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Old 12-10-2011, 11:05 AM   #181
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oh my how i remember those sights from my year in africa. the greatest part is he can't see a damned thing other than straight ahead. i can just picture him slowly changing lanes with a hand or the constant horn and the other arm out the window to wave off those he offends, while the engine pings away dust and pinging taxi engines... and the smell. thats what i remeber most about africa
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Old 12-10-2011, 12:29 PM   #182
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This being a Ride Report, I'll put a picture of a bike right ahead:

Maybe that's what you need to get through the thick rain forest in southern Cameroon. But the rest of this post will be just about cultural (and political) life in Cameroon.

Tabie, my Cameroonian host, had told me into attending the festival of Bandjoun, taking place very other year to celebrate the Bandjoun people. She comes from the same city, she even belongs to the King's family so she's pretty proud of it. Who am I to say no, it's only in three days time and she's even found 2 invites for the official banquet.

I set off on my own a day early and take my time to get there. It's a nice ride up in the hills, and a very welcome escape from the suffocating heat of Douala. We meet at a "daughter's" house (the African "family" is a pretty lose concept that covers more than just your offsprings). The next morning we leave early for the "chefferie". Cameroon, like many Afrtican countries created by White men, is an artificial community of hundreds of different people who have nothing in common. The good thing is, they've kept the old traditional rule of the "fon" or king. He is nominated by his peers to take the job and cannot refuse. He will serve as a judge for minor conflicts (the national law still applies) and helps poor and uneducated people in various official requests. He is still highly respected, and in a big fiefdom such as Bandjoun, can afford to build himself a huge mansion and drive in a fancy 4x4.

The morning festivities are pretty boring, and actually not many people show up. Then arrive first for the official banquet, set up for several hundreds guests. Official speeches, decorations, Bordeaux wine and Moet & Chandon are in order. Later in the afternoon comes the traditional dance that everybody's waiting for: people get out of the closet the ancient panther hide, put on a colorful mask and dance around the main square with people firing off old musquets to spice up the ambiance.

Interesting. But I'm feeling pretty restless, so I bid farewell to my host of the last week and leave for the English-speaking province next to the Nigerian border. Now, when Cameroon was taken away from the Germans, they were given to the French and British to administer. Of course they taught their respective language, so that there would be a common language for people to communicate with each other. When time had come for independence, the British didn't do the obvious and attach their part to Nigeria, which they were also about to free up. They wanted to take no responsibility so they organized a referendum.. but how the heck would those uneducated people chose between two equally meaningless "countries" ? and how could one explain them what difference it would make to them escapes me. As it turned out, half of them chose Cameroon and the other half preferred Nigeria. So since then Cameroon is a "billingual" country. What's remarkable though, is that these differences didn't bring violence and division as in many other West African countries. Probably due to the fact that there aren't any dominant group. Even at last month's election, they (unenthusiastically) re-elected the incumbent president for the umpteenth time. What good is democracy for when you don't have a meaningful alternative to the official party ?

Enough talking, the next installment is about riding, at last.
2006-2007 Mongolia - Pamir - India - Nepal
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Old 12-14-2011, 07:41 AM   #183
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Ring Road

I had picked a few targets that seemed to offer nice rides: the "ring road", in the mountainous, English-speaking part of the country close to Nigeria, and the Mandara mountains in the far North between Nigeria and Chad.

A quick stop on the road to grab a bite, in this case a not-bad-looking bbq on the road. On second thoughts, my stomach being just back from Europe, I left half of it to the local beer drinkers. Better play safe for the first couple weeks.

I start the loop counter-clockwise, for no apparent reason other than the road was somehow leading me this way. With hindsight I should have done the opposite but what the heck. The road climbs in the mountains, half tarred, half gravel. It seems that the did they take the minimalistic approach by surfacing only the steeper parts, so that you can still get through during the rainy season I guess. But the gravel parts were in a very bad state, not so much fun actually with quite a few cars and trucks to pass and dodge.

Still it was pretty enjoyable in a very nice landscape. The temperature was also much cooler as it climbs to 2000m at times. In the afternoon I start to look for a place to overnight. The last hotel I passed was not very inviting and pretty expensive, so I keep going.

