Countries Visited

Svalbard Spain United States of America Antarctica South Georgia Falkland Islands Bolivia Peru Ecuador Colombia Venezuela Guyana Suriname French Guiana Brazil Paraguay Uruguay Argentina Chile Greenland Canada United States of America United States of America Israel Jordan Cyprus Qatar United Arab Emirates Oman Yemen Saudia Arabia Iraq Afghanistan Turkmenistan Iran Syria Singapore China Mongolia Papua New Guinea Brunei Indonesia Malaysia Malaysia Tiawan Philippines Vietnam Cambodia Laos Thailand Myanmar Bangladesh Sri Lanka India Bhutan Nepal Pakistan Afghanistan Turkmenistan Tajikistan Kyrgyzstan Uzbekistan Japan North Korea South Korea Russia Kazakhstan Russia Montenegro Portugal Azerbaijan Armenia Georgia Ukraine Moldova Belarus Romania Bulgaria Macedonia Serbia Bosonia & Herzegovina Turkey Greece Albania Croatia Hungary Slovakia Slovenia Malta Spain Portugal Spain France Italy Italy Austria Switzerland Belgium France Ireland United Kingdom Norway Sweden Finland Estonia Latvia Lithuania Russia Poland Czech Republic Germany Denmark The Netherlands Iceland El Salvador Guatemala Panama Costa Rica Nicaragua Honduras Belize Mexico Trinidad & Tobago Puerto Rico Dominican Republic Haiti Jamaica The Bahamas Cuba Vanuatu Australia Solomon Islands Fiji New Caledonia New Zealand Eritrea Ethiopia Djibouti Somalia Kenya Uganda Tanzania Rwanda Burundi Madagascar Namibia Botswana South Africa Lesotho Swaziland Zimbabwe Mozambique Malawi Zambia Angola Democratic Repbulic of Congo Republic of Congo Gabon Equatorial Guinea Central African Republic Cameroon Nigeria Togo Ghana Burkina Fasso Cote d'Ivoire Liberia Sierra Leone Guinea Guinea Bissau The Gambia Senegal Mali Mauritania Niger Western Sahara Sudan Chad Egypt Libya Tunisia Morocco Algeria
Map Legend: 28%, 75 of 263 Territories

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Nigeria is Nice

We can admit now that we had a few trepidations about going to Nigeria. Getting a visa to visit is difficult and expensive...the country has a reputation for crime and, Nigeria rhymes with malaria! These things seemed to bode poorly, and we initially planned to rush through the country as quickly as possible.

But I am happy to report that we had very little trouble at all in Nigeria, and ended up staying for 11 days. We were never asked for a single bribe (we did see plenty of drivers bribing police at highway checkpoints, but we've seen that in other countries, too). And everywhere we turned, there were people bending over backwards to help us out--giving us a ride, negotiating a taxi fare for us so we wouldn't get (too) ripped off, and just generally competing their hardest for the "friendliest people in West Africa" crown.

Things didn't start out so auspiciously. The Nigerian official on the border with Benin who, as he was stamping us in, said "Make sure to be back in your hotel by 7PM at night."

"What, just in Lagos?" Andy asked. (Lagos has a bad reputation for safety at night.)

"No, everywhere," the guard answered. "For your own protection."

Welcome to Nigeria!

(Then the guard tried to convince us to pay almost $100 for a private taxi driven by his "friend" to our destination in Lagos so that we would not have to deal with shared taxis. We assured him that we were quite capable of handling public transport in Africa and as politely as we could, refused this offer.)

Once we were away from the border, things started looking up. We passed some beautiful coastline and finally entered Lagos, Africa's biggest city. It has 14 million people, and makes enough electricity to power about three houses, so every person and business who can afford it has a diesel generator. As you may imagine, this makes the city pretty smoggy and gives it pretty much a permanent low hum.

At first approach, though, Lagos reminded me more of New York City than any city I've been to in Africa. It' s spread out over several islands (well, peninsulas, but they're called islands for some reason), and as your taxi zooms along the divided, elevated highways connecting skylined Lagos Island (Manhattan?) to fancy residential Victoria Island (Lagos's Brooklyn Heights?), well, you might just mistake it...

OK, not really, and the closer you look, the less like NYC it seems. But we were glad we braved the warnings and spent a few days checking this city out.

