“Is this Nigeria?”

siësta on the beach, Grand Popo, Benin

siësta on the beach, Grand Popo, Benin

“Is this Nigeria?”
From Big Milly’s in Accra it’s only a three to four hours drive to Lomé in Togo. Good roads, it’s Saturday so less traffic, and the Ghana-Togo border crossing should be a walk in the park! And with this mood I put Thimba in the front of the car, lower her window, open the ventilations flaps, turn on her fan, and hit the road. She lies down as soon we start off and looks at me as if to say “It’s a breeze!”. To get out of Accra takes me more than an hour in heavy traffic. After Tema there’s a complete stand still and it takes me three hours to cover 35 km. Not a good start of the day. At Segakofe, just before the border, a checkpoint. Now, It’s not my intention to give you a full account of all checkpoints; that would be very boring. However, some of them stand out in the way you are shamelessly extorted.

“Driving license!”

Why not: “Goodmorning, how are you, can I see your driving license, please?” Someone on a forum suggested to laminate your permit and stick it on the inside of the window (“It’s the taffic law in Holland.”). Well, I haven’t, and when a uniform asks for it they don’t want a printed copy but the real thing. And this officer is impeccably and handsomely uniformed. He studies it. Turns it over and looks at the backside.

“How long have you been in Ghana?”

“Oh, 10 days, two weeks.” I think he’s just making small talk.

“How long exactly?”

“Two weeks.”

“You can’t drive for more than two weeks with this permit.”

I’m not sure where this is leading to, so I show him my International Driving Permit. A colleague joins him, and they resentfully accept the IDP. Their routine continues. Fire extinguisher: check! Triangle: check! But I’ve only got the one (stupid! I should have bought a second one weeks ago!), and they invite me into their office. The senior office takes a seat behind his desk, and explains to me that I will have to appear before a court and that they will fine me 1.000 cedi (300 euros). And I will have to come back on Monday morning 9 o’clock.

“But we can settle this for half the amount, and you can leave now.”

“When are you coming back?”, the junior officer wants to know.

“I’m not coming back to Ghana, I’m on my way to Togo.”

Never give them more information than strictly necessary. I’m not good at this, try to negotiate but it feels like a Catch22 situation. I have no intention of coming back on Monday (can’t even, no visa), and there’s no way I’m going to pay 150 euros.

“When are you coming back?”

I’m trying to take the initiative, and put 100 cedi (30 euros) in front of the senior officer. He looks at it briefly, and continues to write some sort of report.

“When are you coming back?”

“JESUS CHRIST, I’M NOT COMING BACK! ARE YOU DEAF! WHERE AM I, NIGERIA!?”

Lost. The senior grins at me.

“Put down another 100 cedi and you can go.”

I resign, hand over another 100 cedi bill, and walk back to the car with a mixed feeling of anger and utter failure. The border crossing is easy and efficient, and I arrive at Chez Alice in Lomé much later than I had anticipated. This was a real off day, one that I must try to leave behind me as quickly as possible. And after a good dinner and interesting company, I can.

“Are you going Togo?”
You simply can’t do justice to a country when you stay there for only a week, and with the sole intention to get the necessary visas. But that’s what it is. I stay in Lomé for as long as it takes to get the visas for Benin, Congo Brazzaville, Congo Kinshasa and Gabon. Chez Alice is a nice enough place, not many overlanders, reasonably good food at a more than reasonable price.

Chez Alice, Lomé, Togo

Chez Alice, Lomé, Togo

Dropping and picking up passports for four visas means a lot of driving in Lomé, and I’m beginning to like it. It’s a complete free-for-all: you can overtake on the right or on the left and when I stop for a red traffic light I get pitiful looks. There’s also lots of hawkers at every junction selling windscreen wipers, cold drinks, mirrors, bluetooth adapters, biscuits, towels, shoes, baguettes, large maps of Togo, clocks, framed posters. Disabled, legless beggars move from car to car on  a plank with rollerscates. On the pavement a woman walks past with glazed, drugged, emotionless eyes. She’s completely naked. No one takes any notice.

I wake up around 5.30. It’s still dark, but you can feel and hear the new day. The first birds start singing, there’s the sound of early cars and mopeds, a dog barks. I notice I haven’t heard Thimba yet. She usually wakes me with her loud yawns telling me to get up and take her out. I get out of the bed and look in the corner where she usually sleeps. No Thimba. I look in the other corner, under the bed, nothing.  I open the door. Thimba is sitting on the door mat with her back to the room. She turns her head and looks at me as if to say: “Anything wrong?” She must have slipped out yesterday evening, when I left the door ajar to go to the toilet next door.

