Across Nigeria. Day Four.
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999 Days Around Africa: The Road Chose Me
(My Nigeria crossing starts with the story Into Nigeria. You should begin reading there)
I sleep like a dead person, even with the constant rumble of the magical “sound proof” generator that of course still makes a lot of noise. Out of bed at 7:30 is a sleep in, and after coffee and toast in the parking lot we dress up in our “embassy clothes” and actual shoes, gather all of our paperwork and organize a taxi with the hotel manager.
He assures us he has the name and number of the driver, so if anything happens to us, it will be OK.
Hmm, that’s reassuring.
We head back out of the city in a housing neighborhood where we find the beautiful old concrete building perched on a hill overlooking the entire city. After a short wait we are ushered inside and in no time at all we are furiously filling in application forms. A three month visa is the same price as a one month visa, and paying in Naira is by far the cheapest due once again to the black market exchange rate.
In less than thirty minutes we are all issued our visa (ye-ha!) and we wander down the road to ride first in a rick-shaw to the main highway, and then back to our hotel in a regular taxi.
Given our next destination is another solid day of driving, it is an easy group decision to take a rest day, though of course a rest day when Overlanding West Africa is never a rest day. Soon we are wandering through the street market in the intense humidity re-supplying on vegetables, and even manage to meet a “businessman” who can exchange Euros into Central African Francs for us, which we need for the next couple of countries. Curiously West African Francs and Central African Francs are both pegged to the Euro at exactly the same rate – so by definition they are worth the same – though it’s not possible to use the wrong one in the wrong country.
A brand new shopping center has just opened around the corner, and we wander over to take a look. Completely randomly we bump into Liza and Peter of the Afi Mountain Drill Ranch (https://www.pandrillus.org/contact/faq/) – a conservation project for Drill monkeys and Chimpanzees we are planning to visit next. After realizing who we each are, Liza and Peter immediately invite us to their place for the afternoon to check out what they have going on.
Walking through the massive and well-stocked supermarket is disorienting, I could be anywhere in North America or Europe.
After dropping our supermarket haul back at the hotel we set out to find Liza and Peter’s. I ask the young driver of a rick-shaw, thinking I know where the place is, who happily agrees to take us for peanuts. Of course I have no idea where we are going, and while we get lost multiple times and ask directions repeatedly from Police, we get to know the driver quite well.
The Indian-made rick-shaw is worth a massive amount of money here in Nigeria, so a rich businessman will buy it, and then a driver has to sign a contract that he will pay it off at a rate of a few thousand Niara per day, until it’s paid off. The drivers are almost exclusively young men, barely out of high school. The driver must work enough to make the payment each day, pay gas and maintenance and then hopefully make a tiny profit for himself.
If he takes a day off work, he must still make the payment. If the rick-shaw is destroyed, he will continue to pay it off, basically for the rest of his life.
Driving through the smog-choked streets in the intense sun and humidity it’s obvious this young man will be doing this for many decades in the hope of earning a tiny living.
When we eventually find the place just before dusk, I pay him three times his original asking price, and he is visibly moved at this, saying thank you a hundred times.
Peter and Liza were Overlanders years ago, moving south on the West Coast of Africa much like myself. When they arrived in Nigeria they heard about the possibility of saving the Drill Monkeys, started a conservation project in the Afi Mountains and have been working 12 hours days, 7 days a week ever since. They are both extremely quirky and fascinating, literally overflowing with stories of adventure and insanity after decades in Nigeria.
I think they are happy to have other people to talk to – and so are we.
They have a few drills and chimps here at their house that have only recently been rescued or are getting medical care before they will be moved North to the main site of the project, so I wander around and take photos, completely captivated by the young female chimp in her cage. She has only recently been rescued from a family that kept her as a pet, and is still craving human attention. One of the keepers actually holds her briefly each day, a habit they will slowly ween her off until they can introduce her to the big group in the mountains.
We get great information on the roads and borders in the area we are looking to cross into Cameroon before we finally call it a night and head back to our hotel. I drift off to sleep to the roar of the generator, now almost comforting.
Day four in Nigeria.
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