Sunday, 3 August 2014

Journal 7: Leaving the peace of Togo, malaria in Voodoo land and riding through the hostility/hospitality of Nigeria.

Leaving Will’s house was a lot like leaving home again. Saying goodbye to familiar faces and surroundings. I’d spent a quarter of a year there so I had grown some roots. I was ready to leave Ghana though. Out of all the countries I’ve visited so far (aside from India) it was the most annoying, and I was happy to be getting out of there. I was also due to meet up with Will again in Benin in a few weeks’ time so the goodbye was okay. I don’t like goodbyes.

After three months of comfort and air conditioning the outside world showed me no mercy when I first wild camped on my way out of Ghana. I was riding through the mountains to a remote border and started to hear thunder at around 4pm. I thought it be best to stop and pitch my tent before a torrent came. I pitched and waited… but no rain. As it got dark I climbed into my tent, finding it stifling and sweltering. By 8:30 I went outside to brush my teeth and that’s when the rain hit…
I scrambled back inside and read my book as masses of water pounded onto my rain cover. Rivers of water started to flow underneath my tent and parts started to sink into the mud. Liquefaction had set in; a condition in which water turns what was once solid ground into a watery substance. It wasn’t very wise to park my bike right next to my tent as, sure enough, the mount sunk into the earth and my bike fell into my tent! I already had my head torch on so I scrambled out immediately and wrestled with the mud and the bike, stark naked amid the flashes of lightning in the thundering rain. Thankfully the bike and tent were fine. Lesson… always use the kickstand propped up against a rock in the future!

The rain came and went intermittently all of the next day. I was riding on rough mountain roads and some parts had been washed away by the rain. I had to wade through torrents of water with my bike. Eventually I made it to the Togolese border on a road which wasn’t even on my map. The road through no mans’ land was practically a river. I don’t like riding through water as you never know if there’s a giant pot hole underneath, so I sacrificed my shoes and walked the road whilst sat on my bike. I don’t think the border guards had seen many white people coming through there as they seemed baffled by my passport. Nevertheless, it was nice to be in a Francophone country again; better food, politer people, better driving.
I made my way to Chez Alice, a renowned overland camp place where the owner, an 81 year old Swiss lady lets you camp for 1000CFA. It’s a nice place, about 15 km from the capital, Lome, which reduces the noise. I was wondering if I would ever meet another travel partner on the road. I would have liked to as I had Nigeria coming up and wasn’t fond of the prospect of making my way through it alone. Then, two days into my stay at Chez Alice, Daniel, another Swiss on a Yamaha 600 pulled into the camp… and then asked me if I wanted to go through Nigeria with him. Sometimes things do really work out for you on the road!

We stayed there for a while, sorting visas for both of the Congo’s. We had to become residents of Togo in order to get our visa for the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I’ve heard stories of people turning up at the DRC border with a visa that they got on route and then were not allowed in. One man even stayed at the border for ten days trying to get through, but because he didn’t obtain his visa from his ‘country of residence’ they wouldn’t let him through. So officially from last June I am a legitimate resident of Togo for six months.


A sample of the rains. This was flowing underneath the road. In some areas the torrent would wash the road out completely... Too much rain for me to get my camera out for that though at the time!



Daniel on his Yamaha Tenere 600 just outside of the DRC embassy.



My resident paper for Togo. Don't know how much use it's going to come in really, but it's always good to have some sort of document to dish out, baffle and then be told to go.



A dutch couple have been travelling around the world on this for years. They told me South America is like a haven compared to Africa. Open borders, people leave you alone, respect your privacy. It has got me thinking ahead to South America quite a lot.



Children! They just come out of nowhere whenever I stop to do anything!



I crossed over into Benin with no problems at all; considering I had a forged stamp and signature on the visa (fuck you again, Benin embassy of Accra!) I made my way to a place called Grand Popo, a village community on the coast that is renowned for still dwelling in the practices of their Voodoo heritage. I was also meeting Will again which was great. When you're on the road there's not many opportunities to meet up with old friends again. He arranged some beachside cabins for us to sleep in and I was expecting Dan to meet up with me within a few days. But until then it was time to see some first hand Voodoo rituals...


Meeting up with Will and Nikos again. Nikos is a Greek guy who lives in Accra (often at Will's house) doing business. I've learned in Africa it's hard to set up a business.



