Nigeria…what a country of contrasts! We have experienced both ups and downs through our journeys through this fascinating country. Bar none, Nigeria has the most friendly and photogenic people of Africa to date. The sheer excitement and joy of the locals who spotted our overland truck and poured out into the streets to greet us was overwhelming at times, and we spent many an hour burning countless calories waving back at the jubilant masses. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have experienced the most bureaucratic delays of the journey thus far with countless road blocks (14 on the first day’s driving of 4 hours, with the shortest one lasting a mere 43 seconds and the longest one taking 36 minutes). It seems to be a battle of wills combined with a sense of humor as the officials try to extort gifts or wives out of us (poor Kendra has been promised in marriage several times), with the end result a begrudging respect for the poor overlanders who are eventually allowed to continue their journey unmolested. Highlights of this country included Calabar, a handsome port city and the Afi Drill Ranch, home to hundreds of drill monkeys and several chimpanzees and gorillas. Nigeria has certainly been an experience.
22 Jan: It was a bit of a sleep in as breakfast wasn’t until 7:30 am, consisting of “do it yourself” eggs. Our agenda today consisted of crossing the border town of Ketou into Nigeria, and we had no idea how long that process would take. It was a short drive to border crossing, and we didn’t have to get stamped out of Benin. Instead, before we knew it, the vendors were quoting us prices in Nigerian Naira. A money exchanger was offering 125 Naira for $1 (the official exchange rate was 153 to the dollar, so he earned a healthy commission for himself), and we found the locals here to be super friendly, posing happily for photos for and with us. Afterwards, we headed down to Ketou’s official border control point where we were the only vehicle getting processed. After filling in our entry cards, we waited about 2 hours for the official to process everyone into the country and then, Welcome to Nigeria! Everyone in the villages seemed super friendly and genuinely happy to see us, waving and greeting us in delight. Such a change from the Benin side of the border where adults were teaching their children to yell “Cadeau” (gift) at the mere sight of a tourist. Dowelly spent the last of his CFA buying some local bread, and we shared a loaf for lunch (yum), along with tomatoes, lettuce, cole slaw, leftover couscous and fried rice, boiled eggs and pineapples. From the border town of Ketou, we drove towards Abeokuta, and immediately realized that Nigeria is the country of random checkpoints (many of which appeared to be impromptu ones by random guys on the street!). The guards drilled Nancy for our passports (she started giving away sheets that had a manifest of passengers along with our corresponding passport information) and yellow fever certifications, as well as our Cholera documentation (which Nancy explained was not available). In a span of 4 hours, we were stopped 14 times, with the shortest stop lasting a mere 43 seconds and the longest stop lasting 36 minutes. Nancy later told us that when some of the random (non-uniformed, civilian garbed “officials”) demanded access to our truck to count passengers, she refused stating they lacked the documentation or uniforms and some of them actually got upset. One of them even pointed to his hand-knitted “immigration” sweater, as proof that he was legit! We joked that any one of our mothers could have knitted it, and just laughed at the randomness of it all. Once we got to Abeokuta, we had an hour for cook group to go shopping, so we wandered around the market and were amazed at how friendly and welcoming the locals were. In the span of less than an hour, we had several marriage proposals, an offer of a baby for adoption, countless requests for photos, and numerous “welcome to Nigeria” greetings. Since the area around Abeokuta was overpopulated, we had to backtrack for about 30 KM back to a bush camp site that Chris has scoped out earlier in the day. Dinner tonight consisted of pasta with vegetables in a peanut sauce which was actually quite tasty (thanks Sean, Frans and Marie). The late night revelers of Robby, Luke, Kendra, Lars, Dowelly, and Hoff stayed up late drinking monkey tang, listening to loud music and talking several decibels louder than necessary, all in the name of celebrating another border crossing into a new country. Nancy finally cut off their IPOD at around 1 am, and the hard core partiers (Luke, Kendra and Lars) finally crashed around 2 am, inadvertently leaving the kitchen and storage lockers unsecured all night long…making for a very unhappy Nancy and Chris the next morning.
