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Nigeria, Benin & Togo Trip Journal from May 08 to 17, 2008

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Country: Nigeria, Benin and Togo
Duration: May 08 to 17, 2008.
Distance Traveled in the Country: Approx. 2000km on the motorcycles.
Most Memorable Impressions:
We were finally making some miles again and it felt good to be back on the road experiencing the culture and history.  Nigerians proved to be one of the friendliest people since Libya and Sudan. Unfortunately the country is over populated resulting in the usual environmental problems of massive pollution and shortage of electricity. Benin took us by surprise as we had to pay a bribe to even get the 48hr Transit Visa.  We took full advantage of the limited time and visited one of the oldest remaining palaces in Africa and retraced the Route of the Kings in Abomey. Togo with only 65km of sandy coastline sandwiched between Benin and Ghana, is the origin of Voodoo.  Every market has a fetish section to get stocked up with goodies for the Voodoo rituals.  
Our Favourite:
- Nigerian People
- Brazilian Mosque in Porto Novo, Benin
Fuel Cost:
Nigeria: 70N/litre ($0.64CDN/litre) for Unleaded Fuel.
Benin: 478CFA/litre ($1.21CDN/litre) for Unleaded Fuel.
Togo: 505CFA/litre ($1.28CDN/litre) for Unleaded Fuel.
Nigeria: (3) nights hotel from 2,000 to 7,500N/night ($18.00 to $68.00CDN/night)
Benin: (2) nights hotel from 7,500 to 12,500CFA/night ($19.00 to $32.00CDN/night)
Togo: (4) nights hotel for 9,000CFA/night ($23.00CDN/night)
Exchange Rate:
Nigeria: 110 Naira (N) = $1.00CDN
Benin & Togo: 395 Central African Francs (CFA) = $1.00CDN
Border Formality Costs:
Nigeria Visa = 62,000CFA/person ($157.00CDN/person) issued in 48hrs in Douala, Cameroon, valid for (30) Days.
Benin Visa = 10,000CFA/person plus 10,000CFA/person Bribe ($50.00CDN/person) issued at border only valid for 48hrs.
Togo Visa = 20,000CFA/person ($50.00/person) issued at border only valid for (7) days.
Motorcycle Customs = Free with Carnet de Passage.

May 08, 2008.  We cross over from Cameroon into Nigeria on the famous Mamfe to Ekok road.  At the other side of the bridge is a gate, we park the motorcycles and begin the Nigerian immigration process.  All our information is recorded from mother's and father's name to what we are going to see in Nigeria.  While Mike is sitting in the customs office to get the carnet de passage stamped, I am with the police who again record all the information from the passport, Visa, occupation etc.  The last stop we are asked if we had any food on us.  After an hour of border formalities we rode to Ikom.  On the 25km stretch are two (2) police check-stops and one (1) immigration check-stop.  The sun is setting; we are tired and are looking forward to a nice bed.  We blast through each check-stop ignoring there request to stop.  5km past the immigration check point we are past by a red Volkswagen gulf with a military person pointing his gun out of the window.  They motion us to stop.  There is a huge confrontation, and they want to see our passports.  Mike does not let go of the passports and we advise them that we are not sure if they are for real.  More screaming and we return to the immigration check point.  Here all the information off the passport, Visa, etc were recorded again.  It made no sense as we had just cleared immigration and customs at the border.  Finally we were free to go.  In Ikom we fueled up and asked a couple of locals on scooters to show us to a hotel.  Not the cheapest place in town for 7500N/night ($68.00CDN/night).  We arrived at the onset of dusk.  The hotel was completely in the dark.  At reception the clerk used his cell phone for light, so that I could complete the registration form.  Someone went into town to get some fuel for the generator.  The room had air conditioning, but the light in the bathroom did not work.  After we had hauled all our gear into the room, we had to change rooms.  There is no electricity available and generators are used to power the facility.  We are not sure if it is too expensive to pay for electricity or if there is not enough supply.  But the problem seems to be all over Nigeria.  Sometimes there is no point in paying extra for a fan or air conditioned room as no power is available or quits in the middle of the night.  We are in need of a shower, and have to make due with a low water pressure hand held shower.  The taps on the sinks do not work and the generator dies during the night and with that the air conditioning.  All that for a bargain price of $68.00/night.  The first day in a new country is always learning time of how much everything is and what you get for your money.  We have been having a hard time coping with the extreme heat.  Temperatures are in the upper 30Deg Celsius and the humidity is above 80%.  It is very draining physically.  A lot of the time we opt for a hotel instead of camping to have a fan or air conditioning to get some sleep.  It seems we are tired and exhausted continuesely.

