With open arms

Nigeria's flag
Africa » Nigeria
September 9th 2006
Published: September 15th 2006
Edit Blog Post


A young Fulani boy arrive in a small village at the Mandala plateau, Taraba state.

Known in the backpacker grapevine as “scam-land” and housing the world’s most corrupt government - Nigeria was not a country we looked forward to enter.

But the bad reputation is undeserved.
Never before had we met such openhearted hospitality throughout a whole country. And every day we were amazed by the country’s dramatic and beautiful nature. With huge rocks rising from the open savannah in the north and mountains draped in fleshy jungle in the south.

After some minor difficulties with the border police at Katsina we went by bush taxi down south to the relentless bustle in Kano - the biggest city in northern Nigeria with some three million people living in a hot conglomeration of car fumes and mud.
After a few days of paranoid behaviour (Due to Nigeria’s bad reputation, we got scared stiff by everyone aged twelve or older that approached us.), we travelled further south to the federal capital Abuja.
To us the most surreal sight in West Africa. It was made capital in 1993 and before the constructions started in 1981, it was nothing but dense tropical forest and small tribal villages.
Now, it’s an ultra modern city
Two brothersTwo brothersTwo brothers

Kids in the mountain kingdom of Sukur.
with high-rises, elevated highways and swanky shopping malls. An unexpected but well deserved treat by mod-cons and air-conditioned cinemas for us.

I remember reading in some medical paper that the first three minutes of life are critical. Well, as we with breakneck speed left Abuja on the road to Jos - watching the Nigerian roadside’s impressive collection of wrecked cars - I realised that the last three minutes of life, are (most probably) pretty dodgy too.
Our bush taxi recklessly climbed the mountainsides of the central plateau, and with our hearts in our mouths we arrived in the devoted Christian city of Jos.
Spent a few days enjoying the cold drizzle (a reminder of summer back home) and reading excerpts from the Bible.
As we went down the plateau with another speed-freak driver we got an unwanted reminder of how fragile human life is - as we witnessed the Nigerian roadside claim another car to its cumulative collection. An eager driver tried to overtake us, lost control of his car, and crashed into a nearby cornfield.
Our fellow passenger kept crying; “Jissus! Jissus!” all the way to the city of Bauchi.

The great mosque at AbujaThe great mosque at AbujaThe great mosque at Abuja

It took the islamic community one year to build the national mosque. The national church a stone throw away has been in construction for the last 15 years. It's more tricky to unite the 100 or so different denominations of Christianity than the one and only Muslim.
changed transport once more then finally hitched with a Lebanese contractor for the last leg of the journey into the Yankari National Park.
In an attempt to boast tourism in the region, the local government had turned the badly managed park into a construction site. Construction workers, hotel staff and baboons relished in the parks main attractions - the Wikki Warm Spring, and the Yankari Park Bar.
After a dip in the hot spring and a couple of cooling bottles in the bar, the construction project’s manager - An Italian contractor - invited us for dinner in his “Executive-V.I.P.-suite”, and let us the luxurious guestroom. He filled us with grappa and gin, whiskey and wine, while telling us amusing stories of nightly adventures in Lagos.
The following day was spent with a hammering hangover in a number of bush taxis heading to Maiduguri (known to Nigerians as the “backside of beyond”) in the extreme north east of the country.

Our careless driver had at several occasions jeopardised our future, and as we drove into Maiduguri, we finally crashed.
With a screeching sound of non-functional brakes, we crashed into a slow-moving car in front of
Behind the wheel of steelBehind the wheel of steelBehind the wheel of steel

Bush taxi driver, death defying and proud. Serti, Taraba state.
us. Luckily the speed wasn’t too high, and we left the scene with bruises and minor scratches. A motorbike picked us up and brought us downtown as the sun was setting.
The Muezzins call for the day’s last prayer echoed over the city and thousands of chattering bats filled the scarlet sky - as rows of faithful Muslims bent down to their creator.

The next morning we continued into the Adamawa state and the overwhelmingly friendly town of Michika located at the base of the Mandara Mountains.
The townspeople were extremely helpful, took us around town on bikes, paid for products we bought in the market - and in acts of generosity - repeatedly invited us to have dinner and to stay with them, all without a single trace of ulterior motives.

Some months earlier, friends had told us about a kingdom hidden in the Mandara Mountains only reachable by foot. Given directions by the townspeople, we walked up into the mountains to give hail to the king. After a strenuous climb up a man-made causeway, we crossed the threshold of the small Sukur kingdom.
We found the king next to the rock-hewn royal throne
Travellers heraldTravellers heraldTravellers herald

Small boys and girls sat perched on cliffs along the causeway leading up to Sukur. They chanted and blew horns as we came closer, truly beautiful sounds accompanying the already magnificent views of the Mandara mountains.
and gave him our greetings. Then we were taken to a cliff from where we had a panoramic view over the whole kingdom. Early every morning the king climbs the cliff to address his people.
A truly unique day was spent in the hospitable kingdom before we walked down the mountain and back to reality.

