This week on Wandering West Africa I visit the top sights of Lagos, Nigeria, take a trip to N’Djamena, Chad through Morocco and visit the main sights of N’Djamena.
Coming from Cape Verde, via Morocco, I arrived in Lagos in the early morning. Nigeria was a big accomplishment for me, because I had to try at five different embassies/consulates until I was able to get my visa in Yaounde.
The immigration process was very straight forward and they did not question the visa or why I was transferring. The guy just stamped me in and handed back my passport.
Country 161 complete!
A common scam by money exchangers is to give a good rate, then give you the wrong amount (especially with large amounts of bills). The scam artist will usually count your exchanged money in front of you and distract you in someway like pausing to make eye contact. All it takes is a single glance away and he can miscount. Then you’ll be short a few bills.
This scam is easy to counter by counting your change yourself before handing any money over. Don’t feel rushed by the money exchanger as this is also a tactic to make you miscount yourself.
A guy tried this scam on me repeatedly (as if I wouldn’t count it the second or third time) until he gave up the third time and sought out another target.
I stayed at Eko Signature Hotel a part of the Eko Hotel and Suites compound. This hotel was the perfect base to do my touring from. It had a great location on the coast of Victoria Island near the sights, plenty of security, and many activities including a great central pool.
Niger Visa Attempt in Lagos
The first day I tried to get a Niger visa, the only visa I was missing to complete my current plan. Unfortunately after driving around with a taxi, getting stuck in traffic, asking multiple guards and finally going to a police station to ask the authorities, I found out the embassy closed and moved to Abuja.
Niger visa attempt 2: Fail
The rest of the time in Lagos, I spent working, touring and meeting up with a friend.
Top Sights of Lagos
Lagos is one of the largest and fastest growing cities in Africa. With a population of over 21 million, it is a massive and chaotic maze of traffic. There are several sights around Lagos to visit mostly centered on the historic Lagos island and the developing upper class Victoria Island.
I hopped into a tuk tuk to go to Lekki Market and the driver took me to the wrong market. It seemed suspect as it didn’t match my map but when the driver asked a man at the market, he confirmed that it was Lekki. So I hopped off and found a football jersey to call my tourist shirt for the country (₦1,500, ~$7.50). I asked around and found that this small market was indeed NOT Lekki Market, which was another ten minutes drive away.
I got a taxi and the driver seemed decent, so I hired him for the rest of the day at a rate of ₦2,000 per hour.
We started at the Lekki Conservation Centre which had an entrance fee of ₦1,000. Unfortunately the park is only about 40% open due to “renovations”, in other words “stuff broke and we didn’t bother to fix it”. Nevertheless, it was a fun experience. Mona monkey groups played in the trees and some were not shy at all. The viewing tower and the canopy walk where both closed.
Going back west, we stopped at the Nike Art Gallery. This private gallery has a large collection of paintings and sculptures by local artists. These were definitely pricey, but a safe and reliable way to buy high quality paintings by known artists.
We were close to the beach too, so we drove to a popular beach hang out. To enter this private beach you would have to pay an entrance fee of ₦1,000. As I wasn’t planning on going to the beach, I took a picture and we continued to Lagos Island.
Back on the highway, we continued to Lagos Island. Traffic wasn’t too bad and we got there fairly quickly.
The National Museum is a landmark in Lagos. Entry was entrance fee of ₦300 and a guide seemed mandatory. No pictures allowed due to “security reasons”. Housed in two old buildings with displays of the different cultures around Nigeria in through the human life cycle from pregnancy to death. The second room contains the Mercedes riddled with bullet holes in which General Murtala Muhammed was assassinated. The walls of the room are a gallery of Nigeria’s rulers from tribal, through colonial to military and modern day.
Next we headed to Freedom Park. Entry is ₦200 into a small squarish plot of land with a prison converted into shops and cafes, several statues and a monument in the center. The park was fairly busy with a music video being shot on one side and a wedding on another.
Next door is the Holy Cross Cathedral built in 1881-1934. This is the catholic church that Pope John Paul II visited in 1982. The security guard allows you to take pictures outside.
The buildings in downtown Lagos Island are all quite historic and contain some of the tallest buildings in West Africa.
For the rest of my stay in Lagos I got work done and enjoyed the facilities at the hotel.
