Here it is....the final west african adventure. It's hard to believe, but it's here. So far, we've done things like go to an old prison fort, flip a pickup truck, visit some waterfalls, and do a lot of other stuff.
Around this time in my time in Africa, it was May 2008. June was going to bring me back home to Canada. So.....me and two buddies did what anyone would do. Go on a 10 day, 4 country, 6 border crossing, 3000 km road trip!! Sure, we almost literally died at one point, (do not try to drive a van painted in Nigerian national colours through an anti nigerian riot) but it sure was fun.
We decided we were going to drive from Ghana to Lagos Nigeria. One may note, that these places are 4 countries apart. No matter.
We started with this drive:A solid 500 kilometers across 4 countries.
.To start, to get from Accra to Nigeria is an adventure anyways.Ghana and Nigeria do not share a border, Togo and Benin lie in between.We went by road which means we get to cross all them countries.
We left, on May 3rd at 6 am for the Togo border…After about 3 hours we were there, crossing out of Ghana and into Togo wasn't too difficult, and we continued on.Togo is, in the words of my neighbour, an "abbreviated country", with a coastline that only stretches 56 kms from one border to the other.(though the country extends over 600 km inland).
As such getting through Togo didn't take long.The country's capital, Lome is small, with only 675,000 inhabitants, and it only took about 10 minutes to drive through.One thing about Togo, is that it does have a pristine coastline, I mean very pristine. While many of Ghana's beaches have trash all over the place, Togo's beaches looked deserted and inviting as any I've ever seen.Togo had lots, and I do mean lots, of palm trees.
Crossing from Togo we arrived at the Benin border crossing in less than 1 hour and crossed relatively painlessly into Benin.
Benin was somehow longer than Togo, even if it doesn't look it on the map it actually took over 2 hours to cross and Contonou, Benins capital in all but name actually took a half hour to wind our way through. Contonou doesn't have much going for it, poor, and polluted, the city lacks charisma.
Getting into Nigeria at Seme was insane. Benin officials decided that they shouldn't let us out of Benin and we eventually had to dash them (read bribe) to let us go. Nigerian officials were worse and kept holding us up for no particular reason.
After an hour, we eventually got into Nigeria.
The road from Seme to Lagos has to have the highest density of checkpoints anywhere in the world.
The road is barely one hours drive and yet had 11 checkpoints, where we stopped at every single one. Once we got into Lagos we got stuck in a traffic jam (big surprise), eventually we met our friend and went to his house where we were staying.
Lagos is not normal.
Lagos has a population of somewhere between 20-21 million people, and is growing fast, the UN says that by 2025 Lagos will be the largest city on the planet.
As such it suffers horrible traffic. I mean terrible. (Not my video, but it'll do!)
Anyway you slice it, Lagos is nuts.
Lagos is a series of islands connected by bridges, or at least it was, but most people these days live on the mainland. The islands have become corporate headquarters and office blocks, especially Victoria Island .We borrowed a car from from my friends neighbour and did a whirlwind tour of Lagos, seeing Victoria Island, the national museum (which has the bullet riddled car Gen Murtala Mohammed was assassinated in back in 1976.
(Not my picture we were not allowed to take pictures inside the National Museum. However, I do remember the bullet hole that went through the drivers head rest...I don't think he lived...)
After that we went out to Lekki beach on the VI.
The national museum:
Lekki was nice, a wide palm fringed sandy beached with small huts on the beach that provided shade.We also went to Bar beach, which in the words of one lagosian has been "chopped" (the west African word for eating or consuming). It once was sandy but now it has all washed away, but it was still a good view over the harbour.
From there we rolled to the National stadium and the National theatre, which was impressive. Lastly we cruised into the University of Lagos, a huge university, which was impressive; we went home to the lights being out. (National Theatre below).
Power outages are endemic to Nigeria, electricity supply in Lagos is woefully inadequate (elsewhere it's not much better), anyone who can afford it (and all serious businesses) have generators. NEPA was responsible for electricity in Nigeria, Nigerians nicknamed it "Never Expect Power Always" or "No Electric Power Again"I think it actually stands for Nigerian Electric Power Authority. Obasanjo (Nigeria's leader from 1999-2007) half heartedly attempted to reform the moribund NEPA and in the process renamed it PHCN. That is Power holding company of Nigeria.
Most Nigerians will just tell [P]roblem [H]as [C]hanged [N]ame or People Holding Candles in Nigeria. I would say on average in Nigeria there is electric power from PHCN less than ¼ of the time. On Monday morning we headed out of Lagos, to do this you ride on Danfos (like tro tros but more beat up) to the station where transport leads out of the city.
Danfos are completely ridiculous.
(Pic, danfo from internets)
All Volkswagens, All yellow, (microbuses) all junk, things such as doors, lights, radios, mufflers, even brakes, all fell by the roadside long ago.
I be a danfo driver suo!
