Apr 10 2010

Nigeria – diary 2010-03-26 to 2010-03-03

2010-03-26

 They say that Nigeria is renowned for corruption so we were anticipating all sorts of requests from all sorts of people during our stay in Nigeria. The primary reason for our visit was to obtain as many visa s as possible and it seemed that Abuja would be a one stop visa shopping spree with us being able to obtain our Congo, Cameroon and Angolan visas. The sooner we go there the sooner we would be on our way.

The outlook was positive after an effortless border crossing which seemed to cause us to let our guard down. Just as soon as we hit the main road we were stopped dead in our tracks by some people who had pulled a spike barrier across the road. They greeted us and said that they were some sort of official and were requesting our passports, yellow fever certificates and vehicle documents. We tried reasoning with them saying that we had already gone though customs and that we did not have to show them anything. None of these men were wearing anything that resembled an official uniform so immediately we had our backs up and were not ready to relinquish our passports into the hands of some strange Nigerian man. Eventually after much discussion and debate it was established that they were in fact officials and that they were just doing their jobs. Kirk got out to show the ‘officials’ our visas, stamps of entry and Carnet de Passage whilst I waited patiently in the car. We soon found out that there were to be 7 more stops just like this one and that it for our own safety! We managed to cover a staggering 25km in 2 hours because of these pointless stops! It was the most infuriating morning of the trip so far!

After one of the stops we came across yet another ne of these make shift barriers but this time it was not being manned by police or immigration officials, it was being manned by civilians of the village we were bypassing. They demanded N500 per vehicle for using the roads that passed though their village. Joe and Christine had a man requesting them to pay so that they could feed themselves. We had heard of these various different scams and were having none of it. Unfortunately we couldn’t move on because they had this barrier ahead of us so the only thing we could do was tell these villagers that we were turning around to get the police. This seemed to work because as soon as Kirk and I had turned around in Mvubu they flagged the other 2 vehicles through. Neil radioed us as soon as they were through and told us to turn around. It had worked and we were waved through. The stops seemed to ease off the further we got from the border but because of the incessant security checks we had not managed to cover the estimated distance that we would have liked to cover. We decided to stop in Abekouta for the night at a hotel called Gateway Hotel. When we pulled up to the gates we were stopped by the security men who told us that the hotel was shut for renovations. This was a catastrophe as we needed somewhere to pitch our tents for the evening. With a lot of pleading with the security man we were given the phone number of Mr Adam, the owner of the hotel. We were invited into the grounds to discuss possible camping arrangements. His friend Isam made a few calls to the manager of the Hillcrest Golf Club and we followed him and his driver to see where we would be camping for the evening. The friendliness of these people was astounding and they went out of their way to help us find a secure place to camp for the evening. After discussing a price with the assistant manager we set up camp and enjoyed a relaxing evening on the golf course with the comforting name of Hillcrest. We had a little rain that evening and the humidity was still stifling but it was comforting to know that as we moved further inland the humidity would ease off and we would once again be able to have restful nights of sleeping without that awful sticky clammy feeling that had been a part of our trip since Ghana.

 2010-02-27

 Drive drive drive, that was the agenda for the day. We took to the road at 8am and only managed to get on the open road an hour an a half later. The traffic in Abekouta was a nightmare and after fuelling up and trying to navigate our way through the masses of taxis and trucks we were eventually on the road to Abuja. It would be another long day of driving with us trying to cover as much distance as possible so that we could be in Abuja for Monday to start the visa application process. We made good distance even though the roads changed constantly from good to bad. The trucks once again dominated the road which made diving quite stressful. We could see a new highway in the distance but could not figure out how to get onto the new black top that was sure to be pothole free. We decided that we should follow the locals as they seemed to be popping off the old road at the most bizarre times and it proved successful. There were little dirt roads leading onto the new road which allowed us to make up some good time. Before being allowed to enter these roads we were stopped at a makeshift boom where a civilian stopped us and asked us to pay N500 per vehicle. We managed to talk our way out of paying saying that the road didn’t belong to him and that we were going to drive on regardless. He couldn’t argue and waved us through. One thing that astounded us during our time on the Nigerian roads was how much the local people pay ‘bribes’ to the police. We were brought to a standstill regularly by the never-ending police stops where we were never asked to show our vehicle documents but instead asked if we had brought anything from South Africa for them. Kirk’s response would always be ‘love and a smile’. He would then shake their hands and we would be sent on our way. After many hours of driving we finally arrived in the town of Jebba. Jebba borders the Niger River and is home to a huge paper mill. We managed to find accommodation in a place called the Colony Guest House which was perched on top of a hill and overlooked the Niger River and the paper mill. The proprietor, Matias, recommended that we go to a restaurant called ChiChi’s for dinner. They served traditional Nigerian meals at dirt cheap prices. The food is basic yet tasty and we ordered beans and rice, sauce and ‘cow meat’ (beef). Whilst waiting for our food to arrive we heard a commotion coming from outside. When we went to investigate we saw that an old clapped out taxi had caught fire. The locals all ran to the rescue and started throwing sand onto the flames to extinguish them. Kirk ran for the fire extinguisher in the car but when he got to the scene the flames were out and the crowed had started to dissipate. Apparently it is quite a frequent occurrence for a car to burst into flames in these parts of the world and it was evident by the number of burnt out vehicles we saw on the side of the road. We ate our dinner and made our way back to the Guest House for another good nights rest.