I also met up with my friend Kwame for dinner twice. He is working in Lagos and we bumped into each other at the airport in Nouakchott and then again on the way to Bamako. A friendly guy with great travel aspirations so we had plenty of stories to share.
Lagos to N’Djamena
My next stop was N’Djamena, Chad. To get there I had an early morning flight at 6:25 a.m. which meant I had to leave the hotel at 4. One plus about going this early is that there is no traffic and you save about an hour on the road getting to the airport in only 20 minutes.
My flights were with Royal Air Maroc meaning another day layover in Casablanca which I didn’t mind too much as they arranged a hotel. This made the 13 hour layover quite bearable as I could do some work and rest.
Why does it make sense to fly all the way to Casablanca then back to neighboring Chad? Because of the cost. Since I was purchasing my tickets quite last minute, the only reasonable flights routed through Casablanca with a long layover. Other more direct flights for the one way trip were close to $1000 (instead of $400).
Arriving around 5 a.m. the sun wasn’t even up yet when we landed. Immigration was simple. I pointed out my visa, the officer took some notes, stamped my entry, and handed back my passport. Then I had to go to another window to double check my visa. Here a supervisor looked through my passport and handed it back. Finally on exiting immigration an officer at the door flips through my passport again before letting me out of the hall.
Country 162 complete!
Life in N’Djamena
For my stay in the capital city, I had organized to couchsurf with Oumar, an openminded guy who also has a passion for travel.
He picked me up from the airport and as it was so early, it was still dark out. His house is a two floor building about ten minutes from the airport and his apartment was home for the duration of my stay. I eventually met several members of his family. All of them welcomed me as if I were family. I was astonished by their hospitality and generosity.
One night when Oumar’s family and I were driving home “packed like sardines” as one officer described. We were stopped at a couple of checkpoints. I was in the front seat with a little girl while the back seat had four other family members. At one point, an officer peered in and questioned who we were. Oumar answered it was his family and we’re going home. “What about this Chinese?”
“We’re all family!”
“How is that possible?!?” The officer balked. The entire car plus the other officers all broke out in a hearty laugh and we were waved through.
That’s what it feels like to be family!
The next few days I experienced a bit of a Chadian’s life in N’Djamena and also visited the main sights.
Oumar works at Huawei and he brought me to see this Chinese tech giant’s headquarters right in the center of the city. I met some of his coworkers and also got to play a couple of rounds of eight-ball!
When not eating delicious home-cooking, we went to several restaurants. Oumar took me to many different restaurants so I could taste different cuisines. My favorite was a camel meat bbq restaurant where everyone sat around and ate a simple dish of camel meat, onions, lime, and sauce with bread.
We also went out several times to have beers, meet up with friends, smoke hookah and even watch a movie at the cinema. The younger Muslim generation in N’Djamena seems to be very forward-thinking. I enjoyed conversing in English and French to hear their points of view on life. Most couldn’t understand why I was traveling. “Where are you trying to go?”
Oumar took me to the main sights of the city as well as some off-the-beaten path locations.
Our first visit was the Place de l’Independence square right in the center of the city next to the Presidential Palace. This area had a high level of security which made photographing a bit tricky. The large square was mostly empty expect for the security.
Across the street is the N’Djamena Cathedral which was under construction.
Right off the main plaza is a major vein of the city, Avenue Charles De Gaulle. This street is quite historic from colonial times and maintains the feel with the original buildings and the original cinema Cinema La Normandie. This was where we watched James Bond Spectre. I was impressed by how modern the interior was.
Further down the road is the Grand Marche which is a chaotic market like many city markets in Africa, selling all sorts of items. I liked the way carpets were on display. Across the market is the Grand Mosque though its not really a site you can visit unless you are going to pray.
The Chad National Museum is one of the only attractions specifically for tourists. It has recently been relocated from the central palace area to a new building next to the library. With a 3,000 CFA entry, you can see cultural displays, fossils and the famed 7 million year old Toumai skull (though it may be a replica).
We spent one afternoon exploring the southern and eastern outskirts of the city, passed the Chari River. At one point, I went out of the car to take pictures of the river and behind me a furious police officer clutching his AK47 ran up and yelled at me. He asked for my permit to take pictures. We walked back with him then just crossed the road and got into the car for a quick getaway.
Chad University Campus is currently being built in stages and only a couple of buildings are functional in a huge land area.
