31st of October – 17th of November 2019:
Enugu is a substantial coal mining and trading hub with more than 700’000 citizens. Therefore, it was another large city on our way to Cameroon. Our hosts live in a rather rich neighborhood and due to that, it was rather calm and not many people on the roads.
The family of Sly and the caretaker of the house we rested took care of us, as if we were family. We explored the surroundings and tried some new delicious Nigerian dishes. The choice so far was rather small and therefore we liked to have more diversity.
The vigilantes destroyed our mosquito net of the tent during the incident in the bush and we were able to fix it with the help of a mobile tailor in a short time. Skillful, he sew some African cloth over the rupture and afterwards our tent had definitely a more African design.
During another small cycling trip of the boys with our bicycles, a local cyclist, who saw immediately that the cycles belong to foreigners, spotted the European equipment. He was interested to meet us and we agreed to cycle a bit together as soon as we would continue.
Together with Shibike from the cycling club Enugu, we left the large city. The local sportsman, equipped with his racing cycle and athletic figure, cycled in the front with a high speed. After around 40 km, our paths separated again and we took some pictures together to have some additional memories.
After a week on the Express highway, earsplitting traffic and exhaust fumes as far as the noise can smell, we decided to explore smaller roads and villages. Not long after leaving the main road, the muddy Nigerian roads tested our maneuverability.
In a larger village, we asked for the chief of the village and disturbed a funeral with all of the important people of the region. Of course, we did not know how to behave and had to explain to the bodyguards of the ruling king that we came with good intentions to visit his territory. When we wanted to shake hands with the king, all present guests told us in a tenor: “You are not allowed to do that!”
After some more misunderstandings and a glass of fresh palm wine, the king itself assured us that we have a place to stay on the property of the king’s family. When they showed us the porch, we were surprised to see a portrait of the former king with the Swiss Ambassador. Therefore, we realized the importance of the king and were embarrassed thinking about our certainly impolite behavior earlier.
In all of Nigeria rule king parallel to the political structures, introduced by the European colonialists. Those kings do not take part in politics, but can have more influence than the politicians. The so-called kings or depending on the level they can be sultans, own a kingdom and rule in a traditional style. In their palace, they answer questions of their community. Laws and elections exist only within the democratic, modern system. Some kings call themselves emir, since they have a Muslim past from the Arab World.
A woman served us breakfast directly to our “bed”, just a few minutes after we woke up and more and more people appeared to watch us. Everyone seemed to be sober again, since some people, including one of the princes, were already drunk by the time we arrived.
Before we continued our journey, we visited the modest palace including the throne of the king, from where he normally rules. People from the region can get recommendations here and express their wishes. After all, he rules over a territory larger than central Switzerland.
The deliberately calm roads, which we chose, led us through areas with a small number of villages and traffic. Everywhere, we saw children and women, who carried the harvest back to their village. In Nigeria, we noticed that the kids are far less scared than in all West African countries so far. Almost daily, children ran away screaming into the bush, just after they spotted us. Here, they were just baffled, but the reaction was less intense.
During a passage of a village, a man stopped us and acted as if he was the responsible security of the village. Therefore, he wanted to see our documents, since we looked suspicious to him. We told him that he should show his identification before we would hand over any papers. After a few minutes, the commandant of the village arrived and we could continue, since he realized quickly that we were not bad people.
A few kilometers further, we decided to search for a place to stay. The vice chief of the village had to stop his card game and discussed with his advisors, while minimum fifty people watched the whole thing. After a while, we could sleep with John and his family in a room equipped with a mattress.
Unbelievable, but true: A generator woke us up at 5 AM and shortly after a mass took place. The sound intensity of the generator and the screaming of the priest let us wait half-awake, until this horrific episode directly behind our window ended.
For breakfast, we ate delicious millet gruel with soy powder, groundnut paste and sugar. The Nigerian hospitality is definitely not to be underestimated and we are always glad, not to search for food stalls, when we are tired from a strenuous day.
In a small village, the villagers informed us that in a few kilometers, a rapid stream is awaiting us and we should take another route. The men promised us that there would be a canoe in a better condition for the river crossing. The small trail led us through lush landscapes with tall grass and small streams crossing our path.
When we arrived at the water, we realized, how high the water really was. We could not even see the actual river yet, since the whole area was flooded. Shortly after, there was actually a three-meter long dugout floating out of the forest. The women with their firewood on their heads and babies on their back, exited and we manhandled our bicycles in the wobbly canoe.
In the same boat, there was enough space for a family and two motorbikes. We bargained the price hard, but the boatmen still ripped us off merciless. Finally, we paid for all passengers and were angry, since all the men upright lied to us. Unfortunately, even in this remote area money is more important than the fundamentals of Christianity.
A bit further, we had to cross another waterbody, which was “only” hip-deep and therefore manageable without any additional help. The splashing kids were happy to see us and accompanied us gradually, while we carried all our equipment to the other side.
As already during our arrival in the village, around 100 children and 50 adults gathered around us, when we continued. Even for us with some Africa experience, this was a lot and we did not know who we should look at. All villagers, if big or small were interested in the visitors and starred at us radiantly.
