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Jolandie Rust update Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana and Cote DIvoire.

Posted on July 4, 2012 at 2:25 PM

I spent five, very enjoyable days in Lagos. For my first night, one of the members of the ‘Easy Riders’ motorcycle club sponsored my stay at a hotel in Ikeja. For the rest of my stay a number of riders pulled together to sponsor my stay in the PENTHOUSE of another hotel! They surely went all out to make sure I was comfortable and enjoyed my stay in Nigeria!


 

I arrived in Lagos on Tuesday, 12 June. My visa would expire the next day, so I had to urgently have that sorted by way of an extension on my visa. Chris Odigie, one of my newest close friends in Lagos, helped me to get this sorted out. In the end I received a one-month visa (although I only needed 4 days), and it only cost me $120! That’s double what my original visa cost me! LoL

 

I met a number of riders from the club during my stay, as well as Gemina, one of only a few daring female riders who is a member of an all-female club in Nigeria known as “The Angels” which currently has about four members. Even here it is a novelty to see female riders. Though I have no doubt that the sport will see significant growth, especially under the female demographic in the near future, judging by the enthusiasm I have witnessed amongst all the different motorcycle clubs across the country.

 

I did not stay in Lagos proper, but rather on the outskirts in an area known as Ikeja. It is situated on the mainland, whereas Lagos city is situated on the island. I did make my way across to the island with Chris when we went to have my visa extended. You can see the high-rise buildings from the bridge as you cross over from the mainland and I could sense the energy of city life. Lagos, in all honesty, was like any other big African city to me. What I found extremely funny is how Lagos’ reputation precedes it as one of the most dangerous cities in Africa, but when I told people in Lagos that I am from Johannesburg they would respond by saying: “Wow, that’s a dangerous place!”

 

I got to attend a birthday party of a friend of the club Here I was interviewed by a journalist from one of the local newspapers. I rode around with members from the club all over Ikeja and also got to see their training school which another member, Busayo runs. I ate some local food and hung out with friends at restaurants and bars. All in all I had a great time in Nigeria! Plus I was able to deliver the T-shirt that I offered to carry for Andrei Georgescu, the Romanian rider I had met in Namibia, to Mohammed Ducati! That is now one very well traveled T-shirt!

 

From Lagos I would make my way to Cotonou, the economical capital of the Republic of Benin. The border to Benin is not that far from Lagos, but the traffic will delay you some. I had five riders who would accompany me to the Benin border. It was raining when we left the hotel and before we had even made it out of the city one of the riders had a crash. Not a major crash but enough to ensure him having to go to the hospital for a potentially broken arm. To me, this incident was a reminder of just how vulnerable I am out here.

 

It turned out that his arm was not broken, thankfully, and we were able to proceed when his family arrived to take him home. Getting closer to a border always means chaos! Border towns are always crazy and you have to have your wits about you, especially when travelling on a bike. With the rain it meant a lot of mud and traffic delays for us to negotiate through and around.

 

When we finally arrived at the border I had to say my farewells to my Nigerian friends and fellow riders. Though Mohammed would cross the border with me as he had some business to take care of in Cotonou. Even though we would both be crossing into Benin, we would not cross at the same border control post! The expression: “There’s more than one way to skin a cat”, comes to mind here. If you know the right people you can cross the border without needing any paperwork or even a passport. I opted to rather cross at the conventional point, as I needed to have my passport and Carnet de Passage stamped. Though it took me three times longer to cross than it did Mohammed.

 

This is what I recall from my time crossing the border from Nigeria to Benin:

 

First off, it looks like one big mud bath that you have to negotiate your way through, which in itself can be a cause for fun and games for my heavy bike and her wide load! I had no issues stamping out of Nigeria. Everything went quick and easy with no hassles. Stamping in to Benin was a completely different story though!

 

First I arrive at customs to have my passport stamped. This goes without hassles. Next up comes the issue of having my Carnet de Passage stamped, and this is where everything goes pear shaped! The Customs officer tells me that I must pay him fCFA 35 000 to have my Carnet stamped. I refuse and tell him I need to go to the Douane office to have my Carnet stamped there. This argument lasts for about twenty minutes. Then he tells me to go ahead to the Douane office, as they’ll just tell me the same thing.

 

When I get to the Douane office I see five uniformed men, four of whom are sitting and drinking beer and either watching a football match on the television fixed to the wall behind the door, or chatting on Facebook on the computer on the desk situated in the middle of the little room. Behind the desk there is a man sitting and sleeping on his arms. The guy who is sleeping turns out to be the ‘Chief’ and I unfortunately have to awake him from his slumber to have my Carnet filled out and stamped. He sits flipping through the pages of my Carnet and just stares at each page for about two minutes before flipping on to the next page, even though every page has exactly the same information on it!!! I realize that he actually has no idea what to do and out of pure agitation I take my Carnet and his pen from him, fill out my Carnet myself, stamp it and then show him where to put his signature!

 

After all of this, sleepy returns to his drunken slumber, happy at the door gives me a cold drink and grumpy next door remains huffing and puffing because he wasn’t able to get a cent out of me after all. And yes, as you might have guessed, in this bizarre fairy tale that would make me, (pun intended) Snow White!

