Friday, 4 March 2016

Nigeria (2)

We left Lagos at 7.30am after a final breakfast of tea (with milk) and toast! We had decided to head out early to avoid the notorious Lagos traffic however we got out with no problem. Our plan had been to drive as far as we could till about 2pm then spend time finding a hotel. By 3.30pm we had exceeded all expectations and were in Benin City. It took us just over 6 hours and were stopped about 20 times however we had no real issues, unlike driving to Lagos. Mandy managed to find a cheap hotel with a working fan and electricity..  occasionally, it was basic but it was fine! We headed out to find a cold drink and stumbled upon a small bar. The music was pumping and after a first drink a lady came over to tell us about a Guiness Africa promotion (buy one get one free). The Guiness here is different to at home, here is it stout, but the Africa version is different still. It has a blend of 'African herbs', take that how you will, however the end result is good. Whilst sitting there we got chatting to some local students about life and culture here.. Nigeria has many languages, and it was interesting trying to speak even basic words! Waking up the next day we decided to spend a day on the cars, the boys fixed some running repairs whilst we spent time trying to clean the inside.. A fruitless task!

We needed to head to Calabar next, again it was another long drive which we had decided to attempt in one or break up along the way late afternoon. Luckily we headed off at 7am, because we ended up in Calabar at 6pm. The roads were awful, and again we had a lot of police interest! Mainly asking us about where we were coming from/going to, and only 20% possibly asking for something.. Our standard reply was 'we have been travelling for 8 hours and been stopped 30+ times, everything has gone', this seemed to be a fairly plausible excuse and we were waved on! Arriving in Calabar the boys were tired and we all just wanted to sit down! Arriving at an expensive hotel we were given a budget option, this sounds fine however going to see the rooms it looked like someone was already in their... After some deliberation they told us they didn't have any rooms! I have learnt now that once given a key to a room never hand it back in, the administration is often not good enough to determine whether rooms are in use or not and you run the risk of other people nosing about in your stuff. Also never keep valuables in there! The owner said he would take us to another hotel down the road with rooms for the same price.. However after looking around their rooms we were told it would be more. After discussing and Mandy going back in we agree on two nights at a cheaper price! She is good a negotiating! We settled in with tuna mayo sandwiches, watched some game of thrones and bed. Our diets when in hotels is not so great, especially in Nigeria when we are getting such a bad exchange rate - restaurants/road side food stalls are about but the variety is small (and expensive) especially when it comes to veg (back to only tomatoes and onions!). We tend to eat from our rations box (which we decided we don't need any more as packet food is easily available), however again it is not highly nutritious.. We tend to crave fruit.. This can be picked up easily in the day time.. Bananas and pineapple are everywhere st the moment! Tesco is currently doing us proud! 

(Some of the things you see on the road.. This truck had 3 men sitting on top and at one point there were about 4 cars all trying to overtake at the same time)

(An interesting building along the way, it has a hand coming out the top of it.. Not sure what it it though)

The next day was spent getting the Cameroon visa.. Turns out it was the easiest to get! Arriving there we were met by a very friendly security lady who showed us into the office. We filled out a few forms and in half an hour it was done! We paid 90$ for 3 months which at the rate Rob paid for them was cheaper than paying in Nira... Bargain! We surprisingly left at 11.30am and the walk back to the hotel was sweaty.. Highs of 35 degrees. You can imagine our delight to find a cold drinks shop.. Stopping there were got chatting to the locals who told us about the history of Calabar.. It was a major slaving port before its abolition, and then became colonised by the British, they told us to go and visit the museums. As it was late in the day but this point we decided we would stay another day (we had intended to leave the next day), and after pizza (again highly nutritious!)we returned to the hotel for the night.

Our extra day in Calabar started off with a 2mile walk to the museum. Luckily the temperature wasn't too high at this point of the morning! Arriving there we paid our 100Nira to a rather abrupt lady and wondered about the museum. It was very intersting, documenting the slave trade which moved onto the palm oil trade after the abolition. It also talked about the British coming in and also the missionaries and their part to play. It was a lot to take in, especially with the heat, there were lots of school children so how they concentrated I will never know!

(Not sure how clear this is, but it amused me!)

(Inside the museum)

After our educational morning we walked down to the marina, it was beautiful. Again there was another museum which was very intersting and some beautiful views of the a River Niger. Walking back was another boiling affair, and getting back to the hotel we had tuna wraps and went to bed.  

Arriving at Afi Drill Ranch we immediately felt at home. A small camp set in the heart for the jungle, with a long drop for a toilet, an outside shower and a main kitchen area (with amazing views), we felt we had hit the jack pot! We were met by Innocent, the manager, who told us a bit about the place. The sanctuary had been set up 28 years ago by two overlanding Americans who had learnt about Drill Monkeys and their decline. From there the sanctuary had grown with now many groups of Drill Monkey and a group of Chimpanzees. With 30 staff and countless volunteers it was a larger operation (just to keep up with the amount of food needed for the animals was a job in itself). Spending our first night camping there was one of the best nights sleep we had in a long time. No whirling air con, no generators and a cool temperature! Spending out first day there we attempted to hike up the mountains with some ex-pats working in Abjua. We alomst got up to the top however took a wrong turning and didn't quite make it to the plateau .. It was unbelievable to hike in the jungle, the sounds and trees were stunning (having studied jungles with my class last year it was great to be in the heart of one!). That evening and the next morning we were able to go and see the Drill Monkeys, it was incredible.. 

