|A traveler enjoys the view on Olumo rock, Abeokuta|
It’s the beauty of travel. You learn about other cultures, how they use words and things in a way totally different from what you know. Like a garage is a place to fix broken cars, but in Nigeria a motor garage is a taxi or bus park. And then tea. In the big hotels when you ask for tea you get tea, but I asked for it in a small hotel in Ibadan, and the waiter replied, “Do you want Milo, Bounvita, or Lipton?” I did not think Milo and Bounvita counted as tea. I thought she was merely offering me options. In Idanre I asked for tea in a small shack. The young man did not offer me options. He at once mixed me hot water and evaporated milk. “No!” I said. “Not that. I want tea!” He got cross. “But this is tea!” And we entered an argument. I tried to explain that I wanted only water and a tea-bag, but he only kept shouting at me about wasting his time, so I gave in and said, “Okay, just give it to me.” It was an awful drink. Only after I took a sip did I see a box of Lipton teabags on the shelf, and I said. “That! That is what I want.” And he laughed, “Why then did you say you want tea?” I learned rather late that in Nigeria, and most of West Africa, cocoa is tea. If you want actual tea, ask for Lipton.
|Breakfast is served. ‘Tea’ and bread.
A shack restaurant in Idanre.
|A woman uses a razor blade to peel an orange in Ibadan|
I had thought that changing money would be as easy as it is in Uganda, that I would not have problems the way I did the South Africa. Nigeria shares many similarities with Uganda, and so I didn’t expect problems. I was wrong. I should have changed the money at the airport. A few friends offered to do it for me, but they said it would take a long time. I’d have to wait a whole day. I didn’t want to wait. I had only a hundred naira left. At the hotel they said they could change it for me, unofficially, but at ridiculous rates. I turned down their offer. They advised me to try the banks, but each bank I went to said they only change money for account holders. I nearly gave up until someone whispered, “Go to the black market.”
“Where is that?” I said.
“You can’t go alone,” he said. “They’ll cheat you. They might rob you. Better you give the dollars to a Nigerian and he’ll do it for you. Don’t go alone.”
I stepped into the streets with a mad sense of thrill, trusting a backpacker’s luck. I had to go to Itoku, wherever that was, whatever I’d find there, a place where dollars are sold and bought illegally. Itoku. I didn’t even know which direction it was, so I asked the first pedestrian I met, and he pointed it out. “That way.” Still, I didn’t know how far I’d have to go, or how I’d know if I reached it. I didn’t even know if it was within Abeokuta town, or if I would have to travel an hour. Once I got there, how would I know the black marketeers? If they were doing it illegally, then they sure would not have sign posts that said ‘Dollars for sale’.
|Rocks lend Abeokuta town a surreal beauty.|
Well, I put my trust on an okadaman. It’s the beauty of backpacking, the way you throw yourself at the mercy of strangers, trusting that their good side will overwhelm the dark side. Naively. Trusting that they will always be nice to a traveler if you smiled your best. The okadaman agreed to take me for 70 naira, I then knew that Itoku wasn’t far out of town, but I had only 100 in my pockets and if things went wrong I might have only 30 left and no way to get back to the hotel. As we sped on the bike, I told him I wanted to change money. I held my breathe, knowing now was the time for his dark side to show, for surely he now knew I was a foreigner and that I had dollars.
I should have haggled and gotten a better rate, but the 215 Naira for a dollar they offered was above the rate I saw online (200 for a dollar) or in the bank (196 for a dollar) and way above what I was offered at the hotel (180 for a dollar), so I took it without asking questions. I later learnt that at the airport I could have gotten a better rate of 220-225 for a dollar. Thus my trip to the dollar black market turned out to be uneventful. Only that the okadaman changed his mind, and instead charged me 200 Naira, up from 70. When I tried to argue, he became quarraleous and wanted to fight, so I gave him the money.
|A man buys bagged water from a truck. Nigeria seems to have
a drinking water problem. The safest water comes in plastic bags
and I wonder how much environmental damage that does.
|A poster in the streets of Lagos illustrates gender disparity.
Female workers are paid less than males.
|A masquerade in Abeokuta town|
|A poster for a Juju fantasy film from Nollywood|
|Sacrifice left in at a road junction.|
|The sacrifice, or that’s what I think it is, up close|
A man hawks religious artefacts and charms.