I stop in a small village and ask for a place. One of the moto-taxi driver leads me to a very nice house a bit off the main road. A very nice lady welcomes me and offers me a spare room for the night, even though she seems to think it was inadequate for a tourist - but in fact much better than I expected. She even asks her boy to bring me a hot water bucket, and her girl to cook dinner and breakfast! Her husband - an ex-MP - is away but I get to talk to him over the phone, as he's naturally interested by who is this strange guest. Very warming.

The next morning is very cold, I don a sweater under my jacket for the first time for a long time. After a few more km of bad gravel, the road turns into a very destroyed dual-tracks clearly unsuitable for normal cars. In fact, from then on, I will only cross a handful of motorbikes. It's just as well for me, it's more challenging and interesting this way.

After a few villages I unexpectedly reach a patch a new tar. It climbs the mountain and reaches the military/scientific camp near lake Nyos. I had heard about this lake before, in 1986 it has caused the death of more than 1000 people around through the catastrophic release of tons of carbon dioxide that was dissolved in the lower layers of the lake (you can read all about it here).

The site is manned by a squad of five soldiers, who've been dumped there without vehicle or electricity, only food and water for one month. They found a spot where they can get a faint cellular signal, but to recharge their batteries they have to walk several hours to the nearest village with a generator. In short, they're bored to death. Tourists like me are a welcome distraction, indeed they had the visit of Belgian bikers riding one day ahead of me. Too bad I missed them.

I go bathe in the lake to wash off the dirt that had accumulated, disregarding the tons of lethal gas that are stored 120m below me. French engineers started a project to outgas the lake by creating a geyser moving water from the bottom ofg the lake in a process not unlike what happens when you stick a mentos in a Diet Coke bottle. But this one is permanent, and self-sustained. CO2 detectors have been placed there, and if the alarm goes off the soldiers have the instruction ot rush on top of the mountain, the CO2 being heavier than air it will flow down the valley.

They also have a room to rent out for tourists. The official price is a little of my budget, especially for a run-down, dirty room without water. I explain them that I'd prefer pay locals for a service, being sure that they benefit from it, rather than giving money to the government who will probably go directly in the pocket of a minister. They finally give in and let me sleep there for free! nice guys, and really pissed by their employer.

The next morning I give them some cash to top up their phone and go back the same road: going all around would take me another full day on bad roads, I prefer the destroyed track where there is no traffic.

I quickly get to the turn off I noticed leading directly towards the North East without having to backtrack all the way to Bamenda. That road is actually much better than the Ring Road, and looks nice too. It goes down very steeply on nice new tar, then turns into an excellent gravel road at the bottom.

As usual, it's good because there's not much traffic. All the better for me, I can open up without risk. Only that the fun is spoiled by a nail that enters my rear tyre.

I stop in the shade near a group of houses and proceed to repair the puncture under the scrutiny of the jobless locals. They help me break the bead of the farking TKC 80 (no less than 3 of us standing on it together) and in return I help one of them with my tools and patch kit to repair his own motorcycle. Which of course he does in less than half the time it takes me, but then he doesn't have to remove the wheel to get the tube out.

At the same time another group is loading a Pinzgauer with hundreds of jerrycans to go fill up in Nigeria, where petrol is a third of the price. The Pinzgauer is a very capable 6x6 small truck, that I've used a lot during my military service in Switzerland. They look certainly much better repainted in colorful ways.

The road is still good, the countryside is nice and it's just perfect for riding. At a fork, I ask the way to Banyo, and they tell me there are 2 roads: the normal one going around the mountain, and the short cut across the mountain.The choice is obvious and I head directly toward the mountain. But it's getting late, I stop in Somié and ask for the chef. I'm lead to a small courtyard with rundown houses.

The chef is here, who welcomes me warmly, and immediately agrees to lend me his patio to put my mattress and mosquito net. He's a charming guy, who used to be a teacher before being chose as chef. I have a hard time giving him the "Your Majesty", but the locals show plenty of respect for him. We chat a little and he explains me soem traditions in the chefferie. He also tells me about the "famous bikers road" across the mountain. Hmm... interesting. We'll see about that tomorrow.