(Feeding time)

(Obviously not monkeys however these ants are amazing, their bridge like structure was fascinating! They were a night mare though.. Getting everywhere and they were nasty when they pincered you! Charles accidentally took a photo whilst standing on a group.. You can imagine the agony as they moved up his trousers!).

(View from the kitchen area)

(Kitchen area, the morning of day 2)

Having taken an interesting ride in the back of the the defender to the village the previous evening for beer and food, we had a group breakfast before our hiking comrades left. Omelettes, beans and avocados were on the menu! We have met some fantastic people whilst on this trip and the four we met here were just the same! We spent the morning going onto their canopy walk (much like in Lagos), however it did not go the whole way due to a land slide 4 years ago causing destruction to the end of it - we later found out that a contract had been agreed with a Canadian company to fix it however the Goverment was yet to send the money.. The afternoon was spent washing and waterproofing the tent (in anticipation for rainy season), and we sat in the kitchen chatting and making dinner. The people who work here are so passionate. What they are doing here is just amazing, they are trying to protect these endangered animals with little to no help. The locals hunt them, burn down their habitat for farming, the authorities are too corrupt to do anything about it (normally they are paid or supplied with bush meat), and the Government have no interest. It is a battle every day! They rely on charitable donations, people visiting (they have cabins for people to stay in) and volunteers to keep up their good work. Meeting the co-founder in the evening of day 2 we again kept hearing his stories of corrupt Goverments, struggles with locals and the lack of education or care from the wider community. They are desperate for volunteers.. So any one wanting to spend any time volunteering here you would not regret it! The place is a haven and you would be doing some amazing work (and people speak English!). I cannot recommend this place highly enough, Charles and myself were seriously considering staying.. 

That evening we were escorted to see the group of Chimps. Chimps, we were told,are different to the monkeys. They are more intelligent and can recognise your face years later after meeting you for the first time. They were breath taking, bigger than I imagined, and very vocal (especially around food time!). We were able to watch them for about 20 minutes. They are aggressive, there is a constant struggle for power, so watching them wind each other up was amusing. Also their interactions, a mother and her child, or them using the straw to drink the water. Charles was highly  amused by one making raspberries at him, we later learnt it was a sign for wanting food! They eventuallly got fed up of us and threw a stick at Mandy.. that was our cue to leave! Bisson,a worker at the ranch, who showed us the chimps, was saying that they have specific keepers as they are so sensitive to humans and 'routines'.. This in comparison to the monkeys who are not so bothered (they work by the sound of the wheel barrow bringing their food! However on a side note their key keepers know every single one of the monkeys by name.. And some groups have 100 monkeys.. Just amazing!) Bisson was a very interesting man, he had completed a degree in wildlife Studies and had been lecturing at get university, he had been scouted by the Drill Ranch to come and work due to his knowledge and expertise, he knew all the names of the chimps, all about them and also a lot about local trees (he tried to test us but we were useless!).

Day 3 was spent watching the monkeys, Charles and myself went out and sat, waiting and watching. 

Day 4 and we decided to track up the mountain to try and reach base camp.. I was not sure whether knowing what was coming was better or worse than not knowing.. It was gruelling! Especially the first hour, tired legs from the previous hike and hot temperatures meant we were dripping in sweat within 10 minutes (I could wring it out of my tshirt!). However as our legs warmed up and we got into a routine we began to enjoy it! Charles as ever felt no pain and was bounding up after the guide like a gazelle.. The rest of us were struggling along at the back! Getting higher up our guide, Chris, stopped and said it had been raining.. The ground was wet and started to get slippery! However in 2 hours we made it to base camp which was very rewarding! From here you could track gorillas or other wild life. We had met some researchers, Irowrow, Ben and their team, who had spent days tracking and trapping bats from base camp. Listening to them was fascinating, their research has shed some light on bat species and feeding habits (Mandy I am sure will post the link to their research via her blog). After reaching base camp we wanted to head on, however as it was getting late and the track treacherous it was decided to head down. Going down was faster, however very slipping and I ended up on my bottom more than once! Highly amusing! Getting down to the village we had a beer and headed back to camp on a motorcycle taxi. That evening we sat down with everyone and chatted, in the distance we heard thunder.. The workers at the Ranch got every excited! The lightening arrived along with the wind.. 10 minutes later the rain came down! The first rain of the season! Everyone got to work battering down the hatches and congregated in the main kitchen area! It cleared the air completely and another cool nights sleep was awaiting us! Leaving on the final morning was hard, we left with an invitation to come back in August for a year which we will seriously consider! 

(Very sweaty on the way up to base camp)

(I tried to get a photo of the darkening sky as the rain came in! In Ikom the next evening it rained again, the sky went almost black, the winds were howling and the rain was pelting it down! We were having a beer at the time and had to retreat into the safety of the hut!)

We are currently heading to Ikom to cross the border into Cameroon. We have lovely Nigeria which has come as a shock to us. Again it has proved the theory of take heed of the media and foreign office advice, but take it with a pinch of salt..

(Last photo.. Doing out washing! Coming back from the Drill Ranch our clothes were disgusting.. As you can imagine finding water, let alone a washing machine is tricky! Any time we get a hotel room or enough water the washing gets done! It's currently drying in obscure places around the room!) 

#africa #overlanding #travelling #thisisafrica #nigeria