Quick trot through Togo and Benin

Early Monday morning and we are already on the road heading back for Accra, planning to hook up early with the boys at Big Milly’s. Jenny is playing up and we hope to have someone take a quick look at her.

JW and Ludwig are updating their website today and need some time, so basically they are not ready to go today but that suits us. You should check out their site as they are better at updating photos and there are some of us on there. You can find them at http://www.geocities.com/bokwa.

In the meantime we hunt out a Land Rover garage and ask the guy there to give Jenny the once over as she looses power when we pull away. Now this garage inspires confidence simply by the fact that there are many Land Rovers on the lot and that they are mostly in the process of being completely restored. The finished ones are stunning and we joke about swapping one for Jenny. Anyway the guy seems to know what he is talking about and says that the work will be done by six so we agree to have some work done. He says there is a problem with the engine compression and he needs to replace the piston rings. Well Simon goes off to get some money and they crack on and have the engine out by the time he gets back.

And so the day passes with Simon watching them tear Jenny apart and I continue the seemingly never ending task of removing my braids. Commandeering an empty land rover I watch time pass and begin to realise with the setting sun that they will not finish today. So we get a taxi to Ryan’s to update the boys on our progress, on the way our taxi breaks down and so the taxi driver puts us in another one, pays the rest of the fare just so we have to pay him his part. Guess he didn’t want a broken car and no fare. The boys are not at Ryan’s so we go for Nando’s for ˝ chicken each, well that was definitely no West African chicken (small, scrawny) so we were decidedly stuffed after the meal. Back at Ryan’s we find out that JW is still emailing so we are not keeping them at the moment. So since the engine is still in pieces and on the floor we put up our tent in the middle of the mechanics yard and go to sleep. We are not the only ones there as most of the mechanics stay there, some on the roof of another land rover others in cars. It’s a good way to make sure you are at work on time.

Yep it is a real good way especially if you start work at 6 in the morning. So to the sound of sweeping and general tiding up we awoke for day 2 of this saga. 6:50 and they are at work again, I am off to do some emailing and updating the boys while Simon stays to keep an eye on Jenny. It’s a bit of a nothing day really, just hanging out and waiting and yes undoing my braids. Simon finally arrives at 6pm with a big smile on his face so the car is going well then. Quick trip to the supermarket where we make an excellent discovery, boreworse! And not just any boreworse, genuine ostrich boreworse directly from SA. So into our now working fridge it goes and we join the boys for pizza. Tomorrow we leave Accra and head for Togo, Benin and by the end of the week Nigeria. We are all a little nervous about Nigeria but fortunately I have a contact there, two doctors I worked with in London are Nigerian. When they heard I was going there they insisted I stay with their family. So we are staying at their house with their cousin named Rotimi. I have been in contact with him and have instructions on how to meet up with when we arrive in Lagos so should be okay.

Wednesday and we are finally on the road, first stop Akosombo dam, this dams the blue and white Volta, the two major rivers of Ghana. We stop along the way to find out that the war may be over with the Americans in Baghdad; this is good because we have more Muslim countries to travel through and don’t want trouble. At the Volta hotel we have a good point of view and can see the entire wall, it is not very big. You can go for trips on the dam but only on Saturdays and we just ran out of time. I would like to come back to Ghana as there is still so much to see. The Ghanaians are just great and so is there country. This rivals my choice of Morocco as the country I would like to visit again. Passing through Ho and Klouto we enter Togo, now Simon usually deals with the border posts while I stay in Jenny. This is because we do not trust border posts and generally do not want to leave the car unattended. Well he always complains that he has the hard bit to do and I tell him he is exaggerating so I got to do Togo. Piece of cake, don’t know what the boy is complaining about and it was in French too – no the fact that Ludwig got there first and had done all the talking had nothing to with it.