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Old 12-14-2011, 04:57 PM   #184
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on the road again!
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Old 12-15-2011, 05:35 AM   #185
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Nice, as allways.
It seems you never have any kind of problem with anybody, everubody is gently or you just remember the good side of everything.

Would like to share some drink and table if you pass through Barcelona on your way back to Switzerland.
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Old 12-15-2011, 06:01 AM   #186
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North Cameroon

I leave Somié early and head toward the mountain. After a couple km, a boom barrier blocks the road. The guys come to chat with me and wish me a good trip with a smile. I continue and quickly, the road deteriorates enough to be totally impassable by normal cars.

Then it needs to climb the mountain. Little effort has been done to build switchbacks so it's pretty steep. And the steeper it gets, the faster it is destroyed by the rains. Here it's really bad, and with the rear-heavy F800GS it's not easy to keep enough speed without flipping over on a big boulder.

It's not that long, maybe 6 or 7 kms, but I have to make a stop or two to catch my breath and admire the landscape. After a coupe close calls I finally drop it.

That's when I hear the noise of a chainsaw approaching.

Actually it's a 125cc driver red-lining his engine, inching uphill with his load of (empty) jerrycans. He helps me get the rubber facing the earth and I don't stop until the top of the pass. I wait there for a few minutes but he doesn't catch up. Maybe he took a side road, maybe he had problems starting his bike ?

When it's clear he's not coming, I push on to Banya, change some money on the street and look for petrol. There are 2 petrol stations, but both are closed: what's the point in selling petrol at 569 CFA / l when everbody's buying petrol smuggled from Nigeria at 500 / l.

Then it's direction Tibati and N'Gaoundéré on a pretty good gravel road. By mid-afternoon I'm knackered and start to look for a place to stay. A village on the road in not the quietest place but it's the most convenient. In fact, the traffic is very light from midnight until about 6AM.

This guy asks to clear up a room for me, the bed is broken but I can lay my mattrass and mosquito net so I'm a happy camper. Again, no money was asked and probably none expected, but gladly accepted when I stuff a few 1000 CFA in the hand of the chief before leaving. Very nice people.

My back has been hurting bad the previous day, I have to get used to riding hard again after the long break. So I chose to stick on the tar and make a detour to get to N'Gaoundéré and on to Garoua. Tonight I find an unfinished house that provides little shelter from the elements, but more importantly hides me from the passer by. I cook some instant noodles and crash by 8PM.

After Garoua I'm sick of all this tar and take the gravel road that hugs the Nigerian border northwards. It's a great road, with very little traffic, the kind of road that keeps you busy but in an interesting way.

My final goal is the touristy town of Rhumsiki that everybody in Cameroon has been talking about. I arrive there at sunset and the view on the valley is breathtaking.

This being one of the only touristy place in Cameroon, there are a few hotels. But I opt instead for a campground in construction, that provides no shade, no water but runs a generator and therefore sells cold beers! Good enough for me, I haggle the price down because of there being no water and promise to buy beers. They also serve food to package tourists, and I meet there my first batch of white men in Africa for a long time. These Italians come back from a dancing ceremony in a nearby village. They seem not overly excited, for my part I've had enough of the folkloric stuff.

There are some more nice villages out there, I pick one at the end of the road near the Nigerian border to check out. It's called Tourou and the custom here is for women to wear a decorated gourd on their head. According to the locals, the tourists come here only once per week, for the market. They probably do the same in every village, so the trick is to avoid market day to avoid the tourists. Works for me. They also tell me that instead of retracing my steps back to Mokolo, I can keep going and join the main road in Koza, saving me about 50 km. It's not possible with a car but with a bike they do it. Okay, sound good to me.

The road turns into a footpath, with tread marks clearly visible. Still pretty easy with the big GS. I pass through very nice villages until I lose the tread marks and turn to the locals for directions. Well, it's not so easy, as it turns out, as soon as I have left the last village on the main road, nobody speaks French anymore. I'm all on my own, I keep going hoping to see some clues that it's the right way.

