Sunday, November 25, 2012

Useful travel tips

The festive season is around the corner and many are already making plans. Some are planning to spend the season indoors with family like moi, others outdoors to fun places, some are travelling to their villages and others, out of the country. A few of my friends have applied for their leave and some have bought their tickets. For those travelling outa Naija, here are few tips to consider while planning that trip. 
These tips are inspired by my experience in Togo with some friends during our national youth service: Lisa (female), Sam (male) and Sean (male). I can hear some hissing "pschew Togo na country"...hmm! abroad na abroad. The travel tips are in red font embedded in fun tales of my experience for your reading pleasure.

*Day 1 (19th Dec, Sunday): Introduction *


We left Ibadan (where we were serving) for Lagos (Mile 2) and from there to Seme. At Seme border, we changed our Nigerian currency to franc. I changed N4500 which gave me 13,846F. Then we took a taxi that took us across the border with ease to Benin Republic. Our french teacher or Monsieur as we call him  paid 20 000f as transport fare. We got to Cotonou the capital of Benin at about 6pm and our teacher’s brother, Jack came to help us to our lodge. We decided to spend the night in Jack’s room instead of wasting money on a hotel since we were leaving for Togo the next day. We went to a bar for dinner where we had chicken barbeque with drinks while watching DSTV. 
After dinner we went to our lodge, had a refreshing shower and unpacked. We couldn’t go to bed immediately because the noisy mosquitoes and the heat struggled to see which could make us more uncomfortable. We begged Mr Sleep to settle the battle but he heard only Sam’s prayer. The rest of us resorted to going out again. It was like daytime because most shops were still open and the Beninois were still out having a nice time out. After a while, we went back to the room but the situation was still the same. After brainstorming for a solution, God opened our eyes to see an insecticide spray begging to be used. We fleeted the room and everyone went out again to an eatery/bar where our Monsieur had a meal of spaghetti, bread and tea served in a stomach attracting manner. At 3am, we went back to the room and finally slept.

*Day 2 (20th Dec, Monday): never assume the other country is far better off*

We woke up at 6am, had our baths, packed our baggage and set out to Ouidah (pronounced weedah), a town in Benin Republic. We visited a voodoo museum, the Musée d'Histoire de Ouidah, located in the town of Ouidah, near the coast in southern Benin. We were told about the history of the town; how they were colonised by the Brazilians and how they used to worship snakes. We were surprised to be informed that some of them still did in spite of civilisation and new religions. What fascinated me most was that the snake palace was directly opposite the Catholic Church and the Ouidah people practised the two forms of worship simultaneously without discrimination or criticisms by anyone. Even the museum guard was a catholic and practised voodoo. (Trust Naija pastors, they would have destroyed the snake palace with the Holy Ghost fire).

After the museum tour, we realised we that had taken no breakfast and took permission from the museum guard to look for something to eat. We kept our bags at the museum and made a trip round the town. 
We went to a market where charms were sold; it wasn't a pleasant sight. We also saw a group of people making a sacrifice. They tied palms around their waists and danced as they proceeded to an unknown destination. We also stopped by a popular market which was really busy. I was in a woman's way and she told me to move in their local dialect. I didn't understand her and still stood pricing goods I had no intention of buying. She tapped my ass which made me jump out of her way. I looked at my friends and our Monsieur in horror, but my Monsieur told me it was no big deal as they do not guard their bodies so jealously-pure minds I'd say
We took pictures after the museum tour after which we went to Lomé (capital of Togo) in a cab. After some distance, we got to a particular garage and the cab driver said that he was no longer going to Lome, so we had to take another cab which took us on a play and pause ride. His cab had a faulty carburettor and he kept on stopping to do minor repairs until his car gave up the ghost. Logically we asked for our change of 1000F and for extra cash to take another taxi. However to our highest degree of surprise, he said he had spent our change on fuel and he had no money on him. What! Our change! and he expected us to pay the transport fare from our pockets to the final destination. What a thief! We searched him, seized his particulars and gave him the threat of his life. He begged and begged that we should just accept the situation without feeling cheated. Well, to cut the long story short, he would never try to cheat a Nigerian. 
When we got to Lomé, we boarded a bus to our lodge. From the beautiful urban city of Lome we headed to a rural area. We passed through bushes which caused us to worry but the hotel (Hôtel le Grande) calmed our nerves. It was beside a Shell filling station and a mart. It was two people to a room which was cool. After unpacking, we had dinner and went to bed; but not in our original rooms. You know opposite attracts so figure it out! Nothing happened dirty minds.