23 Jan: The time change since Benin was still throwing us for a loop as it was dark as we got up for breakfast at 7 am. Cook group made us eggy bread for breakfast which was a real treat, especially when combined with plantains. The late night partiers all felt a bit hung over, and everyone else who didn’t sleep well vowed not to allow any of the partiers to get any shut eye on the truck. Our drive towards Ogbomosho was via Abeokuta, and we found the Nigerians to be super friendly and welcoming along the entire morning’s drive route. In Abeokuta, Chris took a wrong turn so we ended up driving in circles for a bit, but since everyone was busy waving or taking photos of the friendly inhabitants, we didn’t mind the extra time here. Just before lunch, we pulled into a gas station to refuel and fill up our empty jerry cans. Lucky for us carnivores, adjacent to the gas station was a “Chicken Republic” restaurant chain where we were able to get some pieces of chicken to snack on. Upon pulling out of the gas station, Chris attempted a U-turn but got hauled over by a cop who angrily stated that it was an illegal maneuver (as indicated by a tiny signpost that had been overgrown by weeds and was no longer visible). While Chris and Nancy argued their way out of a fine and eventually got a verbal warning, we were still busy waving to the super friendly locals who seemed quite excited at the sight of our overland vehicle. The reception in Nigeria has been unlike any other African country thus far, and is quite an experience. Our lunch stop was at an old, abandoned gas station and Kendra worried the truck when she passed out after getting severely dehydrated whilst resting on the beach. She wasn’t feeling well and had thrown up a bit, and when everyone noticed her deteriorating condition, she appeared to be having some sort of seizure as her eyeballs rolled into the back of her head. Nancy was immediately buzzed for and she instantly took charge, shooing us off the truck and guiding Kendra to a shady spot to relax and rehydrate. Some locals had gathered around our truck and tried to extort a payment from Chris by stating that we had parked on a functioning gas station. Chris ended up calling their bluff by proving that the gas pumps had long ago ceased to function and that if the “big boss man” wanted to talk to him, he’d be more than happy to oblige. No payment was ever made although some of the more persistent locals were reluctant to give up trying. We ate quickly and left no mess behind, since we didn’t want to overstay our welcome. The rest of the afternoon was more driving and thankfully today the checkpoint stops were not as frequent as yesterday. Our bushcamp was near a town called Ogbomosho, and several of us did a quick ab workout before our excellent dinner of soy mince with pasta (thanks Norma, Mike and Katherine). Since Luke had bought some fresh limes, we enjoyed a refreshing gin and tonic with dinner. During dinner announcements, last night’s security lapse was addressed in front of the group and as punishment, Lars, Luke and Kendra had to wash everyone’s dishes for a week. Dowelly immediately offered to help, and some members of our group thought that they had gotten off lightly since the overall damage could have been several thousand dollars of lost/stolen equipment that would have come out of our local payment. However, some folks thought the punishment was a bit harsh, so there was no group consensus on the punishment, except that all of us vowed not to allow it to happen again. Nancy mentioned that it had not been a big deal up until now because Goodie was the one person who was fastidious in ensuring that everything was locked away in the past…his absence was most keenly felt now that he and MJ are no longer with the group! Hopefully the lesson is learned as both Nancy and Chris promised that if we had a repeat offence, everything would have to be secured the minute the two of them got ready to go to bed, making for a miserable experience for the late night folks who would have to suffer without any of the truck gear at their disposal.
24 Jan: The weather has definitely cooled down overnight, as evidenced by several people wearing long sleeved shirts in the morning. Breakfast consisted of toast and peanut butter along with red bananas and pineapple. Today was a full drive day and the only excitement consisted of a police stop where we had a blown break light fuse. After the police tried and failed to extort a fine, Nancy ended up pimping out Kendra and we got off lightly as the police seemed satisfied with her email address and phone number (obviously a fake one!). Thanks Kendra for taking one for the team. Lunch consisted of tuna sandwiches (yum) and Becky’s cook group was up tonight but the town that we thought we would shop in never materialized. So around late afternoon, Nancy informed us that we would be cooking off of the truck’s supplies. We were able to stop by a village to get some eggs, watermelon and bread for breakfast and lunch tomorrow, and had a bush camp near Bida where dinner consisted of spam fried rice. We had plenty of egg to spare as Nancy had bought 90 eggs (and we had 9 leftover from the other cook group) giving us a whopping total of 99 eggs for the next 3 cook groups. Sara had mentioned prawn crackers and happily, Nancy remembered that we had a stash of prawn crackers on the truck so dinner was actually quite a treat of spam fried rice and a massive amount of prawn crackers…yum! Everyone called dinner tonight “Spamtastic” and we definitely got our fill of meat.
25 Jan: Today we would be in Abuja with plenty of time to lodge our Angolan visas by Wednesday morning (apparently visas can only be lodged certain days of the week), and we were all looking forward to being able to take showers. But first, we had a drive day from Bida to Abuja and we were anticipating that it would take the better part of the day to reach Nigeria’s capital. Lunch was a brief stop for tuna pasta, which didn’t go over well with the non-tuna eaters (Sean and Matt), although Matt might have become a convert as he said “it wasn’t that bad”. Meanwhile, the rest of us enjoyed seconds on lunch which was quite the treat. We weren’t far from Abuja after lunch, and could start seeing the big city influence on our drive towards the city. Trash was littered everywhere, clogging up entire rivers and making for quite the sad sight to see. Truly dismal and disheartening! Once we got closer to Abuja, we could see massive stone “inselbergs” with dramatic, vertical formations. The city of Abuja is relatively new (building commenced in 1981) and we could easily see where the oil wealth of Nigeria is spent, with massive sparkling buildings dominating the skyline of Abuja. Our home for the next few days would be the campgrounds of the Sheraton Hotel, which was posh beyond our budget and expectations. However, we were brought back down to reality when we realized that we would be sleeping just behind the dog kennel section next to the garbage refuse and sewerage plant. Such is life but we were happy to finally get a chance for some highly coveted showers! But first things first, immediately after setting up our tents and exploring the swimming pool area (a pricey 2000 Naira for a day pass), the tennis courts (2000 Naira for the court and an additional 1300 Naira for the racket), and gym (2500 Naira for an aerobics class), and finally pool side bar (the cheapest beer was 900 Naira)…we quickly realized that we would not be affording any of the Sheraton luxuries as they were all priced well out of our budget range. However, the one silver lining was that the Elephant Bar had a happy hour special daily from 6-7 pm and all drinks were half off, with beer priced at a reasonable 250 Naira during happy hour. At 5 pm, Nancy walked us through our Angola visa applications, warning us not to make any mistakes as the business center was a hefty 20 minute walk away and she had no spare photocopies. After depositing a photo, $30 cash and our passports and forms, we had the rest of the evening free but we opted to relax by the camp with homemade gin and tonics while waiting for Nancy, Matt and Ultra to make us a pasta bar dinner. Chris asked for volunteers to help fill up the empty jerry cans so we helped out, using the tap and hose by the dog kennel. Some of our group headed over to the Elephant Bar for the evening’s entertainment and we were later regaled with stories of pole dancing until 2 am.
