December 09, 2004 GMT
2004 - Running the Gauntlet

For some reason I still feel apprehensive about crossing borders (...I think the Mauitania/Senegal border has scarred us for life) and as we prepared to leave Ghana, I had the prospect of 3 borders in as many of them being Nigeria!

But before that we had to cross Togo and Benin. Unfortunately because of time constraints ( we want to hit an elusive 'dry spell' in the Congo at Xmas) we didn't hang around in either of these countries. We had decided to 'nip' through into Nigeria and then get out of Nigeria as fast as we could so we could spend 2 or 3 weeks in Cameroon!
So we left Ghana and crossed the border into Togo with no problems at all. It was a nightmare having to speak French again because everything we had learnt in the first 3 months had left our brains in Ghana, but we muddled through!
The capital, Lome, is on the border and so we headed straight for the infamous 'Toni-Togo' KTM dealer to get some much needed tyres, which we found with no problems (with our highly detailed Lonely Planet map of Lome!). The place was fab, a little bit of Europe in West Africa, no baked beans, but spark plugs and oil filters. The guys are preparing bikes for the next Paris-Dakar rallye and even if you don't like bikes, these KTM's are really impressive. The only ones not appreciating the bikes were our poor old Transalps, who looked a bit fat and sluggish next to the lean, mean KTM's. We soon made the bikes feel better about themselves by putting on some brand new rear tyres...grrr!!!

With our new tyres, we rode a little way out of Lome, towards the Benin border and stayed at a campsite called Chez Alice, unsurprisingly owned by a Swiss lady called Alice! Although on the side of a really busy road the campsite was a lovely tranquil place and as we had a couple of boring 'admin-type' things we could do in Lome we decided to stay for a few days. It was Wednesday and so we contacted our friend Ben, in Lagos and said we would arrive with him on Sunday. The place had a restaurant which was a huge wooden hallway with a lifetime's collection of African art adorning the wall, ceiling and pillars. Some of it was a bit scary, like a lifesize wooden warrior, which obviously Paul wanted to buy and carry around on the back of the bike! My reaction was how difficult it would be to dust....I am really getting old!
We camped next to a group of monkeys and baboons, which Alice had been given as a gift. We don't really like to see wild animals tied up, but these were well looked after at least. In the mornings Paul would go and sit with the baboon and let it groom him, it was a wonderful sight especially when it got bored and stole all the money from his pocket and then ripped the cowry neclace from around his neck, destroyed it and buried the remains in the sand....if only I had a video camera!

So, we were lazing around at Chez Alice until I realised I had completely messed up my days and it wasn't Weds, but Friday......typical. As we were meeting Ben we had to leave early the next morning.... a bit of a shock to the system!

The ride the next day to Benin was short, the border was easy, we crossed the whole of Benin in an afternoon and stayed in a hotel in the capital Porto Novo, near the Nigerian border. We were both feeling a bit sad and annoyed that we had driven through 2 countries without seeing anything, but a few cold beers that evening helped to ease the pain! Our hotel was great, it was right on the edge of a river, with a stilt village next door, but best of all the rooms were bright green and the bed linen was looked like the inside of someones stomach!
Even our bile coloued room couldn't distract us from what we had in store for us the next day...... NIGERIA.

I don' t know what it is about Nigeria, but no-one has a good word to say about it. At worst you will be told stories about armed robbery in broad daylight or being gunned down for your casio watch by a policeman or at best people just say it is unfriendly, choatic and that you get hassled for money by police all the time. There are a few...very few... people in the world who think Nigeria is a fantastic place. We had no choice but to go through because we didn't want to take the 1000km detour around the north of the country and so we decided to take Nigeria as we found it without any preconceived negative ideas. That was easier said than done!!!
Although we were totally dreading the border...Nigeria is famous for its love of bribery and corruption...we passed through easily and in fact the border officials were great fun and we had more trouble on the Benin side than the Nigerian side. Then a Lebanese guy approached us while I was trying to get all our paperwork stamped and signed and asked us what we were doing. When we said we were planning to ride into Lagos, he said we should reconsider because we were too exposed on our bikes and would definately be attacked along the way......thanks mate, just what we want to hear!!! We were meeting Ben in Lagos, who said everything would be fine, so we just put our heads down and rode as fast as we could along the expressway to Lagos. Unfortunately we were stopped about 20 times at police road blocks and each time I thought 'here we go, they will ask for money', but actually if they did it was half hearted and most of the time they were just interested in what we were up to.

Eventually we arrived in Lagos, which is a huge busy African city, and successfully negotiated the suicidal buses and taxis to get to the exceedingly posh Eko Hotel, where Ben and his girlfriend Christine were going to meet us and take us back to their house. We sat in the foyer of the hotel waiting like 2 vagrants!
We often comment that in Africa the colour of our skin means that we don't get thrown out of places we definately wouldn't be allowed into in England and this was one of those occasions!!
Ben and Christine arrived and we followed them back to their place in the 'suburbs' of Lagos. Ben had driven his RangeRover from the Uk to Lagos earlier this year to meet up with Christine who is working in Lagos at the moment. When her contract is up next year they are going to continue the trip down to South Africa.
Their house was lovely, it had a washing machine AND flushing toilets!!! Now there isn't really much I can say about Lagos, we did walk around one morning and got our VERY expensive visas for Cameroon, but in the 4 days we were in Lagos we spent 90% in front of Ben and Christines TV watching cable TV and eating pringles......shameful!
Ben and Christine were great hosts, but eventually we managed to prise our square eyes way from the TV and headed out to Cameroon. The road was much of the same with Police road blocks every few miles, which was annoying, but not serious. About half way to the Cameroon border we passed through Onitcha...a hellish city, where the traffic was so congested it had come to a total standstill and we had to rely on a mad man with a wooden plank to get us through!!
It was total hell, really really bad, but we got through the other side and ( that we are safely in Cameroon!) I can say that for us the little bit of Nigeria we saw wasn't as terrible as everyone makes out.

Posted by Paul Jenkins at 10:46 AM GMT

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