One reads ‘protection from evil.’
Ibadan is supposed to be an hour’s journey only from Abeokuta. I paid a thousand naira to share a small car with three other passengers. If I was in a hurry I could have paid four thousand to travel alone, but I was not, and I was on a backpacking budget, so I waited for two hours as the others trickled in. I reached Ibadan shortly after darkness. I had no accommodation, but that was the thing about this backpacking trip. I didn’t want to pre-plan anything. I was seeking thrill, so I’d hop into a car and get to the next town blindly. I did try googling and asking friends, but found no useful info for cheap hotels. I knew it had to be like Uganda, where you only get the cheap and comfortable places after you have reach a town and ask help from locals.
|I paid 5000 N for this room in Plaza Park, Ibadan,
because of air-conditioning
I paid 2500 Naira for this room in Infinity Hotel, Idanre.
It had no air-con. No difference with the 5k Naira room.
|External view of Infinity Hotel, one I’m not about to forget soon.|
The next night I was in Idanre town. There was a power cut that had lasted four days, so even if I was to get a hotel with air-con, I’d have paid a high price for nothing. (Nigeria has a huge power and fuel problem that is cyclic. The power problem worsens the fuel crisis, for everyone uses generators, which compete with vehicles for gas.) Idanre gets a bit of tourists so there is online info on hotels. Everyone recommends Valley Rock, but in the backpacking spirit of my trip, I did not book in advance. I got in at 10pm, and the okadaman told me Valley Rock is far outside the town, too late to go there. “Then take me to the nearest hotel,” I said. He took me to one called Infinity. I knew it was the wrong place the moment I saw the receptionist – No, there was no reception. There was a bar, and there was a woman sitting at one of the tables, wearing nothing but an ill-fitting t-shirt, and red knickers, her legs spread open. She gave me a big smile and said “Welcome.” Did she open her legs wider or was it only my imagination?
“Do you want a room?” the naked woman asked, coming closer. She had a strong perfume mixed with the stench of alcohol. I wanted to get out of there, but it was 10pm, and I wanted to take a poop, for I had spent the entire afternoon – let me backtrack. In Ibadan town, I was at the motor garage (car park) at 2pm when the urge to ease my bowels struck. I ran to the public toilets, but they had no tissue. “Use water,” the attendant told me. At once, the urge vanished. Water? I’d have to use my fingers to wipe –no. I couldn’t do it. I thought I’d wait until Idanre, so I jumped into the bus (mini-van). It took four hours to fill up, and only after we set off did I go into ‘labor pains’. By the time I reached Idanre at 10pm, my bowels were bursting, so I overlooked the naked woman and dived into the first room she showed me.
I paid only 2,500 Naira. There was no air-con, but they had a fan. I thought it was going to be a tough night to sleep, then I remembered that in Nepal, temperatures and humidity was just as bad, yet I slept soundly with only a fan. So I took the room. And dashed into the toilet. At least it had a shower, but the toilet seat was broken, and there was no tissue. I went to the receptionist. The okadaman was still there. “I want my beer,” the okadaman said. “Me and you we get drunk tonight.” I got angry and told him to return the next day. He left. The naked woman laughed.
“I want tissue,” I told her. “What is that?” she said. “Toilet paper,” I said. “Toilet what?…. What does it do?” And so I made a motion of whipping my behinds, and she said, “Oh. You mean toilet roll. No. We don’t have that.” And I said, “Send someone to buy.” She replied, “No. We have to go to Akure (an hour’s drive away) to buy it.” And I said, “Then what shall I do?” And she said, “Use water o!”
By this time I could not hold it anymore. I found a piece of paper on the floor, a card from a Pentecostal church inviting people to a fundraising function, and I took that. I searched through my bag for scraps of paper, receipts, anything, and they did help.
The next day, I went to Idanre town and was pissed off to find tissue in every shop. The naked woman had just refused to buy me a roll. Or maybe she just couldn’t be bothered and wouldn’t understand why I could not use my fingers to wipe my butthole.
Continues here. In the next post I tell you how security people took me for a Boko Haram agent. Enjoy the read.
Meanwhile, enjoy a few more pics 🙂
|A sword woman guards spirits during the dance.|
|A masked spirit dancing|
Not sure what his role was, but it looked like he was blessing everyone
by sprinkling them with stuff from the palm fronds.