26 Jan: Happy Australia Day! Today was “Aussie Day” and we had pre-ordered our meat fill with Chris and Nancy the night before, authorizing them to buy meat on our behalf up to a 10 Euro cap per person. They had departed the Sheraton early to lodge our Angolan visa applications, leaving us to enjoy breakfast on our own. Since lunches were on our own the entire time here in Abuja, the group splintered off into several sections as everyone had their own agenda on how to spend several blissful days here in the city. We decided to do some laundry and scrubbed our dirty clothes near the tap by the hospital (the one by the dog kennel was being used to clean the tennis courts). To our surprise, our laundry dried in no time even in the shade because there was a nice breeze blowing through the campsite. We desperately needed power for our batteries and laptops so we headed over to the power slot near the Mongolian BBQ/brick pizza point and Robby had quite the surprise of his life when what he thought to be a power cable brushing up against his leg turned out to be a 4 foot long greenish brown snake! Once Nancy and Chris returned with meat in hand (a whopping amount of meat all of us carnivores who had signed up for the Aussie day celebrations), the group shifted back over to the campsite where the meat was being grilled in slow succession, with a healthy dose of alcohol in between meat offerings. Everyone got a healthy portion of sausages along with bloody morsels of steak…yum. Chris is a BBQ master, and we learned that he had become a pro at grilling meat whilst in South America where the meat was bountiful and cheap. Lucky came up with the idea of posing every hour on the hour with the Aussie flag, so Kendra set her watch alarm as a reminder and we started the countdown. By the time the Elephant Bar’s happy hour had kicked off, several of us had gotten dressed up and ready for cheap, cold beer, continuing on the festivities whilst cookgroup (Tim, Pam and Norma who agreed to help out so that Lars could continue drinking) prepared dinner. At 7:30 pm, we started filtering back to the campsite where dinner consisted of a spicy tomato/potato stew…yum! After dinner, we decided to drink our cheaper alcohol until 10 pm, where we invaded the Elephant Bar and Matt and Hoff took over the pole dancing section. Matt was especially hilarious as he got really into it, swinging a microphone around and grabbing electric guitars at his rendition of guitar hero. It was awesome fun and we enjoyed it until the live band stopped the DJ and some truly horrendous tunes were sung on our behalf (Country Road was dedicated to our rowdy group). At some point, Luke was approached by the manager of the Elephant Bar and told to take his tank top shirt off in an attempt to attract a bigger crowd around the pole dance area, but he was a bit put off by the suggestion (we found it hilarious). By 11 pm, we were ready to call it a night but the late night dancers lasted till 2 am.
27 Jan: Everyone had a bit of a lie-in this morning with breakfast not until 8:30 am. We had leftover stew, pineapples and bread. During the night last night, Hoff’s pants had split so he was a bit embarrassed in trying to cover it up, eventually conceding to just changing his clothes. We had another free day until 5 pm tonight where we had to do Congo visa applications (along with 15,000 Naira) so we surmised that our only activities today should consist of exchanging money, getting food for lunch and getting caught up on sleep. It was a lazy morning with Robby fixing our broken power cables (thanks to Mad Dawg’s solder iron) and Becky reading an adventure novel. Lunch was at the excellent Oasis Bakery, a short walk from the Sheraton. We scored hamburgers for 180 Naira, and shared a half liter box of Fan Milk icecream for 350 Naira…yum. We also managed to find a can of tuna for a reasonable 200 Naira (it was the last one on the supermarket shelves), and walked back to the Sheraton to enjoy our lunch time treats. Tim had the right idea of using the squash courts as his power supply depot, since it was a lot cooler and more comfortable than the sandy garden where the other power outlets were located. We ended up spending a few hours in the squash courts getting caught up on trip notes and charging our electronic equipment. Just before 5 pm, everyone started heading back to the truck to link up for our Congo visa applications and thankfully, it was a fairly simple and straightforward process, lasting only 30 minutes. Upon completion, we debated whether to indulge in the Happy Hour at the Elephant Bar or get in a quick ab workout and happy to say the ab workout won, but everyone else ditched us either for cook group duties or quenching their thirst at the bar. Dinner tonight was minced meat and mash potatoes prepared by Kendra, Luke and Bree and it was delicious. Bree said it was one of her easiest shopping experiences ever since the market was a 200 Naira taxi ride away and everything was located in one central area (with the exception of the bread which was a bit of a struggle to find). Sara and Sean had scoped out the movie theater situation, and we found that the weekend tickets were slightly more than the weekday prices (1500 Naira vs 1000 Naira) but the best deal was on Monday when a free popcorn and drink were thrown in for only 1000 Naira, movie included. However, if all goes well with our visa applications, we will be on our way come Monday afternoon, so we didn’t hold out much hope for scoring the Monday movie deal. It was a fairly early night with everyone in their tents by 9 pm.
