Motorcyclist Illustrated March, 1976 - Gulf of Guineau

Motorcyclist Illustrated March, 1976

part 6

by Fergus & Sharyn Reilly

Gulf of Guineau
1673 klms

Gurara Falls, Nigeria
January 5th, 1975
(day 124 - 17585 klms)


Kloto, Togo
January 24th, 1975
(day 143 - 19258 klms)

Gurara Falls, Nigeria to Kloto, Togo

The jungle began a few hundred kilometres north of Lagos. thick, green, steamy and with fruit in abundance. The fruit stalls in the villages became more and more prolific. Unable to resist any longer we decided to stop in a small village. instantaneously we were surrounded by the entire female population each one determined to sell us fruit. Ten minutes later, our bikes were sprouting fruit all over, our pockets were full and I was suffering a wound from a pineapple brandished by an eager saleslady.

As we traveled closer to the capital, petrol became increasingly more difficult to get. The transport drivers were on strike. But, in Nigerian fashion they did it with finesse. Each driver deflated the front, outer tyre on his truck, laid a warning trail of stones and branches behind his vehicle and lay down in the shade. We must have passed two hundred similarly afflicted vehicles.

We were desperately in need of petrol. After stopping to ask in a village for black market petrol which we had so far not managed to find, a car stopped beside us, the guy jumped out, flashed a smile and offered us petrol free from his tank!

Petrol Tankers Strike

Petrol Station Queue

We reached a town where everyone assured us that there was one service station open. There were literally hundreds of people carrying containers of every description queuing for petrol and kept in line by several burly gun-carrying policemen. Every now and then they decided the people were getting over-anxious and pushed them back, one by throwing his shoes, then there would be crashing and shouting as people and cans went over.

Fergus went off in search of a container, when another surge erupted. He reappeared with a bleeding man, dazedly rocking at his side. After yelling for water, bandages and a breathing space, Fergus turned to the guy. He happened to be the service station manager who miraculously parted the crowd with help from the police for our bikes to come forward and be filled.

The jungle seemed less fantastic very rapidly when we decided to stop for the night. It was difficult to find an opening in which to ride the bike, let alone pitch a tent. We had an abortive attempt when Fergus wedged his bike in a ditch and had to be helped out by two of the striking truck drivers. Then we decided to opt for a cocoa plantation. It was beautiful; totally covered in foliage and inside of foot deep in fallen leaves. In this climate the temperature doesn't drop in the evening, so although we lay back on a bed of comfort, we sweated and beat off the mosquitoes all night.

Within five minutes of sighting the outskirts of Lagos we were caught up in a bumper to bumper traffic jam. Dutifully we kept our place, spluttering on the fumes of exhausts spiced with heavy tropical atmosphere. Then we reached a policeman on traffic duty. He nonchalantly directed us to the path along the side of the road as if he thought we were fools not to use the obvious.

So, we rode the rough into the heart of Lagos. Whilst the buses, taxis, cars, trucks and motorbikes hooted their horns and brushed with death in the most hair- raising driving I've ever witnessed, we only had to dodge pedestrians, animals and enormous holes in the path.

Lagos traffic

Totally confused by a city faster by far than London, we stopped at the GPO. Again an instantaneous crowd of hundreds surrounded us. This time firing questions and not believing us that we had crossed the desert. What had we eaten and how would we have coped with the savage animals and impassable rivers. William, a big burly sailor, took pity on our obviously bewildered state and offered to lead us on his Honda to the address of an old friend we'd known in Scotland.


We arrived at an ex-colonial mansion now inhabited by the warmest, blackest family I know. We spent the rest of the week being spoilt rotten by our friend's family. Usually the family and two servants would sit on the back verandah and when visitors came, the five minute traditional Yoruba greeting ensued. The newcomer would kneel on the ground all this time. Bode, our friend laughed at our amazement; the correct posture for the ritual is to lie prostrate on the ground!

