Nigeria – the road to hell a.k.a Lagos

On the highway to hell a.k.a Lagos…………….

To be honest, I had been dreading this part of the trip from the get go!  Not Lagos per se, but having to cross the border between Benin and Nigeria.  It is apparently one of the most corrupt and stressful border crossings in the world.

The planning…

I had done my homework – there is nothing but bad blog posts describing the harassment and compulsory bribery and random detention that is part of the experience.   All of the guide books recommended taking an international inter-city bus, as while expensive, they deal with the formalities at the border so you don’t have to.  Ok, so that had been my plan.

 

img_1796So, when I arrived in Cotonou, I headed up to the ABC bus company to buy a ticket.  It was expensive, but that wasn’t the problem.  The only bus they had going was going to leave Cotonou at 5pm (which means 7pm) and arrive in Lagos sometime around 10pm (which means probably 1am).  The schedule makes sense to them because these buses actually come from Accra at 6am and pass through Cotonou on the way to Lagos.  But, like hell was I willing to be dropped at a dodgy bus park 10k from downtown lagos in the middle of the night.  Not to mention, the drivers here aren’t safe during the day time (they trust god to keep them safe rather than vehicular maintenance and defensive driving), but they are totally nuts at night-time.   I rang a few other recommended bus companies, and same problem – all late afternoon departures.  When I did some research later, apparently many of the passengers sleep in the terminal when they arrive to avoid having to navigate Lagos at night.  I don’t want to sleep in the bus terminal.

img_1841OK, so next option is take shared taxis all the way to Lagos.  This would entail getting up at 4am and heading to Dankopta and waiting for a full taxi.  This is not the fast way and the driving normally isn’t particularly safe.  A bit of googling later and I had read quite a few reports of Yovos (white people) not being able to get in the shared taxis, as the drivers find us a pain.  Fair enough, we take longer at the border and expose them to more risk of bribes – and the driver has to pay the bribe.  So that is out.

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roadside gas
Next option, hire a private car to take me all the way there.   Hmmmmm, I emailed 8 agencies and called 4 and no-one is keen to take that job on.  Apparently the customs issue of taking cars in and out is bonkers.  Even the shared taxis don’t go all the way, instead they have a mate meet them on the other side and exchange the passengers.  The beninese don’t like the Nigerians so no one wants to go there.

I also considered flying, but the only direct flight (it is only 110km) is with the highly disreputable Arik Air.

img_1864Alright then – I am going to get a private taxi to the border and then see if I can find a not too dodgy fixer to get me across the border with a minimum of stress.  I have figured out how to properly hide all my cash around my body with some safety pins and various bags, and will make sure I look as grubby and poor as possible.   On the bright side, while lots of people have described the stress and harassment, it doesn’t appear to be actually dangerous, just difficult.  I will keep telling myself that.   Once on the other side, I am sure I can pay someone to take me to Lagos.   Fingers crossed!

idiroko-border-2

After the fact!

I was up early getting ready! Most of my cash went down my bra, and my spare passports went down the back of my pants. I prepared a wodge of $1 bills ready for bribes.

Things started well when the car was early. When you book a taxi in Africa I only calculate a 50% probability they will arrive. We headed off and I was surprised by his speed. The car had seriously misaligned wheels so every time we went above 50 we wibble wobbled like crazy. And then he started going 30. Bizarre – I have never been in a west African taxi that went slowly.  Then I figured out we were running out of gas. So we stopped to buy some off a lady with bottles on the side of the street. Apparently the fuel at the border is 30% cheaper than town and so he had deliberately kept it on empty so he could stock up when we got there. He redeemed himself by helping me navigate the bonkers town to Seme and helping me change money. We pulled up at a spanking new Benin immigration building but apparently it wasn’t yet operational. So we headed down some dodgy dusty back streets to the variety of tin shacks that still make up the frontier and I braced myself for an ordeal.hqdefault