All I find are puzzled women working in the fields and an overgrown path that's difficult to spot. What can I do, I'm only a few kms out of the last village, it's midday and I have plenty of water, so I keep going, a 1st and 2nd gear affair. At the same time I think about turning around I reach a wide roads that has clearly been constructed for vehicles; there's hope..

Yeah, only that it ends after just 1 km. This time it's definitely a dead end. Some kids show up to check what's going on, but none speak a word of French. Seems that schooling is not very popular here.

On my way back I stop at some house to ask again if I had missed a turn-off somewhere. All I get as an answer is soem words in the local idiom and a gourd filled with millet beer. It's cool and very refreshing, again I'm faced with a very welcoming people.

I've lost 3 hours on this path, but now the only option is to turn around, return to Mokolo and on to Mora, not far from the border. This time I get a room with A/C and running water. On the plus side it runs a gen (generator) so has power for the A/C and to cool the beers. On the down side, it runs a gen because it's a popular bar and blasts awful music at 120db during half the night. In this part of Africa, it's often a compromise between quietness and electricity, having both at the same time is nearly impossible.

Tomorrow: Nigeria.
2006-2007 Mongolia - Pamir - India - Nepal
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Old 12-15-2011, 01:13 PM   #187
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Hooray for Africa!

This is wonderful stuff, Laurent. I look forward to reading about your time through West Africa. I grew up in the countries of Guinea and Senegal all the way through high school. Been in Mali, Cote d'Ivoire, Liberia, all those areas. Been driving ADV bikes for years now. One of the highlights of the year was always the Paris-Dakar arriving in Dakar, Senegal. If you have questions about Senegal, let me know and I'll do my best to answer them! You do a great job writing and take fantastic pictures! Excellent RR...looking forward to enjoying more. (You're in the middle of my own dream ride...all of Africa!)
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Old 12-15-2011, 01:30 PM   #188
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Great pics and RR!

Thank you very much for sharing!

Best greatings from Germany
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Old 12-22-2011, 07:21 AM   #189
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Let's step back and look at the map for a while. I'm at the far north of Cameroon, at the endue of the Sahel, near to Nigeria, Niger and Chad, and almost at the same latitude as Djibouti where I entered Africa. The mediterranean port of Tunis is almost straight North 2700 km as the crow flies, a journey which in theory should be the ultimate goal, crossing the depth of the Sahara in Chad and Libya, or Nigeria and Algeria. 20 years ago that was the real deal, that divided the world between those who did it and those who didn't. But nowadays all of this is history, the Sahara is now for all intent and purposes off limits to travelers (who don't have unlimited budgets for armed escorts and guides).

Of course, there is the problem of huge distances without fuel and water, monster sand dunes and elusive tracks, which has always been a deterrent to motorbikes. But now even for well equipped and rich 4x4ers there is a biggest hurdle: the security situation in this part of Africa is disastrous, and getting worse every day. Libya used to be impossible to cross without a guide and much $$. Now it's a yard sale of military weapons, left by thousands of jobless mercenaries returning to Chad, Nigeria or Mali with only qualification an AK-47 or a shoulder-launched missile. Chad (especially North) has long been a lawless country, and Niger is struggling for years with a Tuareg rebellion. Mali has pretty much surrendered the northern half of the country to local tribes, in exchange for peace in the South. And Algeria has closed its Sahara South to independent tourists since kidnapping of Germans and Swiss in 2003.

On top of that, AQIM is gaining ground, and attracting new recruits in the areas of these countries neglected by the government. They offer big money for kidnapping western foreigners, who are then sold back to Europeans governments for millions. It has ties with Boko Haram in Nigeria, who recently planted a bomb at the UN headquarters in Abuja. It is also probably behind the kidnapping of French in Niger and the late kidnapping and killing of white tourists in Timbuktu, Mali.