I ask Alice (originally from Switzerland, she must be in her seventies and still runs the place) if she knows a reliable vet. It so happens that her neighbour has his practice next door. He examines Thimba, gives her the necessary vaccinations, updates her passport and writes a certificate of health.

“Where have you been? Oh, I’ve Benin.”
From Lomé to Grand Popo in Benin is 60 km. Easy drive, even easier border crossing. Not even a hint of a bribe. Why can’t they all be like this! I camp at the Auberge Grand Popo, right on the beach beneath some large trees. Picture postcard, and completely alone. The tranquility. All you hear is the sound of the waves. A couple of young guys set up an enormous sound system. A few hours later two mini buses with students from the superior college of management arrive. They’re on an excursion and having a

partying students

partying students, Grand Popo, Benin

party on the beach. It’s great fun. They dance, drink, take loads of pictures with their cellphones. And drink some more. At 17.00 o’ clock they carry everything back to the buses and leave me with the sound of the waves.

Augustine

Augustin, Grand Popo, Benin

And with Augustin, a young boy who walked up to me this morning carrying a huge bowl on his head. Do I want to buy anything. He asks me to help him put the bowl down. He has all sorts of nuts and biscuits. “Farine et beurre,” he explains. They are packed in used bottles of all sorts and shapes (expensive) or small plastc bags (cheap). I buy a bottle of biscuits and pay too much, but I don’s care. He has a friendly face, soft voice, is colourfully dressed.  He has come for the students. Surely they will want some peanuts with their cocktails. Together we put the bowl under the tree next to the car. I give him a can of Coke and some Dutch candy. “Merci, Merci!” When the students have been dancing for a couple of hours the bowl doesn’t look much emptier. I give him a sandwich with cheese. He eats it slowly and with taste, breaking off small pieces and looking at them carefully. I give him my notebook and ask him to write down his name. He writes, no he draws his name, character after character: GNONKOKPON Augustin. When he leaves I lift the merchandise back on his head and he gently walks back to Grand Popo.

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tranquility, Grand Popo, Benin

8 thoughts on ““Is this Nigeria?”

  1. Jack

    I look forward to your updates they really make me want to be there if only the dam house would sell then I could hit the road then I read of the bribes so much hassle and remember my time in Africa yes it really is heaven on earth and the fealing of elation when you get away without paying the bribe my best time was in Malawi I had given the cheif of police a lift to pick up his doughter so I used his name and phone number at ever check point
    All the best from an England
    Trundling jack

    Reply
  2. Stefan

    Hi Gee

    Too bad that the bribe scenario catched you on a well known path.

    Keep Papers legal (Insurances, TiP / Carnet and so on), carrying the stuff who is necessary and driving very over-exactly in city-centers should avoid further experiences like that.

    In cities we often stops where was no stop sign, just for avoiding these well known bribe starting situations, where policemen’s tell you that you had to stop there, where no sign was visible ;-)

    Good luck for your further travels and thank you, that you let us travel with you!

    Stefan

    Reply
  3. Muhammad Awwal Jibril

    Is this Nigeria?
    From Katabamg to Drill Ranch, from Drill Ranch to Ulam junction. That’s where we path ways with Mr Gee, as he drove down to Ikom then Calabar & down to Cameroun.
    Your adventure is infectious, planning one soon.
    Thimba is indeed a great company, till she meets you in Namibia.
    Cheers!

    Reply
  4. Muhammad Awwal Jibril

    Is this Nigeria?
    From Katabamg to Drill Ranch, from Drill Ranch to Ulam junction. That’s where we path ways with Mr Gee, as he drove down to Ikom then Calabar & down to Cameroun.
    Your adventure is infectious, planning one soon.
    Thimba is indeed a great companion, till she meets you in Namibia.
    Cheers!

    Reply
  5. Geert van den Berg

    Hallo Gee,

    Na twee weken met studenten in Marokko pik ik je reis weer op. Telkens als ik je verslagen lees, krijg ik zin om ook (weer) te gaan reizen. Zou dat ook wel in West Afrika willen doen, maar die roadblocks lijken me niets. Knap dat je het nog steeds uithoudt met al die lastposten. Ben benieuwd hoe Nigeria op je over komt?

    Groeten, Geert

    Reply
    1. Gee Post author

      Hi Geert,
      Dank voor je bericht!
      Gewoon gaan, als je de drive hebt. Het is een onvergetelijke ervaring!
      Cheers vanuit Mamfe, Cameroon,

      Gee

      Reply

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