Our first stop was Ouidah, a focal point for Voodoo in the country and also the shipping point for slaves from West Africa to the Americas.”
Jon Beswick : 16th June

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Starting from their departure in London on 14th March 2009.
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25th March
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8th April
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9th April
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Togo 16th June
Benin 16th June
Nigeria 20th June
Cameroon 16th July
Gabon 30th July
Congo 6th August

DIARY : June
Imagery: ©2009 Terrametrics
Map data: ©2009 Europa Technologies

21st June
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We reach the capital, Abuja where having driven around for an hour we reached the apartment and were welcomed by my uncle, Rudy and his friends. Our stay in Nigeria was essentially to secure visas for the rest of the trip. We obtained visas for Cameroon, Angola, Gabon and Congo without too much effort, unfortunately, Equatorial Guinea and DRC proved more difficult. We travelled to Lagos in our attempts and even secured the help of high ranking officials and a General from Equatorial Guinea but to no avail. We will try again in Cameroon.

We had not planned visiting Lagos but it was worth the effort. Flying in we saw the largest African city from the air. The city is huge. Within minutes of landing we were on the road and stuck in traffic. Lagos traffic is infamous for a reason. A two mile journey can take up to four hours.

We met numerous people who had to leave their homes at 5.00am to miss the traffic. Still we made the most of our time there.

Following an introduction to Rudy’s friends Eddie and Nazih, we soon found ourselves much sought after in Lagos. We were invited to radio interviews for three stations, as well as a television interview broadcast across Africa. This was a great opportunity to raise awareness for One2One, their work and of course our journey. Back in Abuja, and after a stopover of almost 3 weeks in Nigeria we prepared for the next major leg of the journey.

We have to say a particular thank you to Mirko for the fun nights out, especially the 4th July party, and the many fascinating conversations; also to Papa for lavishing us with more outstanding food than we could eat in a lifetime, and finally to Michel for spending all of his time fixing our problems, such as the car! But a big thanks to my uncle, who took his surrogate role to an extreme in looking after us.

20th June

We overnight at the 18th green of a golf club.

20th June : Nigeria
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Crossing into Nigeria, we had serious concerns about safety in the country. We had received the most warnings about Nigeria. Aside from the obvious concerns about the Delta region and kidnappings, we had also been warned about the numerous roadside checkpoints, both official and unofficial.

So it was both a disappointment and a relief that our entry into the country was uneventful and the only thing that changed hands with the border police were a few biscuits. We had in fact decided to cross the border further inland in the north rather than the main (and more troublesome) route along the coast. Still we soon found excitement, coming across our first checkpoint; manned by a group with seemingly nothing more official than a plank with nails – no doubt a Nigerian version of the ‘Stinger’. When they failed to produce ID we decided that handing over our passports would be foolish and opted for a discrete dash through the checkpoint since they had removed their ‘stinger’ to allow another car to pass. Feeling rather pleased that we had outwitted these ‘conmen’, our hearts sank, when having passed a second checkpoint unchallenged, our progress was blocked by a third. This time there was a rock barrier. These guys were clearly a more professional outfit and appeared pretty angry with us. It soon became clear why when two cars screeched to a halt behind us, blocking us in, both filled with men from the first checkpoint. Apparently they were not so enthused with our cunning getaway. When they produced their Nigerian immigration ID cards we understood why. After much debate and peace offerings (those biscuits were a great buy) they had made their point and let us on our way. The guys at the third checkpoint found the whole episode hilarious and invited us to join them for lunch. While these checkpoints can be very intimidating, many of the people are actually very friendly. Although one particular soldier with a grenade launcher under his arm and exceptionally blood shot eyes appeared too friendly as he wildly gesticulated his excitement at our visit to his country. Nigeria was proving far more welcoming than expected.

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16th June : Benin
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Heading north to explore Benin before crossing into Nigeria. However Benin proved too much a lure to pass straight through. Famous as the birthplace of Voodoo, or ‘Vodun’ as it was originally known. This country was amongst the most beautiful and interesting we have visited. Our first stop was Ouidah, a focal point for Voodoo in the country and also the shipping point for slaves from West Africa to the Americas.

After a fruitless search for evidence of the practice of voodoo we were finally directed to the ‘Python Temple’. The site was frankly disappointing. The Temple was nothing more than a dank room with a pile of listless snakes in a corner. We headed for the coast and found the most stunning stretch of coastline to date on the trip; miles of untouched beaches with a palm forest reaching the sands occasional huts and boats breaking the eye line.

We were soon camped up on the edge of the sand, cooking up some fish and prawns that had just been brought in. Chatting with local fisherman, who allowed us to stay in their villages, we learnt that the entire coastline was populated by Ghanaians whose grandfathers had come to Benin in search of more fruitful fishing and stayed on. We could not believe that no one else had swept down on such a paradise. As the evening drew on we bullishly agreed to help bring in the fishing nets the next morning as a thank you for their hospitality. At 7.00am the next morning we found ourselves with 40 fishermen pulling on a net which stretched in an arc 400 metres out to sea. What followed was 5 hours of a tug of war against the Atlantic Ocean. And whilst not convinced fish work in teams, at least some shoals must have been swimming against the net. All the while we were hauling on the net ropes; the men around us broke into ritual singing and for some reason rhythmically swinging the ropes. Our concerns that this was counterproductive, wasting time and energy, fell on deaf ears. This was clearly a tradition which bonded the team in their work. In an impressive act of human endurance one fisherman who could barely stand from the effects of alcohol, managed to swim out to sea to ensure the net did not catch on rock outcrops as it was pulled in. The reward for our hard work was more fish and a sack of coconuts.

Both of which were well received – especially the coconuts, as our earlier attempts to harvest them resulted in bent bull bars from an encounter with a palm tree. And so onward along the coast to Nigeria, with a brief stop in Cotonou, which finally gave us the opportunity to see some voodoo paraphernalia. We came upon a small fetish market, at the back of the huge main market, selling the heads, skins and body parts of every animal imaginable, from snakes and chameleons to eagles and elephants. All of this is apparently used in the religion that is still practised actively by much of the country. Interestingly we were told that ‘Voodoo’ dolls are in fact only ever used as a good luck charm and never for harm.

Our final night was spent in a camp site filled with sculptures, mini golf and wild animals. And so we spent our last hours in Benin drinking Sangria, playing mini golf and ended up in an alligator pit, feeding the inhabitants oranges. Very surreal.

16th June : Togo
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Keen to make progress with visas in Nigeria we passed, without stopping through the tiny country of Togo.

It took only a couple of hours to cover the 57km of coastline in Togo from Ghana to Benin.

13th June : Accra, Ghana

The girls have left and we are making final preparations to continue the journey. Leave Accra heading for Togo and Togo National Park.

4th June : Ghana
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Driving through the Ankassa Rainforest, Ghana. The coastline of Western Ghana is stunning, deserted, palm fringed beaches, turtle hatching grounds and lakes formed in meteorite craters.

We surfed, partied and relaxed. A fantastic two weeks. Unfortunately it had to come to an end, and so Jon and I once again found ourselves in the familiar position of camped up in a garage in Accra working on the car.

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