Nigeria – Not what we expected: Travel Blog. The beautiful and the bizarre from the Nigerian leg of our Oasis Overland ‘Accra to Cape Town’ trip.
Nigeria generally makes headlines for all the wrong reasons. With internet scams, violence, crime and terrorist cells, it’s a country that travellers generally overlook. We had no real interest in visiting Nigeria either, for all of the above reasons. It was purely by default that we spent two weeks in Nigeria as the overland tour that we were travelling on, began in Ghana and passed through the country en-route to Cape Town. We were not only incredibly surprised by our experiences in Nigeria, but we really enjoyed our time driving through this very little travelled country.
Crossing into Nigeria was as painful as we all imagined it would be. Customs procedures took the best part of an hour as we sat and watched three men examine our visas thoroughly. One man stamp us in and one of the men write all of our details by hand, in a notebook. Strangely, the officers all wanted selfies with us. We were then directed across the road to immigration, where the whole group was interrogated for another hour. Finally, we were directed to quarantine, where we had to produce examples of the types of food we were carrying and state that we had no drugs on us. In all, it took the best part of three hours to get into the country!
By that time, it was already after 12 pm, so we drove a little way to the nearest village and stopped in a truck park to have lunch. Slowly what seemed like the whole village was surrounding us watching us eat. We were told some of the people, especially children had never seen a white person in the flesh before and to be in their village in a big yellow truck, having lunch in a truck park must have been so foreign to them. As we drove away, the children and adults all waved us off with so much excitement. We must have been the most out of the ordinary thing they’d seen for some time!
The rest of the afternoon was spent driving. It’s very common in Africa to encounter military and police checkpoints and our record that day was five times in one village. At one of those checkpoints, we were given a safety brief and again asked for selfies by one officer. After a quick stop for fuel, we broke down for over an hour. Something was ‘broken’ and something else was ‘stuck’. Once that was fixed, we hit the road to find a bush camp.
The once sealed road quickly turned to a terrible dirt road, one of the worst we have ever driven on. It was difficult to believe that what looked to be the main road on a map, could be in such poor condition. It made made for a very dusty and very slow journey. Eventually, we found a track to turn down and found our bush camp for the night.
The following day’s drive was by far the worst travel day we had encountered since our tour had started. We only managed to drive around 102kms in 11.5hours. 80km of that on the same crappy dirt road that we were on the day before. It was over 40° and so, so dusty. When we finally got back to sealed roads, there were some serious cheers in the truck! We passed a few villages and towns along the way, and were so surprised at how friendly and welcoming the locals were. Their first reaction at seeing us
We encountered several ‘chasers’ aka, small children running after the truck with excitement. It was really interesting passing through small communities with their predominantly mud-brick walled and thatched roof huts, small roadside market stalls and people milling around the water wells.
After an incredibly long and hot day of driving, we found a fabulous bush camp, off the main road with locals herding their cows in the evening.
We encountered much of the same, bad roads the next day and the temperature was again over 40°. Again, we enjoyed a secluded bush camp in another field well off the main road. Thankfully, as with the previous night, temperatures dropped pretty quickly. This allowed a relatively good nights sleep, staring up at the stars from our freestanding net tent. It was certainly a far cooler option than our canvas tent.
Everyone was pleased that the next day would end in the capital, Abuja. The plan was to leave early and to get to the Cameroon Embassy by the afternoon so that we could obtain our visas. Initially, the roads were pretty bad and not at all maintained. However, as we neared Abuja, we could see the change. Not only the conditions of the roads, but the infrastructure as well. After passing countless villages with friendly smiling locals walking along the roadside carrying various things on the heads and more thatched mud huts, we stopped on the side of the road for lunch.
A local man carrying a large bucket of fresh honey for sale on his head approached us. The group bought 1.5 litres for only a few dollars, replenishing our supplies. It looked and tasted amazing!
As we continued on, we started seeing bigger and nicer houses. We stopped for fuel and at that point, noticed huge queues outside the service stations. Many service stations that we had passed were closed and others seemed to only let a certain number of cars in at a time. with queues for a kilometre or so long forming out of the front.
