Diary & Travel Reports from the saddle
Cameroun Nigeria Benin Togo - 31st December 2004
Seasons greetings to one and all.
I had a beachy Christmas at a place called Grand Popo in Benin. I'm emailing from the beach here in Lome the capitol of Togo, the 67th country. It will be a beachy New Year at 100km or two further west along the beach in Ghana.
In this update we go through Cameroon (where I visited the beach), Nigeria and Benin. Togo here is a French speaking 50km wide sliver of West Africa on the Gulf of Guinea, and the Togolese are very friendly, apart from the three guys the other night who tried to mug me. They got away with an empty plastic bag. I jumped on the back of a scooter taxi and got away.
This is in fact being sent from Accra, Ghana’s capitol, two days later. I picked up my Burkina Faso visa this morning and am about to head to the beach. I think my bike’s alternator is packing up. Ghana is a fine country, very civilised indeed and the people charming.
It was a few days before I heard of the disaster in SE Asia, the earthquake wave that claimed over 100,000 lives. I have been trying to get hold of Willy in Flores to see if the project area is affected and if there is anything to be done. It seems the project area was out of the line of the wave but I am not yet sure.
The government sponsored banditry in the Central African Republic continues after leaving Bangui the capitol for the two day ride West to Cameroon. At one place the whole town comes out to watch the spectacle of me arguing (shouting) with five gendarmerie. They had leapt on me with glee after I ride the wrong way round a roundabout. I always try to attract as big a crowd as possible, I feel like they always take my side. Ten minutes of breakfast time shouting and stomping around, five minutes speaking more calmly, and I leave for free. Later a roadblock is staffed by drunk soldiers firing guns for fun and I am scared. Two sober officials come to my rescue. Later still two stoned soldiers sit aside a mounted machine gun stuffing snuff (or black cocaine) up their noses, they wobble wide eyed as they stand, and giggle. The town at the border brings the final showdown.
Four of them were onto to me even threatening to take my passport away unless I pay the fictitious fee for standing right there. Make my day punks get out of my face. I later tell locals about how terrible the corruption is in CAR. I turn from my fried chicken and avocado to find a police chief lurking within earshot. Next morning I get up and leave before light, out of reach into no mans land and wait for immigration to open.
CAR is ripe for revolution. I stop in one town for a drink and to do a few bike checks. Fifty people gather after ten minutes. The town public security police had already checked my passport thoroughly. Now they return to tell me to pack up and leave, there are too many people in one place it is a security risk. The people are nearly all children! Imagine how bad things must be. CAR is a police state and the intimidation and repression is everywhere. People will not take this. They will break free of the chains.
Before we leave CAR, thanks to the Catholic Cathedral who put me up for free and also to Hotel Levy (firstname.lastname@example.org), both in Bangui.
Cameroon is a relief and a recovery. A welding rod or two is added to the bike I spend alot of time washing and rewashing things. Bathtubs at the Yaounde Hilton (email@example.com) and Djeuga Palace Hotel (www.djeuga-palace.com) turn the colour of mud. I get the Nigeria visa, thanks to Riders for Health for the invitation, and pay a quick visit to the beach :) Yaounde has some of the best street food yet with delicious spicy sauces. I get the runs.
Soon I arrive in Cameroon's Anglophone north west. I am unprepared for the Anglo police. At the first barrier I play my usual trick of not stopping unless I have to, looking the other way or pretending to be deaf. The feeble hesitant blow on the whistle somehow made me stop and turn round. I arrive at the kiosk, out comes the burley gentleman in impeccable elaborate uniform. He appears to be about to burst into tears then he salutes. I am puzzled, then figure he probably isn't used to people according him so much authority. All the Anglo cops salute me.
I pull up at the Royal Palace in the town of Bali. I am greeted by seven Royal advisors in the outer court and warned not to cross my legs as I sit. I explain my case and accept a glass of the local distilled produce. His Majesty Dr Ganyonga III, Paramount Fon of Bali, received me at his throne on a large terrace overlooking a green inner court. Wooden carved elephants and lions sit at each side, a huge leopard was pictured behind the throne and cushions and skins of leopard abound. His majesty is well in touch with the needs of his 40,000 subjects and we discussed motorcycle maintenance in health work. He bids me return in the morning for a breakfast discussion, I do, and make a note to send him something.
Terrible roads see me out of Cameroon and into Nigeria. If Cameroon was a relief after CAR, Nigeria is a relief after Cameroon. Nigeria feels almost first world. The police are amazing, incredible in fact. I was expecting Central Africa type confrontations, but they turn out to be among the best cops in the world! They nearly never ask for anything. When one did start and caught my already mounting protest he immediately switched to a Happy Christmas song with a genuine smile and wave onwards. It was overwhelming.
Nigerian people fall into a special category of genuineness and many talk of revolution. But they are afraid to protest because they fear for their lives. The government is said to be the worlds most corrupt and the oil companies attract alot of criticism. I wish I had stayed longer to get to know Nigerians better, they rank very high in my estimation. I completely overlook going to the oil companies for donations.
Riders for Health Nigeria (www.riders.org) are generous hosts in both Abuja the capitol and Lagos on the coast. They manage nearly three hundred vehicles for the United Nations and the World Health Organisation. It is a very professional operation and seems to be expanding rapidly. Whatever can be done to get African countries to take transport management seriously is positive. I will write more on this soon.
Escape from Lagos traffic brings me to Benin. It is argument time again with both customs and immigration over their failed attempts at extortion.
I wait two nights in the capitol Cotonou for a visa extension. Here the beach is used as a toilet, beware of mines! Many thanks to the Hotel de la Plage. I check out a village called Ganvie built on stilts in a lake and a 400 year long dynasty of twelve Kings at a place called Abomey. I go to a town where voodoo religion is strong but find little to be educated with. It was then Christmas eve and time for the beach.
The beach time is an opportunity to reflect on life and what I am to do with the rest of mine. I must say it is all quite exciting !
Happy New Year
Hotel Levy (firstname.lastname@example.org), Bangui, CAR
Yaounde Hilton (email@example.com), Cameroun
Djuega Palace Hotel (www.djeuga-palace.com), Yaounde, Cameroun
Hotel de la Plage, Cotonou, Benin
Awale Plage, awalč_plage@yahoo.fr, Grand Popo, Benin
Chez Lien Hotel, firstname.lastname@example.org, Lome, Togo
Crown Prince Hotel, Accra, Ghana
Simon Milward, on the road
A solo fundraising round the world ride on a handmade motorcycle.
Supporting Doctors Without Borders, Motorcycle Outreach and democracy.
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