had group of around twenty men who simply worked
together to heave the car out of the hole. We were shaken but so
immensely grateful to all these people hadn't hesitated for a
moment to come to our aid. Except for a damaged tyre which we can
easily change, there is no other major problems so all is well.
When we arrived at the golf course where we were going to camp,
we realised what the day had taken out of us. What with such an
early start, a border crossing, police stops, intense driving
around a Nigerian city and then falling into a hole we were
frazzled and I have to admit that I sat in the car shedding a few
tears. This was the second amazing experience of the day. A woman
walked up to the car window looking extremely concerned.
Woman: Why are you crying? Please don't cry.
Me: I'm just very tired , far from home and feeling a bit sad.
Woman: Please don't cry. The joy of the Lord is your strength.
Me: Thank you so much. Are you a Christian?
Me: I'm a Christian too and it is so special to meet you.
Woman: If you know Jesus, why are you crying, you have every
thing you need. This leaf can't even fall from this tree without
God knowing about it. So you mustn't cry.
Christian or not, this woman's kindness would not have failed to
touch anybody. In Europe we are so unsure how to deal with a
situation where someone is crying or upset, never wanting to
intrude or offend. This woman's concern overrode anything else and
she comforted me as if she were an old friend. She then asked me to
get out my Bible and read a section from Isaiah (chapter 43), which
was immensely encouraging. I believe that God puts the right people
in your path at the right time. Today He put many wonderful
Nigerians in our path, which certainly served to break down all the
stereotypes that we have in the West.
Another long day of crazy driving.
Nigeria certainly has been a shock to the system in this regard.
The roads have in the main been very badly potholed and are
jam-packed with mad drivers, mainly truckers. At one point we
struggled to cover even 40km in 2 hours.
Nigerians have all been very welcoming and friendly but there
are some strange sights to see. The roads are jammed with petrol
tankers going back and forth between who-knows-where, yet the
petrol stations are empty as there is rarely fuel available. Some
are just temporarily empty but many are overgrown with weeds and
have long since been forgotten. Quite strange for one of the
"wealthiest" oil nations in the world.
It was a long day but we were relieved to find the VIP Colony
Guest House in the town of Jebba which is owned by the Nigerian
Paper Mill. The three local lads there were extremely welcoming and
we had fun chatting as Catherine cooked a meal in their kitchen.
At first we were excited to be able to use a proper kitchen -
with stove and pots/pans. However, this was short-lived when we
realised that only one of the hobs worked and you were not able to
touch the pan while it was on it otherwise you would get a shock.
Mmmm - nice!
We took a room as it had been a long days drive. It was
bliss with aircon and en-suite but also quite dodgy wiring. The
light switch which dangled in front of the curtain had a tendency
to spark if you bumped it. Let's hope the place doesn't burn down
We awoke to our friendly
hosts getting prepared for church and watching the Nigerian answer
to Ricky Lake - live healings on the God Channel. We left at dawn
and decided to drive alone today, rather than in convoy, so that we
could go at a Land Rover friendly pace around the pot holes.
was an eleven hour driving day which culminated in driving into the
Nigerian capital, Abuja. However, we had no problems with police
and the majority of the roads, after the first slow 40km, were less
packed with trucks than yesterday.
We stopped for a drink under a tree and chatted to a local
man who wandered over from the village. He told us that he had five
children and asked us if we could take one. He was being deadly
serious. He clearly saw us as the embodiment of a brighter future
for his child and would be prepared to sacrifice seeing her again
to afford her a better future.
Driving into Abuja, the roads became wider and smarter. This is
the federal capital of Nigeria and clearly it is where rather a
large proportion of GDP is spent. It had an air of wealth about it
and was criss-crossed with fast expressways and avenues.
The Sheraton Hotel is an over-landing gem. It is an expensive
hotel in the centre of the city, which allows overlanders to camp
for free round the back.
Pros: Free camping; Tight Security; HOT showers; Air
conditioned bar to hang out in; cool shade provided by the trees.
Cons: Camping in-between the bins and the ripe-smelling dog
kennels; unaffordable drinks in said air-conditioned bar.
On balance though, it is a fantastic option when you need to
stay for a few days to collect visas. We plan to be here for a
while so we set up camp and tried block out the smell of dog.
We ended up getting very
comfortable at the Sheraton and stayed for ten days. By the end of
our stay we had got our bearings in the city after many
adrenalin-filled taxi rides. We found all the embassies we needed,
the best supermarkets, the best garages and the best ice-cream
parlour. We had also made friends with the vegetable seller and
become locals at the bakery, undoubtedly gaining several pounds in
weight eating meat pies and sponge cakes. We had become dab hands
at changing money at good rates with the money-changers across the
road and made friends with some business residents at the hotel who
kindly brought us some cheese from the buffet. You have to have
been on the road for four months in Africa to understand how good
that cheese tasted.
We also had lots of time to hang out with our
fellow travellers, which turned out to be a whole lot of fun. When
we arrived, Kirk, Dale, Christine and Jo were already there. There
were also two other couples who were travelling together and had
been there for a while - Andrew and Christina (UK and Canada) and
Maureen and Henk-Jan (Holland). After a couple of days, Kirk & Co
headed off to climb Mount Cameroon. We decided to stay put as we
really needed to rest for a while longer.
Then Darrin arrived, our friend from New Zealand who we had met
back in Mole National Park in Ghana. He is travelling alone in his
green Land Rover. Andrew & Co left a couple of days later and we
decided to wait with Darrin as we thought it would be good to have
some mutual support crossing into Cameroon on the legendary 'Ekok
road - the subject of many a traveller's tale around the camp fire.