We just covered some kilometers, when we had to check our map, since we did not want to choose the wrong, sandy trail. A few men approached us directly and wanted to know our mission in Nigeria. They invited us for a soft drink and some cookies and we could answer some interesting questions. One question by an older man was rather sad and surprised us at this remote location too. He wanted to know if it was true that some Europeans call Africans monkeys. At first, we did not know how to react and explained him that some white people are afraid to get to know Africans and do not know the consequence of such statements or are plain racist.
A shortcut revenged itself and proved to be a sandy trail. We had to push many passages and finally reached a village. The villagers informed king about our visit; chairs were organized and soft drinks. After about an hour later and three soft drinks each, we could meet the young king and had to tell our story once again. Of course, half of the village followed us and observed our conversation up close.
After our first night in an African round hut, the king’s wife served us food, like the last few days, before we continued cycling. The young king even had an installed solar panel and we were able to charge all our electronic devises.
Repeatedly, young men wanted pictures with us and did not let us rest during the breaks. We cannot imagine how special such an encounter with white people has to be, when one lives far away from large cities.
The cassava harvest is in full progress and in each village; there is a mill, where the roots are finely ground. From that powder, the national dish “Fufu” is prepared. In addition, villagers harvest green “oranges” everywhere and on the market, they only cost around three USD for 25 kg.
We passed many police checkpoints, but not so many in one day as today. After the third inspection within five minutes, we got angry, since we had to tell our story the nth time and they wanted to search our bags.
We spend the night at a small checkpoint and only small villages surrounded us, consisting out of round huts. The police officers are always one month at one spot and then have to move to another one.
Henry, a well-read and intelligent police officer, told us why all vehicles have to pay bribes at each checkpoint. The policemen have extremely low salaries and each month they have to deliver a certain amount of money to their superior. This means they have to be corrupt and take money from the vehicles when they pass, otherwise they would not be able to fulfill their duty and lose their job. Therefore, a transport company always has to calculate the number of checkpoints a truck will pass for their route and give the driver the right amount of money.
The region got hillier and the elevation gain at the end of the day was large. The further we pedaled the more mountains we passed and the mountain ranges came closer.
One could think that nothing is a surprise to us in Africa anymore, but if someone transports a coffin on the back of his motorbike, even we are looking in a funny way at him. Another never-ending discussion is how many adult men can fit on a normal motorbike? Currently, the record lays at SIX!
With several kings, we discussed about religion, since Nigerians, as Ghanaians are extremely religious and literally accept their interpretation of the bible. Even though, some Christians in the South are members of cults themselves, they accuse the Muslims of the North they are all extremists and some tribes are violent. Cults and fanatism probably goes hand in hand, so this argument is a bit one-sided.
Homosexuality was a topic as well and we were shocked about the opinions of those influential people. They are sure that one can choose which gender one prefers and bisexuality is completely unknown. In addition, the churchgoing Christians think anal sex it something forbidden and only for homosexuals. Apparently, the Africans priests impart even that a secret club finances all homosexuals and therefore choose to be that way. For this is obviously bullshit, but to explain this to a long-term Christian is not the easiest task!
A king invited us to stay with him and his wife treated us with delicious food, while we had interesting conversations about his position in the community. He said that in Bali, a city on our way, there is another king, who would like to accommodate us. In addition, he said there would be the coronation of the new king und we were invited. This event will take place, since the former king (his father) died and the new king will take over officially.
In Bali, we could sleep in one of the guesthouses of the king and the next day, we appeared with long clothes at the palace for the coronation ceremony. Already hundreds of bystanders gathered there and some of the invited guests already sat on the white plastic chairs under the tents. Sweating, we witnessed the various presentations and listened to the traditional music.
In our eyes, the whole event was a huge chaos of dancers, musicians, guests, police officers, military, vigilantes and media folks. In a helter-skelter, we once only heard the presenter, once the music or everything at once, but it was never silent. Typical Africa! Non-invited towns people tried to get a glimpse of the event of the year by climbing trees, walls or standing on the edge of the area.
At the end, they wrapped the turban around the head of the new king, the police fired three shots in the air and the whole ceremony was finished. Muslim kings wear traditionally a turban for official appearances. A king does not have to be married, but people prefer it, since he cannot sleep around. After we took a picture with the brand-new king, the king’s family drove to the village of the new man in power, to continue with the celebrations.
Despite Adrians weakened Malaria, we continued and not even the many climbs let us arrive late in Serti. The sheikh in power received us within 20 minutes and generously offered us cold drink and a delicious meal. He offered us to camp at the guesthouse of the national park. Thanks to our connection with the king, we did not have to pay for it.
The staff of the kings bow always when approaching and always sit on the floor, if they are in the same room. We were an exception and could sit on chairs on the same level as the majesty. In addition, all the kings allowed us to shake his hand, which is normally an absolute no-no.
We decided to spend a rest day in the calm area of the guesthouses. During our time there, we met many nice people and had some interesting conversations. The personal assistant of the Emir supplied us every couple of hours with hot meals and in between, we visited the visitor center of the Gashaka-Gumti national park. This national park has a size of 6731 km2 and is therefore the largest of its kind in Nigeria. The diverse region has an excellent biodiversity and is home to many animals. With luck, one can see lions, bush elephants, chimpanzees, leopards and many more.