This is da danfo anthem:
Intensely uncomfortable and loud as hell, at least they're cheap. Going out of the city we picked a bus to Oshogbo, a town in Osun state about 3 hours away.
That was a hell of a ride, not so much because of the driving (though driving in Lagos rush hour was more than a little insane), but because they cram 4 to a row excluding luggage that you have to carry on your lap.
Anyways we eventually made it……. Oshogbo was a different game.For one the population of Oshogbo was probably about 100,000, a striking difference when arriving from 20 million strong Lagos.
We met Musa's (my Nigerian traveling buddy) friend albert there and relaxed in his house, but no there wasn't any power. From left to right: Musa, Brian, Albert, and me (will) outside Albert's apartment in Oshogbo.
The next day we met with one of our boy from University of Ghana who was out there, after finishing his dissertation.We went to Oshogbos sacred forest, which was really serene and cool.In the forest which has now become a UN heritage site, all these huge stone sculptures are inside, paying tribute to the river goddess who controls the river that provides life to Oshogbo. (Us on the tour below)
We hung out with our boys and the next day headed up to Abuja, Nigeria's made to measure capital.
The drive was something else, this time instead of cramming on a minibus, we picked a bush taxi (Peugeot 504/505) and we were lucky we got a sedan.We got stopped at a road block set up by the Nigerian police after a while.
This proved to be intractable; the police asked my friend Musa whether he could produce the receipt for the laptop he was carrying.
He said he could not and so the police said that he was smuggling the laptop, to make matters worse our cars papers had expired.After going to the police station and waiting two hours while Musa tried to convince them he wasn't a smuggler and the driver tried to make excuses about his papers, we were finally allowed to continue, or at least that's what the commander said.
When the others still refused to let us go we dashed them 700 naira to let us go, and we told their commander that we had dashed them 700 naira, he should go collect it from them.
Stupid idiots, we offered them 500 Naira personally hours ago but now cause they delayed us so long, their commander will get the money and they will get nothing.Of course the police will try to hide it from their commander….but anyways.
While at the station, me and Brian sat next to a minibus in the yard that looked like this: (This isn't the exact bus we were beside, but it was obvious the inhabitants didn't survive). Confidence inspiring!
We continued onto Abuja, with some of the worst driving I've ever seen in my whole life. A 2 lane road, huge trucks were all over the place, whilst people were just overtaking anyhow, cars would just get back on the right side of the road and a big semi would go barreling by.The best was a late 80's VW Golf who decided that he should overtake a semi, he got close to the front of the semi before he bailed onto the left shoulder at the last second as a truck just about ran him over going the other direction.
Thankfully our driver was somewhat less suicidal than most and we made it to Abuja and got a hotel room for the night.The next morning we met Musa's friend, (who was also named Musa) and went about Abuja.
Abuja, like Lagos, is not normal, or maybe that should be "not normal for Africa" To be very honest, the impressive architecture aside, Abuja reminded me of Surrey, more than Africa.The sidewalks were empty, no tro tro or danfos, and everything was made to measure.
What was even more bizarre was that there were generally no street hawkers, and no poor people to be seen, no roadside stalls. (What...no traffic jams???)
In Abuja we saw the national parliament, the national mosque and more federal agency buildings such as the mint, the treasury, the federal secretariat and what have you.
Here's the treasury!
Here's the parliament!
The National Mosque. Also...cranes!
Abuja was built just recently and became Nigerias capital in 1991 because the Nigerian government decided Lagos, just wasn't fit to be the capital.Construction is proceeding at a rapid pace in Abuja as the place is still being built with cranes all over (at one point I could see 5 cranes at one time)
From Abuja, we moved onto Bauchi and despite a car breakdown (sigh) we managed to make it before dark.
What...car breakdowns in Africa? No wayyyyy
Here are a few pics of the trip to Bauchi;
Yaradua for president 2007!! Poor northerners...their President died during his term...and now it's the south's term again!
In Bauchi is where Musa's family stays so we hooked up with them and went round visiting Musa's friends and relations.
Bauchi and Bauchi state in Nigeria are underneath sharia law.Well underneath sharia law, in the sense that Canada is underneath the Queen. Both the Queen and Sharia law don't have any effect on regular life.
(Edit: At least they didn't used to, and them Boko Haram came along and started killing everybody. This was before Boko Haram existed. My contacts tell me there is a lot less beer in Bauchi now.)
In Bauchi sharia law is regularly flouted and generally disregarded. You can still buy beer and cigarettes at many places across town, who while not exactly concealing the fact they have alcohol, will generally put the tables behind the building rather than facing the road.
From Bauchi we went another 117km to Yankari national park.One of Nigeria's most renowned parks, it receives but a trickle of western visitors as very few of the westerners who make it to Nigeria, make it up to this remote corner. We're really really far from Kansas now toto!!
Covering 2700 square kilometers Yankari is one of Nigeria best preserved parks. We went out in a jeep to see some game but unfortunately for us most game eluded us, all we saw was some crocodiles, bush buck, (the smaller deers) and water buck (think moose sized deer).
