Just pulled into 'Chez Monique' a camp-site and Auberge which is in the 'book' (Lonely Planet). After having a difficult day I've dived straight for the easy option, getting myself a room and a beer quickly! The run from Lomé to here wasn't bad save for the accident this morning when some idiot on his scooter ran into the back of me! I was just pulling up to the insurance office to re-validate my cover, Crap timing for an accident! The guy and his passenger were fine, a couple of scrapes but nothing bad. But you'd have thought they were going to die the way they were putting it on. I had a passenger at the time who spoke excellent French so I asked her to tell these guy that even though I'm going to administer first aid, it's by no means an admission of guilt! I'm giving first aid and then if there's any damage to my bike there'll be the police involved and they'll pay me. Obviously the driver of the scooter knew he was in the wrong so after a clean up with a couple of plasters (band-aids) and two Ibuprofen each for the 'pain' I went to look at my bike for the damage, They scooted off quite quickly! There wasn't any damage to my bike and I knew it but the little Yamaha looked like it had a full frontal with a car! The panniers have had some beatings and I'll be surprised if they make the trip through Africa
The border crossing unnerved me a bit when the immigration stated that on no account can they give me a visa on the border without first going through the consulate in Lomé. Shite! I showed him the book and as hundreds of people before me have received a visa then why can't I? He invited me to see the boss in his office who looked at me surly, nodded and said something incomprehensible, which meant 'yeah!' So a two day transit visa it is then f. or 10,000cfa.
As I arrived here in the 'Chez Monique' I was offered a guide, he told me he'd taken other bikers to a voodoo ceremony only last week, after inquiring, I found out these 'bikers' are Mark and Migo! So the boys stayed here too, ha! I unfortunately had to say no as I'm leaving to catch the boys up soonest and said my route was Benin City and Calabar in Nigeria tomorrow As to which he gasped “Ooh No!,Very dangerous!” and proceeded to give me a full account as to why Nigeria is not the best place for single white travelers and the Niger Delta in particular. No shit Sherlock! I do know and thanks for shitting me up some more!
I am a bit concerned as the Niger Delta isn't a wise place to go, especially alone and I've head a lot of stories about robbers, kidnappings etc but the one that gets me the most is the guys that are so called 'repairing' the road and do not let you pass until payment has been received. They're the guys who are unpredictable! They boys before me have said they didn't have problems and I hope everything goes well for me too!
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.
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!
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.
Riding the 500+kms from Benin City to Calabar was exhausting work! The roads here are as dangerous as hell, many driver not caring by taking HUGE risks and the littering of the roadsides with smashed vehicles goes to show it doesn't always work. Mainly trucks wrecked but they drive at foolish speeds relying on their size for everyone to get out of their way. Nutters! I even had a crash myself, behind an ancient truck which quickly braked, I misjudged a raised section on the roadside and the bike went down at 30+mph, pirouetting down the road with the bloody great truck behind me, I was a bit worried but he pulled away, narrowingly missing me and the bike, Phew!. The bike has so far gone down at least 12 times to being dropped and 3 times in crashes! I wonder how long it will last? My elbow and knee aches but nothing bad. I certainly hope I don't break something, me or the bike!
I saw 3 accidents on the road to Calabar. The fuel situation here isn't too good with long queues waiting for their turn and fist fights breaking out at the pump.
I quickly received my Cameroon visa and decided to get the ferry to Limbe, Cameroon and save the three day trek through piste roads and catch the boys up early, not wanting to spend New Years eve in Nigeria but with familiar faces and a less dodgy country. The ferry ticket was an easy buy for 5,000 naira (€25) but the fun starts when the issue of the bike transportation came up! Bartering the agent down from 34,000 to 10,000 naira (€50) and so the formalities of the Customs and Immigration came and went without too much ado. The boat is supposed to leave at 10pm for the 10 hour crossing but due to piracy it didn't leave till 5 am the following morning so I hunkered down for the wait, buying food and water for the trip as the boat is merely a freighter, secured and covered the bike with my blue tent cover, strung up the hammock and slept on the top deck.
