NIGERIA - WHAT YOU COULD DO IN 6 WEEKS IF YOU WERE BROKEN DOWN


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Africa » Nigeria » Yankari
January 28th 2008
Published: March 31st 2008
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Public transport - again!Public transport - again!Public transport - again!

This time in the back of a minivan with the two rear rows of seats removed.
Referring to the title - well, you could first of all get yourself and your mode of transportation to somewhere in Nigeria where you can fix it.....lets try the capital city of Abuja.

After spending the night in Ekom I got up on my Birthday before 5am and walked to the bus/taxi stop (they call them Parks here, i.e. Taxi Park) to organise transport to Abuja, the capital of Nigeria. Still with no internet access that was our best guess as to where they might have parts or at least parts could be sent to us. Some taxi drivers suggested that I put the motorbike on the roof of their taxi, "It won't damage it. This roof holds 500kg!" Well, I wasn't going to put money on that one so decided on the next best option which was to slot the bike into the back of a minivan. Painful as it still is, we had to pay for the back two rows of seats (they fit at least four people to each row in Nigeria apparently) which the motorbike took up and ourselves sitting up front.

I find the Nigerian people interesting - it's just the money factor (that
Birthday fun!Birthday fun!Birthday fun!

Anything to get us there faster! I removed what was left of this tyre while the driver hitch-hiked to the nearest town searching for a new one. Of course he didn't carry a spare!
they want to overcharge you for everything) you have to get over first, then underneath they are very warm and welcoming. Of course this demands some serious bargaining before getting to know them. Even amongst themselves they seem to argue over everything and try to rip each other off. When we were loading the bike into the van the different drivers were arguing between themselves about who should drive us and used obscure expressions like, "I'll put my eye on you!" Then to reply, "Take your eye off me!" Another guy "You're the Devil!"
A.K, the minivan driver who did end up winning the argument of who was going to transport the motorbike, made sure his trip to Abuja wouldn't be wasted so piled as many people and goods into the van as never thought possible. That was all good until we got our first blow-out….stupid A.K hadn't brought a spare tyre, not to mention a jack! Eventually we made it to Abuja around 11pm having passed unbelievable amounts of vehicle carnage along the way and turned into the car park of the Abuja Sheraton Hotel and Towers - our home for the unforeseen four upcoming weeks!

It's not
Preparing lunch in Makurdi, Nigeria.Preparing lunch in Makurdi, Nigeria.Preparing lunch in Makurdi, Nigeria.

The boy is boiling up Yams which are a staple food source in Nigeria.
quite as glamorous as it sounds when I say we are staying at the Sheraton….we're camping out the back for free in the car park next to the Sheraton Hotel water heating system. It's a constant loud droning noise which we like to think of as a waterfall. All the staff are super friendly which has been great - especially when Gwen fell down with Malaria again the day after we arrived! So, if any of you have been reading my previous blogs you'll know that we've played this waiting game for spare parts before…thank God there's an awesome pool and hot showers in the Squash courts here. Can't forget to mention the Lounge on the 8th floor that we seem to frequent when I change out of my holey T-shirt! We've also made friends with the Abuja Sheraton's Assistant General Manager, Chris, who has been a fantastic host - there's definitely no way we could be enjoying the restaurants and bars on offer if it wasn't for him, not to mention the free night in a room - me repairing his motorbike back into life probably helped a bit.
It hasn't been all fun in the constant 35-40 degree sun though; I've spent my fair share of time pulling the motorbike engine to pieces to replace the water pump and to arrange spare parts to be ordered and sent to us etc. I found a BMW auto garage Coscharis Motors - they no longer dealt with motorbikes - who were very friendly and lent space in their workshop for me to work on our bike.