Elephants are around, and we saw their tracks but they weren't to be seen.
Pumba..of Lion King Fame
Here are our huts! By far the nicest place we stayed...in all of nigeria! Generator powered A/C. Hell yeah!
Oga dey chop!
After our somewhat disappointing wildife tour, we visited marshall caves, where slaves hid from the raiders.
Then we got some beer and went down to the best part of Yankari!
The Wekki warm springs!!
I don't know much about them but Wekki warm springs are just that, warm spring water that flows out from underneath a rock to create a small warm river.
The water was crystal clear and a constant 31 degrees Celsius.
So we went down there into the shallow pool and sat on some submerged rocks in the spring with our beers, it was a very unique experience.
How many times can you sit with a Guinness, in the middle of the jungle, in a virtual hot tub??
Da Moose and Brian in the Wekki warm springs! (I am in the background).
I'm guessing not many…The next day we went swimming again, this time in the light, and drove back to Bauchi.
I thought it was pretty comical that in a supposedly sharia law state, they have beer and girls in two piece swim suits but anyways.
On Sunday we were in Bauchi, we just hung out, the power came on for a while, a big event in Nigeria…(sigh, someday)
(If you want a comprehensive list of the problems facing nigeria this song does a good job of summing it up)
On Monday we hit the road driving the 1050 kms back down to Lagos, needless to say, it took a while…and we entered Lagos during rush hour, which is normally not normal.
We left Lagos for Ghana early in the morning in what turned out to be one the downright scariest rides of my whole life.
Firstly when we got to Seme, there is always, something....
At Seme, the Nigerian border guard was happy to see us once we told him we were coming from Bauchi, which happened to be his home town, he sent us off in less than 5 minutes no problem.
Entering Benin was another program altogether…they said because our papers were in order we should just pay them 10,000 CFA (west African francs) and we could go, our driver wouldn't have that, and we didn't even have 10,000 CFA anyways (Nigeria uses Naira, Ghana uses Cedis), so after about 2 hours, they finally let us go, the good thing about the border guards is that if they act stupid you can always call the commander who will generally set them straight (but only if they are acting really stupid).
We crossed through Benin and into Togo, no problem and crossed into Ghana less than an hour later.
It looked like we were home free, however little did we know, we had another obstacle waiting....(Remember the part where we discussed how we literally almost died...yeah that's part coming now...)
After we had crossed the Volta River bridge we were just about 30 kms from Tema, and about 60 kms from Accra, almost home, and we came across a line of stopped vehicles.
All the drivers were outside of their cars, so we knew something wasn't right. The driver got down, and after talking to the drivers in front we found out that a car had run over two peasants in the next town and in retaliation the towns people had blocked the road, stopping all traffic.
Anyways some drivers decided screw this, and went on the wrong side of the road to get closer to the front of the line.
As we approached the front of the line we stopped, now 3 cars from the barricade and waited, and waited, and the police eventually came, but we still waited.
About 2 hours passed and it started to get dark…This is when problems started.The townsmen brought out tires and random crap and started to make the roadblock, now a huge flaming road block. The fire went on for about 45 minutes, then the police started to make their move. They fired their guns into the air and used some smoke screens.
This was bad news and caused several events simultaneously.
Firstly all the car drivers started to turn around try to get the hell out of there, meanwhile the townsfolk started to grab 2x4's and rocks and smash the car windows, and of course ours being right at the front of the line, started to receive blows. Also turns out...it had been a Nigerian car that had run over and killed the villagers. Our car, had a giant flag of Nigeria painted on it, which made it a bit of a target.
All the car drivers realizing if they remained their cars would be torched, or rolled or lord knows what, started to U turn in a panic and just floor it back towards Keta and Togo, meanwhile, because of the rocks cars were losing windows, lights, mirrors, it was crazy, and damn scary, our van had a huge hole in it's back windshield as a huge rock was thrown at it, girls were screaming, the police were shooting, it was truly nuts.
As cars from the front of the line started to race back, at breakneck speed other cars further back in the line got the hint from the panic and tried anything to get further back, as the townsfolk went on a rampage.
As for what actually the outcome was I don't know, we didn't wait around to find out, as we gunned it for safety.
Everyone holed up behind a police roadblock further back.Cars were arriving all dented up, huge cracks in all the glass
.After about 2 hours, the police convoyed people up and got us through; the one side of the road where the cars were parked was covered with glass from windows and lights.
Truly one of the scariest incidents I have encountered
.Nonetheless, an epic trip crossing 4 countries, one which I'll never ever want to repeat, but am glad to have done, and aside from serious trouble in Ghana, problem free
Here is the entire route, (click the minus button to view it all!) Yankari is just slightly south east of Bauchi, mapquest didn't recognize it, so I had to leave it out. All in all we covered about 3,600 kms of insane Nigerian and Ghanaian roads.
Who'd a thunk it, a trouble free trip to Nigeria is possible……but not recommended.:)