Monday, April 13, 2009

10 days in Northern Nigeria and Cameroon, April 3-13

The plan was to go to Chad Basin National Monument and Sukur in Northern Nigeria and then to Waza National Park, Pouss and Rhumsiki in Cameroon. The original eight folks on the trip were Jonathan, Sharon, me, Bob, Joy and her husband Ryan, and Judith and her daughter Georgina. We had three 4WD vehicles, to be sure we had back-up in case one vehicle broke down we could all cram into two vehicles, very tightly!

The trip started a bit rough, to say the least! Our drivers (Niyi, Kazeem & Benjamin) departed on Thursday, April 2, to drive up to Kano and pick us up at the airport at 6PM. On Thursday, they were stopped on the road and had to pay 35,000 Naira (~$230) for car stickers – Mobile Advert Agency (MOA), Loading and Offloading Agency (LOA), and some sanitation agency – stickers that we don’t need as we are not advertising or loading/offloading. That is Nigeria for you! What is odd is that one of the drivers from another company had the stickers, which did not bode well for our drivers talking themselves out of it having to buy them. We were also missing a copy of the Proof of Ownership in our vehicle so Bob had to get a copy for the rest of the trip and our driver Niyi had to dash (bribe in this case) the police man to get through the stop. The drivers made it to Abuja the first night.

On Friday around 11AM, Bob got a call from Niyi letting him know that Kazeem rolled his car (tumbled was the word used) near Kaduna and it was totaled and that Kazeem was OK but going to the Hospital to get checked out. They said the front tire blew out and the car hit the enter divider and then veered off in the other direction off into the bush where it rolled end over end (see below). We are not sure how fast Kazeem was going but likely faster than is safe (we tell the drivers not to go faster than 120 km per hour (70mph). We got conflicting stories from the other two drivers on Kareem’s speed but we think he was going too fast. Shortly after this news came, we got the news that our flight was delayed from 530Pm to 830PM, which sucked but allowed us some time to figure out what we were going to do and how we were going to get another vehicle. Jonathan, who thought fast, called Land Transport in Abuja and arranged a Land Cruiser with a driver (Bayo) and guard (James) to drive up to Kano and meet us on Saturday, to arrive about the same time Niyi and Benjamin would be making it up there after dealing with the damaged car and making sure Kazeem was safely on his way home. This car would only be able to take us in Nigeria and had to turn back to Abuja when we went into Cameroon, which caused yet another problem as Judith and Georgina did not want to travel into Cameroon with just two vehicles so they had decided to do the beginning of the trip with us and fly back to Lagos on Tuesday. Joy and Ryan, who did not have their own car, decided to stay behind in Lagos, save some vacation days and take a shorter trip to Krebbi, Cameroon which they enjoyed (Thanks for having us over for dinner to share stories).