In Lagos, the Yoruba people predominate and they are loud, noisy and fun-loving. Bode's girlfriend was introduced to us as the "Princess of Lagos". Her father is the traditional King. Although he is a graduated pharmacist from a British university his lifestyle is relatively unchanged from his ancestors. He has several wives and loads of children who live in the Palace, the original wooden and mud brick now extended by a modern concrete and glass building. His subjects rarely see him, so that the mystery and awe surrounding his status are preserved.

We spent a day at the Palace, to watch a ritual thanking of the King by a group of people who came to settle in Lagos hundreds of years ago. While the King's family watched, dressed in impeccable London fashion, the newcomers, a sect who claim to feel no pain, carried in vast towering masks and brought welts out on their skin by thrashing themselves with twigs. The King did not appear, and after his personal bodyguard signaled he would not come out on this occasion, the drumming group left.

Lagos is a city of extremes. The ex-colonial area, now the homes of government officials and embassies in plush and discreet. Huge mansions are set in clipped gardens. and chauffeur driven cars sweep up the driveways. While the area surrounding the King's palace, the real Lagos, is noisy, crowded and jumping with life. People spend most of their lives on the street; they eat, sleep, wash and on special occasions they block off the street, hire some trestle tables and everybody from babies to grandmas dance and drink the night away.

In Northern Nigeria we had heard the Zaire border was also being closed. Northbound travellers told tales of anti-white propaganda and being stoned in some areas. Whilst we were in Lagos the border closure was confirmed. After thinking it over it seemed the best solution was to give up our plan to ride to the Cape. Instead, we would go West, take our time wandering where we chose and then work out how to get to Australia.

Ibadan - our last forest camp before Lagos

We said goodbye to Bode and his family and promised to come back. Two hours later we still had not reached the Dahomeian (now called Benin -ed) border which was only 40 kilometres away. We were lost! We turned back and an hour or so later found the un-signposted turning to the border. We were to find that ex-French territories were always well signposted, whilst in ex-British countries you were lucky to ever find one.

half the village came over to see what was happening

Once through the border the scenery changed almost instantly. The jungle became less dense and people less clothed. Nigerians were the most sophisticated of all the people we met. Towards evening we pulled off into some sparse bush near a small village. Immediately half the village came over to see what was happening. We dutifully asked the Chief's permission to camp. He was delighted and camp was set up in the quickest time ever, as various helping hands jumped to our aid.

Most of the people wandered back to the village later in the evening, but of the few that remained there was one man whom I found very disconcerting. He spoke only to Fergus, but with an uncanny clairvoyance named the place we had stayed in Lagos and said some names which later I found out were scientists Fergus admired. He then wrote some un-intelligible words on a piece of paper and asked Fergus to write down his name. Then just as strangely he wandered off, but not to the village.

Dahomey is the centre of juju (black magic or any other names to describe the supernatural events that do happen in Africa). I really believe the man possessed some strange powers. The next day we went to cash travellers cheques and were given a rate three times more than we should have by the bank teller. Immediately after, we were just leaving the town when a young guy overtook us and signalled us to stop, and then offered us accommodation for the night. He and his wife were really enjoyable people, who happened to live next door to a guy we had met in the desert.

As we discussed the desert we mentioned our friend Jacques the priest. The young guy looked astounded, Jacques had been a great friend of his and he'd lost contact with him for five years. Juju? We wondered then, and do now.

We followed the coastal road towards Togo. We stopped to rest near a village dispersed on islands and along the banks of a wide estuary. Two young boys appeared and invited us to their village. Village hospitality is amazing. We were offered Cokes, now sold even in the remotest parts of Africa and kept cool in buckets of water. Then they took us for a ride in a dugout canoe.

The fisherman were standing in shallows casting huge circular nets which they let rest a few minutes and then pulled in and loaded their dugouts tied to a stake. Whilst women set small cane traps for crabs. Our friends took it in turn to use a long pole to glide the canoe through the water. We watched a boy. perhaps 4 years old imitate his father's action with a small pole.

The evening was indescribably peaceful as canoes glided noiselessly over the water, carrying returning fishermen, water gatherers and school children to their homes. Our campsite for the night was equally idyllic. We pitched the tent under a coconut palm on the beach. and watched the waves crashing in until nightfall.

