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Thursday, 24 June 2010

Nigeria - Lagos, Sheraton Abuja, Jos, Yankari National Park, Wikki Warm Springs, Guba village & Agbokim Waterfalls

As soon as we got through the border in Benin and into Nigeria, the difference in the road was amazing. Sonya rightfully coined the phrase, 'Nigeria, the place trucks go to die.' The roads were in pretty bad condition, some tarmac but with huge potholes every few metres. This combined with the hundreds of other trucks on the road made for pretty slow going.There were over-turned trucks on the side of the road, some had been there for some time. Everything of any use had been pilfered by the locals. The shells were left to rust. We drove past a new wreck where the truck had overturned and set on fire. The body of the burned driver was left on the side of the road until they were finished salvaging the goods that had been lost.

Dead truck one
Dead truck two

The other thing that was real noticeable was all the police stops. They were at least every 2 km for the first few hoursafter the border. After that they became more sporadic. Normally, it just seemed as though they were a bit bored and wanted to have a chat about what we were up to/where we were going etc. They are also particularly interested in tryingto get money out of us making up rules for the road as they went along. The funniest stop was one guy (with a large gun I'd like to add) who wanted compensation for the following road-rule breakings;

  1. The steering wheel was on the wrong side. Even though it is a UK registered truck, we were after all on Nigerian roads now!
  2. None of us were wearing seatbelts which is illegal (although after Mark pointed out the next 15 cars that went past,also had no seat-belts, he let that one slide).
  3. Why was there a passenger in the front of the cab with the driver which we of course not allowed...
  4. The fire extinguisher had no expiry date, Which was clearly pointed out when the guy's hand was moved 2 inches to the right. And so it went on. Needless to say we left half hour an hour later and he was no better off financially.

We spent the first night bush camping in a secluded wood spot just off the main road. The next day, it was our intention to leave camp early and head to the capital Abuja where we'd spend a few days getting more visas for Angola and Congo. After a few hours of driving 'south' we were noticing the roads getting bigger and more and more busy...Next we foundourselves driving over an 8 laned bridge which spanned 5 km over a huge river...Sporadically we were noticing signs with things like 'Lagos Island' and a police car with LPD on the side. All suspicions were put aside, after all Mark knew exactly which direction we were going in. The next minute we pulled into a petrol station where Mark broke the bad news that we'd in fact been driving North all day and were also in fact in the centre of Lagos. Oops. In the Lonely Planet it tells us that the population of Nigeria is 14 million. Well, I believe 50% of that population were on the bridge that day and the backtrack across the bridge took a few hours longer than on the way in! But, we all didn't mind as waiting for us on the way back out was a Nando's. Bring on GBP 15 for a chicken burger. Amazing.

No relevant photos to comments - but here is a cool pic of a goat on a railway line...
One more bush camp later we arrived in Abuja, and to the Sheraton which was to be our home for the next few days. This is one of the 'posh' hotels purpose built for the business men back in the early 70's. Unfortunately it looked as though no work had been done on the hotel since, but it was certainly the poshest place we've been to since the start of the trip and we all paraded through reception looking sheepish in our soiled clothes, sporting our have-not-had-a-shower-in-6-days hair do's!

Hotel/war bunker
The deal was that if we bought a room between all of us, we would be able to camp around the back of the hotel for as long as we needed. Leon and Mark did the honours and bought a room for the time and we all pitched camp next door to the dog kennels and tennis courts. (Actually AK and I decided to be soft and also upgraded to a room, but we won't say any more about that...) Sadly Ruby (truck) was injured on the way from the car park into the back garden. The path has obviously seenno truck action for some time and the overgrown trees combined with the narrow path next to the kennels, left a nasty tear inthe side tarp. Mark did pay $5 for this to be fixed by a man who obviously learnt how to put some masking tape over a rip in primary school. Needless to say said tarp will now need to be replaced at a later date.

Visas were the reason we stopped in Abuja. We arrived on a Sunday night. On the Monday morning Mark and Sonja spruced themselves up to go to the Angolan embassy, (Too fancy a place for the majority of us to be allowed in, let alone by given a Visa!) Problem was the Friday previously, the Nigerian government had decided that the Monday was now going to be a public holiday. They obviously heard we were coming and decided to thwart our plans! Any other embassy and there would be noproblem at all. The Angolan embassy however, will only accept visa applications on a Monday or a Wednesday. This combined with the Congo embassy needing at least 48 hours to process their Visas, meant we would be in Abuja until at least the following Saturday. This wasn't too much of a hardship, basking in the comfy lounges, watching the football (and endless numbers of live-in prostitutes) in the pubs and generally chilling in the free air conditioning. I also managed to pick upsome contact lenses from the DHL office (much needed since The Night of the Tent Slashing back in Morocco where my glasses got stolen and I was soon to be blind. So thanks to Trigger (friend from home) I'm back in the land of the seeing!