Our delayed flight landed in Kano at midnight and since our drivers were not showing up until Saturday we had to get a cab and search for a hotel… until we finally found vacancies in the Central Hotel at 2AM, the fourth hotel we tried. The Central Hotel sucked, and was so not worth the money we paid. There were dead cockroaches in the bathroom and urine all over the toilet seat! Gross! We did have AC but at 630AM it started making a very loud noise. We were not in a huge rush as were waiting for our cars and drivers to make it to Kano (expected them about 2PM). About 9AM Bob and I showered then went to a vacant conference room for breakfast of eggs, chips (French fries) and beans. Bob and I decided to lounge around and sleep (I slept but Bob did not) while the others went on a tour of Kano, something Bob and I did last October when we came for the Durbar festival. The drivers arrived about 130 or 2PM, and after some car reorganization, decision making, and a stop at a bakery for snacks and we headed off to Nguru about 330 or 4PM. We arrived in Nguru around 8PM, a bit later than expected, after taking the wrong road, to pick up our guide Usman who would direct us the rest of the way (25km) to Dagona Camp in Chad Basin National Park. Upon arrival, we picked our accommodations, asked for some hot water to eat a dehydrated meal for dinner. The temperature outside was cool and refreshing after the hot day (44C, 110F) and we should have slept outside but we slept in the cabins hoping the AC would cool us down, but it did not. After a while we got the water running in the rooms and took a quick bucket shower before bed.
Sunday morning we started with another shower, Indomie noodles and egg for breakfast, we paid the bill and departed with our guide to the oxbow lake in the Bade-Nguru Wetlands. If you are a birder, the wetlands are for you as it is the destination for over 350 migratory birds making the trip between August and May. The best time to visit is in December but a few species still remain in April. We saw egrets, blue heron, purple heron, glossy ibis, Abyssinian rollers, and African open-billed storks, to name the major birds we saw. We happened to arrive just at the end of a fishing festival and the fishermen were slowly making their way across the lake with their nets and calabash full of fish. We snapped some photos of the people, fish, funky beetles, and then continued on around the oxbow lake and back to the cars.
We headed back to Dagoma Camp, dropped off our guide, spoke with Usman, and then carried on to Yusafari to pick up two more guides for our trip (we only wanted one but they talked us into taking two) to Bulatura Oasis in the Sahel. The road was sandy but we wee not too worried about getting stuck. We drove by several oasis before getting to Bulatura where the cars were mobbed by kids. We drove to the edge of town, hiked up into gorgeous orange very fine-grained sand dunes to get a view of the dunes and the town. Those of us with cameras were mobbed by children waiting to see themselves on the digital screen. The kids made taking pictures of the town difficult as once the camera was pointed, their hands immediately went up and the screaming began (see video below). As we were driving out, kids climbed on the back of the car and two or three times we stopped so Bob could swat them off the car for fear they would break the wiper of cover on the spare. They were just trying to have some fun.





On our way out, the guides took us on the wrong road, a road traveled by huge trucks that have much more clearance than our cars did. The first car, a Land Cruiser, got stuck (high-centered in deep-rutted tracks) in the sand and then we did, the third car, a lower clearance Prado. The middle land Cruiser pulled out both vehicles. Check out the video of our car being pulled out backwards.



We turned around, went back through town to a quiet oasis where we set up camp, ate our dehydrated meals and went to bed. Shortly after we arrived, a Fulani man on horseback stopped by and Jonathan and Bob tested out his bow and arrow, which he used as protection from thieves. The picture below is of a Fulani man that stopped by in the morning but the picture of Bob is using the bow and arrow from the Fulani man that stopped by soon after we arrived.

Monday morning started early as we woke at 530AM and got up at 615AM to the chirping of birds and others rising from sleep. The weather was great; it was cool with a pleasant breeze. We broke down our tent, ate, showered with the Sun Shower, and then Bob flew his kite.
Around 830AM, we headed into the dunes to Tulou Tulou a small village in Nigeria on the border with Niger. When we first got into the sand I was convinced we would get stuck in the middle of nowhere but the drivers did a great job even though they did not have any sand driving experience or limited 4WD experience it seemed. Most of the drivers did not know how to shift into 4WD nor did they know how to shift out of Drive and into lower gears when needed. Niyi, our driver, learned on the fly. The route took us into Niger, about 2.5 miles inland and the 12.5 mile traverse took us through Alkamari, Niger. When we arrived in Tulou Tulou, we had half a tank of fuel and needed to get some more to get back. We bought 28L in this remote town and added some fuel treatment in case it was bad. We also bought some minerals before heading back to Yusafari on a slightly different route. While we were there we snapped a few photos on both sides of the border.

In Nigeria. Farewell from Port Nigeria Obasanjo.
In Niger. Bien Venue Au Nigeria Porte Obasanjo!
Drinking some minerals in the local shop in Tulou Tulou.
One of the shops with the owner and two local boys.
Enroute to Yusufari we wanted to stop at a Fulani village, so when we saw what we thought was one, we stopped. When we walked up to them, our guide spoke to them in the Nigerian Hausa language, though they spoke little Hausa. They were from Libya and we living in huts made from weaved rugs and fabric. All the women were dressed in red colored fabric with different patterns and the young boys were naked except for a string of beads around their neck and waist. When we arrived they were all in their huts as it was scorching hot outside!
Once in Yusafari, we dropped off the guards, headed towards Maiduguri but did not make it there as we decided to camp off the side of the road. This is where Judith and Georgina headed into Maiduguri to get a hotel room and fly back to Lagos in Tuesday morning after loading Joy and Ryan’s gear in their car to give us a little more room.