As we got to Abuja, it was astonishing to see the obvious increase in wealth compared to the rural villages. We passed housing estates that seemed to go forever, full of double story houses and security fencing. As mentioned, the roads were in amazing condition and the influx of cars was huge. Until then, we had only really seen motorbikes and a few beat-up cars. It was clear as to where the country’s money was going – certainly not to the villages.
We didn’t arrive in time to get to the Cameroon Embassy but camped right in town at the City Park. There wasn’t really anything to see or do in Abuja, however, City Park was listed as a highlight in guidebooks. Initially, we were a bit apprehensive about camping there. It seemed quite open and we thought camping would make us vulnerable. However, it ended up being a sweet place to stay. There was a sports centre attached to the park with showers and toilets for us to use. Having had no access to showers or even running water for the past four days we were pretty pumped! There were also bars and cold beer!
When we got to get to the Cameroon Embassy, the next day, we were informed that the consular section was not open to the public until the following Wednesday. We couldn’t wait that long to get our visas, so we waited to hear what plan B was. After stopping at a shopping mall for a couple of hours to change money, get a sim and stock up on food, we had the afternoon free to catch up on washing, emails etc. No one had to cook dinner that evening as the agreement of staying at City Park was that we would eat at the restaurant.
We had all put our orders into the restaurant at 8 am, to ensure they would be ready for us in the evening. In true African style, not only was dinner an hour and a half late, no one got what they ordered. It was obviously all too overwhelming for the staff, so they just cooked whatever they had in the kitchen and served us a carb loaded buffet of mash, mac ‘n’ cheese, spicy rice and beans, french fries, salad and chicken curry. Chris was pretty happy with that! And even happier that they were showing Creed on an outdoor projector at the bar, which we both watched.
As we still needed to get our Cameroon visas, plan B was to head to another Cameroon Embassy in Calabar in the south of the country, via the Afi Drill Ranch in Cross River State. We left after breakfast and had a full driving day with another 40°+ day. We literally drove all day, stopping only for toilets and lunch, before trying to find another bush camp. This was a difficult task, as there were villages everywhere. It took a while to find what looked like a quiet turn off into a field.
Not long after finding what seemed like an ideal spot, some locals came to investigate. What started as a simple chat with our tour leader, turned into a bit of a spectacle, with more and more locals gathering nearby. We all had to go and speak with the locals and our tour leader and one person from our group were driven on motorbikes to the village chief to seek permission to camp on their land. When our leader returned, there were still a lot of locals milling around, with cars and motorbikes stopping on the road. After being granted permission to stay, the chief changed his mind and called the police!
We had just finished dinner when the police arrived at our campsite and suggested we follow them to a more secure place to sleep. This turned out to be the police headquarters/compound! When we arrived, they welcomed us, showed us where we could camp. They then swiftly arrived with a crate of cold beers and soft drinks and chatted with us. Just as we were about to head to bed, the District Chief Commissioner started giving Nigerian dance lessons. We knew we couldn’t miss that, so we got out of bed and joined in the fun. Eventually, despite the pumping music, we went back to bed for a very secure nights sleep.
In the morning, it was almost sad to leave. The staff made us breakfast of cassava and vegetable stew and we took photos with the police! They escorted us out of town and wished us a safe journey. All in all, a very surreal experience but one of our finest memories of Nigeria.
We had a record of ten checkpoint stops in an hour and a half that morning. Quite ridiculous really, as some of them were only meters apart. After driving for 4 hours, the scenery changed as we entered the Cross River State, surrounded by mountains and jungle. We passed remote villages again and had the same warm welcome we had experienced since entering Nigeria. Eventually, after crossing a small but challenging section of river where the locals were busy washing their clothes and themselves, we reached a small house. We were still 4 kms from the Afi Drill Ranch, where we would stay the night, but that was as far as the truck could drive.
We were immediately greeted by some excitable young locals. Chris was only too happy to stretch his legs and have a kick of a football with them. Needless to say, after twenty minutes of football in 40°+ degree heat and in hiking boots, he came back exhausted.