Passing by markets and villages we eventually stopped at one of his family properties. A small strip of farmland with a small hut in the middle was the perfect place to relax and have a couple of beers. A kid working there brought us a mat to lay on. We then spent the rest of the afternoon chatting about travel and life in Chad. Herders with bows slung around their shoulders passed with their sheep. It was really quiet and peaceful, especially when compared to the city center.
Besides visits, I also tried to be productive and get some visas. I needed my Niger visa which was a top priority. Oumar was kind enough to take me to the embassies.
Niger visa attempt in N’Djamena
We found a building where the Niger embassy use to be, but we were told by the security guards that it moved to the city center. Driving into the center, we found the residence of the ambassador, only to learn that it has been closed for a long time. The neighbor recommended I get a Laisse Passe to cross the border. This would not work for a foreign citizen.
Niger visa attempt 3: Fail
I remembered my friend Omar from Beijing which ties to Niger. I contacted him to see if his connections could help me out for a visa on arrival. After a couple of days he pulled through and sent me a letter for the visa by email! All I had to do was print it!
Wow. This was the first time a friend helped me secure a visa and it sure made the process much easier! Big thanks Omar!
Niger visa attempt 4: Success!
Sudan visa attempt in N’Djamena
Another day we headed to the Sudanese embassy. We tried three locations until we found the right one. The first was the future site of the embassy and the second was the residence. Finally at the third a man in a suit opened the metal door and denied to even serve the request because I wasn’t a resident. I explained that consulars are able to make the judgement and allow visas to non residents, which he did not deny. But then he said the process will take weeks if not months as they will send my application to Khartoum.
You win this round Sudan.
Sudan visa attempt 2: Fail
Libya visa attempt in N’Djamena
Since there was a Libya embassy here, I was curious as to what they would say. Again we had to try two locations until finding the correct building near the center of town.
After registering we went in a pretty empty building and found three guys sitting on a couch watching a fuzzy Libyan channel. After I made my request, a guy flipped through my passport possibly out of curiosity, possibly to buy time to frame a response. Eventually he said that the consular hasn’t been in for two days. So we gave a phone number and of course they never called.
Libya visa attempt 1: Fail
My few days in Chad passed by way too fast and before I knew it, I was on my way to the Central African Republic! The excellent experience and a local point of view couldn’t have been possible without Oumar! Thanks, until we meet again!
From Chad I had an early flight with Asky. Unfortunately with the security situation in Central African Republic, many airlines have canceled their flights to Bangui, so options are limited. This meant my trip to Bangui included a 20 hour layover in my favorite airport… Douala.
Cameroon Transit Visa
Fortunately they did have a free transit visa which I found out at the immigration counter. I was ready to spend the night in the terminal. The process of obtaining the visa was a bit more involved and ended up taking over three hours.
First the immigration officer kept my passport and told me to get the visa first by going to the police office. On the way out, the customs officer decided to do a thorough search of my bags. He literally went through everything including the inside of my wallet and checked every bill. It wasn’t a coincidence that this was done in a small office behind closed doors, but as I had nothing illegal, he didn’t get a penny. And as I was not in a rush, I was happy to go through the contents of my bag. Boring him with my enthusiastic explanations of where I acquired each article!
At the police office and I asked for the visa. They said I had to submit my ticket printout which I didn’t have. So off I went to the Asky office which was in the staff only area behind the checkin counter.
Printing out my ticket took over an hour. If the office had people at first, or if they had ink in their printer, or if they cared about customer service, the process may have been faster.
Finally with my printout, I attempted to get my visa. Of course the officer was indisposed at this time, so it was back to the waiting game. I sat and waited with five other people with visa or immigration issues. Eventually he reappeared and I gave him my passport. He went through it (and couldn’t find a free page to stamp the visa on, so he stamped it on my passport introduction page) and then told me to wait.
Back in my seat with the other miserable passengers I waited for my judgement. Thirty minutes later he was back and I got my passport with the visa AND the necessary signature!
With my freedom to roam, I got a hotel near the airport and went out on a busy dusty road for some local fish fry and beer. Of course I was the only foreigner out and drew a lot of stares. I also happened to try some sort of local corn beer served in cups made of gourds which was a bit of a gamble, but it tasted fine. The process must have been similar to the beer I had in Peru. My presence brought a lot of stares, but also plenty of toothy smiles and thumbs up!
After a nap, I was up at 3:15 a.m. to continue my trip to Bangui.