28 Jan: After breakfast at 8 am, we had a truck clean out since there really wasn’t much else to do in Abuja. Everyone was split up into their respective duties with Robby and Luke scoring the tent/footstool and water locker clean up. Meanwhile, Becky had the kitchen locker clean out so it didn’t take too long to get everything done. An overhead locker cleanout happened immediately afterwards, and we ended up getting a lot more space after Mad Dawg showed everyone what a fair allocation of space would be. Robby had to go cook group shopping with Dowelly and Hoff, so we went to the squash courts to charge our electronic gear and do some work on journals and the website. Once cook group returned from shopping at 1:30 pm, we were in the mood for lunch, but Robby spotted that the Sheraton staff had discarded a bunch of ice so he and Hoff went “dumpster diving” to retrieve the ice for our coolers. Once that task was complete, lunch was a repeat visit to Oasis Bakery where we had hoped to get a taste of the Oasis burgers. However, it was not meant to be as the bakery had run out of burgers. Instead, we tried the beef pie (good) and French burger (not as good as the original burger), and some cheap sandwiches along with Fan Ice strawberry flavored ice cream…yum. After stuffing ourselves silly for under 1000 Naira, we headed back to the Sheraton where we sought refuge from the sun at the squash courts again, working on the website and napping on the comfortable yoga mats. Around 5:30 pm, an aerobics class took over one of the squash courts, and we decided to leave lest we overstay our welcome in this wonderful sanctuary. A group of partiers decided to catch Happy Hour at the bar, while Robby, Dowelly and Hoff prepared Spaghetti Bolognese. Dinner was served at around 7:30 pm and we hung out afterwards, drinking our chilled beverages (thanks to the ice in the coolers) and chatting the night away. It was a late night with everyone calling it quits around midnight. The only thing to note was an attempted tent-crash of Bree and Lucky’s tent. However, the group attempting to tent jump them were not as stealthy as they imagined, so Lucky was primed and ready to bolt out of his tent. Poor Robby ended up being the one taking the brunt of Lucky’s force and he caught it in the nose…that put an end to the late night shenanigans.
29 Jan: Once Dowelly realized he had finished off his bottle of gin last night, he cradled his head and understood why he had such a massive hangover in the morning. We had a breakfast treat of oatmeal and canned peaches, and everyone tried to figure out how they were going to occupy their time today. Our group (joined by Bree, Matt and Lars) decided to do a quick workout in the basement of the Squash courts area, where we helped ourselves to the exercise mats and stair steppers and burned away a few calories. Afterwards, we decided to do some Abuja sightseeing, and headed out of the Sheraton towards the Abuja Craft Village. This was an unexpected surprise, as we had stumbled upon one of the nicest (and most hassle free) areas to peruse wonderful, hand crafted souvenirs. There were plenty on offer, from jewelry to masks, statues and paintings, to hand woven cloths and musical instruments. We found a couple of pieces that caught our eye and vowed to return back tomorrow to buy several items. Next on our agenda was a quick visit to the Central Mosque, complete with its picturesque golden dome and minarets. All of us were a bit paranoid about taking photos here as Frans had been arrested yesterday afternoon for taking photos during the Friday afternoon call to prayer. (He had cleared it with some people at the entrance to the mosque and had snapped several photos, but after walking 150 meters further, he had attempted to take more photos where he was subsequently apprehended and escorted to the police station. Apparently, he had asked Michael to accompany him and both of them waited fruitlessly for the better part of an hour for the head chief to appear…they were admonished and given a verbal warning and let go). Keeping that escapade in the back of our minds, we were all a bit leery at taking photos of the mosque but did manage to take some from afar. Afterwards, we walked over to the Ecumenical Cathedral but none of us were keen on entering it. Instead, we headed for the Ceddi Plaza Mall, which had a Cinema showing new releases. While there, we found out that the cinema here was actually the off-shoot from a larger cinema complex which, luckily for us, happened to be close to the Sheraton Hotel. Armed with the movie listings and times, we vowed to make a movie day Monday if the Congo visas take a while to acquire. Since we were ravenous, we stopped by the fast food section for a quick bite to eat (chips for Bree and fried rice for us) before making our way over to the Oasis Bakery for lunch. Happily, today the bakery was stocked with four Oasis burgers so that made for a simple choice for lunch. Armed with our burgers and a liter of chilled chocolate milk, we soaked up the air conditioning of the bakery and filled our tummies. Robby wasn’t keen on continuing onward to the Wuse market, so Bree, Becky and Lucky headed there while he returned back to the Sheraton to work on sorting music out at the Squash courts. Taxis were requesting 300 Naira to take us to the Wuse market area (we knew the price to be 200 Naira so we ended up walking the distance). The market experience was quite positive, with Bree picking up 2 slabs of Star Beer (for 2500 Naira each) and a set of tweezers. Lucky and Becky got their Nigeria football jerseys (for 1250 Naira each), and Lucky ended up getting another jersey (short sleeved with hoodie) for 1000 Naira…score! We hopped in a taxi back to the Sheraton for 200 Naira, and spent the rest of the afternoon working on our computers until dinner. Robby partook in the Sheraton Happy Hour, getting a Goldberg beer for 250 Naira. Dinner was served up by Frans, Sean and Marie who made us a Guinness flavored beef dinner with potatoes and green beans, which was quite good. It was an early night for all, with everyone in their own respective tents by 8:30 pm for a bit of movie watching on the laptops.
