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Published: July 18th 2012
We had packed everything up and were on the truck before the rain became heavy, waving goodbye to villagers who came out to see us off. Back onto the main road, most people settled in to sleep, read or watch the world go by and it was quiet. We arrived in Osogbo after midday where trip notes gave us directions to 'Okonfo's house'. With nothing else mentioned, we had no idea who - or what - Okonfo was so at the bottom of the street, Toby took off on a moto-taxi to investigate. Returning with a thumbs up, we navigated the narrow path with deep crevices and low wires and coming over a final crest, arrived at Okonfo's house.
What a character. Okonfo is of indeterminate age with an abundance of energy. A short, stout man with an open smiling face and truly one of a kind clothing, he invited us to make his home our home Both son and grandson of a chief, he inherited acreage that stretches to the next town and has turned his personal space into one I know many a child would have fun exploring. In the driveway sits a broken
I was really confused seeing all the trucks saying inflammable rather than flammable like we would!
down 4x4 that he travelled Africa in and is covered in stickers from previous visitors. A large round hall acts as an auditorium for the many performances he stages as head of a music and dance school. Artifacts collected dust all around the room with bench seating and a pool table vying for space while paintings, articles and awards adorn the walls. Through the door on the opposite side we exited and followed him through the overgrown garden to the toilet block and a variety of sculptures, including one of his 'beloved' late wife. A rusting swing appealed to Toby but we only allowed him thirty seconds or so until the squeaking noise became too much for us! Around the back to a well with a bucket made from an old tyre and out onto the street where a small shop is run by his wife.
After a tour of the grand empty space upstairs in the main house, some chose to pitch their tents in the large room while the rest used the space in the auditorium in a bid to keep them out of the rain. And then it was time to deal with the empty stomachs. Moto-taxis
that had turned up took two each and a minivan was called for the rest of us. Upon arrival we asked for directions to a restaurant and we were pointed down the street with the idea that it wasn't that far away. What felt like ages later, we arrived at Captain Cook's chain restaurant and although it wasn't flash, we had some food and felt better.
Rhys, Talbot, Toby and I took off for the markets and negotiated prices back to Okonfo's. He'd been right: everyone knew him and where he lived. As we neared the house we could see a few of the others watching a music and dance performance, Okonfo himself off to the side dancing to the beat of the drums and cowbell. Having watched Will Ferrell's 'More Cowbell' in Morocco, we've since found many a time to say 'I think we need more cowbell' and this time was just perfect!
The dancing continued even after it began to drizzle even though we asked if they wanted to stop or move indoors. Once it started raining harder though, the group dispersed and we began preparing dinner literally on his front doorstep, under the shelter of an upstairs
balcony. Mother Hen with her little chicks huddled beneath her wings watched us silently as we fussed about, swearing when the electricity went out. Not to worry! Two of our three little helpers (Okonfo's children) scampered off and reappeared with torches for us.
It must've been around this time that I realised we needed another pot from the truck. Taking the key from Rhys (each group has a key between them for the majority of lockers), I squelched my way through the mud with my rain jacket on and after taking the pot out, I somehow managed to drop the locker door on my face. I saw stars. I'm not sure how long I stood there but eventually made it back to the house where Rhys found me with blood on my face. The rest of the evening is a bit of a blur. My tent was put up by the others and having taken painkillers and an anti-inflammatory, I crawled in and spent a restless night feeling sorry for myself...
Having a swollen nose and puffy eyes is never going to be an attractive look. Yesterday morning I checked in with Suse who
again confirmed that nothing was broken (it was seriously painful) and after eating as much as I could muster, I took more pills and went to lie down. People went to the Sacred Forest and into town but I spent the day at Okonfo's resting.
Today we were on the road heading towards Calabar. Our gracious hosts bid us farewell with drumming that followed us down the street - literally! I spent most of it trying to sleep off my headache but that depended on road conditions . We found a free camp far enough off the road to be unseen and set up tents in the red mud.
We continued towards Calabar and not far from where we camped, we crossed the Niger River. It seemed to be market day all over the country as towns were busy with people going about their day. Crawling along, leaving a gap between us and the trucks in front, another truck came flying out of a lot to our right side, careening onto the road ahead of us, followed by scores of people yelling. We were a bit alarmed and not sure what to make of
things as the crowd swelled in seconds. At first I thought that maybe the driver had done something wrong as people were using the 'emergency brakes', sliding chunks of wood around the tyres so the truck can't move but it turned out that the brakes had failed. It could've been a very different story if we'd been going a little faster... I sat watching the world go by my window and dozed. I'm unable to read books on the truck without feeling nauseous but am using my iPod more than ever and am usually content just to stare out the window and listen to music.