The crossing went well but not in the 10 hours but 13 and the boat docked SIDEWAYS to the harbour at Limbe! Which meant getting the bike off the boat via the ramp wasn't possible and the bartering started again for the bike to be carried off by the dockers. The docker boss saying I had to wait till friday, 2 days time or some 'arrangement' could be made. I was terrified the bike would be dropped into the sea and anxiousley waited for the process to begin after taking off the panniers and other luggage. I mistakingly didn't arrange a price to start with so when he bike did get off the ship and in one piece the 'arrangement' was then to be discussed with the inital price being 50,000 XOF (€85) and getting it down to 15,000 XOF. Handshakes to seal the deal and payment made, I made my way out of the dock and met up with Mark at his hotel. New Years Eve was spent having a few beers in the bar and some arse in a Peugot reversed into the bike, knocking it over and took off without even saying sorry! Typical, bent pannier and a broken indicator!
Moving onto Yaounde the capital the next day was a pleasant trip, enjoying the new sights and sounds of a new country Cameroon. The driving here is less hectic with less motorcycles trying to barge their way through the traffic unlike Nigeria. More lush is the vegetation and the roads are in much better condition than Nigeria. Some visa shopping required for The DRC (Dem Rep of Congo) and Gabon and inner tubes for the bike after having a tube valve failure.
The border town on Ndende, Gabon is a small one of maybe 2 thousand people, situated on a junction and our arrival was smooth as the only hotel is behind the only petrol station. Easy peezy! Alas no chance of changing money again, so the 'Bank of Migo' is in full swing, good lad! For some reason there's a demand for €s but non for $'s.
The tarmac road finished 35 miles after Lambarene and it's piste in it's place, albeit so far in very good condition but we've been assured that just over the border the roads get really bad, my rear suspension is 'bottoming out' constantly and is really bothering me. I attempted to take it off and crank up the spring but the bottom pintle is jammed and no amount of hammering is freeing it! I'll have to go to a mechanic shop in Brazzaville and see if he can free it without damaging the bike. The stock suspension when it arrives, I'll need to change the spring for the stronger one I have and see if it lasts till South Africa.
In the town centre there's a prayer session in full swing with singing, dancing and a lot of 'hallelujahs' going on so I returned to the hotel to find a chimpanzee being the centre of attention. I had a hold and it was a cute thing but boy did it stink or was that me? Also a guy with a strange hat who kept on popping up, wierd.
The weather is also changing for the worse, dark clouds are hovering and the evening is giving me a good lightening show. Hopefully the rains will not start again until the bad roads have finished but just my luck, there'll be loads of rain, the roads will turn to mud and my suspension is knackered, not to mention my 'Touratech' panniers are falling apart!
But then again, as I'm writing this it's started to piss down, the lightening show is even better, I'm listening to Led Zeppelins 'Kashmir' on the MP3 with a fresh beer in my hand, a full pack of cigarettes and am in Africa. Can life get any better?
I can't believe we made to Brazzaville, what originally was 300kms+ of Michelin Map red tarmac road was nothing but a myth! 4 days of very hard work but the sense of achievement was amazing when we dragged our weary bodies and bikes onto the tarmac, kissing it in sheer joy and took a team picture. There were 3 local boys watching us from a ledge overlooking the start of the tarmac, laughing at our silly actions but we didn't care, hey, we've looked strange and silly since we've been here anyhow!
Once in Brazzaville and seeing the mighty Congo river we felt much better. The lack of local money and the chance of an ATM was one of the most pressing points, we were skint! Coming across an ATM that took Visa was great and also we met a few 'whites' offering advice, a place to work on the bike, internet access and general niceties which was really cool, I thank you all! But in reality all I wanted was a good hot shower, a cheap hotel with a comfortable bed and a few beers! Of which I got............ beer! The hotel wasn't cheap at 20,000cfa ($45) a night, cold water if any, electricity failures and the bed sucks. Oh well!
The city is quite a nice place itself, still bearing war damage but repairs are being done and new buildings going up. Bars and restaurants have a relaxed feel and it's pretty safe at night. Albeit the power cuts happen at awkward times typically during internet access but generally not bad.
