We arrived at the barrier at about 7:30am and handed our passports over to the police in a wooden cabin to our left. They noted our details into their book, stamped our passports out of Benin and asked us to fill in our details on forms. We made friends with the police officers and acted dumb when they said they needed money for us to pass through the barrier. Eventually with big smiles, they let us go through without payment.
We drove up and parked on the left before the baggage container. We walked across the road to get our passports stamped, yellow fever certificates checked (first time in Africa I might add), our temperatures checked for Ebola and then back over to the baggage container to get our carnet's stamped. All very easy, and such a joy to speak English. We left with no hassles, and no bribes!! It seemed we were lucky as ALL the locals were paying, no questions asked. The officers would open up their draws in their desks to add more notes to their already overflowing piles! But we got through Scott free! There was even an atm at the border where we could draw some Naira, the Nigerian currency, which is something most borders don't offer. It all took under 2hours... Easy peasy!
That was to be the end of the easiness in travelling to Lagos. We were stopped every few kilometres, with some stops literally being next to each other. There would be two thick wooden sticks where you would be instructed to park in between. Then be instructed to drive around the one stick and park in the next bay, then the next, then the next, then the next. With each booth having different cops stood there to hear the same story and ask for gifts. Like being on a speed dating course with the cops! They were all very friendly and eventually moved us on when they realised they weren't getting anything from us.
It was the Lagos traffic officers that proved to be our most challenging. They wore a light brown shirt with a maroon hat on, like a cricketer would wear during a match. They insisted that driving in Nigeria with a right hand drive vehicle in a left hand driving country is illegal. On both occasions they insisted our vehicles were to be impounded, or for a hefty fine of 50000 Naira (£175) to be paid after escorting us to the Chiefs office. At this point we refused to continue to drive and said we would wait there for a tow as it was illegal to drive. We had to play them at their own game, by blocking the road and acting as if we had all the time in the world. (Hence stopping them from getting money from other passers by) We insisted we were tourists, but they were having none of it. After about half an hour, we were eventually told to move on, clearly getting bored with our lack of payment and happy go lucky vibes. Thank goodness! We would look up the laws of the road as soon as we got internet in Lagos.
We were warned about the traffic in Lagos and oh my gosh, were they not kidding. We drove into the city on a very uneven road, with potholes the size of small cars. How were non-4x4 vehicles driving on this "road"? We saw the evidence of broken cars who had taken the wrong lines, as you had to drive around abandoned vehicles with their parts lying under the cars. It was utter madness. Not only that, you had people in vehicles driving alongside us wanting to know all about us and our travels whilst dodging potholes. You have to have eyes at the back of your head for this kind of driving.
We were absolutely shattered, with empty stomachs, as stopping to eat in this craziness didn't seem to be an option. We eventually arrived into Iyoki, Victoria Island just past 3pm, and found the house we were looking for. Cat's godmother has family in Nigeria who so kindly offered us to stay. We pulled into her compound and were treated by a beautiful house with such a beautiful family. This family offered their house to us without even knowing us. She had her chef, cook us up a fantastic meal (which was amazing since we hadn't eaten yet and we were up at 5am!). We played a few board games with the kids and enjoyed a tea (with milk!!) before bed in an air conditioned room!!!
We woke up early the next morning as we needed to head into town where we would try our luck at the Cameroon embassy in Lagos. But as we decended down the stairs, the dinning room table was layed out with a breakfast for us!! This was total luxury!! Ego even organised us a driver for our time with them, so that we wouldn't be hassled by the police! He was a fantastic driver, called Sunday, and he happily ferried us around with zero hassle from the police in an air conditioned car! Hallelujah!
We arrived at the Angolan embassy to be told they don't issue any visas at that embassy. We weren't that surprised as they place looked grubby and unused! So we headed to the Cameroon embassy. We weren't sure if we could get a visa here, as all blogs and advise say to get it in Calabar. But we would try our luck. We greeted a man who told us a visa would cost $120 each!! Ouch!! He gave us the application forms and told us to arrive the next day to apply. 120USD (£80) sounded extortionate, so we messaged some of our friends who had gotten theirs in Calabar to see what they paid. We decided we would go back the next day and ask to pay the normal price at £60 per visa.