The one month we actually stayed in Abuja sorting out the motorbike problem was thankfully punctuated by good nights out with Chris meeting some of his friends and acquaintances - which led to an invite from the Serbian ambassador to celebrate Serbia's National Day with him - and a trip up north to Kano, which, according to the Lonely Planet guidebook is the oldest surviving city in West Africa founded around 1400 years ago.
Like most trips we've had in Africa it's the getting there and away that holds the most interesting stories....to and from Kano was no exception!
On the way north the minivan taxi trip was running smoothly until I mentioned the fact that it was. One minute later our van pulled into a local Police Station for what turned out
Our Sheraton Hotel campsiteOur Sheraton Hotel campsiteOur Sheraton Hotel campsite

We upgraded our campsite off the carpark after 3 weeks to a shady spot once we realised we were going to be there for the longhaul.
to be a surprisingly thorough mega-search. What I hadn't understood (my Hausa language is very limited) from the previous mass discussion in the van was that one guy accused us other passengers of stealing his money, 70,000 Naira or nearly US$600! Hence the Police Station. The local Police were really good to us and made an extra point of explaining why and what they were doing. The whole ordeal took one and a half hours which included me and Gwen being led out to a back room by who must have been the chief (he just wore full African dress) for extra interrogation, "Do you have any ideas of how we can resolve this?" he asked - meaning a bribe - "No, I don't have any ideas of how we can resolve this!" I said. They made a point of not searching us or our luggage - possibly having been told from someone up above to not hassle tourists with the upcoming 2010 Commonwealth games bid for Abuja - and finished the search by translating to us from Hausa saying "If someone has stolen this man's money then God will punish that man. Or if this man has lost his
National Mosque of Nigeria, Abuja, Nigeria.National Mosque of Nigeria, Abuja, Nigeria.National Mosque of Nigeria, Abuja, Nigeria.

One of Abuja's stand-outs and a great landmark!
money or it has fallen out of his pocket, then may God open up a new path for him." Quite different from how I imagine Police searches go back home!

Kano itself was a great city but before exploring I had another interrogation to get out of the way.....two Immigration Officers were on their way up to our room. Like I said, Nigerians are great people once you get past the money issues, and these two guys were fishing hard for a bribe! It turned into pretty hard core questioning checking my visa application fee receipts for other countries - to see if there were any mistakes they could fish a bribe from me with - and asked obscure questions like, "How did you get your visa for Zimbabwe?" Finally after an hour they left empty handed but got their little power trip remark in, "Make sure you don't stay longer than your visa allows otherwise you will be arrested!"
Riding on the back of a motorbike-taxi around the heavy traffic congested streets of Kano with a rider who seemed blind and hell bent on getting to his destination in record time just added to the sensory overload that
Nick 424Nick 424Nick 424

Enjoying the balcony of room 424 of the Sheraton Hotel, Abuja Nigeria.
Kano possesses. The Kofa Dye Pits where indigo cloth has been dyed for hundreds of years looked more like a clothes washing business when we visited, but just walking through town was interesting in the way that it was like a continuous market. The walk brought us to the Gidan Makama museum which was a good example of Hausa architecture, the oldest part being 15th Century. But the highlight there was being asked to be photographed with a local visiting school group - great when I take so many photos of the local people to give them some back.

Kano is still a pretty strict Islamic city, an example is when it took a Tuk-tuk driver to explain to us why no one was stopping to pick us up for a taxi ride: it's illegal for men and women to sit together in a taxi! But people are open to foreigners, and when we were walking to Kurmi market - one of the largest markets in Africa - a local man named Mohamed stopped in his car and offered us a ride just out of friendliness and curiosity.
It turned out Mohamed was driving back to Abuja the next day and we jumped at the opportunity to what turned out to be a crazy trip!
Mohamed was an interesting guy to talk to if not a little extreme. He worked for a Nigerian government department and was educated in Russia and then China - which impressed me to have learned both those languages first before even studying - and ranted to us during the entire return journey back to Abuja that corruption was the main problem in Nigeria. He then hypocritically said that through his job he also takes "a bit of money to look after my family" and started to really get worked up over the countries current corruption situation, saying it was better when Nigeria was colonised by the British because even though they were also corrupt they at least put some of the money back into the country.
Gwen and I fumbled around under the back seat searching for seat belts as he increased his speed up to 170 km/h continuously raging about Nigeria's dire situation before he apologised with tears in his eyes saying he had to stop talking about it - thank God for that I thought! I know the other passenger whom Mohamed
The Indigo Dye Pits in Kano, northern Nigeria.  Take IIThe Indigo Dye Pits in Kano, northern Nigeria.  Take IIThe Indigo Dye Pits in Kano, northern Nigeria. Take II

