April 14th: To avoid being discovered we were up at 5AM and packed. Last night re - affirmed my regret, and need, to eat a grass cutter. Why? Well two of those monstrous critters circled my tent all bloody night! At one point my hand was resting against the side of the tent and one came up and nuzzled it, I swear it was just attempting to get a taste before digging into the main course. I had my panga and at that point seriously considered going barbaric on it's giant vermin arse, but unfortunately, they had the upper hand in that there were two of them, and they can see in the dark. The most likely scenario would have probably gone something like this: "I unzip my tent and charge out with a manly cry, in the dark I trip on the tent flap and get tangled up. Starting to panic slightly I attempt to cut myself free with the panga, and end up slicing my achilles tendon. Bleeding, incapacitated and well past slightly panicked the rats sense the targets fear and approach. Hearing their approach I freak out and begin swinging the panga in a flurry of impressive strokes and sweeps, gaining not salvation or dead rat, but rather the perfect sliced and diced mango garnish. Giant furry death comes bearing down in the dark." At least it's somewhat preferable to death by yam. As if that wasn't enough, at about 3AM, after the rats had withdrawn, the bats that had up until then been resting peacefully in the trees came brutally bearing down on my tent, landing, flapping and taking off again. Rats and rats with wings, I'm loving Nigeria already.
We had to get off this road today. We also had to get to Abuja, or some kind of civilisation, for security and in order to meet up with another group of overlanders whom we will be travelling with from here on out. The drive was tedious and long, the sun was well up in the sky before we came upon any decent driving turf, and, as soon as we did, we came across our very first police stop. Now, with all the "stories" about Nigeria we were anticipating the worst, plus the cop seemed fully kitted out with a rifle (which he handled with a touch of unecessary vigour), a baton and a belt of ammunition and tear gas. He was quite an imposing figure, and when he spoke to us I knew there wasn't any chance of the air being lightened by something along the lines of an unanticipated ball slip (unless it was issued by me). He was harsh and abrupt and I think really wanted to scare the reality into us. Hiding in the back I managed to go unnoticed for a time, until Pat had to hand over the passports, the cat, or should I say - the rather sickly and tired looking shrew thingy, was out of the bag. He paged through the extra passport and commanded that I leave my seat and go stand at the front of the vehicle. which I did without question. He then fired a serious of rather random questions at us about our heritage, and mine and my brothers relation, before telling us that our passports were incorrect because they didn't have jr or snr before our names. Then, just to make matters more uncomfortable, his plain clothes comrade comes trundling past, also brandishing a rifle. At this point things were getting a touch uncomfortable, I had also just realised that I was carrying a pen knife, which, if I had been searched, would have been more a source of mirth than trepidation. After a further five minutes of lecturing about how we should be careful in Nigeria, and about how he was a legitimate official, he let us go (sigh of relief for legitimacy).
We drove for a further hour before reaching our first stretch of tar road, and boy was it a beautiful sight. The road was actually really good except for a few iffy sections. Finally, at about 3pm we hit the outskirts of Abuja. One way of telling that you are nearing this massive crevice of filth is that the sun and sky gets blotted out by smog. You hit the rural areas and your eyes have begun to water, and by the time you've reached the city your breathing has become laboured. It is a really depressing, and repressive place. Once in the city we had to find the Sheraton hotel because, as we'd heard it, they allow overlanders the almighty privilege of camping in their parking lot. After a further hour of navigating through the city centre, and getting lost, then back-tracking some more, we saw the Sheraton on the horizon. I don't lie when I say this but either god blessed the place, or the owners had enough money to have the surrounding atmosphere cleaned, but the area surrounding the Sheraton was completely free of smog! It was great!
We drove in, got lost in the parking lot, then the head of security came over. He'd obviously dealt with our type before because the first thing he said to us was, " go to the FAAAR end of the parking lot and I'll meet you there in five minutes." Which we did. Five minutes later he was there, all he wanted was a copy of our passports and to ensure that we stayed pretty much out of sight of the other guests, which we did. He then gave us a tour of the Sheraton, and showed us to the HOT showers inside the squash court block which we could make use of. We thanked him, and immediately set about getting cleaned up in the HOT (I think I'll emphasise this every time I come across one - which is practically never) showers. Then very tired and drained we went for a drink. Now heres the catch, your stay in the Sheraton is free, but they will still get something off you when you buy drinks or food. In Nigeria the 660ml bottle of beer normally averages between 200 and 300 Naira, at the Sheraton you will pay the "paltry" sum of 1500 Naira for one beer!!! Suffice to say, I believe we payed our rent.
15th April: Sat in the Sheraton parking lot. Very hot. Dreaming of paying 1000 Naira to use their pool for one hour. Ended up doing laundry.