We drove about 2 miles off road to a baobab tree, where we parked the car, set up our sun showers and tents then boiled some water for another dehydrated meal. Below is Jonathan up in the tree hanging his shower. Bob took the engineering route and hung ours with the tow rope which did not require the climb into the tree. As we were setting up camp a few small bats flew out of the tree to start their evening meal. The night was warm.

Tuesday morning, James (left), Bayo (center) and Niyi (right), made their breakfast of spaghetti noodles, boiled yam and a sauce made from canned fish and palm oil. Bayo was a lot of fun and James was also a good sport for camping while they were with us. Bay slept in Kazeem’s tent but James slept in the front seat of the car.

After our breakfast (oatmeal & cereal), we broke down camp, took a shower and headed off to Sukur at about 830AM. We got to Maiduguri about 1130AM, stopped for fuel (bought most of our fuel on the black market), then stopped at balancing rocks and walked through the market. At about 200PM, we got to the parking spot at the base of the mountain that we had to hike up to get to Sukur. Jonathan had arranged a guide in advance so he was waiting for us when we arrived. At this point Bayo and James were going back to Abuja and we were down to one car for me, Bob, Sharon and Jonathan (Niyi was driving) so we decided to put gear (chairs, propane canister, jerry cans, etc.) that we were not going to use into Bayo’s car so that he could take it to Abuja and Niyi would pick it up on his way home. This would free up some space in our car so that it would not have to be packed all the way to the roof. We then packed up the things we needed to camp overnight in Sukur and hired some porters to carry it up. The hike up had about 5 stopping points along the way, with benches and shade. It was quite nice and the view of the valley below and the heavily terraced landscape was spectacular (though hazy). The hike was not hard, it was just hot and we got to the top at about 345PM.

The start the of the 1.5 hour hike.
A beautiful boabab tree on the path to the top.
Sukur is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it is a beautiful village of about 12,000 people strewn about the top of a mountain plateua. Once up on the mountain we walked to the King’s palace as we were going to meet with him but he was not ready and the chalets and camping spots were on his grounds. We dropped our things and walked through the village, which was very clean, past a well, by the school (which was closed due to a National strike) and to An outside eating area to get a drink.
Same spot but now more people are watching us.
We arrived at an opportune time as there was a funeral (third funeral of the year), a celebration of life, taking place for a local woman who passed away. Some musicians came into the area we were and they were playing and people were dancing. Three women came by us and started dancing and ululating (see video below). It was great.



After a drink, we went to where the main festivities were taking place and everyone was dancing in a cloud of dust, the men with swords and the women with bowls. That is the tradition. The festivities them moved up to her home where the dancing continued (video below).


After the festivities, the King was ready to meet us. He graciously welcomed us and all visitors to Sukur. We gave him some money, some Pringles and some Indomie noodles. He was very appreciative of anything he received. He was a kind man. Below is a picture of his compound from across a small valley.
That night the King's wife brought us some hot water so that we could make our dehydrated meals adn then we were off to bed at about 10AM. On Wednesday morning, we woke, took bucket showers and went for a walk around the village in the immediate area. We first stopped to visit a family who had a bull in a fattening pen. Basically a pull is moved into a mud hut and the entrance is closed off. The bull is fed in this pen for two years and then sold. Quite the commitment and investment. We then hiked across a small valley to get a better view of the surrounding area of Sukur and saw a few monkeys. We started himing down around 9AM, passing many people travelling up to Sukur for a wedding that day. Many of the folks coming up the hill were carrying bits and pieces of band equipment and speakers.

