Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Nigeria - Lagos

After a rather scathing commentary on Benin our last port of call before the boarder was Porto Novo. We had three days left before we wanted to cross so we decided to stay south. Arriving in Porto Novo there was no where to camp so we decided to consult the Lonely Planet and found a place called Songhai. We turned up and it seemed very odd, almost commune like! We had no idea what it was however we checked in for three nights for 9000CFA/night. The rooms were clean and basic! Perfect! Heading to the bar we asked the waiter was this place a community run thing and he replied no it's a business. It wasn't until the next day when we went on a tour 500CFA each with an English speaking guide we realised it was a practising model for sustainable farming. The place was amazing, it made its own bio-gas out of plant waste which powered the kitchens, they grew all their own crops, made fertiliser, reared fish and chickens. Walking round we realised the scale of it and how important it was for farming across Africa.. Students came to undertake courses in fish farming and agriculture, lots of people from Nigeria came over to take tours and find out new ideas! We were very lucky, on our tour was an old student, a current student and some people who lived in Lagos and owned a juicing bar. They were so knowledgeable about all the processes (e.g. Extracting Palm nut oil), and were happy to share they expertise! They were equally shocked to hear about our trip and we made some contacts whilst we stay in Victoria Island! It was nice to meet people from Nigeria, to hear positive things, places to go, dealing with the police (locals have to as well apparently) and safety pointers put our mind at ease a little! We managed to find insurance also here, we got 2 months for 32000cfa which is valid in all countries up to Congo so worked out well!

(Fish farms in Songhai)

(Palm nuts waiting to be turned in to palm oil - they are roasted, boiled and crushed. Palm oil is used in most cooking here)

(Vegetable gardens in Songhai - they make all their own manure and use plastic to keep the weeds and sun off the veg)

We woke up at the crack of dawn to get to the border, we had chosen Iki-Oroko 30km above the main Southern crossing due to it being supposedly quieter! It was very quiet, we got there about 7.30am just as everyone was going to work or school. Surprisingly we got through the Benin side with no issue, we had thought we would have to pay some incentive money, but it only seemed like the locals had to! Getting to the Nigerian side was also completely fine, we sat with some gentlemen whilst they stamped our passports - they were very impressed with how many countries we already had in it and carried on despite the electricity going out half way through! After the stamps we had to see the drugs and smuggling department (two men with a book), and then show our yellow fever certificates.. The first time we have had to do this despite it being a legal requirement since Senegal! Getting our carnet stamped was easy and before we knew it we were through!

Having heard the police in Nigeria can be imposing we were not surprised to be stopped within 100m of the border. They asked us to get out, sit down, hand over our passports ... They wrote our names in another book and chatted to us about Nigeria, where to visit/where not to visit! They were friendly, smiling and sent us on our way with no hassle! Being pulled over the next couple of times we had similar experiences and were beginning to wonder when our luck would run out. It did very quickly! As we got nearer to Lagos we were stopped by men in beige clothes and a burgundy hats. They were the Lagos road safety unit and are currently our least favourite police! There were three of them.. One was taking photos of us (on his personal iPhone), one was just chatting to us and the third was berating us! Telling us our car was illegal because it is a right hand drive, that he was going to make us to back to the border to his office to pay a fine or change the steering column to the left side... All kinds of rubbish! We sat there and took it.. our car whilst it is illegal, it can be driven because it is a temporary import and leaving in 2 weeks, however we heard it was common for police to try it on. Charles and I turned around and said.. Ok, we would follow you back to your office because we don't want to break the law, however if we drive we will be driving illegally so we will wait for a tow. The policeman went way to chat and came back.. He told us he didn't want to keep us waiting so would come to an agreement.. We cut him off say again we didn't want to break the law so we would stay here. He went away again, gave us our documents back and sent us on our way... Not before he asked for a gift.. We managed to not give him anything and went on our way. This opened up the barrage.. A three hour drive took six and we think we got stopped 30 times by different police. Some asking for something, and some just interested. We got stopped only once more by the red hats, again telling us we were illegal. Again we stayed, played along - I told him I would call my family and tell them I would be late (this was whilst the second man was taking selfies of us and the car). They went away, talked and came back and let us go! It seems like it is only ever one policeman who wants to try it.. The others can't be bothered! 