30 minutes later I was clear of both sides of immigration and had found a private driver to take me direct to my hotel in Lagos at a reasonable rate of $40, given it was 80k and took 3 hours. Most anticlimactic border crossing ever!!!! I did get asked for three bribes (phrased as ‘what do you have for me?’ Or ‘it’s Christmas, do you have a present for me?’) and to save myself time I gave them each $1, which was more than enough. There were two more steps to go through than normal as the police register you also and some other random shack took my details. There was also some negotiation about only giving me a 24 hours on the visa, but when the senior guy left the junior guy gave me two weeks. I did lie about my profession – I am going with teacher these days as it sounds vaguely respectable but not wealthy! I was also very smiley and respectful – a ‘good morning sir, how are you?’ always goes a long way in Africa

img_2092My new friend Emmanuel – the driver of a very beat up car with a cracked windscreen and windows that didn’t close (all the better to make us look like a poor target for thieves) was a pro and managed to negotiate all 27 checkpoints between the border and Badagry (about 15k), without paying a single naira – impressive, particularly given he has a yovo in the car.  My favourite of his responses to the question ‘what do you have for me?’ was ‘I have gods blessings for you!’  Some of the checkpoint guys were pretty serious, they all had guns or sticks or hammers.  I saw one guy smash a pretty big dent in the side of a minibus who he wasn’t happy with.

Emmanuel eschewed the normal road to Lagos and took me on a circuitous 3 hour journey skirting the outskirts of town, getting as far north as the airport, but he assured me he was an expert at avoiding the notorious ‘go slow’ traffic jams in Lagos. I amused myself on the journey by marvelling at the varied goods on sale from the guys at the traffic jams. My favourites were a fire extinguisher and a blender. I understand the hats, water, food, watches and dvds. Bug bombs and new windscreen wipers were also pretty practical buys. Even the Christmas trees made sense! But who the hell goes out for a drive and randomly buys a blender. Thankfully once we got on the expressway which floats above Lagos and the lagoon and heads out to the posh islands the traffic moved.

Am now happily ensconced in the lobby bar drinking a cappuccino as am too early for check in!

Lagos, December 22, 2016

Note:  I am far to sensible to take photos anywhere near a border, that is a recipe for ending up detained in a dingy shack.  All of these photos are from google images.

Note 2 – some of the blog posts

Road Trip… Lagos to Accra (Nigeria – Benin – Togo – Ghana)

African Views: Crossing the Benin-Nigeria Border

http://www.dailytrust.com.ng/news/weekend-mag/the-pains-of-traveling-across-west-africa/128014.html

Seme, Idi’roko Borders: Nigeria has no border here, Interior Minister, Abba Moro, laments

http://www.mariesworldtour.com/2011/04/border-day-or-not.html

 

Côte d’Ivoire – from Gbapleu to Silacoro

I slept like a baby in spite of the chainsaw sounding snoring coming from the trucks chief snoring offender until the roosters woke me up at 5.30.   

Kids saying goodbye to the truck in Gbapleu

We left Gbapleu and meandered along the bumpy road to Danane, probably averaging 4km an hour. we hadn’t seen a vehicle for the last 24 hours, just the odd motorbike. Like much of the countryside we have traversed, this is ‘real Africa’, no electricity, no mobile signal, neat mud huts, village wells, and latrine blocks of 4 shared by the whole village (normally with an Aid sign nearby saying something like ‘fin de defecation d’aire libre’ i.e. ‘stop crapping in public’ with a suitable cartoon illustration). All available surfaces are festooned with pristine clean rows of laundry (unfathomable to me how the get the laundry so clean). Small bamboo stalls with tiny piles of the limited merchandise available are kept in business by the brightly attired women swaying effortlessly down the streets under heavy head loads while carrying one baby on their backs and at least one more kid by the hand. Men in out-of-date premier league shirts lounging round on motorbikes and lots of kids, goats and puppies running about. Most of the villages we pass are very friendly, although there is the odd person who shouts and demands some cash or food.  
Kids welcoming us to Silacoro