The next day, Tango arrived. He is from Lithuania and travelling
alone on a motorbike. He is the real adventurer as he has nothing
in the way of gadgets or luxuries - he doesn't even have a map for
Southern Africa! He does however have a world map on which he has
carefully marked out his route around the world (see
Cameroon photos). He
has some fascinating and amusing stories to tell. We had lots of
fun chatting, eating and laughing together over several days.
Finally, our Spanish friends turned up. We had first met them on
the coast in Ghana. They were pretty frazzled and had been plagued
with car problems and illness. There are four of them with two
motorbikes, a small 2x4 van and a flying machine (no joke). One of
the guys decided to fly home (in a plane,
not in the flying machine) as he had been suffering from malaria
and typhoid but the others are persevering and we hope to see them
again along the way.
So all in all, it was a great time of relaxation and fun with
people. It was also 'annual leave' from the trip, which enabled us
to take stock and prepare mentally and physically for the road
We finally left Abuja
today and made our way south to Makurdi. Darrin is having some
problems getting his final visa and we had begun to go a bit mad
amongst the bins and the dogs, so we decided to head off, take
things slowly, and wait for him at the border town.
It felt good
to be on the road again. It had been necessary to stop for a while
but now we are excited about covering some mileage and taking on
the challenge of Central Africa.
The road was much better then expected, with good tarmac and
very few trucks, which enabled us to make good progress. Once
again, we had no problems with police stops.
Makurdi is a university town and has a calm, academic feel about
it. As we wandered out of our accommodation to find some groceries,
a car pulled up beside us. The driver said that he had passed us on
the road from Abuja earlier in the day and had then recognised us
on the street. He was a big fan of South Africa and was keen to
chat so we agreed that he would come round later on for a drink at
the bar. He mentioned that he had once been scouted for Orlando
Pirates, a South African football team, but it didn't quite work
Later he - Chudi - turned up with his lecturer, Dr Abu, from the
University of Agriculture. It turns out that Chudi is a businessman
from Abuja, who is studying a masters in Makurdi. Dr Abu was also
Head of Department and was an exceptionally intelligent man. We had
two hours of stimulating conversation, covering Nigeria, South
Africa, politics and agriculture amongst other things. Not a bad
way to spend a random evening in a random town in the heart of
We retired into our 'hotel' room. We have come to the conclusion
that most things in Nigeria are best put between inverted commas.
'Bathroom' for example, or 'shower' for that matter. 'Electricity
supply' is another one, along with 'TV' and 'petrol station'.
You find after a while that you naturally lower your
expectations. If you expect the TV not to turn on but then you do
in fact have one, fuzzy, black and white channel showing a Nigerian
soap, then it doesn't feel so bad. If you expect not to have any
water in the bathroom then you find a full bucket next to the
broken shower and toilet then you consider it a bonus. And if you
don't expect the fan or air conditioning to work but then they do,
at least until 2 in the morning when the generator is turned off
and you wake up in a sweat, then you can actually feel quite
This manner of thinking must not, however, be confused with
negativity. On the contrary, this mindset enables you to be
remarkably positive about possibly the worst hotel rooms in the
world - see photographic evidence.
We are hoping to meet
Darrin in Ikom tomorrow so we decided to spend the night at the
Drill Ranch, in the rainforest nearby. This is our first experience
of true rainforest and what is to come in the next few countries.
It can feel quite claustrophobic and intimidating at first as you
really aren't sure what could be lurking in the dense forest. It is
We finally arrived at the Drill Ranch around
5pm but we couldn't get into the compound itself as our Dutch
friends, who had passed by a few days earlier in their enormous
truck, had broken the bridge! We were shown a makeshift 'bridge'.
Note once more the need for Nigerian inverted commas here. The 'new
bridge' consisted of two feeble looking planks. Feeling slightly
nervous about this we inquired when it had been constructed and
which vehicles had already crossed it. When we were merrily told
that it had been made today and we were the first vehicle to test
it out ("but no problem no problem") we thought it best to stay
put where we were and set up camp on the dirt road in the forest.
We got into the tent very quickly, behind two layers of mosquito
nets, to escape from all the dive-bombing biters and stingers. Once
safely inside and under our fan it was fantastic to lie and listen
to all the sounds of the jungle.
The Drill Ranch was set up
in 2000 to protect Pandrill monkeys and Chimps. It is the most
significant conservation project in Nigeria and is succeeding in
protecting the endangered Pandrill species, which can only be found
in the forests of Nigeria, Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea.
We did a tour and watched
the monkeys and chimps being fed in their enclosures. We then
walked through the forest to the Canopy Walkway. We tried hard not
to think of all those inverted commas as we walked along precarious
walkways at 25m above the ground. And we tried even harder not to
look down when the guide told us proudly that Canadians had built
it but that the Nigerians now had full responsibility for
maintenance. Scenes of aforementioned hotel rooms flashed rudely
before our eyes. It was beautiful to be up in the canopy of the
forest but we were very glad to reach solid ground again.
We drove back down to Ikom, found some diesel and checked into
the 'Lisbon Hotel' to wait for Darrin. We bought some 'meat pies' -
with no meat - and 'chocolate cake' - with no chocolate - and went
to bed hungry reflecting on our time in Nigeria. All in all, it
really has been a positive experience, which has negated all the
preconceptions and stereotypes. The people have been exceptionally
friendly and we have had no problems from police. Nonetheless we
are seriously hoping that the constant need for inverted commas
will stop and some good food will start when we cross the border