Next stop was the MTN shop to get a SIM card. We arrived at the entrance where the car was scanned and checked by security. After heading inside, we were then also scanned and checked. Security was intense. But we bought a SIM card for 100 Niara (£0.35) and needed to wait an hour or so until it was activated. So we headed off to the Yellow Chilli restaurant for some lunch. We had Sunday tag along and bought him some lunch too. Here we tried some traditional dishes. Charles, Cat and I had different sauces with Semivita (Pounded yam) while Rob enjoyed a rice dish with prawns, shrimps and chicken. Yes... Rob ordered a fish dish! And enjoyed it! I am as surprised as you are!! I can't remember the last time he said he enjoyed any food that isn't your normal European dish. But I was surprised that he got stuck in, even pealing off the shells with his hands. Something he hates doing, as he always says he likes food that's easy to eat. Not having to fight for it. Lol!
We headed back to the house where we played more board games with the kids and enjoyed watching Cartoon Network with them. We were later told dinner was ready. Yes the chef cooked us another amazing meal! We were being treated like kings and queens!
The next morning we headed off to the Cameroon embassy to hand in our visa application forms. But little did we know, we were about to be made fools of! We walked into his office and asked about paying the normal £60 worth of visa instead of the £80 he was asking for. He then went off in a tangent about paying so much to visit England, that it's only fair. After a few efforts at negotiating, we were getting no where, so we told him we would go to Calabar and get it there as it would be much cheaper. At this point he told us we needed to pay for the application forms. This guy was going to take us to town. Our tempers were rising, and we were fuming. We were aware that we still had no visa, so we were now firmly in his grasp. He could phone ahead and get our applications denied. So he charged us 1000 Naira (£3.50) per paper and even gave us a receipt after Charles asked. We left swiftly after that, ANGRY!
After calming down a bit we headed for a Shoprite (a South African grocery store that opening stores nation wide)... I could finally stock up on Mrs Balls Chutney!! My favourite!! I was even more happy to see a Pandora store (a jewellery store I used to work at). It certainly wasn't up to the standards in England, but the girls were lovely!!! Made me miss my girls in the uk. South Africa has certainly made their mark in Nigeria bringing large businesses, like DSTV, to accommodate the ever growing population.
The next day we headed for the Lekki Conservation Centre where they have a forest with monkeys in the middle of Lagos. Not something you expect in the middle of a city. The entrance fee was 1000 Naira per person and 1000 for the canopy walk above the forest. It was absolutely beautiful while we watched the monkeys swing from branch to branch. We met 2 couples who were in Nigeria to complete a very long process of adoption. They had been here for 3months and were heading back home to Amsterdam with their new baby girls in the next week. It had taken 5years for the one couple and 2years for the other. It was so interesting to chat and talk about their experience. Such a great thing they have done.
On our way back home, Sunday needed to fill up. But in Nigeria, there is a huge shortage of fuel, as there are no or little refineries. It's crazy to think such an oil rich country imports all their fuel, they most definitely missing a trick there! We pulled up at a fuel station that they had blocked off, reducing the amount of people using it. Sunday got out, leaving the car in the middle of the road, to chat with the manager, while we sat in the car in a very busy roundabout leading onto a highway. Safety isn't a key factor in these parts! But he eventually got back into the car, and told us he had difficulty persuading us to go through because we were in the car (white people)!!! But he eventually convinced them, and we were able to fill up.