It was another free camp this evening, camping near a pond so all night, choruses of frogs sang to us. Not a bad way to fall asleep!
We've finally arrived in Calabar! Such a lovely neat city! Following the same trip notes again got us lost so we again organised to follow a taxi driver who led us there with ease. Now, we'd been a heads up that Paradise City Hotel was anything but paradise yet we were still amazed at the sight. It looked like something out of a
horror film with what should've been white walls crumbling and cracked, fly screens torn and hanging and only one letter advertising the hotel was lit up on the top of the building. We were camping in the car park out the back and were given a room key for the bathroom which looked like it hadn't been cleaned in years. You had to laugh. But the staff told a few others that 30 years ago it was an amazing place with a small zoo, nightclub, bar and flash rooms and when the owner died, his sons let it fall into disrepair. Such a shame.
Suse jumped straight into the taxi that had led us here and headed for the Cameroon embassy, the reason we'd come here. She hasn't been well for a couple days now and today started looking dreadful and we were all a little concerned. None of us know ourselves as well as Suse knows herself but still... She returned not long after announcing that not only was it going to be easy, but that a man would prepare the forms and drop them to us shortly. And when he did, we saw that he'd already filled in
the information required from the passenger list Suse left him! We were generous with our praise and he collected the forms and passports and promised to return within two hours with the visas!
Lunch time was an awful pizza, made with sweet dough that hadn't been fully cooked but we choked it down just so we didn't waste money, which for me is silly. If I'm going to eat wheat, I should be enjoying it. Afterwards, we went to the small supermarket for a look and Nico and I wandered back to a frozen meat shop that had advertised bacon. Luckily for us, it was in stock! It was a bit pricey but we bought a packet each and planned to have it for breakfast. Num, num, num!
An evening walk took us along the main road to an amazing supermarket (yes, those pesky supermarkets, taking our money for things we probably wouldn't even eat if we saw them every day!) and to the ATM where most people learnt that their card wasn't smart. Nigerian ATMs and stores require a chip and PIN number and upon entering the card in the machine received the message 'card, not smart' on the
screen. Amusing, were it not for the fact that people needed money!
I'd been in the middle of a dream when rain woke me during the night and I was confused to see Denise pulling my rain cover on as she'd been in my dream!
Nico and I waited until everyone else had finished breakfast and cooked the bacon and fried eggs. Served with a tin of baked beans I had under my seat, it was heaven on a plate and a great start to the day.
Suse spent the day resting and the majority of us went to check out the Drill monkey sanctuary. Flagging down two taxis, the first said he knew where it was and named his price. Thankfully, the second one also knew where it was and pointed to a water tower sitting a street back from where we were standing and told us to walk there! Not even ten minutes later we were at the gate being greeted by Isaac and introduced to three chimps. Although their main goal is a breeding program for Pandrill monkeys (for which they're the best in the world), they also take in rescued animals.
They won't buy them from poachers but sometimes other people do and then contact the organisation for them to collect them, or the police will bring them animals that have been confiscated. Chimps, African grey parrots, baby crocs and three types of antelope are all currently housed there. Their other sanctuary in the Afi mountains is where we would be staying after Calabar and with more space in natural surroundings, the chimps would eventually be moved there when they're older. Already they test the enclosure daily, using water or urine on leaves that are thrown at the electric fence! They've also learnt that touching two of the wires together will short circuit the fence and staff have had to bribe them back in with treats! The juvenile male seemed to take an instant dislike to us, picking up handfuls of dirt and bark and flinging it at us, walking upright and slapping the ground and concrete walls. Eventually we gave up trying to make friends and moved onto the drills (pandrills). Spending their days on the ground and only moving to higher ground to sleep, the large group were busy foraging and grooming while infants ran around playing and tumbling.
The alpha male is easily noticeable by his colourful bum which is brighter than all others. If his leadership is contested and he loses, his colours will begin to fade within hours and the new alpha's colours will become brighter! There had been a fight amongst this family and the alpha had been blinded by his opponent who then handed power over to another male. The blinded male was now housed separately with a younger companion. The staff feed the group every two hours to avoid too much conflict and to simulate their natural behaviour and we sat and watched as they ate their way through handfuls of cassava.