Two days of spine-tingling bush taxi journeys later, we ascended the snaky roads leading up to the Mambila plateau, in the - by tourists - little visited Taraba state (like if Nigeria had a tourism industry!).
The views were incredibly beautiful as the road gently followed the green rolling hills like a brushstroke of black asphalt. Pastoral nomads grazing their cattle, backdropped by steep peaks dressed in waistbands of cotton-candy-like clouds.
A night was spent at the Highland Tea Plantation where the pluckers foreman, passionately explained the time consuming process of producing tea.
After a short disagreement at the motor park, we arrived in Gembu, a small town laid out over steep hills, with mosques and churches clinging to the slippery slopes and with eye-pleasing views over the red mud Donga River and the neighbouring Cameroon.
A generous

Early morning in Gembu, Taraba state.
woman called “Mama Jacky”, invited us for dinner then gave us her guestroom for the night, once again proving that Nigerian hospitality is unmatched in West Africa.
After a delicious breakfast we drove back over the scenic grass-fields, down to the hot plain, and on our way to the town of Wukari, passing small villages with Fulanis celebrating Gerewol (a big annual festival where the Fulani men dress in drag to make themselves irresistible to the Fulani women. Spectacular, is the least I can say.).

Arrived in Wukari as the sun was setting and I had barely bought a sundowner and had the first sip, as a peculiar individual reached out her black hairy hand to snatch my bottle.
Stupefied by the sight of a full grown chimpanzee standing next to me at the noodle-vendors stand, I tucked away the bottle before she had the chance to grab it and looked into her pleading eyes as she reached out an eagerly begging palm. The next moment a witless spectator hit her with a plastic chair and she ran off into the motor park.
While serving us food, the noodle man explained that she was once
Grass fieldsGrass fieldsGrass fields

A small Fulani village near the Highland Tea Plantation in Kakara, Taraba state.
the pet of the ex-governor, but since he now was living abroad, she roamed around in town begging for food and drinks, and sleeping wherever possible. In the nights people would give her beer and cigarettes and she would dance and chatter.
Just like me - I thought - after a couple of bottles.
As we sat down in the long-distance overnight bus that would take us south to Enugu, I couldn’t stop thinking about the quick moment we had made eye contact. All the intelligence and emotions I had sensed in her eyes.
I got so pensive that I missed the mandatory mad preacher (found on every transport in southern Nigeria), as he promised milk and honey to the God fearing, and fire and brimstone to us infidels.

Due to the (justified) fear of armed robbery, all overnight transport stop driving at midnight at some “safe” petrol station, lorry park or small town, then head out again after the break of dawn. So as our bus broke down in the heavy downpour on a desolate road surrounded by dark jungle - people started praying to their creators.
Two hours of makeshift mechanics later we rolled into petrol station. Six hours later - as we had just left our nightly shelter - the bus ran out of petrol because the driver had forgotten to fill the tank.
The first person to leave the sinking ship was the hypocrite pastor. He waved down a passing car and disappeared, in the name of Jesus. -Hallelujah!

Two hours later a car passing by sold us enough petrol to take us to the next petrol station.
As we rolled into the station we got swarmed with market women selling bananas and home roasted cashew nuts. Everyone stocked up and we continued, only to - 20 minutes later - run out of petrol again.
The driver had been so busy buying bananas that he had forgotten to fill the tank! -Again!
There was an outcry for public flogging of the driver among the passengers, and I could but agree as my newly met friend called the driver:
-A very sluggish human being!

What felt like an eternity later, we arrived in Enugu - the proposed capital for the Biafra secessionists.
Another perilous journey and we entered our final destination Calabar

A friend in Gembu
- the south-eastern-most city of any size and the seat of the (extortionately expensive) Cameroonian Consulate.
On a particularly rainy day we went to see the Drill Monkey Rehab Centre, an orphanage for apes and monkeys sold by poachers to thoughtless people.
The friendly manager told us absorbing theories of crossbreeding and the pros and cons with living in a developing country for 20 year.
She got less than happy as I told her about the chimpanzee we’d met in Wukari, and immediately outlined a strategy for how to set her free in nature.

After four days and four nights of continuous downpour I feared a second flood of biblical proportion; and since I’m far deeper into vice than virtue, we hurried for the closest boat. The arch of the covenant was not to be found, so a rusty fishing boat-cum-passenger vessel had to do.
Got hold of two seats in the vessel’s windowless inner chamber, labelled “the vault of vomit” for obvious reason. Since after leaving the calm creeks of southern Nigeria, the vault turned into a tumble-dryer as we navigated the uncompromising waves of the Gulf of Guinea.

The mandatory frenetic
Kids playingKids playingKids playing

Children of the employees at the tea factory playing with sticks and wheels, like all West African kids do.
minister of the gospel did his best to keep our attention with kindergarten style clap-your-hands-and-sing-along-songs about Jesus, every now and then interrupted by a Hallelujah!, -Amen! or the reverberation of seasick stomachs.
To save my sanity I stepped outside and walked to the front of the boat, where I stood in silence - drenched in the heavy rain - watching burning oil platforms in the far distance.