Due to the time frame of asking for parts sending from the UK, suspension and piston rings I had to consider applying for an extension to my Congo visa as it would run out on the 23rd of January, considering the time it would take for the DRC visa application I had to weigh this up carefully. So I opted for the DRC visa first thinking if the Congo extension was denied I could jump the border and MAYBE get the piston rings sent from DHL to Kinshasa, a big maybe. The bike was in such bad state that I dreaded to think that maybe the bike could fail with a buggered starter motor, shot piston rings and a collapsed shock absorber! I was worried to say the least!
After a night on the piss which invariably happens in a new city, knackered but I can still push myself for a few beers if I really want to! Migo and I applied for visas with DRC, a bit of to-ing and fro-ing and the applications were in, 35 grand, two pics and all's done. Mark decided to leave it to another day seeing no rush. But the rush came when he did the application the next day and found he had no pages left in his passport.......... Oooops!
Migo and I received our visas, bunging the 'Chief' 5 grand for some 'phone call' to Kinshasa..? and I went to the DHL office to see if my shock absorber had arrived. It had in country but not at the office of which I'd paid for. Finally it did arrive not the day I expected but the next. When I outlined I wanted DHL to deal with customs and bring the package to the office, accepting the horrendous charge of £120 because I'd dealt with African customs before and hated it, Mark collected a package for himself at the airport and from the original quote of 240,000cfa ($600) FOR A TYRE..! He got it for 25,000cfa and all smiles! I however picked mine up, got it scanned and what should have been a charge of 84,000cfa was ignored and I left, BIGGER SMILES!! Dancer!
The application went in for a Congolese extension, explaining for 2 hours my bike problems, I love Brazzaville, buddies here, blah, blah, blah, and my application was accepted. “Come back tomorrow and we'll see” The usual African answer again.
In the mean time the bike needed to be dealt with so I cracked on, firstly the shock. Disappointed with the 'Hagon' shock I'd bought (20,000kms and busted!) I had the stock shock to fit and what a bugger it was. When I fitted the Hagon I didn't grease the bottom pin and it had corroded so much that thing wasn't budging an inch! I had to dismantle the entire swingarm (with again, much difficulty. Thanks 'Tony Togo's' for not greasing it as requested and paid for!) and literally beat the hell out of the pin with the bigger hammer I'd bought, if in doubt, hit it harder and it worked. The whole swingarm needed a good clean and regrease and it and the new shock fitted sweetly. 2 days to get it off and a half hour to put it back on! I did some sweating and the locals stopping me every now and again to look at the fat bloke with the tattoos! .
The starter motor was another problem, after opening it up it was as black as the ace of spades! Everything in and around the bushes was full of carbon and I feared a burned out starter motor. When I opened it up in Dakar, Senegal it was as clean as a whistle so the only explanation was I didn't correctly refit it to the aligning marks. So I cleaned it up, following the manual, greasing the bush mounts etc and it now turns like a dream! Lesson learnt......... read instructions you arse!
Next job.... piston rings! I'm not looking forward to that one especially in a hotel carpark! One of the things that bothers me is if the barrel is scored then the whole thing is buggered and will need a rebore but I'm optimistic for a change. If it works well then good, it may last till South Africa if not then Hey-Ho! I'll push on as far as the bike will go cos there's no chance I can get a rebore here, DRC or Angola and the only place, maybe will be in Namibia! The way the bike is going, it'll not last another 500kms. The other one bothering me is I'm hoping the rebuild will be okay for if the valves move position once the cambelt is off, a bolt snaps or won't free, etc, etc. If I'm sat in a garage in the UK then no probs but I'm in The Congo! Ha Ha Ha! (slightly nervous laugh!) I have the instructions on paper and PDF so that will be the bible.
Mark has received the extra pages for his passport inserted from the US embassy here in Brazza, good on him but a slight oversee on his part as he readily accepts for the problem in the first place. No DHL package has arrived for me today and the visa runs out today too! If I get my extension then great, if not........... ? Dread to think!
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