21 January 2003
We are writing this bulletin in Abuja, Nigeria. We are about to set off into Chad/Sudan/Ethiopia and internet access is likely to be scarce and so we may not be in touch for a while.
We had to wait around in Accra for a bit longer than expected while waiting for visas, and finally left there on the 6th January. We headed inland a bit (and drove along the first stretch of motorway we had seen in two months) and crossed into Togo at Kpalime. From the border we headed south to the coast again and stayed for a day or so in Lome.
From Lome we followed the coast East through voodoo land into Benin. The centre of voodoo is supposedly at Ouidah but there was not a lot to see there. We then stopped for supplies at Cotonou. A little way north of Cotonou is the stilt village of Ganvie which is built in the middle of the lake. We took pirogues (boats) out to the village.
The town of Abomey was the capital of the Dahomey empire. We took a guided tour of the old palace there which was the home of the Dahomey kings from 1620 to 1900.
It was now time to head east and cross into Nigeria. All the guidebooks have lots of warnings about Nigeria being dangerous and corrupt, and we had heard the news reports about the clashes between the Christians and Muslems in the North, and so there was a fair amount of anxiety on the truck. It did not help that we had to pass through fourteen checkpoints in the first half day after crossing the border, each with armed men who were generally not in uniform and had no ID. The automatic weapons were intimitading enough, but some of them carried what looked like grenade launchers as well. However, we generally got waved on after we explained who we were and where we were going. As we got further from the border the checkpoints became more infrequent and were all manned by uniformed police which gives a much greater sense of security.
We had a brief stop in Ibadan to see if there was a Cameroon embassy there. We received word from the Bog Rat crew that the only Cameroon embassy is in Lagos and so Richy and Kaz, the driver and courier headed down there in taxis with a couple of the lads for protection. Paul, the mechanic, drove the rest of us on to Oshogbo to wait for them. It was a bit intimidating being stopped by the police when we didn't have our passports (Richy had them in Lagos) but we managed to get to Oshogbo without incident.
In Oshogbo we stayed at the "Jungle Communications Centre" which is a music/dance centre run by an eccentric character called Okonfo Rao Kawawa. They gave us numerous concerts, and even made up songs for us. They also had someone guide us to the sacred forest where we were given a guided tour. The river through the forest is regarded as a deity, and we were allowed to dip our fingers in and say a "prayer". Debs and I were speaking to one of the locals in a bar the next day and she thought we were incredibly brave to do this. There is apparently a mermaid in the river who has a bit of a temper - the girl we spoke to has seen the mermaid twice herself!
We met up with the others who had the Cameroon visas, and headed through the hills to Abuja. We crossed the Niger river on a long bridge, but got stuck for a good half hour behind a herd of cattle.
In Abuja we found that our camp site would be in the staff bus park for the Sheraton hotel. The Bog Rats had stayed here a week or so previously and apart from being able to camp they had negotiated a really good room rate. Steve and Debs, as well as a good proportion of the others, booked into a room for a night of luxury before the trials of Chad/Sudan/Ethiopia.
Abuja is also where we are picking up the Chad and Sudan visas. These are the last ones that we have to get in advance, as from Kenya onwards we can get visas at the borders if we need them. Also the four Americans on the truck had a pleasent surprise - they were able to get visas from Sudan which they had expected to be rejected. They were all expecting to have to fly over and it was going to work out very expensive, once flights, hotels, etc. had been factored in.
Steve & Debs