16th April: We began to settle in again this morning, expecting another long uneventful day. We tried again, unsuccesfully,
to contact Ben (our new travel companion), but as we learnt later, it was through no fault of his own that we hadn't gotten any
replies but rather the fault of the local cell phone company. So we continued doing laundry. All of a sudden he comes charging
into our parking lot abode at midday with his Land Rover, and asks wether we're ready to go. We just stared at him blankly,
then in a flurry of movement began packing up. The drive today was 300kms long and took us to the city of Makurdi where
we would be camping in the Benue hotel. On the way there we got stopped in no less than three road blocks, one of which
was being overseen by a really drunk and obnoxious slob of a cop who demanded a gift, eventually, pissed off, we resigned
to giving him our newly filled 2 pound lighter. We arrived in Benue at 5pm and set up camp. What we hadn't been informed of
was that this was apparently quite a dodgy area, so the hotel hired extra security to protect us (Nigeria just keeps on getting
more interesting at every turn.) We purchased some 200 Naira beers from the hotel bar, got a bit sozzled, chatted with our new
travelling companions and became more acquainted with the Ozzi girl Alex ( whose a bit of a self acclaimed piss cat), before
attempting the hotel night club (to 'cut a rug' as Alex put it). we arrived at the door wearing shorts and slops, all the guys
were immediately turned away, yet, being a girl, Alex was hurriedly and eagerly ushered in. We decided against getting
changed and went straight to bed. I assume cutting an entire rug by herself wasn't as enticing anymore and she returned
to the camp as well.
17th April: We packed up early and made a move for Calabar. The 500km stretch was bound to be interesting, especially now that we would be travelling in a convoy of three vehicles, one Land Rover, a big truck driven by a Dutchman named Kees, and ourselves. We strategically took the rear and let them deal with the roadblocks. This turned out to be a brilliant idea due to the fact that Ben is affiliated with a number of charities and therefore has a bottomless supply of reading material to dish out as gifts. All in all there were six roadblocks and they were easily dealt with, not impeding the drive at all. We arrived in Calabar around midday, found a tourism information centre who pointed us to the Drill Ranch.
On arrival at the Drill Ranch what we found was completely unexpected. I envisaged some kind of army encampement, but rather, what we soon learnt, was that a Drill was a type of baboon that was unique specifically to this region of Nigeria, and that the Drill Ranch was actually a baboon (Drill) sanctuary. The way it works is that any animals saved from bush meat operations are brought back to the Drill Ranch where they are protected and raised amongst other Drills until they are ready for re-release into the wild. Other animals being protected there varied between monkeys, crocodiles and kites. Eventually the proprietor arrived and told us it would be fine for us to camp at a cost of 1000CFA per person per night.
18th April: Today we went to the Cameroonian embassy to organise our visas. Being a Friday it is likely that we'll only be getting them back on Monday. So quite possibly we'll be sitting at the ranch for a couple days now.
19th April: Last night was interesting. It would appear that the owner of the house, whose lawn we are currently occupying, is quite the religious devout. She holds a pretty colourful sermon too, which, despite being rather repetitive, seems to get the participants going quite vigorously. The sermon began at around 8pm, ended well after midnight, and the proceedings went something along the lines of: Opening song; participant preaches or vents energetically (and loudly); everybody in room starts debating emphatically (really it just sounded like they were temporarily let off their leashes and began screaming blue murder at each other); bell rings; ten seconds of silence; AMEN!!! (screamed loudly in unison); and repeat all. By the time I woke up this morning I knew I would easily be able to join the next sermon.
Didn't do anything of any consequence today. However, during the day we were visited by a member of the Drill ranches staff, as well as sermon participant, who apparently runs a restaurant at night called Mr Magicks. She said that for a fair sum she would prepare our supper and showed us her menu. We all decided that this was a fair idea, and ready to experience some more African cuisine we agreed. Unfortunately, maybe because she didn't pray vigorously enough last night, or on the other hand, just a bit too vigorously leaving her physically drained, whatever the case may be the nights meal was somewhat of a shambles. She had organised a taxi to pick us up in two groups beginning at 6:30 which he did. The first group arrived there at 7pm and the taxi returned for our group. He picked us up and on the way to Mr Magicks, just our luck, there was an accident which blocked the road. We sat for twenty minutes, our driver got into a number of heated arguments, eventually we managed to talk him into going around the crash on the wrong side of the road (who the hell would've believed that we'd have to educate a taxi driver on how to break the rules of the road!) Finally at 8pm we arrived at Mr Magicks where, we'd expected everybody to be eating already, but they weren't. I think the kitchen was having huge difficulties with the size of the order, as well as stock, and Mrs Magick was looking particularly stressed out. Eventually, about an hour after our arrival, the meals started staggering out, and not in a desirable fashion. Unfortunately, the people that got fed first were the ones that arrived in the second group, and we had finished eating before the people from the first group had seen hide or hair of their meals. This left the people from the first group quite irate and so, to avoid any further distress when it came time to return to camp in our single taxi, the people that had finished eating headed back. The food was quite good though.
20th April: Besides working on Kees van, we did very little today. In the evening we brought some street vendor food - beans,
rice and beef that tastes like fish. While eating we learnt that the house would be having an all night sermon tonight. We
watched as they started dragging in huge speakers and began groaning. Then, as if the gods had heard our groans, the sky opened up, lightning began to crash, and the cities power died. Mumbled prayers of thanks came streaming from our mouths.
A bit too soon apparently, because the next thing we know, their backup plan arrives, an entire bloody brass band!!! I stole the
Ipod earphones and slept with them in my ears and managed to block out most of the commotion. The others weren't as
fortunate and apparently happened to see the people breaking out in dance in the early hours of the morning, in the mud
and rain, in the centre of our campsite. weird.
21st April: Sarah and I went into town today to do some shopping before going to the embassy and collecting our visas. Both
tasks were easily accomplished. We decided that, since the visa collection was done so late, that we'd rather rise early
tomorrow and make a move for the Cameroonian border. Spent the evening preparing for tomorrows drive. Ate more delightful street food for supper - it's like a special African lucky meal... you're lucky if you don't choke to death on a fish bone
when eating a beef and bean stew.