Truck dynamics continue to evolve, and the morning seating routine is analogous to solving a complex set of simultaneous equations i.e. If a wont sit next to b, and c can’t abide d, and e has horrendous BO, then where should f,g and h sit?……I normally avoid these complications by sticking to sitting with my tentmate who is blissfully quiet on long journeys. However, occasionally the ‘seat reservation’ process does not work seamlessly, e.g. today one of our bags was mysteriously moved even after we had ‘German beach towel’ reserved our seats by placing our day bags on them. To avoid any acrimonious debate I moved across the aisle and had a free seat next to me during boarding. It was a tense few moments as the others boarded the bus ….as there are four people I resolutely will not sit next to – 3 for personal hygiene aka stink reasons (oddly these are also the same three I won’t tent near as they all snore and as two of them have been known to start drinking before lunchtime, the odour and snoring is not surprising) and one because he is clueless and inconsiderate (the aforementioned offender who won’t bury his loo roll and takes photos at borders who has been nicknamed ‘the idiot abroad’ by one of the guys on the truck). Fortunately I was saved from 8 hours of smell or rudeness by one of the other ladies on the bus who sat down next to me. It would seem that everybody rubs somebody else up the wrong way at least once a day, inevitable given the close quarters and long days. Tempers flare and sharp words are exchanged frequently. This continues to be an interesting anthropology experiment in forced group living. Most days I am fine provided I get to go for a run and get enough sleep, and then I find everyone else’s antics amusing.

Kids loving the selfie feature
After Danane we were on the tarmac, which is cause for great excitement as it means natures air conditioning starts working (and there are less bumps). Most days we are in the high 30s with lots of humidity. You sweat lying down in the shade and positively melt standing in the sun. On the truck when we are on slow roads the air is torpid and slow moving and every occasional gust of air is a blessing. On the fast roads I am like a puppy dog with her head hanging out the window enjoying the breeze.

Pounding the sorghum

Three of our number hopped off the truck at Man today to take a bush taxi direct to Yamkro, where we will all be arriving in three days time. Robert’s heat rash has evolved from something mild into a horrendous pussy mess on his foot, and even though he has started on antibiotics, it isn’t a great idea for him to be bush camping for two more nights with no running water. Eva is joining Robert and his wife Vicky as after six weeks on the truck she has decided a time out is required. 14 vs 17 sweaty bodies on the truck will undoubtedly be an improvement.

Rob’s foot

We arrived at the village, and we had tried to call them to arrange some stilt dancing but they hadn’t answered. So while they were pleased to see us, they weren’t able to arrange any dancing until tomorrow morning. 

Kids wanting photos of themselves
 The village is lovely but we were quite the entertainment. The men and kids took up residence on our stools and were entertained by cook group prepping dinner. The kids were delightful and were obsessed with getting their photos taken.  

Pitching tents in the middle of the village

We are camping in the middle of the village among the houses. They apparently don’t have latrines which seems odd for a settlement of this size, so we will be digging holes. Cook group 1 made us soup, salad and French toast for dinner. And we are with a loud and chatty audience who watched us until the last person went to bed. That much scrutiny is fun for the first hour but gets a bit wearisome after five hours. 

An attentive audience watching dinner prep

Silacoro, December 3, 2016

Guinea to Côte d’Ivoire – Sleeping in the customs post at Gbapleu

I started the day with a misty run through Nzerekore, watching the town wake up at 6.30. Families washing in the street, kids starting the long trek to school, vendors setting up their stalls for the day, young kids starting to make their water selling rounds, goats and chickens wandering around for food and the very persistent drone of the mototaxis taking people to work.  

Kids chasing the truck in Guinea to say hi

While having no internet, running water, electricity, or toilet is fine for me for a week or so, I am reminded every day that this is life for 99% of the people we pass in the truck. In most of these countries, literacy rates for women are less than 30%, genital mutilation of young girls is up to 98% (e.g. in Guinea where FGM he is technically illegal), and life expectancy is about 50. Most people here only eat once a day, and it is rice and oil. If I had been born an ordinary woman in most of the countries I have visited I would never have made it through primary school. It puts into perspective how wonderful and easy my life is, and does stop me moaning (sometimes) about having not enough food. I am grateful every day for the amazing life I have, and that I was born where I was.  