May 09, 2008.  From Ikom we head north past Katsina Ala to Makurdi.  The 300km plus, stretch is covered in no time.  Other then the occasional potholes the road is in good condition.  All we had to watch for was the other maniac drivers who want to run you of the road.  In a small settlement we stop at a restaurant, which indicates "Food is Ready".  This actually means that the food served has already been prepared. There is no choice of food and we have to eat whatever is placed in front of us.  Nigeria is English speaking and therefore easy to communicate.  We receive some traditional food of yam, meat with spicy sauce and another mystery sauce (somewhat unappealing looking). It is quite good and even with three (3) Cokes very cheap at 550N ($5.00CDN).  Some locals join us, curious about everything.  Sometimes their accents are hard to understand.  Continuing onwards to Makurdi, the first hotel we stop at has again no electricity and no water for the great price of 2500N/night ($23.00CDN/night)….Next…. Chris had given us a waypoint for a place on the northern end of Makurdi.  The rooms were nothing to write home about and as I stood at reception I realized that it was frequented by male and females by the hour.  For 2000N/night ($19.00CDN/night), we had an air conditioning unit in the room, though no electricity but were promised that the generator would kick in after sunset.  The bathroom had a bathtub, but no shower.  The sink was missing the taps.  Buckets were provided for cold showers.  The court yard was shaded by huge trees and a small kiosk sold cold cokes.  We unpacked the wet tent, washed it and laid it out to dry while we sat in the shade.  Again our discussion came back to Niger.  We decided to change our route and give Niger a miss.  In addition we would not apply for a Benin Visa before hand, but instead get a 48hr Benin Transit Visa at the Nigeria/Benin land border.  Originally we had planned to visit Kano, a 3million occupant and polluted city to apply for the Niger Visa, but with the new schedule we did not have to go that far north.  Our new route took us a lot closer to the dangerous Nigerian Delta area, a large worry of Mike.  A few foreigners working for oil companies have been killed in the area and it is very unstable.  Talking to Josh and Ed in Brazzaville who had actually ridden into Port Harcourt and lived to tell the story.  With a new plan in hand, we would get back on schedule.  We were looking forward to seeing Ghana, Mali and Morocco.  The generator kicked in as promised at sunset and we moved into our room.  Air conditioning normally takes care of the mosquitoes.  At about 10pm a disco started in the, what was before, very peaceful courtyard.  Our generator died at about 11:30pm, but the disco generator continued.  The temperature in the room instantly became unbearable and mosquitoes came out to get our blood and give us Malaria.  We secured our own mosquito net above the bed, but it was impossible to sleep with the disco and the heat.  Mike went off in search for the person in charge of the hotel, but is told that there is nothing that can be done as the generator is out of fuel.  The disco finally stopped at 4am.

