The morning was easy to wake up. Same monotone buzzing ceiling fan over my head reminded me of where I am. Clothes were almost dry. It’s time to go. Before leaving I went to a nearby gas station to buy cigarettes and on the way saw a picture, which can characterize typical traffic in Nigeria. The small minivan playing the role of taxi bus stopped for disembarkation on a side of pretty narrow street. The driver following this van was very impatient and started to hoot and blink not paying attention to the fact that the van stopped on a purpose. On the opposite side there was a small jam at traffic light, but as soon as there appeared a window an impatient driver broke through there driving off the oncoming traffic with his honks. He passed the bus, stopped, turned on the reverse gear… and with all his might hit poor van with his rear bumper. Then hastily retreated. Bus driver went out to check out damage and another jam started to gather behind him…
The next destination was the Calabar – reportedly the most “tourist” city of Nigeria. The distance of about 500 km was quite acceptable for the light of the day, the roads were normal until now, so full of hopes to reach it before dark I broke through the jams of Benin City and rolled out to the highway. Two lines of each direction, with dividing line inbetween, and digestible pavement – beautiful. It was called Expressway – make sense. I went to my cruising 110kmh swinging my head looking at the countryside. Unusual at first but familiar already plants were alternated by filling stations, most of which were abandoned. Nigeria – a country very rich in oil and sitting on its needle harder than Russia. Once experienced an oil boom which gradually faded away. Back in days each more or less organized person wanted to open his own gas station to get a sure path to prosperity. “Ohnguomo Ltd.”, “Kowori Brothers Corp.”, and otherslike each sought to immortalize his name. Nobody cared about any kind of joint brand. Now the faded and dilapidated buildings with signs burnt by the sun silently reminded of the past dawn.
Kilometers lazily passed under my wheels. The traffic was mostly faster than me and wasn’t numerous, which made it possible to relax in the right lane. Suddenly my attention was drawn by something om dividing line. Stella with a motorcycle mounted on top. An old Suzuki DR Big, not even looted apart, and signature on the plinth – “Explore Your Limits”. It was so unexpected and strange that I hung around for a few minutes impressed by the sudden coincidence – me, only God knows from how far away, and this pedestal like a source of vitality somehow telling to me: “you’re going in the right direction”. I looked around and laughed. No sign of anything related to that pedestal, nothing. Just Stella in the middle of the road. With the motorcycle. And the signature “Explore your limits”.
This sudden monument turned out, however, kinda prophetic. After some time path narrowed and broken sections of the road began to appear. Nigeria is full of old blacksmoking petrol huge trucks that braking hard at such places, creating waves of pitted asphalt mixed with the soil. Such places are usually equipped with police ambush. Police here is not respected at all – cars just did not stop in spite of the instructions, flying past, despite even the threat of a Kalashnikov and, sometimes, sticks. Therefore, such a places where everyone is forced to slow down to a minimum gives a chance for police to stop at least someone. I was ready to stop at the first request, but, surprisingly, there were no complaints to me. On several occasions I had the opportunity to see how local drivers, even at such places, ignored given direction to stop. Once, the angry policeman hit the car with his foot, and only then the driver has stopped… To start complain about the damage. In another case, the entire side of car was scratched with a rifle butt and driver reacted with burning out wheels, raising huge pile of dust to fly around. The situation with the traffic was weird. Looking ahead I could say that everybody being at the wheel behave wildly and aggressive, but as soon as the driver left his vehicle – he magically transformed into nicest person. Metamorphosis.
Continuing to move forward at one point I stopped at a pit. Not even the pit, a huge crater on the road. The size of a small house. It was possible to go around such unexpected obstacle by a thin path that led along the edge of the pit. Obviously local car drivers knew how to detour such an obstale but there was no sence to look out for them – who knows where another road will lead next. Local mopeds were scurrying back and forth on that thin path around the pit and I decided to take a chance. About a minute later I found myself in a very uncomfortable, and comical at the same time, situation – the left half of the bike almost hanging in the abyss, while right sidecase was touching the wall of the neighboring house. About half a minute I was on the brink of trying to find at least some stable position, while local moped drivers having fun out of unexpected show encouraging me with their honking. In the end I managed to gently shift the weight to the right side, lean hand on the wall to create a small gap between wall and sidecase, and playing with the clutch got myself out to a wider section. The sun was at its zenith, everything was surrounded by small walls enclosing areas of houses, not a single shadow around. So I had nothing to do but to move forward hoping to take a break later.