Togo is very green and lush and the people seem friendly enough, their idea of showing you the way is driving ahead on their moped and showing you the way through town. So we sped our way through Togo – you have to pick your countries, some you just have to go through quickly – initially we planned to stop in Kpalime but got there so quickly that we carried on to Lome where we hit some home time traffic but not too bad. That night we stayed at Chez Alice run by a Swiss lady who has taught her staff German so Ludwig could step in and sort out things for us. So bucket showers all round and out comes the Cadac compliments of JW. Dinner was boereworse with fried onions on bread rolls, wonderful. Now for the uninitiated a Cadac is a gas braai (barbeque) useful for those times when you cannot make the genuine thing. We had boereworse and the only way to do it is on a fire or on a Cadac, Simon is converted now and would like one for his birthday. Well I don’t think I will be able to swing it as on the 10th June we will be somewhere in Tanzania of Malawi so he will have to wait until we get to SA.

No rush on Thursday and we take our time but still get to the border early so we find ourselves in the birthplace of Voodoo, Benin. We had small bother from some idiots under a tree demanding money but Simon put them straight, the police and customs were no problem. It is definitely getting easier as we go on, that or we are getting better at it. After Hilakondjie (border town) we headed for Ouidah to see the old Portuguese fort that is now a museum to slaves and their movement to Brazil and Haiti taking Voodoo with them. Well it was closed for lunch and we decided not to wait, we have decided to get going to Nigeria hoping to arrive on Friday and hand in our Cameroon visa applications. We travel along the coast line; there are great fishing villages all along the road with masses of palm trees, blue green ocean and wispy thatching. In Cotonou we divert to Ganvie a village built on stilts in the middle of a lake. They moved there to avoid war with a neighbouring tribe whose warriors would not go in or on water. So they figured that by living in the middle of the lake they could have peace. We only saw it through binoculars as it was late already and they wanted too much money to take us there by boat. Want to see the village have to pay the ferry man, the special tourist ferry man. So back to Cotonou with the clouds gathering and toward Nigeria. It is late and we are really close to the border on a main road with no where to bush camp so we pull into a motel and convince them to let us camp there, not normal practice but since they have no other customers they let us. Now in Togo we changed all our Cedi (Ghana) to CFA (West African Franc) and since we do not want to change any more of our dollars we agree to share what we have. Togo and Benin are the last countries we can use the CFA and so we have to get rid of them. It works out really well, we have just enough between us for camping, dinner and a coke each.

Friday morning and it is raining, we pack up to go but before we get there it comes belting down, tropical thunderstorm style. Slow going on the road, we can hardly see through the downpour then it gets dark as the black clouds came down low. And then we are at the border, now with all the horror stories we have heard we do not know what to expect. So in the rain the boys rush in and get us checked out of Benin now Nigeria. They are not happy with just Simon and JW doing the paper work and insist on seeing all of us, we have to wait a while but then get called through to the head chaps office. We know he is the head chap what with everyone jumping to attention and saluting him. He sits us down and starts to ask questions, who are we, why are we coming to Nigeria, who are these people we will be staying with, how do we know them and do they know we are coming, have we been in contact with them recently, spoken to them personally. Well this may sound like he does not want us in the country but turns out he is really concerned about us and just wants to make sure we will be okay. He lets us go after telling us repeatedly to be safe, to be careful and not to trust strangers. And that ladies and gentlemen, was the police. Then onto customs and we bring the cars round, it has stopped raining and a man in uniform tells us where to park. He turns out to be from the quarantine department and searches the car. In ours he finds an open packet of lentils –that well known lethal substance – and bananas in the other car. Well now we are guilty of some protocol breech and so Simon and JW get taken into a little room, this is where Simon will take over to relate the story….

Well, having found bananas in JW’s car and lentils in ours was quite a big problem. The quarantine officer and his counterpart explained that they had various procedures that needed to be followed when importing this sort of materials – all very time consuming and tedious – so they were wondering what we would suggest. Well our first suggestion was that we were in no hurry and that we understood the importance of following procedure so we should start up the paperwork. They insisted they really didn’t want to hold us up so was there any other options? “Well, how about if we eat the bananas and leave the lentils behind for destroying or testing?”