We met a 'guide' to take us to his Voodoo village. Upon walking up to the water we could see a number of boats, good boats! Our boat was this dug out Pirogue that needed to be emptied of water...






Will's graceful disembarkation from the boat...



The Voodoo chief himself. A very deep eyed man.



This is the ritual chamber. Full of shrunken heads and other sorts of Voodoo paraphernalia. 



Nikos decided to have a ritual performed on him. That's the actual ashes of a deceased elder that are being rubbed into his arm. 



I felt as fit as anything on this day. Been rowed around in a Pirogue, exploring villages full of Voodoo statues, seeing human ashes been rubbed into a man's arm... it was a great day. We had a good meal that night and I went to bed feeling calm and happy...
 I then woke up at four in the morning, shivering like crazy and fighting off sickness. I tried to sleep but a headache steadily creeped on and by morning I was ruined. It was quite obvious it was malaria. I stayed in bed past breakfast time and forced my way to the restaurant to tell Will and Nikos what I thought was going on. It was like walking through water... I had to put so much effort in, and this headache, forcing my face to the floor. I was ruined. It's quite amazing just how fast it came on.
 Thankfully Nikos had some strong, short treatment pills. Eight pills for three days. I vomited until I was empty before I started to take them, and Will very kindly bought me the room in the hut under the mosquito net for another night. This was our goodbye. I'd been his housemate in Ghana for three months but the only goodbye I could muster was to hold his hand from under the net. I would have liked to be able to say goodbye a different way and thank him for all the things he'd done for me, but I just didn't have the strength. Dan turned up as Will and Nikos left too, and looked quite surprised by my state when he came into the room!

Malaria face. Happy face.

  

After a few days sitting around by the beach in my tent I began to feel better and we decided to make our way up the country to the border crossing of Nikki - a small border which usually means less hassle. It was good to be riding and camping with someone again. I felt bad for Dan though, as I just could make his usual speed and he would have to ride considerably slower behind me. He was a good travel partner though; chilldout, mellow and obsessed with taking pictures of the moon. Benin was a really nice place to ride through too - the people there bore no resemblance to the Embassy workers in Accra, thankfully. The people were extremely friendly. Huge groups of children would gather and scream with excitement whenever we would stop, adults would wave as we rode past. It was a friendly place.

It was good to be camping with someone again.



I pulled a Liam and stupidly left my tent pegs in my last camping place in Togo, so I got some new one's made... African style!



The smiles and excitement of the children of Benin.



Bless.


This is Ron, a South African guy who's cycling every single country in Africa. He's already gone through Somalia, South Sudan and the Central African Republic! We met him just before crossing into Nigeria. He said it was all fine. I think when he finishes he will actually be a record holder. You can check out his website here; http://fatkidonabike.com/pre-departure/fat-kid-on-a-bike-introduction/



The machete I bought just before entering Nigeria. It was never used. I must say though, that is the scariest face I've ever seen!



The crossing into Nigeria was a breeze.... shame about the roads though! For the first few hours it was fine and then we hit the worst roads I've ridden on out of the whole of Africa to date. Quite impressive for Africa's largest economy! I've ridden a fair few miles off road so far, maybe around 500, and my confidence was high... too high. I was riding in front of Dan, and Dan on his Yamaha Tenere 600 said that he was surprised as I was going faster than he would normally! This wasn't good... I lost complete control of the steering about an hour into it. In hindsight I should have just hit the back break but instead I tried to regain control... this didn't work. I hit the ground at around 25 mph on rough, rocky terrain. If it wasn't for the knee, shin, elbow and arm protection I bought in Ghana it would have been my flesh that shredded rather than my clothes! This was the worst accident I've had so far. My front basket was stoved in, my foot pedal bent to hell (this saved the engine) and my left mirror completely smashed off too. I shredded my belt also, which in turn saved my hip... though I think I bruised the bone. The next day I didn't go out of 2nd gear and it took a full 6 hours of riding (not including breaks) to cover just 40 miles. 

Rough roads! There were parts that were far worse than these but we were too busy/tired trying to get through them to get the camera out.




The friendly yet very curious people of Western Nigeria.