A woman walking outside one of the walled compounds.
The views were picturesque and the pictures just don't do it justice.
From Sukur we drove up to Pilka and then to the border in Kerawa to start the long border process. About 10km before we got to the border, we were stopped at a police checkpoint when a man showed up on an okada as he heard we were coming (we sort of stand out in a Black Prado with tinted windows). One police man stepped in front of the car and cocked his gun to make the point that we needed to stop. The okada man was asking for our papers but we did not want to give them to him. Once we told the man we were going to Cameroon for touirsm, he was OK with us going through to the border. We got there about 12 noon adn went into a small, hot room to do the immigration papaerwork while took care of the car paperwork with the okada man. in another building. Other than taking time, getting out of Nigeria was easy at a crossing used oficially by very few people (10 people in the last month, 6 from Lagos that we knew). We crossed the border, a dry lake bed, into Cameroon. The process on this side of the border was a bit slow, partly due to the lack of a stamp pad then the stamp pad that was brought was nearly dry. We were approved for a 7 day stay in Cameroon despite having a 30 day visa; this was the first sign that Cameroon really makes it difficult for a tourist passing through by car (we have heard this form others who have not made it). Next we drove 10km to the customs office in Kolofata to get take car of the car paperwork. We had insurance for the car that we got through our company (leter was in English, should have tranlsted into French) for a total of 10 days but we only planned on staying in Cameroon for 4 days. We were told that we had to come and go from the same border, which was not our plan and while we were making our decision, the woman doing the paperwork decided to leave for lunch (230PM) but did not let us know. After we decided to go in and out of Cameroon through Kolofata, we waited for the woman to return from lunch adn got some cold drinks across the street. It was miserably hot! They eventually provided us paperwork to travel for 3 days and we were to stop at two other customs stations (Korghi, Mora an Maroua) to check in and get the additional day added to our paperwork. We had to pay an overtime fee as we were told the office closed at 3PM. Why did the woman go to lunch at 230PM? We were on the road at 345PM.

Advice: Make copies of all your paperwork because you have to leave it at the border and translate your insurance paperwork into French.

We continued on to Waza National Park, stopping in Korghi, got our paperwork signed and noticed a tire was going flat. We attempted to get it repaired but the required tools were not available (a kid tried using his teeth to remove a nail - we eventually used pliers) so we replaced to the low tire with the spare tire and Niyi got the tire fixed that night in Waza. We arrived in Waza at 6PM and as we were driving in we saw 2 giraffes, monkeys, an antelope and many birds. We checked into Campement de Waza (we had to change rooms to get one with a toilet seat), got a cold drink and dinner (ratatouille, guinea fowl and mango for dessert). We turned in early as we had an early start in Waza National Park.
Campement de Waza, our accomodations.
Thursday started at 515AM with breakfast and then we headed our on our self-drive safari where we saw plenty of topi, the antelope in the background, giraffe, roan antelope, tapas monkeys, jackyl, warthogs, rock hyrax, and other antelope. There were also plenty of birds such as guinea fowl, astrich, abyssinian rollers (gorgeous turquise birds), black-crowned cranes, a few types of horn bills and herons, pied kingfisher, hoopoe, sacred ibis and more. Bob drove with our driver in the back to share in the experience (his first giraffe sighting) and our mandatory guide, who had poor vision. Luckily Sharon did a great job sighting animals.

We drove east, out of Waza National Park to Maga and then Pouss. We tried to hire some boats to look for hippos in Lake Maga but had no luck due to poor timing and a bit of a language barrier (they speak French in Cameroon.). We drove to Logone River, the border between Cameroon and Chad and decided to hike across to step foot on Chad soil.

