Across Nigeria. Day Two.
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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 in fits and spurts, half of me happy for the air conditioning, the other half hating the world’s loudest generator keeping it running. I am up at 6am, and after coffee and toast in the parking lot we are on the road just before 7. Immediately on the expressway the nutty driving and hectic pace resume from yesterday.
We stop to buy gas, and the young lady manning the pump is extremely chatty. I ask to take a photo and she is quickly posing and flirting. In her hand is a massive wad of money, though she clearly has no concern in the world of theft.
Gas here is half the price of diesel, and I pay only 125 Niara per litre, roughly 25 euro cents per litre or smack on $1 USD per US gallon using the black market exchange rate I got at the border.
This is by far the cheapest gas of the trip, nice!
Police, Immigration, Military and “vehicle safety” officers seem to randomly setup roadblocks on the expressway wherever they see fit, flagging down whatever cars they want to. Somehow, they always setup just over the crest of a hill, or around a blind corner, making for some serious emergency braking a few times. Massively overloaded trucks also use whatever lane they feel like whenever they want, and going around them is always a gamble, hoping they don’t move into my lane. I’m also on the lookout for broken down trucks, and potholes bigger than the tires on the Jeep, all while ripping along at about 60 miles an hour.
Before midday I see a partially-clothed man lying in the ditch on the side of the road as I whip by at speed. Somehow my brain takes a picture, and I spent the next ten seconds analyzing it. He is face down and lying very awkwardly. A pool of blood surrounds his head, and I notice his upper body is swollen. It dawns on me I have just seen a dead body. Other vehicles can surely see him, and they all speed on, not even slowing. I ponder that for many hours.
I stop and buy fried plantain chips from a lady on the side of the expressway, which turns out to be an excellent idea. Not only are they a delicious salty road-snack, they are the perfect gift to offer at the endless checkpoints and roadblocks. The men always ask what I brought for them, and I immediately produce a bag of plantain with a smile. They have likely been eating it for life, and clearly detest the stuff, so they always turn it down. I explain it’s all I will be eating for lunch, and they are welcome to have some with me if they like. At that point they really have nothing left to say, and let me pass.
The military and Police here are different than anything I have ever encountered. Often they are extremely high energy, talking very fast, even yelling at their excitement. They want to talk about English Premier League football teams, American movies and cigarettes. Often many guys from a single checkpoint will rush over to shake my hand vigorously, and I soon learn the knack to these checkpoints.
No matter what happens, talk first, talk fast, keep smiling, and keep talking.
And then, keep talking
I’m a tourist. I’m visiting Nigeria. I’m coming from here. I’m going to there. I love Nigeria. People are friendly. I feel safe. It’s a beautiful place. I love Africa. I am having a great time. It’s really great here. People are friendly in Nigeria. Is this the way to there? Wow, I love it here. I’m from Australia. I’m driving a Jeep. It’s really great here. Wow, thanks for having me in your country. Yes, people are friendly. Oh, it’s really great. I’m a tourist. I love it here. I feel safe. People are friendly here.
Three minutes like this, and I am waived through.
After midday we make our way around the mega-city of Benin City, hoping to find something for lunch. Miraculously, a huge hand-written sign pops out “Food is ready”.
Well, that sounds great!
The place turns out to be a mini transit stop of sorts, with a ton of street vendors selling fruit and vegetables out the front, then a bunch of people inside selling chicken with my new favourite Jolof rice. We get the price, then sit in kind of a dining hall with many other people who are also on the road in mini-vans, taxis and trucks.
After eating the time comes to pay, and the price has magically gone up from what we were told earlier. After much discussion we pay the higher amount, and decide from now on to always pay for stuff on the spot when quoted a price.
Prices seem to magically increase often here, change is often short, and totals somehow don’t add up to the correct sum of numbers. 500+500+300 is often 1500 in Nigeria.
We push on and on, putting down the miles. In the early afternoon we cross a bridge near the mouth of the now mighty Niger River at the city of Onitsha. Here we are traversing the kidnapping hotspot of the Delta Region, and very conscious of the need to keep moving, without stopping or slowing more than we have to. The bridge guarded by military with artillery is no problem, though immediately after we find ourselves at a dead end of roadwork and construction, stuck with hundreds of other vehicles. Perfect. After turning around and driving in circles, I take us the wrong way up a freeway off-ramp, quite the experience at speed. Detouring the city through endless street-market traffic jams we encounter “small town” police who are much less friendly and demanding. At first they yell, but eventually mellow out and let us continue when we really don’t have any paperwork they understand. These are the first guys to ask for Customs paperwork for the Jeep, though I just repeatedly give them my Registration and Insurance with smiling and assuring them it’s correct, and eventually they simply stop asking.
Towards dusk we find ourselves in another truck-stop like town, and find a hotel just off the expressway. Once again it has a massive wall and armed security, and the price is the same, though the hotel is certainly a step up the fancy ladder. This time we have learned out lesson and ask for rooms on the far side from the generator.
I eat a huge plate of regular-sized chicken and Jollof rice before collapsing into bed, exhausted from another monster day on the road.
Day two in Nigeria.