 The people of Nigeria on this Western side were lovely though. It was a predominantly Muslim part.... not the mental Muslims that everyone hears about in the Northern Borno state, these were actual genuine Muslims. And I do prefer overall to travel through Muslim areas compared to Christian ones; the hospitality and generosity is unequaled. We wild camped for our first few days in Nigeria. Everything was easy and the people nice. The trouble started when we reached the first major city, Ilorin. All we wanted to do was to pass through it, but we could sense levels of animosity in the air as we tried to make our way through slow moving traffic. The a policeman at some traffic lights came over and grabbed the keys out of my bike. *Bollocks* They demanded to see all our papers, in a very suspicious manner. Almost instantly a crowd formed around me and Dan and circled around us. It got heated pretty quickly. We started to hear shouts of 'Boko Harem!' from the crowd and the hostility levels rose dramatically. By this time there were around four policemen around us. One of them was grabbing me hard by the belt and demanded to see my passport. He showed me no ID, had my keys and now wanted my passport. The rest of the policemen said that we had to go back to the station and have everything searched. I was fine with this, anything to get away from the ever growing and angry crowd, but I didn't feel comfortable in handing over my passport to this man and for him to keep hold of it whilst we went to the station, despite the crowd. I started to argue with him,

 "This is my passport, it is the property of my government and I am it's bearer. I'll happily go to your station but I keep hold of my passport." 

Straight after I said this the crowd started to pull me in by the arms and chest and the policemen fired off rounds over my head with their rifles.The crowd let me go and people started running away.

 My heart was firing like a fucking cannon. 

"We have to go now, it's too dangerous for you to be here!"

"That's fine, just give me my passport back."

"No, you can either have your passport or your keys!"

Fucking petty behaviour.

"Fine!" I whipped my passport from his hands (I have spare keys for everything) "I'll bloody push my bike to your police station then!"

So that's what I did, amid the ever growing and angry, grabbing crowd I pushed my bike through the streets. More gunshots went off to keep the crowd away from me. After a while the guy with my keys (who did actually turn out to be genuine) came running over. "Here!" He handed me my keys. "It's too dangerous for you to be pushing your bike through this. "Yeah! No kidding!" 

We made it to the police station unharmed, but there was a number of armed guards surrounding the compound, keeping the crowd at bay. The policemen then calmed down and actually turned out to be pretty nice. This was my major fear of Nigeria; the corrupt officials, but this was not the case as they all turned out to be pretty nice people. They explained that the people in the crowd are uneducated and frightened, and that is why they were behaving like that. Nigeria is in a crisis at the moment, and I understand that its citizens are scared, but I can't comprehend why they would assume me and Dan are terrorists or there to do them any harm. 
 The policemen then went through every single item of Dan's luggage, even down to making him get his sleeping bag out and looking inside. They did this all in front of the crowd however, to show them and then wrote everything down and went to go explain to them who we were and what we were doing. This calmed them down and the crowd slowly dispersed. Some hung around and even cheered as we rode on. 
 I cannot count the amount of times I heard people shouting 'You are welcome!' in Nigeria, but all the 'You are welcomes' in Ilorin after that escapade escaped my heart. I couldn't wait to ride out of that city.

We only had one more incident with an angry crowd after this, in a village in the arse all of nowhere who got pretty enraged when we showed up. All we wanted was breakfast! We got surrounded pretty quick and I seemed to get the angrier of the people. Whilst Dan was behind me showing them his passport and explaining who we were I was faced with a man who was shaking my bike, demanding to go through my bags and then started to punch me in the arm. I turned round to Dan, he seemed to have everything in control... I didn't!

"Get out of my my or I'll fucking run you over!" And then I sped out of the crowd. Things calmed down once I circled the village and made it to the other side of the crowd. The elders came and said we could eat, but that we must leave straight away after.

I wasn't in the mood for eating after all that.

