I cannot understand what’s the problem with some people and they don’t want me to take their pictures. While we were crossing the borders entering Togo, I saw a vespa. It looked so “cool” with stickers on it writing “Thank you Jesus”, with a brand new spare tire, clean and shiny and the first thing I thought was to take a picture of it. As we were standing outside the customs office and next to the police station, I went towards the owner of the vespa to ask for his permission. I used my perfect frenchgreeklish and the moment I finished my question and showed my camera, there was panic everywhere! Everyone who was there, ran towards me shouting and angrily tried to explain to me that it is strictly forbidden to take pictures in…Africa! Their reaction would have been more calm if I had taken a gun out of my pocket! What a pity, it was a beautiful Vespa.
We entered Togo late in the afternoon. The scenery was one of the most beautiful ones we had seen until that day. On our right hand there was the ocean and a huge beach next to the street. We could see palm trees, youngsters playing football and many people strolling and watching this magnificent view. On our left hand, there was Togo’s capital city, Lome and ahead us the avenue which we took to reach the place we would stay. Steven had found that place on the internet. The owner was a 70 year old lady from Switzerland and the guesthouse offered rooms and spots to pitch your tent (1.5 euro per tent). Many people who traveled by their own means of transport searching for a descent and cheap place to stay, stayed there and apart from the disgusting smell coming from the toilets due to the high temperatures, it was a nice place (Chez Alice, Lat 6.16891 Lon 1.34222).
We met many travelers there. Others traveling on motorcycles and others on Land Rovers and we shared our stories. We did a lot of paperwork: bought our visas for Congo Brazza and Congo Kinshasa, ordered some spare parts for our motorcycles (which will arrive at Yaounde, Cameroon accompanied by Steven’s mother!). We also enjoyed the fresh salads made by the Swiss owner of the guesthouse (1.5 euro), the delicious spaghetti (1.9 euro) at Coco Beach looking at the sea and feeling the strong wind on our faces. The most important information: be careful as you walk on the beach! Many people prefer to defecate there with the nice view and the sea-breeze! It’s a minefield!
We didn’t have any particular problems with the visas except for their price! To take the visa for the D.R.C. I had to prove that I live permanently in Togo. First thing in the morning, I went to the police station holding all the documents (I had been told exactly what to do at the embassy), and after paying 13.5 euros I asked when would my documents be ready. I was expecting to wait about half an hour.
“Come and take them on Wednesday” the officer replied.
“But, today is Wednesday!”
“So, come on Monday”.
The police officer was trying to convince me that he had been very busy and that he couldn’t finish earlier. I was moaning and groaning for 10 minutes and I even bribed him to get the papers I wanted (the bribe cost 1.5 euro!) as I didn’t have that much time to spend in Togo. Finally, I got the papers I needed and left with no receipts… The visa to D.R.C. cost 109 euros for 2 months and I got it after 30 minutes waiting. The visa to Congo Brazza was even worse: 30 days at a cost of 106 euros!
And as we had been waiting for Liam to come and continue the trip to the south together, the news he told us, completely changed our plans. He had lost his passport! It was not his fault, though. He had left it at the embassy of Benin in Accra and when he returned to take it back, the officers there informed him that it had been lost. And as it seems quite unbelievable to lose a formal document in an embassy, we assumed that it had been stolen somehow. Liam would be stuck in Accra for at least 6 more weeks, so Steven and I decided to continue to Yaounde and then see where Liam is and if possible, try to meet again and continue the trip to Congo Brazza and the D.R.C. We already had our visas, so we were a bit anxious to enter the countries before they expired, but we had an additional concern: Steven’s mother would arrive to Yaounde to spend 3 weeks there with him.
On the road again! The only problem was that Steven and I couldn’t travel with the same speed. For my vespa, it would be either 40km/h or 90km/h because in any other option, it wouldn’t work properly! On the other hand, Steven couldn’t speed more than 75km/h and 45km/h was too low for him. In any other case, each one would choose what speed would be better for him and we would arrange where to meet, but now our “mission” would be a difficult one, and it’s called “Nigeria”! We had heard many stories about the problems we would face due to the criminality, corruption and terrorism in the country, but we wanted to stay as objective as we could. The number of stories about the negative things on Nigeria was bigger than those on any other country and many travelers used to avoid it by taking other means of transport or choosing other routes to continue.