We finally got to Ikoyi (Victoria Island), a real change from the hustle of central Lagos where we had driven through! We were let into our host's house and just crumpled... We were so tired and exhausted. We were staying with some family friends, in the most beautiful house! We played a couple of board games with the children whilst waiting for food and sat down to the first food we had had all day (5pm!). Ego (our host) came back after work and was amused to hear our journey story.. She had thought we would have hassle but didn't want to say anything to put us off!! Sleeping in a comfortable bed in an air conned room could not come soon enough! Day 2 in Lagos we were lucky enough to have someone driving us, his name was Sunday and he was a God send.. He knew Lagos well and was inconspicuous so we were not stopped by the police at all! We went to the Cameroon embassy to ask about visas, they told us come back tomorrow and it would cost $120. He gave us the forms to fill in and we moved onto the Angolan visa. After asking a few people we found it to be told they only issue in Abuja. This was fine and we carried onto the MTN shop to buy a sim. We were scanned, as well as the car, and allowed into this air conditioned shop with high end phones everywhere. Sim bought for 100Nira (288 Nira to the £), and went for lunch. We stopped at yellow chilli, a traditional restaurant, and Sunday told us some of the good dishes to have - I had fish soup with semovita (rehydrated yam powder). It was lovely! 

(My fish okoye at the yellow chilli)

Day 3 was more of the same. We had heard that in Calabar the Cameroon visa was about $90 so we went to the embassy to ask. The man could not tell us why there was a price difference, and as we left he said we had to pay for the forms we had filled in.. He wanted 4000Nira.. He gave us a receipt and everything! We were shocked and a bit put out.. Over £12 for 4 bits of paper... It left a sour taste in our mouths as we left but I guess there was nothing to be done! From here we headed to Lekki Conservation centre - this was the number two thing to do on trip advisor so we thought we would give it a go! It was well worth a visit, it was a jungle conservation centre with wooden walk ways through the undergrowth.. We saw monkeys and lots of birds! As we walked through we came to this mental walkway.. We had paid for it so off we went! It was fantastic, we walked up 22 feet above the canopy, the views were stunning and it was such a different experience seeing the forest floor from above! We felt like birds! 

(Metal walk way at Lekki)

Returning home we stopped off at a mall.. It again blew our minds.. There was a Pandora, mango, Zara.. All very expensive! The food in the supermarket was international (including Souther African Mrs Balls Chutney) but again expensive! We have been told everything here is imported from overseas! We have been quite shocked at how expensive everything is especially coming from Togo and Benin which is so cheap!

(Even saw scones - had to take a photo for my Mum who likes to think of herself as a scone conneseur!)

We were hoping to visit Abuja to collect an Angolan visa, however whilst researching prices of hotels or even flights tehreon from Lagos (all VERY expensive) we decided to call the embassy to make sure they would issue. Despite in Cotonou and in Lagos the staff saying they would issue we were told down the phone they would not without a Nigerian residency card. So we are onto plan G with the Angolan visa. Emails and calls were frantically sent hoping to resolve the issue!

In the afternoon we spent time with our host, Ego. She took us to the Simply Green Juice bar (we had met the owner in Songhai in Benin). It was in a great little yoga studio with a lovely owner (her sons went too school in Oxford - small world). We we also taken to some amazing shops, one very high end designer shop which has lots of different African designs and furniture, and another a bit like a bazaar - different paintings and sculptures from different parts of Nigeria history! Fascinating! We went for dinner at Bogoburi - mandy and I had yam chips and egg sauce (amazing), and the boys had chicken pepper soup. It was very spicey.. Even for charles who can handle spicey!

Our final day we went to the Nike Gallery with Ego. It was an art gallery stuffed full of paintings and sculptures! The most impressive being paintings of the traffic around Lagos, and a monkey made out of strips of tyres! After this we went to the new Hard Rock Cafe. It had only opened in December with views of the beach! It was a strange experience, pristine and obviously very popular! After being here we went to Freedom Park in the centre! We turned up and there was a music event going on. It was obviously the place to be on a friday night with lots of young people turning up for live music and entertainment. Mandy and I tried Palm wine.. An interesting experience.. Much like coconut milk and alko saltier! But nice non the less! 

(View from the Hard Rock Cafe)

(Concert in Freedom park)

(Palm wine)

So far Nigeria has not disappointed (and we have only been in Lagos!) despite the prices and police we have only met smiling friendly people, and our hosts have been so welcoming, gracious and friendly! The places to see around Lagos have been amazing, from the quiet of Lekki to bustle of Freedom Park. has been great staying in a house with such lovely children as well! I have never played so many games of Nigerian monopoly ever. Funnily enough as we go around Lagos we are seeing the places on the monopoly board! Makes great entertainment! Tomorrow we head towards Calabar to attempt to get the Cameroon visa! Fingers crossed! 

#africa #overlanding #travelling #thisisafrica #nigeria #lagos