May 10, 2008.  After getting zero sleep we rose at 5am and loaded the motorcycles.  By 5:45am we were on the road, the first light appeared on the horizon and we left Makurdi behind.  This early in the morning the temperature is pleasant and traffic light.  Heading south, we gas up in a small village.  There are gas stations everywhere.  Signs on the road indicate if fuel, gas or kerosene is available.  Due to the power problems, a generator is used to power the pumps.  A simple process of fueling up, takes suddenly a lot longer as the generator has to first be started.  The no sleep was catching up to us and after another 40km we stop at a little store for some Diet Coke and Red Bull.  As we park there is no one around us, when I emerge from the store at least 30 small mopeds are parked around our motorcycles and everyone stares at us.  Then one person approaches and instantly a huge crowd engulfs us.  Questions and more questions.  A man tells me not to be scared of all the people and that they mean no harm.  I smile and tell him that we are used to it.  Everyone is super friendly.  We need to move on as the crowd is affecting the through traffic.  Further down the road, we are almost run off the road numerous times.  Drivers in Nigeria are known for there no-skill, reckless high speed driving.  The largest problem we face is that again most drivers think we are little mopeds/scooters.  On-coming traffic passing three (3) deep and there is us going at 120km/hr.  Along side the road large bowls of some type of spice is sold.  We stop to take a picture.  The local women and children approach us curiously.  It is great to have English conversation with the locals. Most of them are well spoken and knowledgeable.  We are informed that the white and yellow powder substance in the bowls is curry and cassava. One of the women takes Mike to show him the plant the cassava comes from.  There are a lot of genuine people interested in you and your motorcycle.  A very pleasant surprise.  We had not felt this comfortable with the locals since Sudan and Libya. Waving good-bye it is time to make some more miles.  At Enugu we turn west and stop in Onitsha for gasoline.  One of the major drawbacks of Nigeria is the pollution and massive amounts of people.  Nigeria has the largest population in Africa  at 130million.  The cities are huge and traffic is very bad.  Garbage (plastic) is burned on the side of the road.  The diesel fumes or huge black clouds of diesel exhaust are unbelievable.  Now add the heat and crazy drivers to all of this and it does test ones patience and tolerance.  At the gas station we are again the number one attraction.  We buy some breakfast, which consists of a pastry filled with potato.  Sitting down beside the motorcycles in the sun, the gas station attendants get a couple of chairs and place them in the shade for us.  The poor owner/manager of the gas station had to use a stick to keep the crowds at bay. By 2pm we were in Benin City.  Exhausted we stop and pull out the new Lonely Planet Africa (2007 Version) to pick a hotel.  The crowd of people around us are excited to help us for "NO" money.  What a nice change.  Within minutes we are in the parking lot of the Lexbor Hotel.  The room is 3995N/night ($36.00CDN/night), air conditioned, fan and private bathroom with a working shower, water and generator for electricity.  It takes a while to unload the motorcycles as we are bombarded with questions from the hotel staff and guests.  After a nice shower, we take a picture of the huge statue of a black woman carrying a child right in front of the entrance of the hotel.  We realize that we are across the Bronze Casters World Heritage Site.  The Brass Casters Street has Gold and Silversmith, and Brass and Wax sculptures. Here the locals still use the original sculpture techniques to create African Art.  This dates back to the 15th Century.  After a rest, we take a stroll down Brass Casters Street.  It is fascinating to watch sculptors at work, creating the wax form, removing the cast from the mold and then polishing the sculpture.  A lot of work goes into the process.  We are able to watch without the pressure of buying anything.  A silversmith catches our eye, he hand makes matching earrings, bracelets and necklaces with unique designs from scratch.  We watch him as he melts a small piece of silver with the torch and then bends it into the desired shape.  The detail is amazing.  We are sold on it and purchase a matching set for 3000N ($27.00CDN).  Continuing along the street we also purchase a brass bottle opener and a horn for 1000N ($9.00CDN).  After some local fast food we are back in the hotel for some much needed sleep.