The beach in Lome
Bars and restaurants on the beach
The beach in Lome
Relaxing under the shadow of the trees
Vespa-mechanic in Lome
Distant relative in Togo
We had decided that wouldn’t take any other means of transport to cross Nigeria or to avoid it. Even if we wanted to, we couldn’t, because our budget was not at all high. We had also heard Maxim’s story that had affected us a bit: Maxim is a French guy who had started all alone from Norway on his bicycle, with the plan to travel through Africa. We first met in Senegal and from that time, we saw him again some times during our journey. Just outside Lagos, Maxim was attacked, robbed and injured by some guys who broke a bottle on his head and took everything he had! Maxim had to return to France. He is ok now and he is planning his new trips away from Africa.
Our plan was to cross Nigeria as fast as we could, in 4 or 5 days (1200kms), forget about bush camping and stay only in guesthouses and travel together to be more secure. To do that, we had to wake up at around 7:00 and hit the road as early as we could. I had my coffee and my breakfast (some biscuits) on the vespa and Steven wouldn’t eat or drink anything in order not to spend time. We were driving the whole day and we would stop only if we were out of fuel or for a quick snack if we were too hungry (preferably some mangoes!). We would only stop just before sunset to find a hotel, and that would be the plan for each day until the next borders. Our cameras and the rest of our electronic equipment would stay in our luggage.
Some say: “When man makes plans, God laughs” and in our case, that was completely true. Every single day until we got to Abuja, it was constantly raining! From the first day in Benin, the road to Allada was the worst we had seen: too much traffic (mainly trucks), huge potholes and the feeling that while driving your motorcycle you’re in a Tetris game trying to find some space on the road and at the same time trying not to get killed by the trucks! Just before the sunset on one of those days and while the sky was moody, full of heavy clouds, I didn’t notice a huge pothole and the vespa fell in it. Everything on my vespa also fell: my bottle of water, my cup, my luggage. The suspension suffered a lot and I was sure that I would also fall, but luckily I didn’t! When I got off the vespa to pick up my stuff, I realized that the hole was so big that it could have swallowed my poor motorcycle! Everything under control…except for my nerves!
Our everyday routine was like what I just described. Only for me of course, as Steven’s motorcycle didn’t have any problems with the bad road and all those “details” that tortured me! Riding, raining (with no raincoats), eating rice with tomato sauce…The only thing which was easy, was to find cheap hotels to stay (3.9-5.6 euros per person). The amenities were not so luxurious: electricity for 1-2 hours per night, water from a container etc. In one hotel they wouldn’t give us permission to share a room because they were afraid that we were gay! We explained that we were brothers from a different father and they accepted us!
Many “fanny” things happened as we were trying to cross the borders between Benin and Nigeria, that exhausted us. We were at the customs office in a village called Nikki and we had to wait for the only officer who worked there to finish his bath and return to the office. We drunk our coffee, ate our biscuits and waited for 45 minutes until he appeared! The most difficult part was in Nigeria. The Nigerian police officers were kindly, though constantly asking us for a bribe.
They even explained us that they needed money to buy a refrigerator and that the police of Nigeria would appreciate our help!
Steven, couldn’t take it anymore, he got furious and told exactly what he shouldn’t have told!
“Why are you asking us for more money? We have already paid for the visas!”. The answer came immediately from an also furious policeman: “What money? We never asked you for money!”.
At that exact moment, I started trying to keep them calm because the policemen started to threaten us that they wouldn’t give us permission to enter the country or that they would give us a 24h permission which meant that we would have to get to Abuja and put new stamps on our passports in only 1 day. Fortunately, the misunderstanding ended and they gave us 3 weeks to cross the country. At a small distance there was the customs office where we had to give the information for our vehicles and fill some forms.
“What is your occupation?”, the two ladies at the customs asked Steven.
“Student” he replied.
“None? How can this be possible?!”