All of this put together means that the road back goes along the West Atlantic coast of Africa, between Senegal and Morocco. Most overlanders take the road along the South coast from Nigeria to Benin, Togo, Ghana (3 friendly and safe countries) and then North through Burkina, Mali and Senegal to avoid the more restless Ivory Coast, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

I had planned a ride trough the Sahel, northern Nigeria, Niger, Southern Mali. I was particularly keen on visiting Mali, which meanwhile got bad press for the recent incidents. Which for me means either (depending on what measures are taken by the government) increased risks of kidnapping or massive and intrusive security forces, neither of which makes the travel particularly pleasant. Let's see how the French Foreign ministry looks at it (they usually paint it black, there it's red):

Really it isn't as bad as it's shown, they're just covering their ass in case of a mishap. In fact, while I'm riding in Northern Nigeria, there has been a series of gunfights in Marseille, involving the killing of a cop, so to be fair they should also give travel advisory to some of the French big cities' suburbs.

Plan B is now to skip Niger and Northern Nigeria, head for Benin and/or Togo and Burkina Faso. By then things will have settle down and I'll review my plans for Mali. The upside of these recent incidents is that the crowds of French obnoxious trekkers, for which Mali's Dogon country is a highlight, are likely to stay at home, or head for other destinations. That would mean a much relaxed atmosphere. The point is, if at some point even Southern Mali becomes dangerous, then the only remaining route visits Côte d'Ivoire and Guinée, that are often riddled by ethnic violence and military coups, and for which visas may be difficult to get hold of.

Enough Politics. Back to my bike, I'm heading to the border post of Banki. The village is split between the Cameroon and Nigerian side, with a simple boom on a dirty road to mark it, but locals from both sides cross it freely on their bikes. It seems everything happens on the market on the Cameroon side. I find plenty of money-changers who trade my last (central African) CFAs and a 50€ note for Nairas. After lunch and I go and wake up the border officials. There seems to be very little traffic in this remote border post, and certainly no commercial traffic. They quickly stamp me out and in, and "welcome to Nigeria". As for the last several countries, I ignore the customs and don't even try to have my carnet stamped. And as far as they're concerned, they're probably thankful for me to not disturb their nap. Nigeria is the first country of the ECOWAS "Carte brune" cross-country insurance scheme. I should probably get one, just in case a hungry cop wants an excuse to make some easy money. I'll see about that in Abuja.

On the Nigerian side I quickly find a surfaced road, which I hadn't seen in Cameroon for quite a while, witness the globally higher state of development of the country. But the tar is so potholed that it is not used anymore and like everybody I prefer to use the sandy track running parallel to it. So much for "development". And finally, I spot the first Peugeot 504 in Africa yet! This car is an icon of Africa, being massively imported and used by the French settlers. The weird thing is, this is an ex-English colony, whereas in Cameroon (an ex-French colony) you find almost exclusively Toyota Corollas.. Actually, it's not that weird as it has been locally manufactured until recently.

It's only a couple km until I notice the next big difference: police checkpoints. Every 3-4 km there's another one, manned by very edgy police/military rifle-toting dudes with smart sunglasses and berets, who seem keen on proving their shooting skills on suspect vehicles. Just 20 km away in Cameroon there is hardly a policeman on the road, and quite harmless. Now there are more guns on display than in Call of Duty, and I'm not even thinking of running the checkpoint without stopping. Take off gloves, helmet, look for the passport, hand it out, answer a few questions, bye-bye, store away everything, helmet, gloves, 1st gear, 2nd, 3rd, oops next checkpoint.

I'm not blaming them, there actually is a serious security problem in the Borno state, so there are reasons to be a bit aggressive. I avoid the problematic Maiduguri, as there seems to be currently no public stoning in this "Sharia" state. I take the first road South along the Cameroon border and make some progress on a better road toward the next state.

I learned about a nice village around here, called Sukur, and sure enough as I ride along the highway I notice the "UNESCO World Heritage" painted on a gate. Sounds good, I follow the road until.. it ends. I then ask the locals where is the way to Sukur and struggle a bit to understand the Nigerian English, which is quite specific. It turns out I can't get there on my own, not only there is only a footpath, I also must hire a guide. But I'm first lead to the local chef, who I'm supposed to "dash". Dashing, in Nigerian, means tipping, and it's Nigeria's favorite sport. I ignore the recommendation and head back to another village where the official guide is finally found. He leads me to the government tourist hotel, a series of bungalows in a nicely kept garden. There's another compound in construction nearby, or more precisely in state of abandon hinting that the project for expansion has long been abandoned. I'm the only tourist here, and probably just a handful make the trip here to visit the place. Nigeria is not a touristy country in the first place, but with the bad roads and the security situation, there isn't much hope for them to bring in more people, never mind the UNESCO branding.