*Day 3 (21st Dec, Tuesday): never travel without extra money*

We went to Assigame market in Lomé. Things were quite reasonably cheap compared to their cost in Nigeria. We spent almost the whole day there, it was particularly tiring for me because I had not enough money to buy the lovely things I wanted and saw; I needed a black bag and few clothes. My friends and our Monsieur did their Christmas shopping that day while I fed my eyes.
After shopping, we went to the beach, just a stone throw from the market. It was very neat and pretty but I did not get myself wet because I was not properly kitted for the beach, well none of us were. I was sort of the janitor because I looked after our things. It was fun though; we discussed diverse subjects and enjoyed our company. The rest of the day was normal.

*Day 4 (22nd Dec, Wednesday): travel with clothing for all occasions*

We went to the pool at Hôtel Melissa in the morning. We were the first to get there and spent almost the whole day at the pool. It was so much fun: learning how to swim, making friends, taking pictures, videos, etc. Lisa swam in her bra, tank top, and a pair of shorts; lucky me, I had my bikini top and a pair of shorts. Later she swam in her blue bra (what a sight to behold for the male Homo sapiens!).

*Day 5 (23rd Dec, Thursday): never ignore your intuition*

MARKET AGAIN! After which we went to the sea port of Togo. Here all we did was window shopping something I was already used to and took pictures. They sold laptops, cameras, wristwatches, kitchen equipments, among a few. I was getting worked up and irritated. Just when I thought shopping was over and we could return to our rooms, I was told we going to the beach. Every other person agreed so I did not object because something similar had caused a rift between our monsieur and me. The sight and smell of the beach was appalling. It was very dirty, an insane man was emptying his bowels on the beach sand; a young boy was calling on the spirits of the beach saying incantations; someone else was urinating, urghh! Quite the complete opposite of what we saw the first we went there. I should have spoken against all odds. But trust Nigerians, we always find our way of having fun. We looked for the neatest spot, took pictures as usual and chatted. When it was almost 6pm, I suggested that we left but Sam said we should stay till 6pm which we did. If they had seen what was coming they would listened to my inner thoughts. 

Finding a bus to our destination was arduous. It was that night we knew the name of the town we were residing was Tsevie, because we screamed Tsevie to every passing vehicle. Thanks to a market woman who was Nigerian and understood Yoruba, her Nigerian instinct perceived our presence and reached out to us. She engaged us in a chat and had pity us after we told her how unlucky we were in getting a vehicle. She called a man up who came to our rescue. The bus driver now spoilt it all by saying we would sit five on a row. What! How ridiculous! It was not possible because with four on a seat, were squashed like steaks in a hamburger. Lisa argued and contested with the driver. It was a journey that made her vow not to step foot into Lomé again. 

*Day 6 (24th Dec, Friday): body no bi firewood*

Sam and I slept in. We had overstretched ourselves the previous days trying to have as much fun as possible and our muscles were now rebelling. We slept till hunger woke us up. Afterwards, we
had breakfast and went back to sleep till 3pm. We went out for lunch and back to the room where we just stayed in chatting about the trip so far. Later in the evening we went to a nearby bar courtesy of our monsieur’s father. We had barbeque, drank, and had a good time. Sean and I rocked the dance floor despite the French music. We got home around 12am. Bon noël!