 2010-02-28

 We left at the crack of dawn to try to avoid the masses of traffic that was sure to engulf the roads during the course of the day. The roads were ye again in a state of disrepair with us trying to dodge potholes and trucks that take over the entire road. We slogged on and eventually arrived at the Sheraton Hotel in Abuja at 3pm. When we were shown to the area where the ‘tourists’ stay we were pleased to see that Christna, Andrew (www.sandlovers.org), Henk and Maureen were camped up under the shady trees. They had been in Abuja for 10 days as Andrew was fixing some mechanical problems in the Land Rover and they too had been applying for visas. We got the visa low down and were ecstatic to find out that we could obtain Angola, Cameroon and Congo visas in Abuja. We knew that we had 3 days of visa admin ahead of us and that we would be doing very few ‘touristy’ things in Abuja. Kirk fixed yet another puncture in the rear wheel. We assume that the screws and nails that seem to be attracted to Mvubu’s wheels are courtesy of the wonderful truck drivers who seem to pull off onto the side of the road and perform maintenance on their vehicles. They just throw their old screws and nails onto the road and people like us ‘tourists’ pick them up on our way through. Kirk in most certainly getting his fix of repairing punctures!

2010-03-01 to 2010-03-02

 We have dubbed Abuja Visa city! We were up bright and early to dress appropriately for the embassies we were visiting during the day. 1st stop was the Angolan Embassy. We had resigned ourselves to the fact that we were only going to be issued with a 5 day transit visa. This was not part of our plan but we could not do anything about it as we had been told that if we were applying for any other visa we would need to wait for 2 months whilst they processed it. We collected our [passports at 12:15pm and made a dash across town to the Congo Embassy where we were able to submit our application and collect it the following morning just in time to visit the Cameroon Embassy and submit that application. We managed to get 3 visas in 2 days and were pleased to be able to continue our ‘transit’ through Nigeria the following morning. Abuja is a pretty unremarkable city with very little to see and do. The traffic was a nightmare with green Nissan Sunnys dominating the road and becoming a nuisance at times. Drivers are not afraid to use their hooters in Abuja and it is almost necessary to use earplugs just to maintain ones sanity. We were very happy to be seeing the back of Abuja and were focussing on the next part of our travels into Cameroon.

2010-03-03

 We were up early and packed up ready to hit the road and get as close to the border as possible. We hit our first obstacle of the morning with our quest to fill up with diesel. The queues for petrol would be so bad that a line of cars would be parked on the road leading up to the petrol station. These queues would be about 30 cars deep and the drivers would be assembled on the side of the road having a social gathering. Petrol was scarce and so was diesel. With perseverance we managed to find a Total fuel station that was able to fill us up. We were eventually on our way and were pleased to be driving on a good tarred road for most of the journey. As we got closer to the border we began driving through some rural villages and some rickety old bridges. The people were friendly as usual and the children smiled and waved at us as if we were royalty. We did however encounter some hostility as we neared the town of Ikom. Some villagers decided it would be a good idea to attempt to spike our car but we saw their attempts before anything bad could happen. Kirk was furious and shouted at the men who were responsible for placing the plank of wood studded with nails in front of out tyres. He put the fear of God into them by saying that he was friends with the Chief of Police in the next village and that he would be back with him in 10 minutes. The apologies that came out of the villagers’ mouths were astounding and we saw them retrace their steps into the bush very hastily. We continued into Ikom, found a place to stay and found a courtyard of street food where we enjoyed omelettes and beans for dinner. The air was hot and sticky but our excitement was growing every hour as we knew that the following day we would be entering into our 11th African country.

 Nigeria brought with it many surprises. The people that we met were friendly and did not live up the awful stories that we had heard from so many people. We were only there for a very short time which may be the reason for our positive experience. We didn’t pay a single bribe and managed to obtain 3 visas in record time so we were smiling when we left the country.