Picture on the Cameroon side of the border.
Locals washing/drying their clothes and having fun swimming in the Logone River, th border.
Crossing the Logone River, on our way to Chad
In Chad!
In Chad, on an unofficial visit!
Back in Cameroon, safe and legal!
Our guide had not heard of a museum in Pousse so we had to ask for directions. The museum was simple, with 4 tall decorated mud huts. No other huts in the area looked like this.
A photo opportunity we could not pass up! We were allowed to do this! ; )
The day was a long one and back in the Waza National Park we had a little bit of rain and the roads became VERY slick, decreasing our speed adn increasing our travel time. We got back to Campement de Waza at 7PM. On Friday, w had breakfast at Campement de Waza at 530AM, an early morning before driving back into the park in search of elephants and the lion that was seen the evening before. No luck! We did see more giraffes, topi, antelopes, and tons of birds.
Giraffes!
Bob wanted to see how close he could get to the giraffe. This was about it! There was no harrassment involved! Jackyl
We left Waza at noon and headed to Mora to get our customs paper work signed for the car and hopefully add an extra day to it. The signature was straight forward but no such luck on adding the day! We arrived in Rhumsiki at 5PM. We got stopped at a checkpoint, the only one in Cameroon for us, and the police did not like our insurance papaerwork (should have been in French) but after discussion and inspection of a few passports, we got through.

Just outside of Waza, a local woman was getting water from a well to water the small field. Onions were one of the vegetables growing. There are many wells close by one another as you can see in the picture.
Rhumsiski was beautiful! We went to Campement de Rhumsiki but we did not want to pay the price for a chalet and talked the Swiss hotel manger into letting us camp and share one chalet for the toilet and shower. We at dinner there... it was OK but again I was fooled by the description of the meal. Beef filet in Africa is only good in a VERY expensive restaurant. we went to bed at 9PM and the night was cool, actually I was cold.
Rhumsiki in the Mandara Mountains.
Spectacular view from the pool at Campement de Rhumiski
Saturday Morning we decided to hike up a volcanic plug called Zivi, come back for lunch and then go for a hike down into a valley and unofficially into Nigeria (so we were told but the GPS and our maps say otherwise) and then back into Cameroon.
The start of the hke up Zivi.
Zivi is on the 1000 naira note, on the right side. This area is yet another disputed area between Nigeria and Cameroon. On maps, it is clearly in Cameroon, at least the maps we have.Below is Bob climbing up the first chimney. The guide was not belaying them so the rope really did not function for safety. Jonathan went up and then started belaying folks up the proper way but the rope was just tied around our waist. This is where I stopped. My fear of heights got the best of me so I decided to stay down while the others climbed to the top. I am glad I did because there were other areas where they were way more exposed and if I would have made it up this first part I might have stopped higher up. I waited with some local kids for about 2.5 hours and learned a bit about them and found out about a good restaurant, called Kirdi, owned by the family of one of the kids. The rich garlic Kapsiki sauce, named after the local people of the Mandara Mountains, was excellent on the fresh bread. Yum!
Jonathan belaying Bob.
Jonathan, the guide, Bob and Niyi.
Jonathan, Sharon, Niyi and Bob at the top.
Sharon on the left and the view of Rhumsiki.
On the hike down into the valley that started about 4PM. After we finished, we had some drinks by the pool, heated up some hot water for our dehydrated meal at Campement de Rhumsiki and went to sleep in our tents.
On Sunday morning, we quickly walked through the Rhumsiki Market on the way our of town back to Maiduguri in Nigeria.
Suprisingly, we passed a few orderly lines for water. If you squint you can see the well on the right and the line of jerry cans to the left. In Mokolo we had to get two tires patched as they were leaking (1 hour, $2US). From Mokolo to the customs office in Kolofata, we drove through a few villages in the mountains, we hoped we would not get stoppped as our customs paperwork was now out of date. The road was very scenic with many closely-spaced pointy thatch roof huts.
Photo below was taken back in Kolofata, Cameroon at the Customs station with all the precious paperwork outside on the porch. When we arrived the lady we needed to speak to was not there so we had to wait for her to show up. This part of Cameroon is the HOTTEST place ever! The heat is overwhelming and the breeze was stifling hot! Sharon, Niyi and I walked across the way to get a cold drink while Bob and Jonathan waited... patiently. When the woman arrived they exhanged papework and we were on our way.
Back in Maiduguri we stayed at the Albarka Hotel, which was one of the nicer hotels I have stayed in Nigeria but it sure did reek of moth balls. The sign below was outside the restaurant... we all ate omeletes for dinner, except Sharon who had chicken stew and rice.
We woke up early and arrived at the Maiduguri airport at 620AM and checked in for our flight. At this point, Niyi was on his own to drive back to Lagos via Abuja to get the stuff we left with Bayo.