Planning to return tomorrow, we only stayed a short time and after thanking the staff, Denise and I decided to check out the waterfront where Toni and Talbot had left for earlier. Attempting to ask a few taxi drivers (drivers will slow as you shout in the window and then decide whether to stop for you or continue on their way), no one would stop so we asked a vendor what we should be saying and how much it would cost. Armed with that information we flagged down a taxi no
problem but couldn't agree on the price. He was nice though and said it wasn't close and we could reconsider when we arrived. Of course, he was right but we weren't where we thought we were heading. Instead of a waterfront with coffee shops and restaurants (okay, so I was thinking of Melbourne), we ended up in an industrial park with studios and a King Kong holding a Hollywood sign, a water park (with waterslides!) and a large exhibition-type space with four or five stores of no interest to us. The other side of a walkway was full of what we think we new secondhand clothes. Rarely was there more than one of each item and prices were in American dollars. Denise picked some stuff up while I picked up yet another marriage proposal (they're coming thick and fast for all of us!) and we left, needing to go back in time to shop at the market for dinner. Picking up Rhys and Talbot, it was a short walk to the somewhat hidden market. We'd decided to see how much meat would cost and make a chilli but I wasn't expecting it to be possible.
And really, it shouldn't have
been. But a lovely woman named Esther took pity on the four lost-looking foreigners and offered her assistance. She took us to her sister's stall who was selling meat but 2.5kg of meat cost 2,500 naira and with a budget of 3,000, there was no way we could afford it. We explained our situation and the two women spoke in a local dialect, deciding to offer it to us for 1,500 naira. I still wasn't convinced it was enough meat or that we'd have enough money for everything else but I was overruled and we took the chunk of meat and followed Esther to get it minced.
The noise that greeted my ears was almost unbearable and we were only there maybe ten minutes. Machines minced, grinded and chopped everything from grains and nuts to meat and running on generators, the noise combined with the smell of petrol made me wonder if these guys were sane. The man Esther approached agreed for a small fee and washed the machine and then the meat before chopping it into chunks and putting it in, using a wooden pestle to push it through. Once done, Esther asked us what else we needed and
led the way, stopping to check prices and always added a few more to our bag. She was a great help and with a shake of hands and smile, she vanished into the crowd without asking for anything from us.
Dinner was lovely but we didn't really have enough for the big eaters in the group. Everyone was fine, happy to have had meat (and mashed potatoes!) but we felt bad.
The football was showing on a television outside some shops so we walked down to watch Portugal beat Czech Republic and made it back to the tents before the heavens opened.
Suse found out this morning she had cholera and typhoid which is why she was feeling so rotten. The medication for the cholera is strong and made her feel terrible, needing to have food to take it but bringing it almost straight back up. Poor thing. We made sure she was comfortable and headed back to sanctuary where we met a different guy. A group of young school children were visiting and one teacher asked if I would pose in a photo with them. I'd assumed they meant all of us but no,
It started raining and we decided to head off for lunch, agreeing to return for a couple drinks this evening with the staff. A Chinese restaurant we'd spied earlier was decided upon and the food was amazing but unbelievably spicy. I drank so much water (I know, water doesn't help) and had tears streaming down my face. Eventually I just had to give up!
While dinner was being prepared, the rest of us set out chairs and watched the phenomenal lightning display. Rain began as dinner was served and then steadily became heavier and Nico and I debated about whether to go to the sanctuary. In the end we did and I'm glad because they'd assumed we wouldn't come because of the weather. We met a guy from a sanctuary in Cameroon and it was lovely to sit and talk to people about their countries and views. It was a great night.
We'd been planning to leave yesterday but Suse needed to give herself another day to rest. And apart from lunch and a bit of a walk, we lazed about also, the day ending with another lightning display and rain.
This morning we left at 08:30 for Afi Mountains. Puddles gathered along saturated roads while the overcast sky threatened even more rain. I spent the majority of the day trying to sleep until our lunch stop in Ikom. A delicious lunch with 2 minute noodles, onion, tomato, green bits and two eggs mixed together and fried was a brilliant find and the envy of those who missed out. We picked up food items and water for the next day and drove the last few miles to the turnoff for the sanctuary.
But the truck was unable to get up roads because of mud and as Suse put the truck into reverse, it stopped altogether. Again, the petrol filter needed changing and thankfully the most traffic we saw was motorbikes as cars would've been unable to pass on the narrow path.