May 11, 2008.  We get an early start and make it out of Benin City without getting lost.  The sky is overcast and it is raining.  The highway between Benin City and Lagos is divided.  They call it the Trans Africa Highway.  What a total unbelievable mess.  Though it is divided by a medium traffic drives both ways on both sides.  Due to the potholes and muddy sections drivers choose whatever section of road they want to drive on.  The 300km drive to Lagos was nerve-racking.  We have never seen as many damaged and burnt out vehicles.  The carnage was unbelievable.  Afterwards Mike told me that this stretch of road is listed as one of the most dangerous roads in the world.  We lost count of the number of over turned and burnt fuel tankers.  Minibuses sandwiched between trucks.  All of this was left on the middle of the road in view of everyone.  The road of death we called it.  There was no clean up in process.  We were scared to be added to the carnage, run over by some maniac.  Just before Lagos we stopped for some street food and discussed a plan of getting through Lagos.  There is a by-pass route which we of course missed. Lagos is the largest populated city in Africa at 13 million people.  There were no street signs that made sense and we kept on heading deeper and deeper into city centre.  So many people, living in tin roof shacks.  The smell of rotten food and waste greeted us.  Garbage everywhere.  Diesel fumes and two stroke fumes numb our sense of smell.  We end up in a market area, it does not look very pleasant and we are too scared to stop to ask for directions.  By chance we get back to a busier looking through road and with the help of some locals find the main road out of Lagos.  There is no way we want to ever go back to that city.  From here it is easy sailing to the Nigerian/Benin border.  We are pushing 4pm and question if we should attempt the border crossing.  With no feasible accommodations before the border we decide to cross.  It takes an hour to check out of Nigeria.  Again a lot of paperwork has to be completed at immigrations, police and customs.  While Mike takes care of the border formatlities, I am exchanging Naira to CFA.  Only $100.00US bills are excepted and Euro is preferred.  This is so unlike the east side of Africa where the US Dollar rules and no one is interested in the Euro.  We are checked out of Nigeria and move the motorcycles a hundred meters past the barrier to the Benin side.  As we did not apply for a Benin Visa prior to arrival we opt for the 48hour Transit Visa.  The border official is giving Mike a hard time and does not want to issue him a Transit Visa.  He advises him to return to Lagos in Nigeria to apply at the Benin Embassy for a Visa.  This of course is no longer possible as our Nigerian Visa had been cancelled and anyone in their right mind would avoid Lagos like a plaque.  The border official will not issue the Visa unless we pay him a bribe of 20,000CFA ($50.00CDN) plus the cost of a Transit Visa of 10,000CFA ($25.00CDN)/person.  What are our options … zero… Therefore money changes hands, we only get a receipt for the 20,000CFA for both Visas and after customs are on our merry way.  We reach Porto-Novo just before sunset and stay at the Queens Hotel on the Lagoon.  The room is 12,500CFA/night ($31.50CDN/night) and includes the all important air conditioning.

May 12, 2008.  In Porto-Novo, the Capital of Benin, we visit the Brazilian Mosque located in the market area.  We did not know what to expect, but it is definitely unique.  From Porto-Novo we head west through Cotonau and then north to Abomey.  We get a room at the Chez Monique for 7500CFA/night ($19.00CDN/night).  It has a beautiful garden with unique wood carvings.  We are here to explore the Dahomey Trail (the route of the Kings).  After a quick bite to eat we hire a guide for 6000CFA ($15.00CDN) to show us around.  Finding your way without a guide is difficult and time consuming not to mention that we would miss a lot of the important history.  Our first stop is the Historical Museum located in the only remaining buildings of a once massive palace complex (UNESCO World Heritage Site).  Most of the palace was destroyed by a fire initiated by the then ruling King to prevent the French, who where camped out on the outskirts of the settlement, from getting there hands on it. Entrance to the museum is 2500CFA/person ($6.50CDN/person).  We are not allowed to take pictures, which is a huge shame, as the museum exhibits some pretty amazing artifacts.  Our favourite was the Kings throne which was mounted on four (4) skulls of his enemy.  The thrones from all the Kings and Princes dated as far back as the beginning 1600AD are on display.  We spent 1 1/2 hours exploring the museum and it's surrounding grounds, including the Kings burial tomb.  Our guide's English was not perfect, but we were able to make sense of most of what he said.  Especially funny was when he called the King a wanker.  Somehow there was a something lost in the translation.  From the museum we went to another palace called the Mort du Roi Agonglo founded in 1797AD. For a 1000CFA/person ($2.50CDN/person) we entered the compound.  The inner walls depicted symbols of each King which ruled since the 1600's.  Human sacrifices were performed in the courtyard.  Of course nowadays humans are not scarified, but animals are.  We are allowed a peek inside a tomb. To this day every five (5) days a ceremonial ritual takes place to honor the dead King.  We have to take off our shoes and socks as a sign of respect.  It reminded us of Ethiopia when we visited the churches.  At this palace we had a chance to watch locals weaving on a loom, inspect the yam plants and get close to a melon tree.  The heat was unbearable, we both were sweating like crazy and had a hard time coping with it.  Four (4) hours into the tour we decided to return to the hotel and call it a day.