*Day 7 (25th Dec, Saturday): never expect too much on Christmas day *

We got up early to go to our monsieur’s house because he had instructed Sam and me to tell the others that we must be at his house by 9am. Mistake we made was we forget we were still in African and didn't use African time. We waited for the almost 3 long and hungry hours before the meal was ready. We had palm wine for appetizer. By the time the meal was ready, we were fatigued and the Christmas excitement had vanished. After the meal, we went back home though our monsieur’s father urged us to wait to be served pounded yam. “Was the plan to burst our stomachs?” I thought to myself. We told him we would return even though Sam and I had no such intention. Lisa and Steve went to play video games while Sam and I went home.
When they got back, we changed and all went to the pool. The pool was filled with families and friends and it stunk. I started having second thoughts about swimming but still went in. OMG! The pool stank of alcohol and vomit and I realised that only after I had immersed myself in it. Thank God the guys had no intention of swimming. I came out the pool, washed myself and just watched. As for Lisa, her money was not going to waste. Sam and I headed straight home while Lisa and Sean waited for our Monsieur. Unfortunately for them, they saw more puke-inducing sights at the pool. 
Before we all went to bed, we had a brief meeting concerning our voyage the next day and our monsieur dropped a bombshell ‘he was not travelling with us’. After the scary stories about Seme border, we would not have it. We were angry with him for letting us down because he promised to go with us across Seme border. Sam was able to pacify us and we later agreed.

*Day 8 (26th Dec, Sunday): always follow instructions*

We got up by 5.30am, showered and packed our baggage. Our monsieur and his brother took us to Assigame where we did our final shopping, excluding me, only if ‘le pain’ (french bread) counts. Then our monsieur got us a cab and he did all the negotiations. When we got to Togo border, instead of following the route our monsieur instructed us to follow, we followed a man that summoned us at the border. He extorted us heavily and took us through an elongated feet-unfriendly route. Sam and Steve still tipped him, after being ripped off. Lisa and I were so pissed. Steve was scared out off his pants because he had no ID (mislaid them in Togo); he was just glad we had crossed the border. The next was Seme border. We crossed it on bikes and we had no trouble at all. Our monsieur was only exaggerating, well maybe not, but that was what we concluded at that moment. 

Finally in Nigeria, hurray! missed my country. We boarded a bus to Oshodi and when we got there, the conductor screamed "gbogbo ero" while were still asking, “Is this Oshodi?” Thanks to Fashola, it was transformed; so different from my last memory of it. At Oshodi, Lisa was the first to get her vehicle, then Steve and finally Sam and I. We took the same bus but I highlighted first. I got home to meet a wonderful family awaiting my arrival.

Other travel tips

*Always put the weather into consideration: We did because we asked. We were told that it would be hot and it was. We packed mostly light clothing, sun glasses, face caps...which paid off.

* Pack only stuff you will need: I packed more than enough clothes and I am still figuring out why I did that. I overstuffed my bag with clothes I didn't end up wearing (I guess I thought I wasn't going to wash). Not like it was a real pain; it was just unnecessary baggage. Thank God I didn't have to pay for excess.
* Don't get all excited and neglect your health: It is very tempting to want to just let it all go; you know, just be free, ignore all rules and enjoy yourself to the fullest. Sounds fun but could be hazardous also. Don't ignore a healthy meal for some junk you want to try. It's good to experiment but be cautious and don't go overboard. Also try to get your 6-hour minimum night sleep, don't let it suffer because you want to have fun. (Although sometimes it has to...winks)
* Take something to keep you company when you want some alone time: Sometimes after all the fun and drama, you might just want some quiet time to think and connect with yourself. In those moments, you will need something to keep you company. It could be a book, an electronic gadget, anything you love. I took a novel that could last me throughout the trip, Sam had his iPod which I also made use of...Lisa and Sean were always playing computer games.

All in all, I would not trade anything for such an adventurous and exciting experience. I didn't use real names for sake of privacy but pictures will be published soon.
 






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