Curious kids staring at the truck as we approach the Guinea Liberia border

We backtracked to Lola and Gogota and found the dirt road to the Ivory Coast border. We passed a few villages were Babus were clearly in short supply as the kids chased the truck waving and smiling as we drove through. We stopped at immigration and we’re surrounded by a ‘plague of children’! Guinean exit was relatively straightforward as Zoe had come up a few days earlier to check we could pass, as there are very few tourists coming this way. 

Kids who emerged from bathing in the river to check out the truck

Kids in Gbapleu

We were aiming to make camp relatively close to the border as the area further into Côte d’Ivoire (Danane and Man) is a bit sketchy and was a rebel stronghold during the wars. We will go through there tomorrow but won’t be hanging about. Once we passed the border and got to the customs post 3k later, we asked the local village if we could camp there. We ended up being welcomed into the customs agents staff quarters and having water heated up on the fire for hot bucket showers with the village chiefs’ blessing, and pitching our tents in the covered living rooms (no glass in the windows and concrete floors) between their bedrooms (putting the tent inners up so we were protected from mozzies). 

Village kids checking us out at the customs post in Gbapleu

 We had an incredibly warm welcome! I can’t imagine sleeping at a customs post anywhere else in the world! This for sure is part of the magic of overlanding! The customs chief was extremely friendly and gave me his address. I did assure him that I was married and not interested. He assured me he was married but had room for more wives. Hmmmmm.

Very curious audience watching the tents go up at the customs post

Gbapleu December 2, 2016

Liberia to Guinea – 6k in 8 hours

An early start as we are crossing the border to Guinea. It took a couple of hours to drive slowly down the slippery roads back to Yekepa, and a couple of wrongs turns (the gps doesn’t work here) before we arrived at the Liberia border post. The are highly unused to tourists here, and today they had 19 of us plus a group of 8 Czech tourists. The details of every passport had to be manually recorded so we sat in a grubby hut waiting for the officials to fully satisfy themselves that we could be allowed to leave. That took two hours! 

Women going to Bossou market
 Then we had a checkpoint, Guinean immigration and another check point. Another two hours. The highlight of the day was buying a woman traders entire stock of bananas at the border with our left over cash. Everyone here is pretty honest with prices of food as they are totally unused to tourists. 20 bananas for $1

Locals watching the truck go by

We finally got into Guinea and promptly got stuck in the mud 1km from the border for an hour. There were many helpful offers of advice from the assorted officials and passersby, and one of them even helped digging. I can’t fathom how Jason and Zoe have the energy reserves to dig out the truck, deal with officials and local hassle, and manage the passengers. I continue to be amazed by both of them 
Ladies in the road wandering to town
We arrived in Bossou by 4pm and pitched camp at the chimpanzee research facility who are taking us to see the wild chimps tomorrow. Consistent with past days it was gloriously sunny at 4.30 and then the thunder rolled in and by 5pm it was torrenting down.

Passengers on a truck bound for Liberia

It was an uneventful day in overlanding, we are now about 6k as the crow flies from camp last night and it took us 8 hours to get here.  
Lunch was lentil salad, dinner is lentil salad…. I can’t wait to get to a town with a steak, which I reckon is at least a week more.  

Local boys hanging out

Today’s high brow after dinner gossip revolves around butt cracks! Two of the guys are serial offenders! One in particular, at the royal age of 48, has not learnt how to pee standing up without letting his pants hang all the way down at the back, treating the whole truck to a view of half his butt (and yes his pants have a fly so there is no excuse)! Not pleasant. This is a source of much irritation on the truck, but of course no one will tell the offender but we will keep grumbling amongst ourselves. Oh the joy of truck dynamics and it has only been two weeks

Camp at the Bossou chimp research facility

The ‘shower’ in Bossou

Bossou November 28, 2016