I haggle hard to bring down the price to something more inline with the poor facilities: it has no power (they refuse to start the "gene") and no running water, so 20€ is ridiculous. A generator in Nigeria is the most prized item you can have, the country may be the largest oil producer in Africa, the electricity production capacity is lagging way behind the demographic explosion. So for most people, if you need electricity, make it yourself. We also agree on the price of the guide and how much dash I will eventually have to give out there.

The next morning I leave early with a guide for the 1h1/2 hike up the village. The path is cobbled and well-marked so the guide is not needed, the point is to give a job to local people, fair enough. First thing when we arrive we need to get hold of the king. He'd been elected just a couple weeks ago, after the death of his father, but not yet officially in place so can't live in the "palace" yet. He speaks no English, so the guide translates my greetings and his authorization for us to visit the royal compound. It's made of a series of small huts linked by path and gates that are used in certain ways according to a complicated protocol.

The rest of the visit is less interesting, the local school, the local bar, etc.. Time to get back. I pack and stop at the village to grab a bite. I'm being served with a gooey stew that contests for the most disgusting stuff I've eaten in Africa yet. It's actually okra that gives the slimy texture, I'll make sure to avoid it at all cost next time. I give my plate hardly touched to my neighbors and eat a few biscuits before leaving. I follow my Michelin map and keep going on very bad tar, the attention focused on a slalom between potholes that could send my bike (and myself) flying if I rode into it. Not much fun really.

As light fades I start to look for a place to bush camp. It's not so easy in such a crowded country, the whole point of bush camping is to be on your own in the nature and enjoy the starry night and the noises of the bush. The trick is to find a way into the bush that's not a track, so sees no traffic, and find a spot isolated from crops and cattle grazing. Ideally you have to do it slightly before sunset so that you still have sunlight to sport a camp and set it up, but late enough that most people are back to their village from working in the fields or keeping the cattle. If it's full moon, then it's easy as long as you disconnect the headlight (only my GS I need to physically disconnect the bulb. Duh!)

The spot in a dry riverbed is perfect and the night is peaceful although the wind starts to blow hard in the morning. I'm off early to another of the few touristic spots in Nigeria: Yankari National Park. The entry price is reasonable, as are the camping fees. Well, there isn't really a campground you just pitch wherever you want in front of the headquarters. The infrastructure is pretty extensive, but I suspect it is used more for conferences and meetings for businessmen than for tourists, of which there must be a handful per week. For a game drive I'd have to book an entire jeep for an extortionate amount, so I'll pass.

As a matter of fact, I've probably seen as much wildlife right from my tent, trying to chase the intrusive baboons and warthogs from visiting my tent. The only activity left is to bathe in the natural heats spring, 31 degrees in crystal clear water. Just great, before a mandatory cold beer at the bar.

Abuja doesn't list high in any traveller's itinerary, but it's a must for me to secure the visas for the next countries. I could get a 48h Benin transit visa at the border, but I would have to visit Cotonou to extend it, which I want to avoid. Also, I intend on crossing in the North where it's much more quiet and hassle-free, and I'm not sure they sell visas there. Next is Burkina-Faso, where I'll meet my girl-friend in Ouagadougo for a few weeks of riding two-up. Luckily, I had been contacted on this RR by Martin, and he offered me to stay at his place. That's pretty fortunate because accommodation in Abuja is very expensive. Some people have been staying on the car park of the Sheraton for free, but they had a closed vehicle to sleep in, otherwise the accommodation is meant for businessmen only.

Martin is an expat who's lived here for some time, and together with colleagues they set up an enduro club, the "Nigeria Bushriders". He's a very nice dude and extremely welcoming, and I get to use such luxuries as hot showers and A/C.. The guys even invite me to join their Sunday ride, Stephan lending me his KTM so that I can enjoy it more. That was truly a blast, and quite a difference with my monster truck of a bike.

Martin even does a nice stunt, wrecking his bike and straining his leg in the process.

