Escape to Coronaville
Part I - Lagos
Hello from Lagos, Nigeria!
With only a few days left now until I board that succession of silver birds back to the loving arms of my Gerda, our flat, and even my job, I thought I’d better wrap up my little series of blog posts. I must apologise for them fizzling out somewhat after my last post, what, 8 weeks ago? The truth is, not much interesting has happened since then. I’ve moved from country to country – Liberia, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo, Benin – eating, sleeping, travelling, and occasionally looking at things, but basically just going through the motions.
Market Day, Cape Coast, Ghana
I’m not going to pretend that this hasn’t been the least rewarding trip I’ve ever been on, it has, but with the end in sight, I’m starting to think that after six months have passed I’ll maybe be able to look back on it with a smidgeon of satisfaction. I won’t go as far as wistfulness, nostalgia or pleasure though. I cannot wait to get out of here. Now that I think of it, there hasn’t been a single destination in West Africa that I’ve felt sad at leaving.
When I reflect on these last few months, what stands out in my mind? A few things immediately:
I doubt I will ever, ever come back here. There are a few countries I’ve missed due to political unstability (Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso) but they will remain at the bottom of my to-do list until every other country in the world has been seen.
The people have been really friendly, everywhere. Apart from that hiccough in Guinea, I’ve never felt in any danger whatsoever, anywhere. Even in Nigeria, where every person feels compelled to warn me not to trust any other Nigerian.
Being friendly, however, is not the be-all-and-end-all. Walking down the street on any given day brings a tumult of hisses and kissing noises (the two ways you try to get someone’s attention around here), calls of 'Rasta Man', and repetitions of whatever the local word is for White Man (Toubab, Le Blanc, Oyibo). It’s just not fun. I have never got used to it and have eventually inured myself to it all, and now I pretty much ignore everyone – not a great way to integrate into a country. I'm not proud of it but the alternative is a state of constant anger.
I’m pleased to report I have still not crossed the threshold into warmduscherdom. Transport providers excepted, most people have not tried to rip me off, but when I do suspect it of happening, maybe I don’t argue so hard for the correct price as I used to. And if I want to buy a Coke or something, I no longer walk around for an hour until I find one to equal the cheapest price I’ve paid in that country thus far. If I’m looking for a hotel and the first one I find is an okay price, I’ll probably just take it. I still get the cheapest non-AC room, and never pay extra for hot water though, so I’m still in the club.
Fortunately, I’ve had plenty to do in the last few weeks to distract me from the barrenness of my location. The editing company I hired to help me improve my third, as yet untitled, book returned their first edit and I’ve working furiously to implement their recommendations and complete the second draft. It’s been wonderful, and has kept me sane. I’m almost ready to send it for the next round of editing, and then it’ll be all but finished.
Right now though, the main thing that’s on my mind is getting home. A few weeks ago I changed my flights, cutting short my trip by three weeks. There were a few reasons for this. I had originally planned to go all the way to Cape Town, and from there fly back to Frankfurt to catch the last part of my round-the-world ticket to Sydney. Because of my diversions to Antarctica and Uganda, I no longer had time to do so, and it looked like I was going to have to fly to Namibia, catch up with a few friends and family and fly straight back up to Europe. When I looked at it like that, it was ridiculous. Much cheaper to cancel my CT > Frankfurt flight and just go straight to Germany. The further I went after turning the corner south, at the ‘armpit’ of Africa, the more expensive that became. So that, combined with my general lack of enthusiasm for seeing any more of Africa anyway, prompted me to cut my losses and get the hell out of dodge early. Five days to go!
$700 well spent
Part II - Sydney
Well that didn’t quite go according to plan!
I was quite happy sitting out my last few days in Lagos. I was staying with a top Couchsurfing host, a German guy with a lovely flat, air-conditioning, a maid, a driver – I was in heaven. It might qualify, sadly, as the highlight of my entire trip!
Anyway, with four days to go I was hoping that Australia/Nigeria/Germany didn’t close their borders before Tuesday because of this damn pandemic. Despite the fact that Africa has hardly any reported cases, it was still all over the news and starting to get on my nerves. I was a member of a couple of W. Africa Travellers FB/Whatsapp groups which people used to exchange info on border crossings, accommodations, visas etc. There were hundreds of people on there, all either in places I’d been or in places I was going, but never any where I actually was! Anyway, the groups got so overtaken by virus talk that I stopped reading them. I didn’t want to waste my time on this ephemeral nonsense, a story-of-the-week blown out of all proportion by the media.
However, as the time for my departure neared I did start to take notice, and prayed that nothing drastic would occur before my revised departure date. My strategy was fingers crossed, but my mother turned out to be more proactive. She called me on Friday night (her Saturday morning) heavily suggesting that I buy a new flight home ASAP. “It’s only four days!” I argued, “and a new ticket would be over $1000!” I went to bed but she woke me up at midnight to tell me my Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to Singapore had been cancelled. Damn. Now I really did have to do something.
West Africa hosts some of the most dangerous rips in the world. Happy swimming!
After a fit of bleary-eyed Googling, I bought a flight, via UAE, for almost $1400 that was leaving a few hours later. For under half the price I could have gone to Singapore literally three days later to join the ticket I still had to Sydney, but that wasn’t soon enough for Mum. What’s a son to do? I slept for four hours, packed and left, not even saying goodbye to my host, who was asleep. Still, I wasn’t sad to be leaving. Most of Nigeria isn’t safe thanks to Boko Haram and the Fulani herdsmen, and the bits that are safe, and of interest, are near impossible to visit on public transport. The worst part was wasting the USD 444 I’d paid for my Nigerian visa. Yes, you read that right – that’s over $700 in Aus money!!! How could it be so expensive? It’s complicated.
At least I was outta there and all was well. Until, that is, I reached Jakarta. That was where I found out the Aus govt. had just announced that everyone arriving from anywhere was going to have to self-isolate for two weeks, and this was starting at midnight the same day. Terrific. I was arriving six hours later. Despite coming from a country with only 2 reported cases to one with 298, I was the one being isolated as a danger. I understand the general logic of some new arrivals being quarantined but in my case it didn’t make one iota of sense.
Anyway, this is not the place for that debate, so here I sit, day one. Gerda is taking it very seriously. I have to wear gloves to touch anything outside the spare bedroom, where I am sleeping. Having spent the last 15 weeks craving like-minded company, I finally get home and my solitude has increased. Ironic? Just a little.
Thanks for reading!