It was my turn now:
“You, Strejios? (or something like that, as they couldn’t pronounce my name) Occupation?”
“Teacher” (teaching is a well respected occupation in Africa, so I told them I was one to see if it would make any difference)
“And your religion?”
“Not a fun of any religion…”
And that was it! Two white men, who have left their homes and their jobs, have been already traveling for some months and they will continue to travel indefinitely, having too long beards, smelling like they haven’t had a proper bath for ages and above all, they are atheists! The term they used for us? – “Philosophers”!
Quick stop for lunch
Nothing but rice with tomato sauce…
At this exact spot the adventure began
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“You are philosophers! If you don’t have a job, if you have been traveling for so long, if you don’t believe in any religion!”, that was their conclusion, and after that, they started laughing, as we did also! We were in a friendly environment and before we even finished with our documents, they started asking us questions about life in Europe, the socio-economic situation there, our marital status etc and they gave us their names, e-mails, facebook profiles asking for ours also. We spent more time exchanging that type of information and promising to communicate with them when we would be back home, than dealing with the formal procedures. After all these, we were free to go.
Now we were heading to Abuja and we had to deal with the police officers and the “stickmen”! In the North, I have to admit that everything was quiet and peaceful. Everyone we met on the road were greeting us, smiling to us and that felt real and sincere. I will never forget my first day in Nigeria! Additionally to that, we had to ride on a road which was in a really bad condition, among remote villages with almost no traffic at all and under heavy rain…Mud, rain and my vespa…The best gift for my birthday!
Just before we got to the capital of Nigeria, we met the “stickmen” for the first time! As we learned soon from other Nigerians, they are groups of people whose “occupation” is to collect money from the drivers of vehicles who pass by. Like a primitive toll station! They were supposed to collect money from public vehicles only and not from private ones. Steven and I had agreed that we would stop only if we were forced to stop. So, when four guys who were carrying sticks with nails on them, tried to stop us, we managed to avoid them by getting off the road riding close to a truck. The “stickmen” even chased us and tried to hit us with their sticks…Unfortunately…
In Abuja, our plan was to stay in a hotel near to the embassies of Cameroon and Zambia so that we could finish with the visas as soon as possible without having to drive for many kilometers everyday. We were fully disappointed…the cheapest double room we managed to find cost 45$, completely off our budget. Not only that, but if you consider that we would have electricity only for some hours per day, water from containers, nothing for breakfast and of course no internet,,,the price was irrationally high! (there were plasma-TVs in every room, though!)
Fancy restaurant in a Nigerian village
Nigerian motel: Electricity for 1-2 hours per day and water from a container. At least, there was a TV and a fan!
We decided for one last attempt before we would give up and stay there. We had some time left before sunset so we went to an internet cafe. Steven sent 3 messages to couchsurfers he found and spotted 2 cheap hotels. While we were driving on the road trying to find the address of the one of these hotels, a car got in our way and the driver started telling us something shouting. I got a bit scared because the night had started to fall but from that point, we started getting luckier! That guy was member of the biggest motorcycle club in Abuja, the “09ers MC”. He saw us and decided to meet us and of course, help us! The club was really close from there, so the first thing he did was to invite us for some beer. His name was Adeyi, and from the moment we met him, our luck completely changed!
While we were drinking our beer and enjoying our afternoon with the members of the club, the phone rang. We had found a place to stay. Rebecca, an American couchsurfer who lives and works in Abuja had seen Steven’s message and agreed to host us. Adeyi and the other members of thee motorcycle club not only paid for the beers we drank, but they also found us a hotel to stay for the night (as Rebecca would host us from the next day and on) and paid an amount for our stay in that hotel! Great guys! As for Rebecca and Charles, they were really great also! They offered us a place to stay for as long as we needed and they were really kind to us!
As we always do in every big city, the days we spent here were days of relaxation with no riding at all, nor eating rice. We also spent hours doing nothing but watching TV, enjoying cold drinks and doing some excessive laundry! The only serious job we had to do was to prepare our visas for Cameroon and for Zambia. The visa for Cameroon was easy to acquire (only 2 work days and 15euros, probably stolen by a lady – bitch – at the embassy that we realized only when it was too late!). As for the visa for Zambia, I wouldn’t like to make any comments…I only attach you a photo of the paper given to us at the embassy, to see everything they asked us for the visa…We just threw it away and left.