Once again no relevant photos, but some beautiful from-the-road scenery shots instead.
During the week we all managed to get some much needed clothes and tent cleaning done. Kay more so then the rest of usafter a nasty dog walking incident which strayed too close to her tent in the early hours of the morning, and peed all over the corner of the tent and onto her pillow! Cue Dettol. We also managed to 'as my sister said' have an ultimatewhite moment when we found a mall 5 minutes away from the hotel where there was a cinema and free internet access. We managed to fit 3 movies and 3 boxes of popcorn into 2 days.

In the meanwhile Yoichi had been experiencing some stomach problems (even after taking some worming tablets...) and so went of to the hospital (again.) Fluid samples were taken and after a very embarrassing waiting room incident in which Kyle and AK tried to explain to Yoichi what a stool sample was,the results all came back negative. The only explanation was the large bag of peanuts he was eating for lunch every dayto save money.

The time had come after 6 days to leave the 5 star luxury and get back to being overlanders again. We had said goodbye to the Zed's and Ian in Abuja. All headed off to the World Cup in SA. The first leg of the trip was over...already!! Crazy!We had in stall for us at least 14 days of bush camping before the next shower or campsite. So with clean clothes and new stashes of booze, we all loaded into the truck to leave. The way out of the Sheriton was different to the way in to avoid tarp rippings. The grounds staff had even cut a tree down for us to ensure safe exit. We pulled up to the path only to find that Ruby was still too big to pass by the top of the one of the tallest trees. Everyone back off the truck and the chainsaw out. Instead of sacrificing any more of our house to the hotel the only alternative was to chop a chunk of the tree off so we could get through. Half way through the sawing, one of the observing staff decided to point out that there was, in fact, another gateway to leave the grounds. Big sigh from Mark, chainsaw away, everybody back on the truck, and freedom at last! Back on the road again.

The offending tree
Option one, cut down Sheraton tree
Still too steps gardener from the crowd of spectators to advise of an alternative route!
Slightly deviating from the truck rescuing task at hand Victoria collects loofahs for everyone.
Freedom!!! Cue clever photography shot...
Leon and Kyle had also left us for a couple of weeks to go back to Lagos and explore properly. They would make their waydown to Cameroon themselves and meet us there. The truck (which can hold up to 28 people) was now down to 10. With two people up front in the cab, this meant the 8 of us remaining could stretch out across the seats and recline in comfort for the driving days. We stopped for bush camp that night in the land of the frogs. Although they were never seen, theywere heard...Everywhere all the time! Except at about 2am when they finally went quiet. Cue AK getting up at 3am for a peeand it was aptly described by Neal as the rock concert starting up again!

Mark had explained to us at dinner that we would be heading to Jos the next day. This was the town where Muslim and Christian rivalries had caused the killing of 100 people a few months before. We had to pass through there, and so were warned not to even try to drive through on a Sunday as this was church day and the locals would get riled up and start riots etc. So we were going to attempt it on a Monday to avoid any troubles.

We were just cruising along in the town, heads hanging out of the window waving at the locals, when suddenly about 50 kids ran like a flood across the road and down an opposite side street. The next road we drove past there were a couple of youngmen brandishing large wooden poles and trying to hit a motorcyclist off his bike. This all happened very quickly, and thenzooming past us going towards to the road we just passed by, went an army truck with several military men poised with AK47's at the ready. The waving at the locals soon turned to people throwing stuff at the truck. A couple of large rocks made it inand we all lay on the floor of the truck to hide.

Check the tanks - you will also notice the lack of any other cars coming that way. The locals know when it is time to go home.

Mark and Kayelene who was up front at the time, were more visible andcouldn't really hide...Kay tried to help by rolling up the window, to be chastised by Mark with 'Do you know how much one of those windows costs to replace?!' All through the rest of the town centre we could hear gun shots behind us. (These could have been tear gas canisters or as Sonya suggested rubber bullets. However being in the middle of Nigeria, post religious murders, I'd imagine there'd be no warning shots first!)

AK Always the joker!! Meanwhile, in the background, I actually look pretty scared!
All alive and in tact (but also quite excited by the action, Dave having got a couple of good photos of everybody crouching on the floor) we made it to a bush camp just outside of Yankari National Park. This I like to call the prickly buch camp as there were acacia trees EVERYWHERE! My flip-flops took a bit of a pounding with several 2 inch thorns making it throughthe shoes into my feet. Dave decided we hadn't built a camp fire in some time, so built a large blazing fire which added tothe 35 degree heat. Nobody could actually get close enough to the fire to enjoy it, except Sonya and I on cook group who had to hover over the fire to cook our meat and left 5 minutes later with an inch layer of sweat head to toe and blood shot smoke pounded eyes. Good idea Dave!!

Yankari National Park was the stop for the next day. On the drive through the park we saw our first taste of African wildlife including waterbuck and warthogs. The park is not mainly for the animals, but a nice extra. We parked up in the car park, and got ready to walk down 20 metres to the Wikki Warm Springs for a swim.