Broken areas began to appear more often and increased their length so I got in Calabar when it was already dark. There was no points of camping in my GPS. Again I tried to buy a local SIM card and again with zero result. Everybody were pointing to the mobile operator office which, of course, already been closed. After some driving back and forth in the center and asking locals I found an internet cafe and started looking for the coordinates of a campsite. Calabar was known as the best tourist city in Nigeria, and I was sure that there is a place to sleep. I was wrong. It seemed that everybody who visiting this city are millionaires and prefer a minimum of five stars with a maximum of luxury. After long minutes of the digging I stumbled upon a fragment of the book, sort of a guide, pointing to Crystal City Hotel which is very expencive in itself but have a place for camping. There was nothing else. Address pointed to one of the minor streets in the center of Calabar, without house number. I have reached the destination street but there was no any trace of the hotel. Probably just sign turned off for power saving and I just missed it. I turned around and drove slowly over the street with the same result.
For the third time I drove through the street and stopped in confusion trying to figure out what to do next. At this time I was approached by a local man who was walking down this street all the time while I scurried back and forth. He asked what had happened. I felt a little tense. Half-lit street, no one around, and only lazy person did not mention about the dangers of Nigeria before. I explained that I am looking for that damn Crystal City Hotel and all of a sudden the guy laughed and said I was a little too late – the hotel has been sold two years ago and converted into a private school. How about that. Evening becoming more and more interesting. I probably can find enough money for the cheapest hotel but what’s then? That was all the money I had. In the meantime, while I was thinking, Oddy (the name of this guy) told me that he lives nearby and can take me to another place, nearby, in the center, where I was guaranteed to be able to put up a tent. I agreed. Oddy came to his house, called his wife, and rolled out his car, an old Kia.
I followed the car, pushing through rough traffic, not forgetting to check the GPS to understand in which direction we are moving. After a few minutes we arrived to the building of the local municipal government. “Here you can put up a tent,” Oddy said to me, pointing to the field in front of the govermental building. No walls or fence was around. Just the meadow, between house and wide avenue. “Um,” I said, “but are you sure this is allowed, and it’s safe?”. “Absolutely!” – He replied, “Do you see these tough guys with guns?” – He pointed to the building guards. “This is the territory of the state, where anyone can put up a tent and be safe” – Oddy said. It was a quite realistic way to spend the night, but I vividly picture the next morning – crowd of locals huddled around the tent, watching me awakening and doing morning stuff, trying to catch every detail by their eyes. For them I sort of an alien from another planet and free tv-show. And I do not like too much attention.
I asked Oddy whether there is still any variants. He said that there is another option and we proceeded further. After a while we stopped in the parking lot at the yacht club. Oddy offered me to pitch a tent right on the park lawn. I was somewhat confused. Both options were not the best and I was thinking that I can just drive out of town and looking for a place to spend the night in the bush, away from prying eyes. Suddenly Oddy said – “Well, now when all the rituals done, can I finally offer you put up a tent in our yard?”. I smiled. “Rituals”, hehehe. After all, our world is amazingly diverse. We proceeded back to the street with non-existent hotel and I pitched a tent in the courtyard of a small condominium.
Oddy and Bright, his wife, were renting one of the condominium houses. When I finished messing around with a tent Oddy came out and said that the street will be wildly hot to sleep, so better idea would be if I spread out my sleeping bag in the house. Amazing people. Oddy was in search of work, and Bright had her own small shop of children’s goods. The next day, in the evening we went to look at the Bright’s store. Oddy then took us to the bar. Pretty place, consisting of a small private bar, and tables and chairs scattered under the trees here and there. Here I tried probably the best beer in Africa – Gulder. Refreshing, invigorating and full of life taste that I still remember to this day. At the same time Oddi ordered something that he called “Soy”. “You will like it,” he says. After some time, they brought us a plate. On a sheet of wrapping paper were laid out pieces of something resembling meat and smelling delicious. Hmm, soy, I thought. A taste like real meat. Interesting. Every day, we visited the bar, where Oddy never let me chance to pay telling that I am a guest in his country. It was like a sip of fresh air after struggling with dusty roads.
It was only on the third day, I learned that “Soy” is actually “Suya”, and is a name for real meat that is grilled with local spices. The taste just wonderful and it’s hard to imagine a better combination with beer.
One day I remembered that I had once heard about Bike Festival of Calabar and went to Google in search of local motorcyclists. This time my search succeeded and I found facebook girl named Aisha which is one of the organizers of the festival. We met and together with her and other friends-motorcyclists we rode around the city and visited the Street of Suya, which is a place where the meat is prepared for every taste and budget. We sat in front of rows of smoking meat talking about everything and my mood was great. Good to meet the “brothers”. Many thanks to Tinapa MC!
Unfortunately, I hadn’t much time. I’ve already overstayed my Nigerian visa for few days and visa for Cameroon was ready. It’s time to go further.
My special thanks to Oddy and Bright, the great people that broke the stereotype that Nigeria – terribly dangerous country. Maybe I was extremely lucky but everyone I met on the way were friendly and adequate and they proved that at their best. Here I agree with Victor Romantik, Nigeria – the pearl of Central Africa. And I would be happy to return here sometime again.