Day 74 - Friday 04/01/08 - Abeokuta to Gateway Hotel, Oshogbo
We were rudely awoken in the middle of the night by a very angry security guard demanding 'who are you? what are you doing here?'. We explained that we were registered with reception and permitted to camp at the hotel, but he didn't believe us and went off to get the manager. In the morning, when we went to check out, the reception staff told us we owed 11,500 Naira (about £50!) for the camping. Feeling a little bit sick, we said surely there had been a mistake and this was the price for a room... after a lot of discussion and insisting on speaking to the owner, it was agreed we could leave without paying... phew! They don't seem to understand the concept of camping here.
Foreign bank cards don't work in the ATMs in Nigeria so the first thing we needed to do was change some money. We drove into Ibadan, a huge city, and ended up trapped in a market surrounded by thousands of people - it felt like being back in India! Eventually we found a money changer but got terrible rates because we didn't have big denominations of US dollars. Our next mission was to fill up with diesel. Despite the fact that crude oil accounts for more than 95% of Nigeria's exports, it doesn't have an oil refineries so has to import fuel - crazy! Diesel in particular is really hard to find - we had to try about 10 petrol stations before we found some. From here we drove on to Oshogbo, the site of a sacred forest with some really cool Yoruba shrines.
Spent ages looking for the Ambassador Guest House, which sounded like it might have space for camping, but nobody had heard of it, except one man who tried really hard to explain to us but ended up blurting out 'you just goooooo straaaaaaaaaaight' which had us in fits of giggles. Eventually we took a studio room (£15) at the Gateway Hotel, which had air-con, en suite bathroom and TV - what a treat. Spent the evening watching the film channel and eating vegemite sandwiches. Robin even shaved his beard - I hardly recognised him when he came out the shower.
Day 75 - Saturday 05/01/08 - Oshogbo to Sheraton Hotel, Abuja
Set off early from Oshogbo, hoping to get to Abuja in one day, but our progress was hindered by lots of checkpoints (see Notes and tips). These come in different forms: the 'revenue collectors' are young men with florescent jackets and nailboards, which they put across the road so that you have to stop. They're easy enough to fob off by insisting that you don't have to pay tax because you're a tourist. The 'normal' police are usually quite friendly and can be distracted by asking questions about the map ('yes, you just go straight'); when they ask what we've brought for them from England we just say 'good luck' or 'greetings from the Queen'. The worst we found were the 'traffic police', who hunt in packs and try to find a problem with your documents etc. In our case, we had six men in uniform and guns telling us that right-hand drive cars are illegal in Nigeria and that they would impound the vehicle if we did not pay a 'fine'. They also took our driving licences. We tried every trick in the book to get away without paying, but they refused to give back our driving licences until we paid a US$10 'fine'. We left feeling very bitter - especially when one of the policemen called out 'but tell everyone Nigeria is a great country'. Yeah, right!
Once we got onto the fast road up to Abuja there was no way that there would be any more checkpoints as the traffic was moving so fast. We witnessed some of the craziest driving we've ever seen - people overtaking on blind corners or into oncoming traffic, lorries driving cars off the road etc. Several times we had to break quite hard to let an overtaking car pull in to avoid having a crash right in front of us. We just stuck to the side of the road and drove at a sensible speeed trying to keep out of everyone's way! There are loads of wrecks by the the side of the road.
It had been a long day by the time we reachd Abuja - Nigeria's purpose-built capital. It's right in the middle of the country between the Muslim north and the Christian south. The roads here are huge so the traffic flows well (although the traffic lights don't appear to have been switched on yet, making large junctions rather scary). We'd heard we could camp at the Sheraton Hotel, and when we turned up the lovely security guard, Mr Elijah, showed us round to the back of the car park and said we could camp for free. We're known as the 'tourists' (so I guess everyone else in the hotel is there for business). Nipped across the road to Mr Biggs - a Nigerian fast-food chain - and had tasty chicken and jollof rice for tea.
Day 76 - Sunday 06/01/08 - Abuja
Spent the day doing chores - washing, cleaning the water filter (which had obviously been doing its job as it was very dirty), and Robin looked at one of the wheel bearings, which has been leaking. We tried to sneak into the hotel pool but soon realised everyone else had blue stripey towels and we were soon found out. They told us it was US$10 each to use the facilities so we retreated back to our corner of the car park. Back to Mr Biggs for tea.
Day 77 - Monday 07/01/08 - Abuja
Today we set off in quest of our Angola visas. It took us ages to find the embassy as it was really tucked away, but fortunately it didn't open until 9.30 am so we arrived just in time. Firstly, we had to fill in a form requesting to enter the building. Once in the building, the very grumpy receptionist told us they no longer issue tourist visas. We asked to speak to the person in charge and waited a couple of hours. Eventually we had a meeting with a very pleasant lady who said unfortunately she would not be able to issue us our visas - despite our letter from the Angolan High Commissioner in London! We tried very hard to persuade her, but she said we have to get it in Libreville (Gabon) instead. We resigned ourselves to the fact that our detour to Abuja had been in vain and decided to pay for an afternoon in the Sheraton's pool to cheer ourselves up.
Day 78 - Tuesday 08/01/08 - Abuja to Obudu
Got up very early and left Abuja at 6.30am to avoid the worst of the traffic (and hoping that the police would still be in bed) and because we have another long drive today. Fortunately the east of Nigeria is proving to be a bit more chilled out than the west and the roads were much quieter. There were also fewer checkpoints and no-one caused us any trouble. It's more rural on this side, with people living in mud huts again. There's so much wealth in Nigeria, it's easy to forget that beyond the fast cars and posh hotels there are still lots of people living with very little. We'd heard we could camp for free up at the Obudu Cattle Range - on a plateau right at the top of the beautiful Sonkwala Mountains. It was a fantastic drive, with hair-pin bends (although, as normal, the views are obscured by the harmattan), but when we asked about camping we were quoted a third of the room rate - far more money than we had left (we couldn't even have afforded a meal). So we drove all the way back down and found somewhere to bush camp. It seems that Nigeria just isn't working out for us!
Day 79 - Wednesday 09/01/08 - Obudu to Data Hotel, Mamfe (Cameroon)
We set off for the border feeling ready to leave Nigeria behind. Used up the last of our Naira on some fuel in Ikom. The road to the border on the Nigerian side was good and paved, and we were only stopped a couple of times at checkpoints. Just before the border some police tried to tell us that we'd been given the wrong entry stamp blah blah blah, but it was obvious they just wanted a bribe, so we just played the waiting game and eventually they got bored. Amazingly we weren't asked for any bribes at all for crossing the border - even at the bridge. So we happily crossed into Cameroon and were greeted by very friendly officials and all paperwork was carried out quickly.
From the border, it's only 80 km to Mamfe, the nearest town, but the road is notorious. In the wet season it can be impassable, and there are huge bomb holes and ruts. It was no problem for us in the dry with a Land Rover, but it still took about three hours. We had lots of fun though - this feels like proper overlanding now. At the Data Hotel we met Gwen and Nick who've been overlanding from South Africa on a motorbike. Spent a great evening swapping stories and blowing our day's budget on beer.