The visa requirments for Zambia, all written here
We threw it away and left
On the way to the embassies
Newspaper kiosk in Abuja
On the way to the embassies
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Abacha or Mogadishu Barracks in Abuja. A popular destination for the weekend
The ideal taxi for the city center
Our next trip should be by one of these tiny kekes (tricycles)
Entering the chaos
One week of relaxation was enough (of course, one more week wouldn’t be bad at all!). We still had a long distance to cover and not too much time (due to the visas that were to expire), so we were on the road again. The people as we left the capital changed a bit. They were still friendly but not with those real, wide smiles on their faces. They didn’t greet us or talk to us as we were driving (the children were always an exception to this rule) and now, we usually came across with angry policemen as the situation in the south of the country was a bit tense for the last few months. Policemen would stop us every few meters and we had to explain them again and again that we are tourists just crossing the country and trying to agree in everything they said, keeping calm and polite even if they had to open our luggage to check it in every opportunity.
In one occasion when we had been stopped by the police, one of the cops, apart from everything else, wanted to talk about religion. Oh, those religions…
“What is your religion?”, he asked Steven in a very angry way.
“I don’t believe in any religion!”, Steven replied.
“How can this be possible?!”, the policeman shouted really furious, and continued towards me: “What about you?”, he asked.
“Err, I have been baptized as a christian…”, I replied and saw that he was more calm now. So I told Steven that maybe he could say that he is also a christian, to avoid the troubles. But Steven wouldn’t give up that easily!
“No way! From the one side they pretend to be good christians and from the other they ask us for a bribe! No way, even if we have to stay here until tomorrow!”
Of course I agreed with everything Steven told me, but the place and time, probably weren’t the most suitable for that kind of conversation. The second time the police stopped us was worse! There, after we had stopped in the side of the road, one of the policemen (the older one in age and probably of the higher rank), ran to his car and grabbed his gun! It was not a small gun! It resembled those guns we see in Hollywood films in the hands of Rambo! He armed it and pointing towards us, he started mumbling things in English, but we couldn’t understand a word! He took our passports, our driving licenses and every document we had and went towards his car again. From what we could understand, his intention was to take us to the police station. All the other policemen were trying to calm us down and that moment, Steven told me that I should be very careful as he had realized that the policeman’s braeth was smelling alcohol…he was probably completely drunk! I was waiting on my vespa with the engine off, but when he saw that, he raised his gun again, pointed it towards me and started yelling:
“Get off that bike NOW or I’ll shoot you!”
It was a miracle that we escaped from that situation. The other policemen probably told him something and convinced him to let us go…However, even our last night in Nigeria, a few kilometers before we enter Cameroon, was not that peaceful. We had just settled in our room in a hotel we found and we were ready to go out to eat something and drink a beer. Before we even opened the door, the room was full of policemen (15 policemen!) who had come to take us after the owner’s phone call, because he had assumed that we are terrorists! After they checked everything (us and our stuff), they told us that we have to follow them for our own safety! They also told us that we’d better take our stuff with us too, because in that hotel we wouldn’t be safe. Without being able to do anything else, we had to believe them and at 21.00 we picked our stuff and left the hotel on a Hilux police vehicle. They took us to 2 different police stations, where we went through 2 “interrogations” and after approximately 4 hours they let us go back to our hotel. That was strange! Steven was sure that the problem was my long beard!
What I will always remember and which I will always say to anyone who asks me about Nigeria, are the “love-attacks”! The “love-attacks” from everyday people and from all the children we met, especially in the northern part of the country and far from the big cities. The people in the remote places far from the “developed” world, far from the internet, the mobile phones and from every kind of comfort that have turned us into distant, detached and cold human beings!
One more “love-attack” from the everyday people of Nigeria!
One of the Nigerian policemen who made us unpack all our stuff to check them
The car on which we were taken to 2 different police stations in the middle of the night
Please let us go, I need some sleep!
To be continued…