Nigeria – the nightmare of all overlanders, how undeserved a reputation.
Arriving on a brilliant new bitumen road at the border post Chikanda we were very thoroughly checked by the Beninese officials – a sign of the things to come on the other side? Not really as the whole border crossing process was very cheerful and we were welcomed warmly into Nigeria. Especially lovely were the three big ladies working in the customs office who looked totally grumpy upon arrival but quickly lit up and bombarded us with questions about our travels. Sneaking into the books of the health officer we realized that foreigners come through here rarely more often than once a month.
Once through the border we expected several roadblocks demanding something but there was not a single one in sight. Our OpenStreetMap unfortunately turned out to be at least imprecise and mostly completely off in this part of the world. So we drove a bit after our gut feeling and found our way to the fun but really slow going piste leading towards New Bussa which later turned into the most awfully potholed road with barely any tar left. The welcome of the Nigerian people was the most overwhelming one we ever encountered. Whenever we entered a village everybody from young to stone old started shouting greetings, waved and smiled. The same behaviour was observed with any passing traffic may it be a local motor biker or a big lorry. Official roadblocks were frequent but mostly friendly apart from some encounters with the traffic police who always wanted to fine us for driving a right hand drive vehicle and having no roof rack permit. With enough humour and patience we could always wind ourselves out of these situations though.
As the weekend was dawning again we wanted to arrive in Abuja as quick as possible to be able to acquire our Cameroon visas before. After a bush camp in the vast tree savannah of Western Nigeria we pushed on and drove until deep in the night what turned out to be not the best idea. About 60km before Abuja we got completely stuck in a smallish town with the same name (at least on the GPS). Hundreds of motorbikes were swarming around us and all the oncoming traffic was driving with full beams on. To get through this mess we needed more than one and a half hours and then found ourselves on the best road we had encountered in Africa so far. A 10-lane fully lit highway was leading down to the capital. Tired and dirty we arrived late at the Sheraton Hotel which allows camping on its lawn. Happy to have found a place to stay for the night we settled down. The big shock came when registering at the reception as the prices for camping were raised by 900% to more than 45€ a night. Worst of all we were hassled to pay for 5 days without the possibility of getting a refund when leaving earlier. At any other time of the day we would have simply taken off but this time we discussed for ages to be allowed to pay for only one night and then leave the following morning.
Already sick of the capital we were about to head off but still had to find a replacement for the front shock absorber we broke on the rough piste to New Bussa. Toyota was completely unhelpful and we ended up at Armin Schmand’s Mercedes workshop instead where we were helped out in no time. The Land Cruiser also got a well-deserved oil change, air filter service and tire rotation. From this point on things were looking up again as we met many Germans working in Abuja who in the following days showed us great hospitality with many long evenings and some of the best food in ages. Many thanks at this point to Stephan & Dagmar with Leo & Thommi (who travelled around Africa also in short 40 series Land Cruiser 10 years ago), Egon & Myriam, Rüdi, Michel & Martina, Andreas and Armin! Some of the highlights were the visit of the Mogadishu Fish Market with deliciously spicy grilled fish, much beer and even more beer and live music at Egon & Myriam’s place afterwards, the long evenings with great travellers talk at family Felix’ place and Andreas’ bbq with some of the best beef ever.
So instead of leaving as quickly as possible we ended up spending about a week in Abuja, organized our Cameroon visas, stocked up in the reasonably priced supermarkets and came to like the place in the end. At the workshop we also met Marc & Doro again and decided at the end of our stay that we would travel together for a while.
With heavy hearts we eventually left Abuja on good roads towards our last destination in Nigeria – the Afi Mountains Drill Ranch. The countryside was more populated than west of the capital and we went down a little track trying to find a bush camp. The people we encountered there did not wave or smile but looked scared and ran away. In the end we arrived at a dead end next to some brick burning stacks and were immediately approached by some young men. As usual we explained our mission, were allowed to set up but still had to wait for the local chief to come and see us. He arrived a while later with about 15-20 more men who asked us many, many questions e.g. if we knew somebody at or were part of Boko Haram until they were satisfied and one after the other disappeared in the darkness. Hoping for a quiet night we prepared dinner but were interrupted again halfway through our meal. The Superintendent of the local police arrived with the village chief and 20 more men again to check our passports, ask us loads of questions and tell us that we were not safe in the bush. We more or less insisted that we had been doing bush camping for the last 9 months without any troubles and after a couple of phone calls to even higher ranking police officers he moved a roadblock close to the turnoff to the piste and agreed to let us stay for the night. Once again we were wished a good night and the local chief casually pointed out that it would be nice of us not to drop any bombs in the area.
The following day was spent driving up in the Afi Mountains to the Drill Ranch on a rough and fun low range track. The drive and surrounding rain forest was absolutely stunning and we were warmly welcomed at the ranch by Pieter & Innocent who basically run the place and the rest of the staff. Here in the mountains hundreds of endangered drills as well as a couple of dozen chimpanzees found refuge in large outdoor enclosures to be hopefully reintroduced into the wild at some point. The work of the staff who are also fighting illegal logging and poaching was highly impressive and watching the primates an incredible joy. In the mornings we woke up to the sounds of the rain forest, took outdoor showers or went on a rainforest hike to the canopy walk which winds its way through the tree tops at up to 49m height. Unfortunately part of it collapsed due to a landslide but it was still more than worthwhile.
With time pressuring us a little bit once again we left after two nights, stopped in Ikom for some last minute refuelling and restocking and headed to the border with Cameroon.