30 Jan: As usual, breakfast was at 8 am followed by a 9 am workout session in the squash courts area. The Sheraton cleaning crew looked a bit bewildered and amused as they jokingly inquired who the instructor was. They informed us that they were keen on cleaning up the entire squash courts complex, and asked us to vacate so they could clean around us, but we were able to convince them to give us half an hour to work out and shower first. After a quick 25 minute session, everyone hurriedly took showers and left the building so the staff could get on with their work. We did a bit of laundry by the dog kennel area and hung it up to dry by 11 am, with our plan to head to the cyber café near Oasis Bakery afterwards, but Lucky told us that it was closed on Sunday, so that axed those plans. Instead, we charged our laptops by the squash courts and worked on the website for a bit. Lunch was a brief stop at Oasis Bakery where we dropped of an Oasis Overland sticker for the store (our favorite hang out in Abuja!) followed by more squash court time to chill out away from the sun. Unluckily for us, the Sheraton staff decided to burn trash right next to our tent, so the toxic fumes had permeated our laundry (yuck) and tent. We should have moved our tent right then and there but didn’t, figuring the fumes would die down. Instead, we headed over to the Abuja Arts and Crafts Center to get away from the horrible fumes, and ended up buying a Nigerian face mask for $10…bargain. Cook group tonight (Mike, Lars who swapped for Norma, and Kendra who was filling in for Katherine) made beans, cabbage and potatoes for dinner much to the meat eaters chagrin. Poor Mike received a lot of criticism because no meat was purchased and he single handedly went cook group shopping today by himself, with the help of a local. We ended up moving our tent as a fresh load of trash was being burned and the fumes were absolutely unbearable. Also, the birds residing in the mango tree above our tent had a severe case of the shits as they let loose on our tent, so we were quite happy to relocate for the final few days.
31 Jan: After breakfast (do it yourself eggs), Becky had to go cook group shopping with Sara and Lucky while Nancy submitted our Congo visa applications for us this morning. Robby ended up staying at the Sheraton working on sorting his music. Becky’s group opted to walk to the Wuse Market for training for Mt Cameroon. Cook group shopping duty was simple, although we had only been given 3000 Naira since there was plenty of leftover beans and potatoes from last night’s dinner. Nancy’s guidance to us was to reuse the ingredients, and we decided to enhance the original meal by adding in coconut (shredded) and tomatoes and 2 KG of beef. Becky was also able to pick up some new flip flops (300 Naira each) as spares since ours are already falling apart after 3 months of constant use. Our plan was to catch a taxi back to the Sheraton but we didn’t realize that the taxi cabs aren’t allowed to pick up passengers along a busy stretch of the road immediately outside the market, so we ended up walking the entire route back. Lucky carried Becky’s slab of beer and made sure Robby knew it since we were all super sweaty by the time we finally pulled up into the campsite. A few of us were keen on checking email so we headed over to the cheap internet café next to Oasis Bakery but what a joke…it was crowded and busy, insanely slow and we lost power in the middle of the hour long session. Too bad we already paid for a one hour session (200 Naira) as we wanted to get our money back as it was so dismal. Poor Bree had been unable to log onto hotmail, facebook or gmail after sitting there for over 45 minutes! Lunch was our next priority, and we headed back to tried and true Oasis Bakery which met all of our lunch needs. Later that afternoon, we noticed that AfricaTrails was pulling in, and the Sheraton staff pointed them over to the other end of the soccer field to erect their tents. Bree and Lucky headed over to the nearby movie theater building (where we had been told there was a new internet café) and Becky met up with them at 3:30 pm to go mask shopping at the Arts and Crafts center. Bree and Becky ended up getting similar face masks for $20 each, and were quite happy with their Nigerian souvenirs. While everyone went over to the Elephant Bar during Happy Hour to meet the Africa Trails group, Becky, Sara and Lucky worked on dinner with strict instructions that dinner would be served promptly at 7 pm (we had tickets to the 8:10 pm showing of “Little Fockers”). Dinner went off without a hitch and we managed to wash up the majority of our dishes before heading out, with Sara finishing up the last few items (thanks Sara!). Thankfully all of us had brought an extra layer to wear as it was absolutely arctic-like conditions inside the movie theater. The movie was good but we all agreed that the first two were funnier, but overall, what a nice and different way to spend a night in Africa.