The area is also used for washing clothes.
had picked up to help pay for the fuel - we ran out of fuel along the way - thought the same about the crazy driving from the sweat beading down his face as he clutched for life onto the front row death seat!

Alive and back in Abuja, the DHL package of motorbike spare parts had arrived. I spent the next two days at the garage putting the motorbike back together and, after initially celebrating, realised I wasn't the world's best mechanic when the motorbike started leaking water out from the water pump the very next day! I resolved that problem only to be set back again - this time to the point of dismay - when after riding back to the campsite thinking all was finally well I discovered water had started to mix with the oil......anyone who knows anything about engines realises this is serious. To cut a long story short I worked out that the new seals of the water pump were too loose so replaced the old seals.....and to now they have held - touch wood!

With groggy hangovers we said our goodbyes to Chris of the Sheraton Abuja and started heading for the Benin border as our Nigerian visa had ticked away to the point where it would be close if we would make it to the border within time. During the three day ride to the border we passed through towns with typically crumbling African buildings so war-torn looking under the dark, sandy Hamattan sky that it made us think we were riding through a war zone.
We were also reminded of the friendliness of the Nigerians: we were interviewed during one rest stop by a magazine reporter and had our photos taken. He asked us questions that were typical of conversations I'd had elsewhere in Nigeria, Q: "Had our Government sponsored our trip, or had the Nigerian Government sponsored us?" A: "No, and no. We, in a way, actually sponsored your Government by paying a whopping USD 130 visa fee!"
Anyway, the friendliness continued when we free camped at disfunctional petrol stations along the way - Nigeria is rich in petroleum resources, but due to corruption most of the fuel is sold off shore as they have no petroleum refineries, but then there is not enough money to buy it back, therefore massive fuel shortages. - The petrol station owners gave us water from their wells for drinking, cooking and bucket showering and during the last night the owner insisted we stay in the neighbouring air-conditioned shipping container used as the electronics housing for the telecommunications tower....random, but I wasn't about to refuse A/C in those temperatures!

We made it through the notoriously bad (for Police check points, therefore bribes) stretches of road in west Nigeria unscathed: we were only stopped twice out of the ten or so road blocks and never paid any bribes......lucky perhaps compared to the bribery stories we were told to expect - but then again, horror stories are always the best ones!

Onwards and upwards (in this case westwards) I say.......Benin here we come!


Additional photos below
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Kurmi market, Take I, Kano, Nigeria.Kurmi market, Take I, Kano, Nigeria.
Kurmi market, Take I, Kano, Nigeria.

Deep inside one of Africa's largest markets
Kurmi market sewerage systemKurmi market sewerage system
Kurmi market sewerage system

It smells worse than it looks!
BMW Coscharis Abuja, Nigeria.BMW Coscharis Abuja, Nigeria.
BMW Coscharis Abuja, Nigeria.

The really friendly mechanic team who lent me the use of their workshop to fix our motorbike.
On the road again!On the road again!
On the road again!

Saying our goodbyes to Chris, the assistant manager of the Sheraton Hotel and Towers, Abuja, Nigeria, who helped us out in so many ways.
CoolboxCoolbox
Coolbox

Air-conditioning....man, who would turn an offer like that down in this climate. We were offered to sleep in this tele-communications repeater station control room that had air-conditioning to keep all the electronics cool.


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