January 03, 2009 GMT
Nigerian pinches and cops

Not to my wisest decision and to one that I told the boys I would definitely NOT do was to travel through the Niger Delta but here I am! And WOW! What a place!
I was pushing to cross this area in as few as two or three days to try and catch up with the boys, knowing of it's reputation and general stories I've heard over the last few countries, Benin and Togo and thinking about it, most of the world! Tales of bandits, robbers, corrupt police, kidnappers and general scoundrels was unnerving me terribly being a biker, white at that and on my own traversing through one of Africa's dodgiest areas. Hey-ho, lets go!

Initially there were numerous roadblocks consisting of guys with planks of wood across the road with nails sticking out of them. Often calling for me to stop, but a polite wave, smile from under a helmet (it's amazing that I still do it!) and slowly but surely progressing didn't bring any trouble. I found out later that they were 'drivers unions' and obtained money from people importing cheap cars from Benin. The problems I had were later. To get to Cameroon there's two routes, one southern and the other to the north. The northern route is considered safer but takes 4 or 5 days, the southern should take 2, so I chose the 2 day route and considering the dangers that come with this decision I rode on anyway.

Heading into Nigeria was easy, the customs and immigration were friendly and helpful, offering advice, a months full visa stamp even though I only requested a week and wishing me a happy Christmas. It left me to head off to Benin City with a full day of light to navigate the roads and a smile as my phone was working again and numerous texts were coming through. The roads were tarred but potholed badly in places but that didn't slow down the Nigerian drivers who treat the roads like the RAC rally, if their cars go a 100mph, they want 110! The 4 lane express way must have been beautiful in it's day but was lacking maintenance and it showed! Checkpoints here are numerous, sometimes every mile with police of two types, black uniforms and grey uniforms carrying rusty automatic weapons, also the army checkpoints asking for 'Merry Christmas presents!' but again, a smile and polite decline led the way. I was stopped numerous times by the police to ask me about the trip and the bike, after a couple of minutes I asked to go on my way and they obliged with handshakes all round and sometimes pictures of which all Africans love.

checkpoint AK

Nearly 90kms to Benin City to go and over an hour of daylight things were going well until the bike went all swirly, the back end shifting and sliding like something was loose, a puncture, Bollox! I cracked on soonest finding a quiet place just off the road to deal with the tyre and fortunately the bead was broken as I turned which made removing the tube easier. A sizeable nail was found sticking out of the tyre. Replacing the wheel was easy but then the rear brake pad fell out, in two pieces! So then I replaced the pads and thinking nothing else could go wrong I proceeded to put air into the new tube only to find I'd pinched it when inserting the bead onto the rim! Bummer! Two flat tubes! So I patched the original tube prior to taking off the new one, replacing and reinserting the bead and air only to find I'D PINCHED THE TUBE AGAIN!!! AAARGH! It was getting dark and two policemen were watching and telling me to hurry up as it's very dangerous in this area from armed robbers. I had to resort to accepting their offers of taking me to a tyre repair shop as the pump I had was taking too long . Obviously concerned for the safety of the bike I had to go and the tyre repair guys ensured I paid handsomely!

After replacing the tyre and the two cops bugging me to get away soonest I quickly rode back to where I'd just been and was stopped again!! At a Police roadblock who insisted I take a name of a hotel and lodge there. Normally dubious of such an offer I had to accept as I didn't know the area and knowing the place was full of cops then I figured if I did get robbed again they wouldn't shoot me as the normal robbers here would!

The night ended well with the police showing kindness and hospitality and I joined them for dinner and drinks on the 'patio' (Nigerian posh for a car park!). They were good people, never asking for a 'dash' (bribe/gift) and we took turns in getting the rounds in! The chat was mainly football of which I know nothing off but the famous names of Lampard, Drogber and Beckham of which they broke into an argument of which was the best between Chelsea and Man United! Here I am, from the country that invented football and I know squat! The picture is showing the policemens kids the route through Africa!

kids map

It was a slow day getting to Benin City, refuelling in a petrol station where a fight broke out and the two guys arguing, an attendant and an irate customer were grabbing the fuel nozzle and squirting petrol everywhere! They just love a good argument and fight here! Concerned of another flat tyre as my TWO air pumps both failed me the day before, I searched for a replacement but it's Sunday and everything is closed! I booked into a hotel from the book and was accosted by a drunk Immigration Officer demanding my passport and 'Interrogating ' me in his slurry voice. I did check his ID but wouldn't know a good one from a fake. He wanted to take me to his office for not registering with him today or I could 'maybe' give him and his buddies a Christmas gift or tomorrow spend the day in the office! He was piss drunk and seeing some cops I walked towards them to ask them about this guy, he saw this and took off. Obviously a chancer! I stayed a while outside the bar at the back but went to my room as the prostitutes were annoying me.

Posted by geoffshing at January 03, 2009 10:32 AM GMT

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