Back outside three riders from the motorcycle club in Cotonou had arrived to welcome me to Benin and accompany me to town. A few hundred meters ahead Mohammed was waiting for us. He had gone to have a coffee, went for prayers and changed money in the time it took me to cross the border! We stopped for a quick photo opportunity and then the five of us started making our way to Cotonou. The muddy mess that is the Benin border would give me one last ‘welcome’ to Benin before finally letting me go by way of a drunk old man on the side of the road with a long grey beard and stick in hand, whacking my bike with his stick as I rode past him!!

 

Needless to say I was just too happy to finally get away from the border and make my way to Cotonou. Even if I actually had no idea as to what Cotonou would be like, it certainly could not get any worse?! Mercifully it did get much better as we got closer to Cotonou. The city has a far more relaxed energy to it and I instantly felt safe and secure as we entered on the main road leading into town.

 

First off we stopped at the president of the motorcycle club, Djamiou’s house (read mansion) where I would be staying whilst in Benin. From here we made our way to the airport to welcome a friend of Djamiou’s, who he hadn’t seen for thirty years and would be arriving from Libreville. I thought this very interesting as a friend of mine in Libreville had given me a number of a friend of hers in Cotonou in case I needed any help, and now here I am in Cotonou and the person I will be staying with has a friend arriving from Libreville!

 

I did phone the contact my friend Muriel, in Libreville gave me. Sylvie met up with me at the Airport and I was able to at least say a quick hello to her before we left for a ride around town. At this point we were about twenty riders at the airport to welcome Djamiou’s friend when she arrived. Afterwards Djamiou took his friend home and the rest of us left to meet up with more riders before heading out for a drink. Djamiou has eight bikes and gave me his Honda CB 1000 to ride whilst in Benin. With this I was easily able to keep up with the other riders!

 

After we had stopped to pick up more friends, there was a bit of confusion and Mohammed and I lost the rest of the gang. We were now lost! Since I don’t know Cotonou at all I followed Mo around and we made our way back to Fufu’s house. (One of the riders). We sat around waiting for about half an hour until Fufu eventually found us and we were able to rejoin the group. Instead of going out we made our way back to Djamiou’s house where we had a drink and played some music in Djamiou’s very impressive studio! As a last performance, Djamiou and I played drums together with Djamiou on the bongos and yours truly on a djembe.

 

Benin is voodoo country. Here about 50% of the population practices voodoo from what I was told. And for such a small country they have a pretty dense population of 12 million people! I thought we (South Africa) had a lot of people at over 50 million, but right next to Benin, Nigeria has over 120 million people!

 

Djamiou took me to see Porto Novo, which is the capital of the country. From what I saw it’s a very quiet town with some stalls next to the road selling all kinds of merchandise. A lot of people are either sitting and chatting next to the road under a shady tree or sleeping under a shady tree. We drove a bit further North so I could get to see some of the country side. There are many small villages spread out all along the roadside, just like I had experienced in Gabon and Cameroon. Tropical surroundings and lots of greenery, but not as dense as in Gabon and or Cameroon.

 

Djamiou helped me to sort out my visa for Togo and Cote D’Ivoire. I knew that there is a common visa for French speaking West-African countries and inquired as to whether I would be able to obtain one? We went to see a friend of his at immigration who told me that only citizens of these countries (Benin, Togo, Burkina Faso, Mali and Cote D’Ivoire) could apply for this visa. After some negotiating and sweet-talking he eventually agreed to help me out. This would mean I would have to get a visa for Benin. As a South African passport holder I do not need a visa for Benin. But now I would have to get one in order to get the Entente visa for Togo and Cote D’Ivoire. I agreed of course and paid the fees so they could start processing the visas. It only took 24 hours to process both visas and soon I had my passport back in hand with my Entente visa valid for 2 months!

 

Now I still needed to sort my visa for Ghana. Djamiou phoned Fufu who phoned a friend in Togo, who in turn phoned a friend at the Ghana border and they assured me that I could get a visa at the border. Okidoki, so now I was set to make my way to Cote D’Ivoire!

 

Djamiou and four other riders would ride out with me to the Togo border. From here I would make my way to Togo and cross the border into Ghana and on to the capital, Accra. Three countries and two border crossings all in one day! The roads are good and we flew to the Togo border. Here I thanked Djamiou and the boys and crossed over into Togo without any hassles. Within an hour I was at the Ghana border! Togo is really tiny!

 

Fufu gave me the contact number of his friend at the border. He would help me if I had any issues with obtaining a visa. So when I arrived I gave him a call and he said he’d be there within 20 minutes. In the meantime I was swamped by border ‘fixers’ who offered to help me with getting all my paperwork stamped. I thanked them but denied their help, as I knew this would just result in my having to empty my pockets to them. I slowly started making my way to the Ghana side. Though after I had my passport and Carnet stamped on the Togo side, my contact was still nowhere to be seen and I had no choice but to cross to the Ghana side of the border and see what I can do about obtaining a visa.