After gathering everything we would need for the night, we walked the final 4 km to the Drill Ranch. It was a nice walk along a mud track through the jungle. There were a number of huge trees and colourful butterflies en-route.
After we arrived, we set up camp and got dinner ready. After dinner, we set off on a walk with some of the camp wardens in search for bush babies, but with no luck.
The following morning after breakfast, we went to see what the Drill Ranch was all about. It was an NGO sanctuary for orphaned Chimps, with 28 of them on sight. They also had two hundred drills which were mostly born in captivity, with the hope of releasing them to the wild in the future. With only a few thousand drills left in the wild across three countries in Africa, their efforts were incredible and the visit was a highlight of our time in Nigeria.
It would have been great to stay a few extra nights and get out into the wild and actually explore Cross River National Park and the surrounding area. Home to both wild Drills and Western Lowland Gorillas, it was just our sort of place. Unfortunately, as we were on an organised tour, we were on a relatively fixed itinerary, so that was not an option.
After learning that it cost more than US$11,000 a month to run the ranch, we made a quick donation. Despite being desperate to get out and really explore, we reluctantly began walking the 4
Our next stop was Ikom, near the Cameroon border for the night. After our last bush camp experience, we stayed in a hotel, which was a real treat! It was nice to sleep on a bed and to have access to a private shower. The hotel was a hot spot for locals, with the restaurant serving icy cold beers and tasty shwarmas for dinner.
After a good night sleep, we drove 6 hrs to Calabar in order to obtain our Cameroon visas. After a quick stop at the embassy, we submitted our visa applications. They only took a couple of hours to process, so in the meantime, we went off in search of a spot to pitch our tents for the night. The planned location was a grass area in a hotel compound, but upon arrival, the grass area was no more and had effectively been turned into a construction site. We were told we could still camp there but would have to wait until 8 pm before we could put up tents in a sandy spot next to the freshly laid cement.
Calabar was one area we had no desire to explore, as there was nothing really to see. There was however a bar next door with cold beers, so we had a few drinks in the bar, whilst deciding if we should use the tent or our far cooler net tent.
Soon after it got dark we ventured out to find some food from the local stalls. We found a relatively nearby stall selling yam chips and omelettes. Just after placing our order, we felt the first raindrops since our West and Central African trip started. Then, the heavens opened!
We sprinted through the heavy rain to the hotel compound and onto the truck. At that point, our decision about which tent to use was made. After over an hour of torrential rain accompanied by lightning and thunderclaps, we decided to bite the bullet and get the tent up, as the rain had set in. In record time, we erected the tent and threw the fly on for the first time. We then retreated to the relatively dry tent to listen to the storm rage on. Thank goodness our tents were waterproof! As it was the first rain we had experienced in almost 4 weeks, it was actually quite nice laying inside, listening to it pound against the tent.
After a surprisingly good nights sleep, we arose to dry but overcast sky and a cooler morning temperature than we had been used to. After the tents were packed away, we headed back to Ikom for our last night in Nigeria. Staying at the same hotel we had previously stayed in and Valentine’s Day (unbeknown to Chris, who thought it was just an ordinary Champions League Wednesday), apparently, the locals celebrate Valentines at the hotel with a big party and DJ. The friendliness of the locals continued, with numerous people having a chat with the usual questions of ‘were are you from?’ and ‘what is your mission?’
For a country we were so unsure of, we were so happy to see so much beauty, along with the incredibly friendly and welcoming locals we encountered along the way. We couldn’t wait to see what our onward travels to Cameroon had in store for us!
Our Oasis Overland Expedition
We travelled with Oasis Overland on the 12 week Accra-Cape Town section of their 42 Week UK-Cairo Trans Africa expedition. Doing an Overland expedition was an epic way to travel through this big and beautiful continent. It took the hassle out of travelling independently through some of most remote parts of the world. Yet, it still provided the challenges and adventures that we as well-travelled backpackers wanted. From free-camping under the stars to sweltering in the dense jungles and driving for days along dusty desolate tracks to haggling in the busy and bustling markets, this expedition had it all. We really did get a little off track!