In Calabar, we meet American Amy who drove past us the day before. She invites us to stay in her guest room in town, and in the evening we’re taken with on a pizza party that her German boyfriend Alex has set up with various friends. Could we get a better birthday present (both I and Lina were born on the 14th)?
Visa to Cameroon
Address: Cameroon Consulate / 21 Ndidem Usang Iso Road / Po box 863 / Calabar / NIGERIA
We show up at nine a.m. and are let inside half an hour later. Two filled in forms, one letter to the consul (something like “Dear Excellency, please give us a visa…”), three passport sized photos and 51,000 CFA give us a visa valid for a month (‘short stay’). We had to wait inside the consulate until four p.m., and were only allowed outside to get lunch at noon. Fortunately there was a toilet. We didn’t need any passport photocopy, reference in Cameroon, letter of invitation or proof of hotel booking.
Entering this country, I was prepared for the worst. Rumors of extensive corruption and armed banditry leaves little good to read. Besides, I made the mistake of reading the US Department of State’s list of travel warnings, with Nigeria on top: “Violent crime committed by ordinary criminals, as well as by persons in police and military uniforms, can occur throughout the country. Road travel is dangerous. Robberies by armed gangs have been reported on rural roads and within major cities.” There were also particular warnings on traveling overland from Benin. And even though it was easy to grow tire of the border police whom worked slow on purpose in hope of being bribed – finally asking straight out for a dash of 1,700 naira – I never got any actual problems. In fact that bribe request was the only one during my whole visit in the country, and in the end I didn’t have to give way to it.
After a few days in the country, Lina joined in again after almost two months vacation, and we continued together southeast towards the border of Cameroon. Along the road, we mostly met caring and welcoming authority officials at the several roadblocks we passed through each day – both police and military. They were there for our security, and simply wished for our journey to be as good as possible. At the immigration in Abuja, it was no problem to get my visa extended – the staff even invited us for soft drinks. In the end we probably had a dozen or so addresses and phone numbers to officials who wished to keep in touch, or who gave us their numbers to for us to call would we need them. Our only bad experience was actually our meeting with the Nigerian Security Service (Feb 9th), but they too turned out to obstruct us only for the sake of our safety.
Accommodation at hotels and hostels was cheap (except in Cross River State where that and everything else was more expensive), so we only camped or stayed at peoples’ homes a few times. Besides, we often cycled between 80 to 120 kilometers a day – sometimes on really terrible roads – and didn’t have much time left during which to meet and socialize with a possible host.
The biggest difference from the rest of West Africa was the people. They were incredibly welcoming and friendly. When people in Senegal and Mali shouted “Give me money” or “Give me your bicycle,” the Nigerians greeted us by “Well done,” “You try,” “Master” or “Patron.” Amusingly, they also took pride in guessing our nationality, but often didn’t get it quite right with greetings such as “Chinaman,” “From Japan,” “Indian” or “From Afghanistan.” When we told them that we were from Sweden, they usually first replied, “Aha – Switzerland.” After having repeated Sweden a few times, they continued, “Aha – Sudan.” Then, after they’d finally understood we said Sweden, they asked, “Is that in Asia?”
Nigeria has by far been the most pleasant surprise so far on the journey. And even without considering the bad expectations from rumors of corruption and violence, the country is a favorite in the region. It seems as if the government – at least from a tourist’s point of view – has been successful in its fight against corruption during the past few years, but that the picture of the country will take many more years to change.
Last but not least something about the upcoming election in April. It is an almost compulsory topic of conversation between people here, and it was quite easy to get a picture on peoples’ general opinion. Everyone that we discussed it with – and we did with most people we met – gave the impression that president Obassanjo and his PDP (People’s Democratic Party) have done little good during the past few years. Far from their slogan on huge billboards throughout the country: “We’ve done good things – let us do more!” Everyone told us that they would vote for change. Unfortunately, quite some also said that they might not vote at all in disbelief that their vote would ever be counted. A few said that whatever the actual result, it will be altered in favor of the PDP. The picture we got was so unanimous that I’d be very doubtful towards a result through which the PDP would remain in power. Guess who won?