1 Feb: Breakfast was at 7:30 am, and we broke down our campsite to roll out at 8:30 am. Becky had just enough time to take a quick shower before the truck pulled out of the back gate (a much easier maneuver for Chris than when we had pulled into the Sheraton). We stopped by the Congo Embassy to retrieve our passports and then drove straight out of Abuja until we pulled over at a gas station where we thought we were refueling. Poor Matt nearly did a face plant on his way to get water, as Chris started pulling off while Matt was trying to let down the ladder. He managed to get back to his seat unscathed and counted his blessings. Our lunch stop was by a river near Makurdi and we ate corned beef sandwiches with our tomato and cucumbers. Nala pulled into a few more gas stations but Chris kept arguing about the price (it had increased exponentially since we had arrived into Nigeria, 115 Naira a liter for diesel originally but the price was now 140 Naira a liter). When we finally found a gas station that sold diesel for 115 Naira/Liter, Luke ended up buying a bag of oranges for 100 Naira (they were green but sweet). Chris had a hell of a time finding a bush camp near Ogoja, as the sun had already set and he was finding a suitable location in the dark. We were amazed to realize that today we drove a whopping 500 KM, which was quite easy to do on the well paved roads. By 7 pm, a suitable campsite had been located, and cook group 3 (Nancy, Matt and Ruth) created a yummy couscous and minced meat dinner in under 45 minutes…awesome. We were all in our respective tents by 9:30 pm.
2 Feb: Breakfast was at 7 am, and we hurriedly broke down our tents as we were blocking a local footpath and they were happily greeting us as they tried to walk on by. We were on the road by 8 am and drove nonstop for 2 hours until we pulled into a gas station where everyone stocked up on snacks. Ruth and Hoff bought some nasty plantains that had the aftertaste of soap…yuck. Lunch was on another trail where we were blocking yet more Nigerian farmers, and we enjoyed our first non-sandwich lunch in weeks (coleslaw, couscous and potato/egg salad). We drove onward to Calabar and reached our final destination, the Paradise City Hotel at 4 pm. It was quickly renamed the Hepatitis Hotel and truly looked like something out of the movie “Hostel” with all of us scared to venture through its decrepit hallways by ourselves. Amazing that a door plaque indicated the building had been built in 1988, we would have sworn that the building had been built in the late 50’s based on its horrible condition. After setting up our tents, we gathered around at 5 pm for our Cameroon visa application session. We needed 4 photos and 18000 Naira per visa…ouch. Dinner consisted of soy mice potato soup…yum! (prepared by Tim, Pam, and Lars) After dinner a group of folks went out drinking but we stayed around chatting with Nancy, Chris, Kendra and Katherine till 10 pm before venturing into the hotel to take a cold water shower and calling it a day.
3 Feb: Breakfast was at 8 am, and we heard about Nancy’s excitement in the female room (room 16) this morning. There was a man and woman who had slept in the bed during the night, and Nancy walked in on them while trying to go to the bathroom. She immediately started yelling at them to get out and the guy tried to close the door on her. After planting herself square in the doorway, she loudly shouted for them to “get out of my room” and the woman politely excused herself with a cheery “good morning” to Nancy. The guy however played dumb and absolutely refused to vacate the premises. Nancy said she resorted to grabbing his stuff and throwing it down the hallway before he’d leave the room! What an experience. We discovered that the male’s room was not room 34 (where we had taken a shower the night before) but actually room 37. We managed to trace the misinformation from Mike to Frans to Sara to Becky to Robby to Luke…ha ha. Everyone using some other customer’s room to shower, pee and poo in! What a crazy hotel the Paradise City is. After breakfast we did laundry while waiting for Bree, Luke and Kendra to go cook group shopping.. Nancy returned from the Cameroon consulate to tell us we owed her another 1300 Naira per person, so we made sure to get sufficient Euros to exchange at the bank. Chris and Nancy went to check prices and see if we would be able to visit the Afi Mountain Drill Ranch, and were stalked by Becky and Lucky who tailed behind just to see where the Drill Monkey Sanctuary in town was located. By 1145, no cook group had returned so we left a note for them to link up with us at the nearby Pizza Hut. However, we found to our dismay that Pizza Hut was actually Jason’s Pizza Hut and the prices were not impressive. We ran into Sara, Sean, Lars and Marie who mentioned “Apples” as being a good place to eat. They also pointed out a nearby bank where we could exchange our Euros into Naira (at the shit exchange rate of 195 per Euro). We ate lunch at Apples where our meal of beef pie, coconut/chocolate pie, and hamburger cost us 750 Naira. After lunch, we headed to the monkey sanctuary where we linked up with Bree, Luke, Katherine and Kendra. The sanctuary was really cool and we learned that it had been established by two American overlanders in the 1980s who rescued a Drill monkey (whose offspring have produced a total of 400+ Drill monkeys). There were 3 chimps and lots of Drill Monkeys for us to watch and learn about. There were other animals there too (some baby crocodiles, a rescued bush buck, and some parrots). The bush buck was adorable, licking our hands and toes for salt. Dowelly and Lucky were keen to join us in exploring more of Calabar so we bid goodbye to Bree and Luke (asking them to take in our laundry if it started to rain) and walked towards the Calabar Museum. Surprisingly, it didn’t take us too long to get there, and we passed by a massive Nigerian flag (mounted by a bank). The flag might have been one of the largest we have ever seen, dominating the sky line with its enormity. The Calabar Museum is housed in the Old Governor’s house, which is the former residence of the Colonial Governor. This museum is listed in our guidebook as Nigeria’s best, but the generators were offline and there was no power so we just wandered around and admired it from the outside. Just outside the museum was a monument of hands that we took silly photos at. From the museum, we headed down to Old Calabar’s Duke Town and Henshaw Town where we wanted to see the Duke Town Church. To get to the old section, we walked “through the bush” where lo and behold, we ran into Sean, Sara, Lars and Marie who were being led by their very own guide through the dilapidated village. The village, while run down, had fascinating architecture and we longed to take photos here but it just didn’t feel right to start snapping photos away in the middle of village life. We made our way to the Duke Town Church, Calabar’s oldest, and then over to the Christ African Church Cathedral. The heavens parted and rain started pouring down in a rage, so we sought refuge inside the church and talked to two of our newfound friends, Terrence and George. At 5:30 pm, we had enough of waiting for the rain to subside, so we braved the downpour and managed to catch a taxi back to Paradise City for 300 Naira. Dinner tonight was beef fried rice and unfortunately, the rice was burned. However, it was a warm meal and perfect for such a chilly night (the rain had managed to bring down the temperatures dramatically). We got caught up on trip notes after dinner and downloaded all of our photos, bringing us up to date as of today. Yeah!