Thanks for the show ;-)

Stephan also helps me out with a few repairs for my bike. The Benin visa is easy enough although they refuse to sell me a Visa Touristique d'Entente, covering Benin, Togo, Burkina, Niger and Côte d'Ivoire. It seems there aren't many places who still sell them, maybe only in Ouaga. Sp I also need a Burkina visa. I show up at the embassy, enter the building past sleepy security, try all doors but there's nobody. It's surprisingly easy on the security, knowing that the UN House 200m away has been blown up by a suicide bomber 6 months ago! Eventually, a passer by tells me they're closed for 2 days! Okay.. in fact it's the independence day. Well, not really, it was on Sunday but of course they still want their 2 days off. Once they're back in business, I sell me a visa without any fuss on the same day.

Meanwhile I gulp down more Gulder with the German dudes (and Austrian, sorry Michael).. that's the hard life of traveling in Africa !
2006-2007 Mongolia - Pamir - India - Nepal
2010-2012 Caucasus - Middle-East - Africa
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Old 12-24-2011, 08:27 AM   #190
Joined: Feb 2010
Location: Nairobi, Kenya.
Oddometer: 3
Thanks for the excellent RR and pics!! Cant wait for more
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Old 12-26-2011, 09:36 AM   #191
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Joined: Feb 2007
Location: Central NJ - Poland -
Oddometer: 373
Bush camping

fantastic ride report,Thank you very much for all your hard work,so we can see real Africa.
Quick question,"Bush Camping" I notice the most off your over night campings are in private designated areas,are you concern for your safety of wild animals and people?
My concern is wild Africa cats.
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Old 12-30-2011, 08:38 PM   #192
. . . gravity sucks
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Location: Beervanastan, Duwamps Pacific NorWet
Oddometer: 1,591
Uhh . . . . . . Shyeeyittt

Total iron balls ADV riding here,

Yes, this is what I look for in RR, WOW ! ! !

Thanks for posting, simply incredible !

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Old 01-20-2012, 02:44 PM   #193
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No news for nearly a month.

Hope you are enjoying as much as I want to read and watch more of the story
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Old 01-21-2012, 12:49 PM   #194
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Nigeria to Benin

Eventually it's time for me to leave Abuja and get toward Benin and Burkina. First off, I need to fill up with petrol. There are tons of petrol stations, but only a handful give petrol at the correct, official, subsidized price of 65 nairas ($0.40), which are easy to spot as there's a long queue before them. I make my way toward the front and ask for 30 liters. The guy plainly tells me that he would only serve me 5 liters, if I want more I have to pay "lunch money"... ! asshole. I argue a bit and he finally give me a tankful, but keeps the change for him. Cunt.

At that time, rumors were that the government would stop the subsidizing soon, but everybody was sure they wouldn't dare increasing the price for fear of protests. Indeed, that's exactly what happened recently.. and after a few days of strikes and demonstrations, the government had to back down. The new price of 140 nairas would still have been a lot cheaper than surrounding countries, but the point is, this is the only positive fallback of the oil industry for the common people: the bulk of the money goes into the pockets of the ministers and a few ultra-riches.

Leaving Abuja is simple enough: there's a nice 6-lanes motorway heading out west. Only that the police has put checkpoints that filter the vehicles and cause huge traffic jams. It's pretty difficult to navigate through it with the loaded bike, and the fan quickly kicks in, blowing hot air into my legs. Right after the first roadblock I find out that the motorway heads south to Lagos. I should have turned right, so I have to make a u-turn and manage the roadblock from the other side.. And when I finally find the right road I have to cross a market that seemingly extends over several km, all in a big massive chaos.

Finally I'm on a secondary road that brings me toward the Benin border. "Secondary" Nigerian-style, meaning it quickly deteriorates to a slalom between potholes. After a few hours I reach the last proper town west, it's time to have a lunch break on the road. This kid is wearing a second-hand short from a western country, that's meant to be funny when worn by an overweight Californian:

I wonder if anyone grasps the irony of the message here in Nigeria..

The road changes to gravel, which is OK for me as that means less traffic and less potholes - although it's a far cry from Namibian roads.

Instead of a long detour on the proper road, I opt for a track that cuts straight to the west.