The truck had to be guarded all day as the baboons were hanging around in full force! They watched us as we got ready to go and as we walked away they wasted no timein closing in towards the truck.

So calm, cool and collected just waiting for us to drop our guard
Mark took first security duty, but with only one pair of eyes, we immediately had a break-in!They had pulled the tarp to the side and gone straight for someone's biscuits in their seat! Later on in the day one of them made it onto the roof in front of 8 of us sitting and 'guarding(!)' and after much rock throwing and shouting it jumped down.The warm springs were amazing. The water stays at a constant temperature of 31 degrees and the water itself is the mostamazing shade of blue. We took our swimming goggles down to the water to take in the colours underneath the water. The boys had some fun jumping off the side, grabbing onto tree branches overhead and flipping into the water.

Stunning clear water. No camera tricks. The place looks even brighter in real life.

Relaxing after my tough morning of swimming.
Neal gives Marjane a lift up to reach the tree branch.
Marjane then gets stuck upside down on the tree and eventually falls off! Very graceful.

On our way back to the same camp spot from the night before, the skies starting closing in and getting blacker and blacker.We quickly closed down all the tarps in case the rain came in, but it actually started out as a pretty nasty sandstorm.The trees were blowing over 45 degrees, poor people on their way home on their bikes were being veered completely offcourse. The rain did finally come, unfortunately, once again just in time for Sonya and my cook group!

For the next few days, the plan was to cruise along through pretty slowly (and the roads were still quite bad quality so the going was slowly already) and just to stop if anything caught our fancy. Driver Mark had also started to feel a bit rough, which after having Malaria 8 times previously, was quickly diagnosed as the 10th malaria victim. So we found a spot off the side of the road to camp that night. It was only 2 days until the side of the World Cup so we decided to pass some time making a sweepstake amongst us for the tournament. On the practise run on the truck to check it worked, I drew out Brazil, Italy and France. Good sign for the draw itself one would think. I ended up picking USA, Japan and Denmark :(The sun doesn't shine twice in a row. So I would say that me (and Leon with Korea, Australia and Slovenia) will be out ofthe competition pretty damn quickly. But it is a chance for the peeps who aren't really interested in the games to get involved as the football is everywhere around Africa at the moment and it's awesome to get into the atmosphere.

Children from a local village come to watch us for a while. We cant understand why us sitting around doing f-all is particularly interesting to watch?!

That same night, a couple of local guys with strong opinions and not afraid to share them, arrived and sat down to have a chat. They thought we were crazy to be bush camping when if he had money like us all he'd like to do is sit around and watch TV. A lot of time was spent trying to explain that was exactly what we were all trying to escape from. They alsocouldn't accept that we were not religious because how would it be possible for us to make decisions without God. And that all Japanese people looked the same and that Victoria should be in school and that it wouldn't be possible to learn enough out of school to ever recover! Phew! One guy said he was a politician who believed he would one day be president of Nigeria. With those opinions, I wouldn't be surprised to see him on TV in the future!!

They mentioned to us that there was an awesome waterfall nearby (1km away) that all the white people apparently went to butthat the locals were afraid of the ghosts who live behind the waterfall itself. Seeing as Mark was still recovering, AK, Dave,Sonya, Yoichi and I decided to make a mission to check it out the next morning.

Sonya ready with her packed lunch of left-over spaghetti
We started walking the 1km, asking the locals along the way if we were on the right track. The distance to the river variedfrom the original 1km, to 2 hours, 1 hour and 5 minutes. So we basically headed off down a dirt road completely clueless ofdirection or time, but in good spirits! 2 hours later (typical!) we came to a village called Guba where we met a guy who offered to show us the way to the waterfall. We walked through the village picking up more and more people along the way. We got to the waterfall down a steep escarpment where my shoes had to come off for safety. It was worth the the rainy season it would have been spectacular. There was a huge overhang above a deep pool where there were 2 lines of water falling. We all dove in to cool down from the walk. The water was actually cold which was amazing. A couple of the locals joined us for a swim, but the majority just watched us from the shore. When AK got his goggles out this proved amusing for a few of the guys when they saw fish under the water. Attempts to catch one for us by hand failed miserably though...(From a bit of deduction and some research in Google, we think that these falls are called "Agbokim Waterfalls."

Daniel Craig or what??!!! I myself can hardly tell the difference.
We headed back to the truck at lunch time, where Mark was feeling well enough to move on. So one more bush camp and then on across some more appalling roads by then towards the border. At one point the lean on the truck was so much that Victoria slid sideways off her seat and landed on the floor. Mass evacuation of the truck so Mark could bomb up the hill with no further injuries!
Prime viewing spot in `the beach' as we drive along. Kay Dave and AK get some tanning time.

There is a road in there somewhere...
Pretty leany.

Border reached, and the first game of the world cup to entertain us, on we go to Cameroon...


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