Hotels in Lagos are really expensive (also like NY!), so we were very lucky to be invited to couchsurf with Ashraf, a Canadian teacher currently working at a private school and living in Lekki, an even posher neighborhood just beyond Victoria Island. (P.S., if you are a teacher and like to travel, you may want to check out job openings in Lagos--our host' school gives him a guardhouse-protected three-bedroom apartment with satellite, Internet, and a washing machine (we took full advantage of all three), and a car, plus salary...not bad!)

After a day of lounging around in the AC and catching up on laundry and blog entries, we ventured with Ashraf to Lagos Island to check out the sites. At the national museum, in addition to some impressive Benin brass statues, there were some good traditional outfits on display. (Julie, we learned that each Yoruba ruler would have his own personal beaded-ornament maker...want to apply?)
We then ventured further downtown to check out the markets. They were slightly more anarchic than some of the others we have been to, I guess, but not too insane. There were very few tourists about and we got many enthusiastic shouts of "white man!" or sometimes just "whites!" All friendly, though, people seemed happy to see us mingling. Anyway, here was my favorite sign in the carrying stuff on your head allowed here!
Lagos Island also had some nice churches...
...and mosques. Nigeria is largely CHristian in the south, Moslem in the north.
Due to time constraints (OK, and a bit of recent unrest), we stuck to the southern part of the country. Our second destination was Oshogbo, to see the Sacred Forest. It is a centuries-old forest filled with 20th century, modern-artsy shrines designed along traditional themes. Most were designed by Suzanne Wegner, a European artist who is hugely revered in the area for her work in the forest.
Multiple people we spoke to in Lagos thought the shrines were disappointing, and Andy shared this assessment after our visit, but I thought that they were awesome.
Here is a couple in a nook near the entry to the forest.
The gates to the main part of the forest. Due to an outrageous camera fee (around $35), we were not able to take pictures in the main area, but my favorite statue was one depicting the evil god of chicken pox standing over a mass of writhing bodies begging him for release from their afflictions.
But not all the creativity in Oshogbo is in the sacred forest. We found this roadside casket workshop quite enthralling.

After Oshogbo, we went to Benin City (not to be confused with the country Benin). I will pause to note here that when you travel by shared taxi on a long journey in Nigeria, you should get ready for some prayers. Sometimes it was just a pastor saying a few words asking Jesus to bless our journey, sometimes it was half a gospel choir harmonizing in the backseat, but there was always a prayer. My favorite one asked god to protect us from "calamity and catastrophe" on the road. Eep. I think it was that journey where the driver ran over one goat ("that was the only goat I ever hit in my life!" the driver said), and then an hour later almost hit another.
Anyway, Benin City is home of the famous Benin brass statues. Apparently we took no pictures of these at the museum there, or at the one in Lagos, which has almost as good of a collection. Since that is pretty much all there is to see in Benin City, I suggest that maybe you skip it if pressed for time on your next visit to Nigeria.
Near the museum, we did find this statue that Andy thought looked strangely like pilgrims and Indians.
All of the hotels we stayed in in Nigeria came with ACs and TVs (which we found interesting given the power problems!), but we especially liked that our hotel in Benin City put our TV in a cage.
Our final stop was Calabar, eight hours east of Benin City and near the Cameroon border. It was definitely the nicest, greenest, and safest-feeling city we visited, and has a couple of terrific primate-saving NGOs you can visit (Pandrillus and Cercopan). Andy will write more about it in his post about wildlife. I guess we didn't take too many pictures otherwise, but I did feel that we couldn't leave Nigeria without a snap of my favorite-named bank in the country...
Well, if you're not a "Lost" fan, you may not get it, but if you you think it's related to Oceanic Airways? Mr. Eko is from Nigeria, do you think he is involved somehow? Plus, it just sounds like a fake, sketchy bank name, doesn't it? We did not try their ATM.
So, Nigeria...not so bad! Maybe not the number one country you should rush to for your next vacation, but if you need to pass through, you needn't be scared, and you should be able to find more than enough things to see and plenty of nice people to help you out along the way.


  1. Just caught up with your last several posts, what an adventure! Good things that vicious TV was in a cage.

  2. I went to Nigeria last year to study abroad at Imo State University with 11 other American students but, I didn't get to go to Lagos. You have shown me a lot of things that I missed outside of the area I was at. I have a question. How did you finance your trip? How did you make the decision to visit the countries you selected? What are some things should I do, initially, if I decide travel to several countries. Also, how did you all prepare for the shots before leaving? Did you know exactly where you were going to go when you all left? I know, I many questions. I'm interested in doing this myself probably on a smaller scale though. :)