Having gone around in circles for a while – knowing full well they wanted a “dash” (bribe) – I produced our carnet and changed the subject… “Before we do anything else we need to get our paperwork stamped, can you do this or is it another department?” Well either this confused them or they just gave up on us as they actually opened the door for us and pointed us in the right direction. So, back to Nicole…

Then customs and it does not go easily but easier than we imagined, finally they finish with us and let us go, we have been there for a long time but have managed to avoid paying any dash (gift of money). We were asked a few times what we brought for them but with smiles and laughs we said we had nothing. Relief to be away and off we go, well for a 100m at least. Then it started, men in uniform with clubs, guns and sticks with nails sticking out. Every five meters a different group, all stop you, question you, check your papers and then send you on. They are menacing and intimidating but we manage to get through without paying, good thing as we have no Naira (currency). We must go through 15 of these stops within sight of the border, then open road and time is moving and we need to get a move on with 90km to go to Lagos. So 90km in Jenny is about an hours drive, that is in a normal country but Nigeria is not normal. No, they have to have police checks every couple of km and then sometimes two different groups a few meters apart. You have to stop for every one and answer their questions only then can you go, sometimes two ‘officers’ from the same group will stop you. One says you can go and then the next one stops you to have a word. We are asked all sorts of things and just remain polite and friendly and no we did not bring you anything today Sir, terribly sorry Sir. So many hours later and we finally hit Lagos the only good thing is we managed not to part with a penny.

Lagos, oh boy this is hard as I do not posses the vocabulary to accurately describe it. There is no place like it and nothing will prepare you for it. The traffic is out of this world, varying from 4 to 1 lane depending on the state of the roads. As for road decorum, forget it. The one who cares least about his car will get ahead, literally bumper to bumper, pushing in, bumping from behind (JW not us so that his number plate was dented in). Lane changes are not indicated and horns are used to say watch out I’m coming, get out of my way, I am going to ram you. Then the drivers shout at you if you are too slow, refuse to let them push in or just because. The taxis are lethal and do not care for anything else but to get ahead to load and offload. The state of the roads are appalling with filth piled high on the sides, sludge everywhere and potholes you can sink a car in filled with rain water from earlier today. But it is the way that people stare at you, like you are scum, whenever you make a mistake that really gets to you. There is no comprehension that you are so obviously a visitor and no allowances for it either. In conclusion, driving in Lagos is a very, very bad idea and the fact that there are no road signs does not exactly help with navigation.

Finally we found a road sign and phoned Rotimi only to find out that we had totally missed the airport and were closer to his home. So we carried on to there after hiring a motorbike taxi to show us the way. We had left the border at about 10:30 and met up with Rotimi at 04:30 having covered about 110 km. We had not had anything to eat all day and it was four tired but hugely relieved people that greeted Rotimi. From there on it got good, very good. The Nigerian idea of hospitality is that your guest must feel like one of the family and want for nothing. From then on Rotimi took charge starting off with paying for our taxi guide and then taking us to the house. We were asked at one police check if we were here for the election, it was only then that we found out about it, last we had heard that it was to be postponed. In Nigeria that means that no one is to go out, everyone has to stay at home, you can only go and vote. This presents no problem for our host who know exactly what to do with us; for starters we were sat down in an air-conditioned room and given ice cold drinks. Later dinner and video then bed. Most of the kids are out the house now so there was loads of space for us.

Saturday morning breakfast was spectacular with fresh fruit, cereal and sweet bread. Then videos, well what else is there to do when it is raining and you are not allowed to leave the house. Then Sunday we left the house early to go see a pastor called TB Joshua who has a healing ministry so we went to check him out. We got there by 8 and were taken in; the place is huge but is one of many huge churches in Nigeria. Everywhere you look are advertising boards for the different churches, it appears that Nigeria is a very religious, notably Christian in the South, country. Anyway Rotimi is catholic and went to mass arranging to collect us at 11. Inside the church there were quite a few people with others queuing to come in. Then later the service started but it was a bit disorientating as you could not see who was talking, the building is still being built and the stage is not completed so there is nothing to look at and you must just sit and listen. Finally TB Joshua came out to preach, unfortunately this was at 10:30 and we had to leave soon after. So we did not see anything but he comes across well and I was sorry to have to leave. Then we were taken on a tour of friends and family. Firstly to Rotimi’s Mum for brunch then onto friends to drinks and just to visit. Finally we were taken on a tour of Lagos, this only possible when the driver knows the roads and on a Sunday when it is quieter.

Coming into Lagos was overwhelming and not something I would ever do again, having Nigerians to take care of you is a blessing and I would like to say thank you to Rotimi for being a great host and taking good care of us. Well time to go to sleep now for tomorrow we hit the embassies.

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