We arrived in Lagos at 11AM and waited 45 minutes for a company bus to pick us up despite our reminder phone calls the day before and the morning of. We were in our flats at 12:15 to relax and recover from our trip for the rest of the day and mentally prepare to go back to work.

We had an excellent trip, despite the rocky beginning, visiting and experiencing remote villages in northern Nigeria and Cameroon.

Thanks for sharing your pictures Sharon & Jonathan.

9 comments:

Gord & Sheryl Tank said...

You guys are the most intrepid travellers ever! Sounds so amazing and so hard!! Gord and I managed to have a parallel trial in Arizona where I ran out of gas and managed to get a van stuck in the sandy ditch trying to cross the double lane highway to our out of gas vehicle. Hardly comparable to your trials. Can't wait to catch up when we get back to Lagos!

rabiel said...

Great trip!! Sounds like you really enjoyed it. I'm envious of all the traveling and adventures you are having in Africa. It makes our safari trip seem so tame. Keep up the wonderful posts!!

A.M.I said...

Wat a splendid adventure... You really had good time in northern nigeria I guess... You guys have tried to manage in dis hot and humid region. I am also from northern nigeria but have never visited many of the places you have explored. Salut!

(G@ttoGiallo) said...

Fantastic trip !
Keep on publishing true dreams...

All4Naija said...

That was a daring vacation, I must quickly admit it here.There was plethora of scenic places that gripped my foraging eyes - as I browsed for anything captivating; from those well written paragraphs,only wishing for it not to come to an end.Suddenly,I came to the very last line and there I knew every beginning must have an ending.

I just want to say, thank you for this little piece of writing.

akonde said...

Having browsed and digested all your escapades, I must really say that you guys are damn adventurous.
I am also an adventurous tourist and would like to have some private discussions with you.
Can you please mail me @ ebenezer@destinationsallianz.com.
Would be glad to hear from you.
Thanks.
Akonde Ebenezer
+234 80 53 288 473

Mfalme's Journey said...

We found this blog while researching on Sukur

(We are an animation studio currently working on an animation film whose set is PARTLY inspired by the Sukur Kingdom)

IN any case, we just want to say that your detailed documentation of your adventure is quite amazing! Furthermore, it brought smiles to our lips having recognized certain situations out of own experiences, even as Nigerians (Kazeem "rolling" the jeep; The substitute vehicle with driver and guard afterwards; The culinary experiences; The mothball smell in the hotel).

Thanks a lot for this beautiful article. It is always good when humans try every now and then to step out of their own bodies and OBSERVE their own selves.
This is just what your article has done. It gave us the opportunity to observe US once more.

Thank you very much!
Sincere regards
Shrinkfish

P.S.
If you would like to have a glimpse on the mentioned animation project, the link is below.
http://www.shrinkfish.eu/projects/rubies
You can also leave us a comment on that. We are still in the beginning but every beginning has an end which does not mean ENDED; as is quite clear to see from your adventures.

The Airegin Experience said...

Oh! what we forgot to mention is: You wrote

"Beef filet in Africa is only good in a VERY expensive restaurant."

Now YOU don't believe your own statement either...do you?

We suppose you know that AFRICA is a CONTINENT not a village or a part of town...by far bigger than the USA!

Hence we found that statement surprising coming from YOU, who are EXPERIENCED travelers..just by manner of reminding...no offenses meant. THat notwithstanding: Again; Nice Article!

By the way:
Did you ever try Beef Filet in the South Eastern part of Nigeria? If you did, in all assurances, you would not have gone back to the USA.

;-)

naija said...

you should check out naijablog - its written by a guy married to a nigerian (and he has no trouble making nigerian friends). he always has very interesting things up on his page about news and events around the country.