Before we continued, we visited the Emir in his palace and took some pictures with him and his employees. When we said goodbye, he gave us some money for the way. This confused us a bit, as if suddenly we were in a different world, since normally everyone asks us for money.
After a high-carb meal, we started the ascent onto the plateau, which lays on 1800 meter over sea level. For that, we had to climb 1500 m during 15 km. From time to time, we enjoyed the beautiful view on the surrounding mountains. Motorcyclists, cars or trucks, all shouted some motivating words in our direction or honks several times when they passed us.
At the top, there was grassland in front of us without any trees and we could see very far for the first time since weeks and enjoy the view.
The fresh mountain air and the pleasant, cool climate reminded us of central Europe and most of all the Alps. In this region, the Mambilla Plateau, there are almost no mosquitos and the inhabitants do not have the problem of malaria.
Even when we managed the longest part of the ascent, the road ahead of us was everything else than flat. We had to climb several steep sections and could only breathe during the downhills. At least the completely new scenery was rewarding. We saw peacefully grazing herds of horses on immense meadows.
Already since a couple of days, we had problems to communicate with locals, since they are not used to speak English with foreigners. Therefore, people understood us poorly and we needed many nerves to ask something. Although Pidgin English is the only common language in Nigeria, this strong accent is hard to understand in the beginning. Some samples:
Small small step by step
Chop To eat
Late Death, dead
How far? How are you?
In Gembu, the last city before the border to Cameroon, the ruling king provided us an apartment and we could sleep in different beds for the first time in ages. In Taraba state, there are six kings of the first class and we met four of them, not too bad, right?!
Corruption is a huge problem in Nigeria and is part of all sections of society. For example, each day we see car drivers, truck drivers or motorcyclists paying off police officers at roadblocks. This is completely normal.
The political influential people are unpopular, almost every Nigerian complains about them, and the hope for an improvement is shrinking. The government pumps the money directly from the oil fields into their private bank accounts in Switzerland. Unfortunately, people ask us a lot about those accounts from the corrupt African elite, which the “top banks” hoard without asking questions or having a bad conscience. In the year of 2005, the anti-corruption commission published that powerful people already stole or abused more than 352 billion dollars since the start of the oil production. This is four times the amount of money invested by all western aid projects in the last 40 years in all of Africa.
The king of Gembu is a member of the Mambilla tribe and therefore it is not a problem that he has a Muslim wife and Christian wife. The Christian princess received us and gave us some local tee from this region and honey after a short conversation.
The so-called «Director of Protocol’s to His Majesty the paramount King of Mambilla plateau» served us breakfast, prepared by the lovely second wife of the kind. Afterwards, we left with our escort, ordered by the king himself. The personal driver of the king with his motorbike showed us the way out of the hilly city.
Repeatedly, the calm, substantial man waited for us and told us stories about the region. At each roadblock or police checkpoint, they did not stop us, since we were on a mission from the king and therefore nobody could say anything. Teenagers constructed many of the roadblocks, because they repair the gravel road with a shovel and try to earn some extra money from it.
At a river crossing, we could walk the first part and entered a canoe for the deeper section. On the other side, we saw overloaded, old military trucks, which transport rice from Cameroon. The trail we used is a popular smuggling route to transport cheap fuel to Cameroon and rice back to Nigeria. This business is profitable, despite all the bribes one has to pay along the way. For us it was almost impossible to believe that these overloaded trucks manage to climb those steep hills, we hardly managed to cycle down.
In general, one could categorize the whole day under the motto: «This is Africa», since we experienced so many moments and encounters, which are only possible to witness on this continent. Besides, we were lucky that there was no rain in the last days; otherwise, this undertaking would be predestined to fall through.
Two, three longer ascents were so steep that we had to push our bicycles up the hill, but even that was very difficult. During the extremely steep downhills, Adrian had an extra challenge, since his front brake does not work lately.
Our companion told us proudly of his ten kids from two wives. When hearing those numbers, nobody should be surprised about the 200 million Nigerians and that the population doubles around every 40 years. Therefore is approximately every fifth African person from Nigeria. In addition, the area of Nigeria is only 15% of total size western Africa, but every second West African is from this populous country.
When we arrived in the border town of Dorofi, our escort handed us over to the chief and he organized a room in the run-down three-story hotel. Rarely, we were so tired after “only” 40 km and therefore it was one of the most strenuous days overall.
After a boy served us breakfast at our bed and several people asked how we feel, we packed our things. Interestingly, the hotel manager realized that a clean accommodation attracts more guests and told a few boys to clean all rooms and corridors.
The village head himself was our escort to the border, where after some searching, they found the right stamp and dismissed us officially out of Nigeria.
Even though we had a negative experience, we would cycle again through Nigeria. The positive moments and encounters predominated, so Nigeria is one of our favorite countries in Africa so far. This gigantic country offered us a welcome change in landscape, culture and mentality. After more than nine months in western Africa, we entered Cameroon and therefore the first county in central Africa.