As we slowly approached one of the platforms a dark-voiced man walked up to me, and we inevitably ended up discussing faith.
After a long heated discussion in the rain I was getting cold and decided to step back into the vault. Excused myself and was about to leave as he looked me in the eyes and gravely declared:
-Within three days you will have a revelation of Jesus. He will come to you and all your doubt will vanish. You will fear him, and you will follow him.
The forceful flame of the nearby oil platform reflected in his eyes, and it was not the time for an ironic reply.
I thanked him for the promise (threat?) of revelation and walked back into the boat.

The Wikki warmspring.
preacher had switched off the loud P.A. system and most people were sleeping. The few that were still awake sat with green faces holding half full plastic bags of former meals.

I went back to my seat at where I remained sleepless for a long time, contemplating my coming blind date with Jesus.
Then - as the vessel jolted slowly further into the dark night - my thought pattern got more and more unclear, more and more vivid, and I slowly slipped into a dream.

Additional photos below
Photos: 56, Displayed: 30



Ilaya 12 and Stanley 13, at the friendly town Mitchika, Adamawa state.
Highland tea plantationHighland tea plantation
Highland tea plantation

Tea is the beverage with the second highest consumption in the world (after water).The tea fields at Kakara.
the Eldersthe Elders
the Elders

Sharing a bottle of moonshine with the elders of Sukur was a mandatory act respect.

A young boy staring back at me in the Sukur kingdom.
Requem for SteweRequem for Stewe
Requem for Stewe

Crocodile hunter on my mind. A girl at the Maiduguri zoo, and a croc too.

A woman offering us well needed water on our strenuous hike up to the Sukur kingdom.

The Italian contractor took me for a ride in his 4w-drive and we came close to these bucks. At the Yankari national park.
Children of the cornChildren of the corn
Children of the corn

The kids in Sukur, not yet old enough to work at the royal corn-cob fields.
A young pirateA young pirate
A young pirate

Boy in Sukur.
A cluster of BatsA cluster of Bats
A cluster of Bats

Living in thousands at the Maiduguri Zoo's Neem trees.

16th September 2006

One of the best travelblogs I've read in a long time, and I've been an avid travelblog reader for years. You're taking people to places that they would never be brave enough to go - including me.
19th September 2006

Splended and splended journey. Ithink you fixed your camera, the sharpnes and brightnes is bake,good. Be careful white your hairy friend it might be your oant Stina! Give Aili my warm wishers, iam locking forward fore next one. See and hears
20th September 2006

The best blog
Yours is my favorite Africa blog, but I have declined to comment until Nigeria because I don't agree with your views on countries. I have passed through many of the same places as you on my trip and not had the problems or criticisms that you had on them. But I agree with you 100% on Nigeria. I am in Calabar now, soon to join you in Cameroon. Did you stay at the ECWA guest house in Kano? The building site looks like the view from my room.
23rd November 2006

Thanks for sharing
15th January 2007

God you guys had a rollicking time in Nigeria no doubt.What an adventure
14th April 2007

I cant believe all the amazing moments you captured... great job and keep it up!
15th May 2009

for long i have been looking for this opportunity to show my gratitude on your intensive contribution toward this. am happy to see my kingdom and my people on page(sukur kingdom).i believe we remain welcoming.
12th May 2010
The great mosque at Abuja

Abuja mosqe is good
20th June 2010
The great mosque at Abuja

i love this mosque.
29th January 2011
Highland tea plantation

Fantastic, fabulous,you have exhibited The prosperity of your estate in you photo. My heartiest congradulations.
Dear Bobbie Nystrom, I admire your skill in photography, I think you have really enjoyed the "green bed",that is why the photo itself reveals your involvement. My best wishes in your future endeavours. Dr.T.Rajeshwar
17th March 2011

I realy enjoy this
My name is kingsley and am a citizen of gembu kambu is my native languge. I realy like this.
19th May 2011

wi wish ona day to see this place. when is their festival wel take place again pls give me the full date.
8th July 2011
The Sukur Kingdom

why nigeria are neglecting this area but developing the heritage site that is in the south, now thyis site is more that 10 years after listing in the unesco why
18th July 2011
The Sukur Kingdom

request of assistance
please i need your financial assistance for enable me complete my HND programme here in Nigeria. my place of living is Sukur Rugudum.
2nd January 2013
The Sukur Kingdom

Blessed land
Not al kindom dt cn acormodate a whithe man or woman and 4rm d view of d site d land is blessed.
25th May 2013
The Sukur Kingdom

TO my view is that the UNESCO as a body hv contributed thier quater in diverse means but we as a member should not relent to query those that manage the resources meant for the site if not we wil continou to wallow in lacuna even in this present democracy dispensation. TOMA ( B.sc sociology)
27th October 2013
Highland tea plantation

where can i purchase highland leaf tea not tea bag i have searched Owerri Kaduna and Abuja
10th March 2014
The Sukur Kingdom

Up sukurkingdom
I was born in sukurkingdom 15 nov,1994. so i appriciated how i see my area keep in progress.apart from that is in my state,country, goodluck in ever momment.

Tot: 1.715s; Tpl: 0.037s; cc: 26; qc: 211; dbt: 0.0374s; 1; m:saturn w:www (; sld: 1; ; mem: 1.9mb