Eventually I reach a surfaced road right before the border. I stop at the last petrol station and ask for the price:100 nairas/liter, the highest price I've paid in Nigeria yet. It's still much cheaper than in Benin, so I fill up. The border is deserted and the passport is quickly stamped out, and then in. I don't bother to stop at the customs office, and they don't care to ask for a carnet of laissez-passer. Fine for me.

Nigeria hasn't been that bad at all, although I only touched the middle part, and haven't seen the South at all. At the time, the security situation was tense, but still quite okay. It seems I've been lucky, as only a few days later during Christmas Boko Haram made a few deadly attacks to the Christian community. And in the next few weeks they killed again dozens of people. Then on top of that came the strikes and the protests against the fuel price hikes.. I just hope that it won't turn into a full-scale civil war, as for us overlanders the other route through Chad and Niger is quite appalling.

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Old 01-21-2012, 12:57 PM   #195
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I'm now entering CFA territory, so I'll be using the same currency for the next few countries, which is pretty convenient. A common PITA when crossing borders are the swarms of money changes that assault you as soon as you stop. Often they don't give good rates so it's better to change in a forex bureau. But sometimes it's useful to get rid of your last banknotes and get quickly some new currency to eat, by petrol, etc.. of course when I actually do need to change money there's nobody in sight. I stop in the first Benin city, but it's a week-end and it's impossible to change my euros to CFA.

I go to a hotel, negotiate the price, then tell the manager I need to change money to pay for it. This forces him to be creative: there's a policeman here sipping a beer, he will go to his boss see if he would help a toubab (White man) change a 100€ bill. 1/4h later, a big Mercedes limousine pulls out in the hotel and I'm being brought to it. The head of the police is sitting in the plush leather back, seat with 2-3 servants around the car. He's nice enough, and changes my euros for an OK rate, but clearly the job has quite a few perks..

Note: the kid's scars are not the result of an encounter with a lion: un Benin as in Nigeria, the scarification defines which tribe you belong to.

The next morning I find my bike sitting on a flat tyre. I had noticed a tyre repair "shop" right outside, so I bring them some work. It turns out the shop is run by a 14-years old helped out by 2 10-years old kids. But they're quite efficient at fixing my puncture - actually an old patch that pealed off and leaked. As it turns out, I will fix another 2 punctures in the next few days.. the gremlins have some catching up to do after my first year with only one puncture.

The road ahead is great new gravel, very nice. But in fact it's not that they have decided to maintain there gravel roads, it's the first step in the surfacing of the road. What will happen in very predictable, that's the usual lifecycle in Africa: the government gets money for a road (or a Chinese team to do it). After the asphalt is laid, the road is excellent for 1, maybe 2 years. All the trucks take this road because it's good. Then come the rainy season, and the first potholes form. Of course, there's no organization in place to fix it when it's still small, so with the rain and the trucks it quickly grows into major holes that cars have to negotiate in 1st gear. Until they become to deep and it's now better to drive off of it. At that point it's so bad it's impossible to fix and needs to be rebuilt from scratch..

Benin is a very narrow country, and I've entered it somewhat in the North. It would be easy to cross directly to Burkina, but I have bought a 1-month visa so I have time to pay a visit to some villages near the Togo border that are worth a detour (says the guidebook).

The road is nice enough, but the visit of the villages seems a bit too touristy to me. I skip it when a "guide" finally wakes up and asks me to go get a ticket at the tourist bureau. What the ?? I continue near the togolese border, but I stay in Benin: I'm not sure they're issuing temporary visas at this border post and don't want to get an exit stamp.

One nice thing in Benin - and in other West African french-speaking countries - are the "maquis", as they call the bars here. In that one I'm treated with Togolese beer, probably cheaper than Benin's own.

You can tell Togo has had a German past, can't you.

I turn back toward the Pac de la Penjari, one of the only places in West Africa where one can actually see lions. Unfortunately it's also off-limit to motorbikes, and I don't want to pay the extortionate price to hire a 4x4. Instead I go take a bath in the waterfall near the campground. The vegetation in lush and the water is clean and just a little bit cold. Perfect!
2006-2007 Mongolia - Pamir - India - Nepal
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