June 21, 1998

Nigerian border post

It's quiet. Too quiet.

This is the nicest border post we've been to so far. Quiet, relaxed, green, no hassle or hawkers, just roosters and sheep picking their way among the customs & police buildings.

People seem pleasant too: guy - official? - just chatted with me about his friends, refugees in Canada.

Customs just checked the truck, a barely-more-than-cursory search.

Nigeria, so far, does not live down to its fearsome reputation.

Went through two countries in the last week, but it feels uneventful.

Headed from the Togo border to the hospital, where it turned out that Angela and Gavin - poster children for homeopathic malaria medication - had malaria. Went off to Robinson's Plage, nice seaside campsite with a horrible zoo and beach being eaten away by the ocean. But otherwise, honest, very nice.

Back at the bar and slept in the sea breeze. Next day into Lome, where we

(addendum: past the border, 10 mins drive, another police search followed by _another_ customs post)

parked at a supermarket, shopped, ate street food and grande cocas, wandered for a while.

(addendum II: wasn't customs, but State Security and Drug Enforcement, who did a thorough 40-minute search while we waited, hot & stuck & bored, outside).

Lome's not a bad town - lots of hassle, but I'm getting inured to that. Colourful, busy, lots of cold Coke.

(addendum III: stood outside half an hour for a passport check)

Went to the ritzy Palm Beach Hotel to watch the World Cup, England defeating somebody or other. Then back to Robinson's for the night. Next morning, a medical crisis, Angela gravely worse. We got her to a (surprisingly clean and organized, nun-staffed) clinic in town and arranged a flight out. Also got Sam's Nigerian visa, lucky for him.

To Benin, a thoroughly unremarkable border post, and a nice campsite in Gran-Popo: large, grassy, misty, on the beach, with a decent bar. Next morning as I stood on the beach a huge storm blew up, a black wall, looming every closer to the beach, gusts of wind blowing fretfully around, and then a wall of rain slamming down on us.

Off to Ouidah, birthplace of voodoo, muddy streets in a constant drizzle, spaced out forever, decaying colonial buildings. Chong & I went off for lunch and were promptly abandoned by the truck. Wandered about, were serenaded by a brass band. Ouidah has a very strange feel, like there's no connection between the buildings and the people on the streets, like they reject the notion of "town." Eventually chased the truck to the Voodoo Museum, OK paintings & pictures and very good if disturbing sculptures, made of bicycle bits & spare engine parts. Camped in a soulless patch of dirt on the outskirts of Cotonou, watched more World Cup.

Very touristy expedition to stilt villages the next day, 13 of us in 2 boats powered alternately by pole & paddle & sail, to houses on stilts with a chorus of "cadeau" echoing across the water. Stilt Coca-Cola cafes and Nescafe billboards. Public phone and everything. Long boat ride back and a return to the campsite.

Yesterday, morning in Cotonou, a hot noisy dusty polluted crowded city with a couple of nice cafes and supermarkets. Drove north in the afternoon to avoid the Lagos border post. Bush camped.

Today, the Nigerian border crossing: we're still sitting here, waiting for something to happen. An all-day transition.

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