 

The Ghana immigration officials were very helpful and after I had explained my situation to them they said that they could do one of two things: 1. They could give me a 48-hour transit visa, which would cost me $35. 2. They could give me an emergency visa for up to two weeks for $120. I opted for option number 1! As they were busy processing my visa, Fufu’s contact arrived. Although I had already been sorted he stuck with me and gave a contact number for someone that would help me to find a place to stay when I arrived in Accra.

 

I have always heard so many stories of how friendly the people are in Ghana. I was looking forward to experiencing it first hand and already had my first taste of Ghanaian hospitality at the border.

 

The roads are good in Ghana! Every twenty or thirty kilometers you find a village. At just about every village there is a Police control point. Some of them would stop me to ask the usual questions and then send me on my way with big smiles on their faces. At one of these control points I was asked for my driver’s license for the first time on this trip, which I happily produced. He barely looked at it and then said to me: “Give us some Cedi (Ghana currency) then you can go”. I laughed and told him that I do not have any Cedi on me. Then he asked me for some CFA. So I told him that I do not have any money with me. I guess he could see that I wasn’t going to pay up so he just sent me on my way. This is the only disappointment I had in Ghana.

 

I arrived at the outskirts of Ghana just before sunset and phoned my contact, Abam. Whilst waiting for him a number of people stopped to chat with me. Very friendly, outgoing people. When Abam arrived he greeted me with a big smile and then took me to his house. We left my bike in front of his house and he then took me to a hotel around the corner from where he lives. I had a look at the rooms and was very happy to spend the night in Apple Hotel. I had a bed, television, ceiling fan and bathroom with a shower and a toilet. Perfect! I was tired and really just wanted a shower and a bed to sleep in for the night. So I was very happy with what they offered. The room cost me $30 for the night, but I paid it with a smile.

 

I only took what I needed with me to the hotel and left the rest of my baggage and my bike at Abam’s house. He later brought me a 1.5 liter bottle of Coca-Cola and a bottle of mineral water! I had some food left from the morning, which Fufu had bought me in Benin. The only problem was that it was fish pies and with the pies having been in the sun all day, I wasn’t too sure as to whether it was still okay for consuming, but took a chance anyway. I suffered some minor stomach cramps the next day, but that was the worst of it.

 

I had underestimated how far it is from Accra to Abidjan. My GPS doesn’t have maps of this area so I had to stop a few times to ask for directions, just to make sure I was still on the right track. I can navigate by just using the compass on my GPS, problem comes in when getting into a little town and you have to take a left turn here and a right turn there to get out of town. Back home in South Africa, Hanret was trying to help me by sending me town names via sms.

 

Getting out of Accra was fairly easy as there is a great highway leading out towards the towns on route to Cote D’Ivoire. Whenever I would get stopped at a Police control point, I would double check with the officers whether I was still on the right track. They are usually fairly friendly and willing to help.

 

Nearing the border it started raining and would carry on raining all the way to Abidjan. I had gotten so used to passing through so many towns and villages situated next to the road, but after passing through Axim the villages became few and far between.  The road also started deteriorating slightly with more potholes and muddy patches. Next to the road I would see signs indicating that I was now riding next to a rainforest and a National Park.

 

Arriving at the border I passed a very long line of cargo trucks. The usual chaos that Central and Western African borders bring with it ensued. First stop, as per usual, the customs office. The customs officer wrote down all my and Dax’s particulars. Afterwards I was shown to the Douane office to have my Carnet stamped. I did not have my Carnet stamped when I entered Ghana, so slipped past Douane to go straight through to the Cote D’Ivoire side of the border. Here I met a customs official that could speak a bit of English and took it upon himself to assist me in getting all my documentation stamped. The other customs officials were not as friendly and would stare at me blankly, shooting questions from all directions. Who are you, where are you going, what’s in your bags, where’s your driver’s permit, where’s your bike’s registration papers, etc etc. If not for my new friend, I’m sure I would’ve only made it through the border by nighttime.

 

I made it through the border by 17:30. The journey from the border to Abidjan would take me two hours. This meant that I would indeed have to ride in the dark. Riding at night in Africa is not easy at the best of times. Riding at night and in the rain makes it a nerve-wracking experience! I stopped to refuel at the first town after crossing the border and asked about the road to Abidjan. Because my GPS had no information on this area I wanted to make sure about the directions. I was told to keep on heading straight to Abidjan.

 

I finally made it into Abidjan by 20:00. As I entered town I stopped at the first landmark I could see to phone my friend, Jackie, with whom I would be staying whilst in Abidjan. I explained to him where I was. As you enter town, right across the road from the first Shell service station you see. As I had just finished explaining to him where I was a guy came past and snatched my phone out of my hands and made a run for it! I called after him and then realized that it wouldn’t do me any good. I just burst out laughing, quite honestly. Because what else could I do?  It’s just a phone, right? The only really annoying thing is that almost all my photos and videos from Nigeria to Cote D’Ivoire, were on that phone. As well as all my voice notes about my trip all the way from Angola!

 

Welcome to Abidjan. Or as the locals would say: “AKWABA”.

Categories: FIM Africa News

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