May 13, 2008.  As we only had a 48 hour Transit Visa we had to make our way to the Togo Border.  We returned to Cotonau and headed west.  In Quidah we stopped at a bank to exchange a 100 Euro, as we were unable to locate an ATM machine in Cotonau.  We required CFA to pay for the Togo Visa at the border.  The exchange rate from Euro to CFA is fixed at 655CFA to 1 Euro.  There was not even a transaction fee.  As we passed Lake Aheme, we stopped to watch locals fishing.  In their wooden dug out canoes they would throw out large fishing nets, and then pull them back in.  A small settlement was taking up every square inch on an island.  It was fascinating to watch them.  By noon we arrived at the Benin/Togo border.  We have a hassle free exit out of Benin. On the Togo side we first have to purchase a seven (7) day Togo Visa for 20,000CFA/each ($50.00CDN) before proceeding to immigration, customs and police.  It takes us a couple of hours to complete the border formalities.  Togo has a 65km long sand beach coastline.  It is situated between Ghana and Benin and could be transited in a couple of hours if so desired.  But we require a Ghana Visa, which means visiting the Ghana Embassy in Lome as Visa's are not available at the land border.  The lagoon at Aneho is very pretty.  Only an hour later we are in Lome, waiting for the big traffic chaos of every major city to hit, but Lome, the capital of Togo, is like a sleepy little town.  A pleasant change.  We choose the Le Galion Hotel, a block off the waterfront.  Not that we actually spent any time on the deserted beach, as it is way too hot to be out in the sun.  The hotel room is 9,000CFA/night ($23.00CDN/night) including private bathroom and air conditioning.  The poor air conditioning unit had a hard time keeping up with the rising temperatures outside.  The food at the Le Galion Restaurant, especially the meat dishes were excellent, but a bit on the pricy side.

May 14, 2008.  The up to date Africa Lonely Planet Neels had given us has come in handy a few times.  The city plan is very accurate.  Two (2) up, with me navigating and Mike fighting his way through morning scooter rush hour we locate a bank which has a Visa ATM.  Rolling in cash again, we are off in search for the Ghana Embassy.  The city map does not show its location, but the general direction.  Lome is the best signed city since leaving the civilized world of Namibia.  There is an actual sign off the main road for the Ghanaian Embassy.  Without it we would have had a hard time finding it, as it was located through a market place on bumpy dirt roads in the backwoods.  The Embassy opens at 8am and we are a bit early.  From the owner of the Le Galion we had heard the previous day of a woman having trouble getting her Ghana Visa.  As always it is not a pleasant experience applying (begging) for a Visa.  After dropping off all our gear at the security guard we wait for an hour in the reception area for the Consul to see us.  Waiting is not one of my strong points, as I have too much time to contemplate all the what ifs.  Finally we are led to see the Consul, who with his many questions of who we are, what we are doing, how long will we be and what are we going to see quizzed us and then granted us a 15 day Single Entry Visa.  In the next room we fill out the application form, provide four (4) passport pictures each and pay 10,000CFA/person ($25.00CDN/person).  We are asked to return between 10am and 12pm the next day to pick-up our passports.  This was not bad it only took three (3) hours to apply for the Visa.  We estimate that by the time we have circled Africa we will have spend a month in major capitals of African countries applying and waiting for Visa's.  Not to mention the 1000's of Dollars in Visa costs and not including the time spent at actual land border crossings.  The pleasures of traveling.  At a small market we pick-up some food and drinks and return to our air conditioned room.  The hotel has wireless internet and we are able to check our e-mails.  Unfortunately there is a problem with the secure wireless connection and Microsoft Frontpage and I can not upload the Cameroon pictures.  We will either require an unsecured wireless connection or hard wire.  While Mike takes care of saving the pictures and GPS tracks I take a stroll to the beach for some pictures.  The 20 minute venture proves too hot for even me and I gladly return to the sanctuary of the air conditioned room.