Progress became pretty slow through Nigeria after this. Every time we stopped, to look at a map, get something to eat, and on one occasion save a bird, policemen would come and demand that we go to their station and have everything searched. This happened five times in total and was extremely frustrating. I was starting to feel like I was 'Africa'd out' that I'd had enough. The words of those Dutch travellers 'South America is like a haven compared to this place' were echoing through my head.
 Things started to calm down once we got to the South East. People there are more used to tourists as the Southern town called Calabar is a very easy place to get the Cameroonian visa; it was done infront of us in ten minutes by a guy wearing a Simpsons T-shirt! We found a couchsurfer to stay with too, which was great as the hotel prices were extreme for what you got. It was also good as Dans bike had broken down. I decided to stay with him for a bit to see if he could get his bike together before our visas ran out. I also decided to change my sprokets and chain for definite seeing as I had the time as they were beginning to look towards the end of their life. I have seen far, far worse chains and sprockets during my time in Africa; yellowy brown, screaching, flapping things spinning around on razor sharp sprockets. Mine were nowhere near that bad at all... I just wanted to change them as a preemptive so I wouldn't get a snapped chain on the road. Babson, our couchsurfing host came to pick us up from the hotel. It was just three miles to his house, I was following behind in the pissing rain and on a busy road, and sure enough... my chain snapped. 
 You bastard.

Unfortunately for Dan, the Nigerian government had banned big bikes in the state we were in due to the number of accidents (better driving schools throughout the whole country would be a far better idea!) and he had to have his engine opened up... and no spare parts to be found. It is a shame as with our visas ticking (and my urge to push on to get to my girlfriend in South America) I had to leave him behind and continue solo.

I managed to violate two traffic laws directly in front of policemen on my two day ride to Cameroon - each of them threatening to take me to jail... all of which ended with hand shakes and no money leaving my pocket. You meet the nicest people on a Honda!
 There were a few stick men who tried it on too but they were just left shouting and dissipating in my mirrors.
  

The bird that I untied the plastic string from its legs before the police came and took us away. The police didn't understand why I was doing it...



This guy's called Aba. He saw me struggling trying to get the nuts out of my original sprocket (well, they had been in there for nearly 25 years!) and he took time out of his DHL job to ride it to a mechanic to get them loosened. He didn't expect any money either. After a while on the road you begin to know who you can trust as a second instinct.



I was very happy to have left Nigeria - I had some of the scariest situations of my life in that place. I did meet some wonderful people there, and I could see that at one time it would have been a great place to travel to. But now with this crisis in the North, it has made almost everyone extremely suspicious of anyone who is foreign. It's a real shame.

 It was a breath of fresh air as soon as I crossed into Cameroon and to not have that constant niggle of impending danger in the back of my mind... as well as people treating me like an actual genuine person with no malicious intent. Upon arriving at the border a huge storm hit... and on my map it showed that the road in front of me was impassable in the rainy season. I took refuge in a small cafe in the border town, waiting for the rain to stop... but it was clear that it was going to be an all nighter. I looked into the backroom of the cafe and asked the guy cooking eggs if I could sleep in there for the night. He seemed a genuine guy and didn't have a problem with it. This is the sort of thing I like about travelling in Africa; beyond all the annoyances and the hassle you can find genuine people who will help you out almost everywhere. I doubt you could sleep in a store room in many places in Europe if you just rolled up there and asked!

My bedroom on my first night in Cameroon.



The road on the morning after. I actually got stuck in this. That was a literally a sticky situation.



Camping wild and alone in Cameroon. I've found complete peace with doing this.



A mountain local. The people of the mountains in Cameroon reminded me a lot of the people of the Himalaya.



Engine!



Riding at 2500 km above sea level... literally through a cloud!



Now that I'm in Cameroon, that is West Africa officially finished. If I'm going to be honest I am very glad that that part of the World is over with. I've heard on travel websites that it's one of the most difficult regions on the planet to travel in... I hope they're right! Will described it as 'Death by one thousand cuts.' It's the little annoyances that just build up and build up which made it a very testing place to travel. I've learned beyond anything, that's it's not bravery or stamina (though these things are useful and come with time naturally) that get you through it... it's patience and understanding. My patients ran low too many times and I became an angry man quite often. Although I will say that on most of the times the reasons were genuine. I'm glad the West is behind me now though. I'm changing trajectory and I'm now making my way South. I still have the words of the Dutch people about South America being a haven going through my head... I am looking forward to getting there. Not just because that sometimes I just feel completely 'Africa'd out' but because my girlfriend will be meeting me there, and it's been far too long. 

There's a hell of a lot of miles in between though... I'm going to try and get my skates on!  

2 comments :

  1. Well done on a great adventure. I own a c90 and have visited west Africa but would not want to mix the two! This will make a great book. Stay safe.

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  2. Thanks mate! You're the third person who's mentioned that I should write a book now... One will be written when I get to Canada and settle down for a bit.

    ReplyDelete