4 Feb: Got woken up by a happy lady singing Gospel songs at 0630. The two bathrooms (room 20 and 34) were in use but Mike eventually came out of room 34 and freed it up. Bree, Luke and Kendra made pancakes for breakfast (yum). A jar of chocolate spread was available, which made for delicious pancakes…one of the best breakfasts so far. There was also leftover fried rice to boot, so everyone stuffed themselves silly. After breakfast, Robby had to go cook group shopping with Dowelly and Hoff, while Becky, Luke and Mike caught a cab (300 Naira) to “the beach” for a speed boat to Creek Town. The boat fare was a reasonable 200 Naira per person for a 16 pax boat. We had to wait 20 minutes for the boat to Creek Town to fill up. The ride from Calabar’s docks to Creek Town was quite picturesque, past mangroves and an old steam engine that was partially submerged in the water. Once we arrived in Creek Town, we walked through the town and found the old church, courthouse, cemetery, missionary cemetery, pineapple fields and breadfruit trees. By 1115 we were ready to head back but we had to wait on a boat to fill up in order to get the 200 Naira return fare (otherwise a boat could be hired out at the cost of 3000 Naira or 1000 for each of us). None of us were willing to pay the increased fare back, so it was a lesson in patience as we sat and waited for a group of Creek Town residents who were ready to go to Calabar. One of the more interesting passengers we talked to was a Nigerian Prince (his father is the King of this district and he in turn was in the Royal line, passing down the lineage to his first born son who will be the future crown prince of this particular province). He was quite a modest and articulate man and we enjoyed chatting with him while waiting for the boat to fill up. Lucky for us, by 1245 the boat was ready to go and it raced back, getting us to the Calabar docks in under 10 minutes. By the time we caught a cab back to Paradise City, we had only 30 minutes to spare before heading out from Calabar, so we dropped our bags off at the truck and rushed off to Apples to get lunch which consisted of 4 beef pies for 600 Naira. Robby had a productive day, getting some dried plantains for snacks, and several Smirnoff Ice drinks for only $1 each. Our truck left promptly at 2 pm and the first pee stop as exactly 2 hours later. Our campsite was an early one (5:30 pm), where we set up our tents and Becky and Luke led an ab workout session. The Hoff’s angels made Beef Stroganoff for dinner (subsequently renamed “Man Strokenhoff” which was well received…yum. The entire campsite was plagued with flying insects, so we crashed to our tents and sought refuge from the bugs by 9 pm.
5 Feb: 7 o’clock breakfast with an 8 am departure. We stopped for cook group shopping in Ikom at 0945, and since none of us had cook group duties, we wandered around with Bree and Lars exploring the Ikom market. Everyone linked back up at the truck by 1045, with Robby and Luke trying the local snack of fried doughballs encircling a boiled egg…they both attested to it being delicious, but Becky was reluctant to try it. The only excitement on our drive this morning was a police checkpoint stop. We dutifully pulled over and stopped, and once Chris was given permission to proceed, started driving again. However, a car that had blown past the checkpoint side swiped us, and a huge argument ensued, with the driver proclaiming that Chris was culpable and Nancy and Chris arguing that the aggressive driver was to blame. The incompetent police were agreeing with both parties, swapping sides every few minutes and refusing to lay the blame on any one driver. In the end, a neutral third party (an impatient driver behind the accident) appeared on the scene and immediately laid into the driver who side swiped us, stating that it was physically impossible for our bumper to get ripped off if we had caused the accident. In the end, no fines were assessed nor insurance swapped, and the argument died down as suddenly as it began, and we drove off with no resolution…a bizarre incident to be sure. During our lunch stop, Chris attempted to fix the bumper and did a fine job making it less noticeable. We were just outside the dirt track road leading to the Afi Mountain Drill Ranch sanctuary, and we had no idea how the road conditions would be. It was a bumpy road with the attack of the trees, as branches whipped through the main body of the truck and struck some of us in the process. Hoff, Luke and Lars were having a hell of a time on the beach dodging low slung tree branches while trying to warn us of impending “left” or “right” tree disasters. They had numerous insects invade the beach, adopting two of the cuter praying mantis insects that slowly crawled up Luke’s body. Once we pulled into the Drill Ranch area, Chris met to find out where we were supposed to park and we set up camp in a small area about a 15 minute walk from the ranch. Nancy organized a canopy walk for the afternoon or so she thought as we all set up our tents and duly wore our shoes, long trousers and long sleeves along with a heavy coating of DEET, only to find that the person she coordinated with wasn’t qualified to organize tours! So after an hour of waiting to go on the walk, we were told all group activities would be on for tomorrow instead. A group of folks (Bree, Pam, Norma, Kendra, Katherine and Tim) decided to hike several KM back to retrieve Frans’ missing hat, while everyone else gathered round the campsite drinking. Since Nancy had stocked the eskies with ice, cold drinks were on tap for all, making for a pleasant drinking session before our awesome spaghetti and meatball dinner. A group of us signed up for a bush baby walk at 9 pm, but it was difficult to spot them on the two hour hike as the only giveaway are their eyes which shine when the light hits their retinas. Our guide pointed out about 20 bush babies and everyone saw at least one before we called it a night. We were back in our tents just after 11 pm and crashed hard.