May 15, 2008.  At 10am we receive our Ghana Visa/passport without any delays or hassle.  We stop at the market to pick up some more groceries.  While I am in the store, owned by Lebanese, the police show up and I witness how money changes hands.  Not sure what they were checking for but a few 1000CFA were given on the side to the officers.  As I was observing this transaction, Mike was being questioned outside by the immigration police, unknown to me.  He had to produce his passport and they checked for the validity of the Togo Visa.  Luckily, we had just picked up the passport from the Ghana Embassy and were carrying them on us.  If we would have left them back at the hotel, we would have been in trouble, which of course would have been resolved by paying a bribe.  It was all too apparent.  We were advised that there was only four (4) days left on the Visa and not to let it run out.  The rest of the day was quite uneventful. 

May 16, 2008.  We decide to visit a local market which includes a fetish section.  The market in Vogan is particularly good on Fridays and lies approx. 70km from Lome on the northern side of Lake Togo.  The area around Lake Togo is famous for Voodoo country.  We set out at 7am heading east toward Aneho.  Just as we turn north after Aneho the sky opens up and we are drenched.  We take shelter under a small tin awning and wait an hour for the thunderstorm to pass before continuing. We arrive around 9am at the Vogan market.  Vendors are starting to set up there stalls and we dive into the midst of the chaos, exploring and checking out everything.  Breakfast is some street food of fried dough, very yummy.  What ever you are looking for you will get at this market.  The fetish section is not very large and most of the items on display we are unable to determine its origin.  We actually do not want to know what it is.  Most items are for the Voodoo rituals.  We run for shelter as another downpour hits.  It is a great opportunity to watch locals as they continue to proceed in their daily activities and walk around in the rain, as if it was not raining.  We bought a couple of plastic bags and made a rain cover out of them to protect ourselves mainly from the wind chill once back on the motorcycle.  By noon we are back in Lome.  With the first overcast day and slightly cooler temperatures of 28Deg Celsius Mike decides to adjust the valves on the BMW's.  The last adjustment was in Durban, over 18,000km ago.  In the sandy parking lot with chickens running around we open up the cylinder covers and adjust the valves.  The removal of the crashbars is the biggest hassle, which seem to be permanently grown to the motorcycle after numerous falls.  After three (3) hours of sweat both motorcycles are back in one piece and should be good until we reach Germany.  We are all caught up with laundry, motorcycle service and internet.  In the evening we use Skype to make some calls to friends in Canada and Germany.  At 0.017 Euro/minute a good deal. 

May 17, 2008.  Togo had not much else to offer for us and we headed north-west from Lome to Kpalima. A twisty small tarred road makes its way to the Togo/Ghana border crossing.  First we arrive at the customs and receive our exit stamp for the Carnet de Passage a few kilometers further is immigration.  A typical small border crossing, a chain across the road, a wooden shack and a person to tell you after you park the motorcycle to move them to a different spot.  Mike completes the exit forms and the passports are stamped out, and it only took 20 minutes.  A small settlement lies between the Togo border post and Ghana border post in no-mans land.  Off we are to another country.

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