The next couple of days Ego was able to come home early and take us to see African art studios. The artwork was incredible, so creative and beautiful. She took us to a small restaurant/gathering spot where we had some cold drinks and got to try more local cuisines. Charles and Rob tried the pepper soup and oh my word was it the hottest thing they had tried yet. I took a bite and immediately had a coughing fit as my throat burned from this fiery sauce. I still can't believe both of them finished it. Cat and I tried the fried yam chips with scrambled eggs, peppers and tomatoes; something the Nigerians have often. The next day, she took us to see more art galleries, and took us for dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe which had recently opened on the beach front. Food was good, but once again in Nigeria, very expensive. Then it was off to the freedom park where they play live music while you enjoy the local Star beer or palm wine. Fantastic to see, but we couldn't stay too late as our driver was collecting us at 8pm. So we waited outside the gates as we watched the chaos unfolding around us, people dressed up in their best outfits entering the park, security trying to keep the roads clear and moving, while the local disabled would beg for money. A crazy sight as quickly jumped into the car when our driver arrived.
We left Lagos, Ego and her family with a heavy heart, humbled by their generosity and hospitality. Back on the road we were greeted with yet again more police officers. All happy, friendly and just wanted a chat and the hope they would get something out of us. We were now also armed with our knowledge of tourists transiting through the country with a right hand drive vehicle. We told them we knew the law stated we had up to 6months to travel freely with our vehicles and as we were only transiting through within one month, we were perfectly legal. And this worked well, no arguing, no questioning, just happy to wave us on. Fantastic!!
After a full 10hours of driving, and stopping for the police, we arrived into Benin City where we found a hotel that offered cheap rooms for 3500 Niara (£12) a night, called the Osdy Hotel. We wondered into town to grab a cold drink, and soon got chatting to some locals. We had a great time with them as we spoke about the way of life in Nigeria. We drank the African Special Guiness which was normal Guiness with injections of herbs and spices. Actually quite nice, and were even more enjoyable when we were told they were buy one, get one free! Two drinks for 200 Naira was a bargain! Yes that's £0.35 per drink!!!
The next day was pretty relaxed, as the boys did maintenance on the cars, while I cleaned the inside with an attempt to tackle the forever appearing dust! A thankless task, but if it means we have at least one day of driving in a clean car; it most definitely is worth it! It was sweltering and we were all literally dripping with sweat. The boys would have sweat dripping from their noses and chins; very attractive of course. But with happiness and pride, it was a productive morning! So, Rob and I decided we deserved an ice cream, so we headed back into town where we soon realised it was a Sunday. People were returning from church in amazing outfits and the streets were now a beautiful array of colours. The ladies dressed up in traditional clothing or amazing ball like dresses, while the men in suits with bow ties. People take such pride in their appearances in Nigeria, particularly when it comes to attending church. We later met up with Charles and Cat to get some dinner at the local KFC equivalent, Chicken Republic. Like most places in Africa. Everything on the menu was not available, except a chicken sandwich and chicken wings. So there was only one thing to do... Have a chicken sandwich and chicken wings. It was devine, and just what the doctor ordered! We wandered back to the hotel where we ended up playing table tennis with one of the other residents that was in Benin City to put through a study application to study abroad in Canada. Something most Nigerians strive to achieve as studying abroad will offer them far more opportunities than studying in Nigeria.
Another 10 hours of driving awaited us as our next destination was Calabar. We arrived and needed to look for another hotel. Unfortunately, Nigeria is not a country that offers camping, so it had to be another hotel. We tried one hotel, but it was far too expensive, so they phoned ahead to a nearby one that could give us a room for 5000 Niara (£18) a night. We arrived there and she said it would be 7000 a night. No way! So we did some more haggling and she soon agreed to 5000... Fantastic. Our room even had aircon... It's the small things in life that really make a difference!
Calabar was a great little town and we managed to get our Cameroon visa within half an hour at the normal price. Quick, easy, and the staff were so friendly at this embassy. Now we understand why everyone says to go to that one. All we needed was 2passport photos and to fill in an application form. Fantastic!
There is so much history in Calabar , being Nigerias biggest slave ports and later a major exporter of palm oil. Fascinating and a definite must see! The first museum is in a large colonial building with extensive information on the events during Britains arrival into Nigeria. Then we moved onto the next museum which was in the Marina Resort. It had a small cinema which played a movie to illustrate what it was like back then. We were then taken around with a guide who explained more to us. Each museum cost 100 Naira per person and definitely worth it.