6 Feb: It was an early morning chatting session with Tim and Mike at 6 am, so Robby asked them to keep it down or else chat outside the sleep area. To their credit, they immediately shut up and allowed everyone to get a bit more shut eye before breakfast at 7:30 am. At breakfast, Nancy had a group announcement where she chastised whoever kept throwing toilet paper out in the open after their pee session. She told whoever the girl that kept doing it to cut it out as it really is disgusting having to see used toilet paper on the ground in a public area. However, immediately after that, she found out that we had a mad shitter on our hands. Someone actually went to the designated pee area and took a massive shit, leaving that sordid mess out in the open. It was completely unacceptable and she vowed that we would not leave the campsite until whoever did it got a shovel out and buried their own shit! It was totally disgusting but needed to be said. Sometimes we wonder how we can be traveling with such a great group of people when someone pulls a shenanigan like that…so gross! After breakfast, we went for a visit to the Drill Monkey Ranch and we saw hundreds of Drill Monkeys in their protective enclosures. The rehabilitation project has gone so well since it was initiated in the 1980s that the first family of drill monkeys will be reintegrated back into the wild in the next upcoming months. After seeing several clans of Drill Monkeys, it was off to witness the mischievous behavior of the chimps. Some of the chimpanzees were a bit aggressive, and they threw stones at some members of our group, nailing Marie with a branch and a stone, as well as throwing some well aimed stones at Luke and Lars for good measure. They were quite fascinating to watch though, and they did make farting noises with their mouths and laid out in funny poses. One of the chimps looked quite different from the others, with a unique grey fur…we found that it was from a different region of Africa (Cameroon or Congo) but it had been accepted by the Alpha male as a member of this chimpanzee clan. Probably the most embarrassing incident of the day came when an overly excitable drill monkey masturbated every time he laid eyes on Becky. The first time the group teased her about it being a fluke, but when we passed it back after visiting the nursery, he made direct eye contact with her and did it again, much to everyone’s laughter. Becky’s new nicknames quickly sprang forth, with some of them including “the monkey whisperer”, “primate pin-up”, and “driller thriller”. We returned to camp for lunch but enroute met “Good Luck”, an orphaned silver back gorilla baby (3.5 years old). This was one of the most amazing experiences to see a young gorilla up close…he had been caught when his mother was ensnared in a bush meat trap and released to join a gorilla group in the wild. It rejected him however, and the park rangers told us how the gorilla baby knew to backtrack to the human dwelling that had taken him in and knocked on the door, looking for refuge. After that happened, he’s been living with them ever since, as he is far to habituated to ever return to the wild. Becky got a birthday surprise when the baby decided to clamber up her back and give her a great big bear hug…what an awesome treat and a special memory to cherish for life. We reluctantly big Good Luck farewell and had lunch. Afterwards, the flying ants were a bit too much, so we decided to leave a bit early for our afternoon canopy walk. It was excellent, climbing 400 meters into the rain forest. We loved it, and afterwards, enjoyed a cool swim in a jungle waterfall pool. It was the relaxing end to a perfect day and everyone commented that today had been the highlight of the trip so far. We returned to camp around 5 pm and since today is New Zealand Day, we had drinks with Dowelly who is representing as our sole remaining member of NZ. Dinner consisted of meat cubes with a tomato and vegetarian sauce on rice. Everyone retired at a decent hour after today’s activities.
7 Feb: Breakfast was served at 7:30 am and Norma had a birthday card for Becky signed by every member of the truck to include Goodie and MJ. Norma is simply the best and it was such a nice gesture on her part…Becky truly loved it and felt that there was no better way to spend a birthday than at the Afi Drill Ranch with friends, an African birthday to remember forever. We left our campsite by 8:30 am and were joined by Tony (from Afi Drill Ranch) hitching a ride with us to Ikom. He got to experience the joys of dodging rogue tree branches and was a lot of fun to be with. Once we reached Ikom, cook group (Nancy, Ruth and Matt volunteered to swap cook group duties with Becky’s group since today was her B-day) went shopping while the rest of us had free time. We helped Chris at the refuel point fill up our empty jerry cans with water and then had a short onward drive towards the border. New country day today with a crossing into Cameroon! At the border, we had a quick truck lunch and filled out the necessary border crossing forms. It was stifling hot out and we weren’t sure how long it would take for the border formalities. Eventually, the Nigerian border officials decided they needed to see each of us individually which took a while, and after lunch, we were able to cross over.