Reversing the mile or so back to the main road, we waited for a motorbike willing to drive us to the sanctuary as there was no mobile phone reception to contact them. Being unable to do that, we drove to the next village and borrowed a phone to call them. It was decided that we'd free camp for the
evening and staff would pick us up early in the morning for a day trip instead. Finding a suitable place on the edge of a side road, we set up tents in the sparse grassy area on both sides of the road and watched as the sky darkened and lightning began to light up the surrounding trees.
Not long after we'd finished dinner and packed everything away, we had a visit from a king! Seemingly a real one too as the number plate on his 4x4 also proclaimed this fact. Faced with Maria and I, he seemed unsure how to proceed until Rhys and Toni came out of the shadows (Toni proving to be a firm favourite) and I could excuse myself to brush teeth before the rain kicked in. The weather in Nigeria has been perfect (well okay, maybe not for driving conditions) with hot sunny days and cool wet nights, the rain lulling me to sleep...
This morning I woke up to find I was covered in red spots, the result of some sort of bug bite that thankfully isn't itchy. Yet. The bugs went one step further and attacked what must've been
exposed skin between the top of my pants and t-shirt which Justice spotted while I was organising my stuff on the truck. Awesome.
We drove the half an hour back to the turn off to the sanctuary and waited, comparing bug bites and lamenting about how we looked. When the 4x4 came to pick us up, Denise chose the front between the driver and his co-pilot and the other thirteen of us positioned ourselves on the back, reminiscent of Casablanca but without the added safety of bars. Waving goodbye to Suse who stayed with the truck, we took off up the muddy roads that prevented us from travelling up the day before. And we saw quite quickly that it had been a wise decision to turn back. The 4x4 struggled, coasting down the steep rocky road and then slowly climbing its way up again. It would've taken us hours.
12.5 km later we turned one final time and arrived at the sanctuary, having driven through some beautiful dense jungle. Vines hung from trees that stretched high into the sky, their massive trunks lost in the thick below. Photos wouldn't have done them justice - nor were they really possible while
you're trying to hold on! - so they were enjoyed without distraction.
The director greeted us and we were soon following our guide through the trees to see the drill monkeys. Group 2 are in an enclosure several acres big and a handful appeared when they heard us, instantly heading for the guide who was carrying bananas. Again, it was easy to spot the alpha male who took his time wandering over, knowing he would not be challenged for food. He quickly ate one, biting it in half and eating it skin and all but paused to peel the second one.
We followed the enclosure and the monkeys followed us until they realised there were no more bananas for them and they lost interest. A short walk along a path through the forest led us to the chimps where maybe eight or nine put in an appearance with many more heard screeching deep in their enclosure. One of the males that came to see us was Pedro, a chimp from Sierra Leone. Lighter in colour to the others (almost grey), he walked with a slightly awkward gait due to a bout of malaria. I don't think any of us realised
they could contract malaria. Jackie amused us with her antics, doing push ups and making faces but unlike the drills, we weren't allowed too close. Even the keepers who had handed the bananas to the drills would only throw them through the fence to the chimps. A healthy respect for a strong animal.
We stopped back at the base for lunch, relaxing in reclining chairs before most of us left for the canopy walk. We weren't able to go the entire way as one walkway was damaged so we turned back and continued on solid ground to the waterfall.
Cascading down large rocks, it was a beautiful spot and half the group jumped in. Fighting the pressure of the water, two people could fit behind the falls and much fun was had by all, sliding down the rocks as if on a waterslide and swimming in the clear water.
On the drive back to the truck, I decided to stand rather than sit, thinking it would be easier. It wasn't really but it gave me a chance to video sections of the trip and see what was up ahead. Again we free camped at the same place as the night
Tomorrow we're hitting the Cameroon border, followed by an 80km stretch of road that we've heard so much about. Potholes the size of trucks, mud if it's wet (which we're expecting it to be given the last few days) and God knows what else. Trucks tip frequently and the last overland truck to go through was stuck for eight days. Enough water and food for several days are on everyone's To Do list for tomorrows stop in town as well as having old clothes and proper shoes handy. Only owning one pair of pants (and my leggings which now classify as dressy) means I'll be shopping for cook group tomorrow night and looking for a pair of pants at the same time. And we're all already praying that the noodle omelette man is there. Oh as well as praying for good road conditions, of course...
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