Estuary fishing in Dahomey

We crossed into Togo and its capital Lome. The tropical beaches obviously attract a wealthy tourist population. Huge modern hotels and nightclubs lined the beach front, in our filthy bike clothes we didn't dare go to one of the pubs, so headed northwards. The jungle rapidly became sparser, and the sun hotter. After inquiring at the police station we discovered Jacques lived in the seminary perched high on a hill overlooking the town. Not before a hair-raising hill climb over large rubble did we make it to the top. Jacques and his fellow priests welcomed us and offered us beds for the night. We accepted gratefully.

The campsite in the forest cocoa plantation

We moved further north and the sun got hotter, so hot that we hardly ventured out of the shade at midday. We decided to rest up in the forest where we hoped we would find cooler conditions in the mountains between Togo and Ghana.

As we neared the mountains the road rose and fell steeply through tall rain forest. We found a tiny track leading off into the bush at the top of a mountain, and decided to try to find a campsite. As we sat by the roadside soaking in the smell of damp fresh air, a young boy appeared. Did he know where there was water and a place for a tent? With a delighted smile he led us across the road and into what we later discovered was a local farmer's cocoa plantation. Just a few yards in was a clear, fast-running stream, a bed of soft leaves on which to pitch the tent and just enough room to squeeze in the bikes.

The rest of the day was spent talking to a never-ending visitation of small groups of people, who came into see our encampment. We were not far from a village and the word had passed that we had arrived. The old farmer on whose land we were arrived with a bucket of wild grapefruit. and his three small sons in tow. These three became firm friends of ours; each morning as we awakened to the sound of the women collecting water, they would Invariably be waiting patiently outside the tent for us to emerge.

The farmer's number one wife invited us up to their house. We walked up through a coffee plantation which opened out onto a clearing on top of the hill. African hospitality demanded that we have the only two stools. We spent the afternoon watching the chickens. ducks and guinea fowl scratching below the coffee bushes, while we ate boiled yams and drank palm wine. The wine is tapped every few days from a certain type of palm and drunk fresh. It certainly cast a peaceful lull over us as we sat dozily in the shade.

One day the three boys excitedly asked us to see a magician who was coming to the village with them that night. Back they came draped in their best cloaks of bright material and their eyes wide. By now we were equally excited. We stumbled along in the dark, but when we arrived at the village we were told the chief had refused permission. In Togo, by law, a magician must have a certificate from the president stating that he can be decapitated without harm.

The magician did not have this paper and it seemed the chief did not want the responsibility of a potential death on his hands Every day we put off leaving. it seemed so hard to leave the people, the weather and the campsite.

The Farmer's wife
climbing the track to Chateau Vial

We were curious how all the village children seemed to disappear after school - it transpired that they went to help fill the water cisterns at a nearby building called Chateau Vial which, we were told, was well worth the visit. Getting directions we set off for the short journey to this “grande maison”.

It turned out to be a steep 2Klm climb up a winding track in poor repair but when we reached the top we were well-rewarded with the vision of a classical French-style chateau in full detail sitting atop a mountain in the Togolese jungle.

Chateau Vial

We spent some time roaming round this extraordinary complex which we later discovered was the presidential castle (see Chateau Vial on Youtube), a paradise in the Kloto.

For the record, it housed the cabinet of ministers under General Gnassingbe Eyadema regime. The presidents Abdou Diouf of Senegal and Felix Houphouet Boigny of the Ivory Coast, the first Togolese Minister Joseph Kokou Koffigoh and Edem Kodjo also stayed.

At last we found the village children - they were carrying buckets of water on their heads from the stream at the foot of the track up a steep and rocky foot track to the internal water cisterns in the Chateau. We were stunned - the kids, some as young as 5 years old, see,ed very nonchalant about carrying out a task which I doubted I could do - even on a good day. I must admit we wondered what the kids were paid for that extremely arduous toil.

Returning to our camp we reluctantly admitted our visas were near expired. so we set off for the nearest crossing point into Ghana.

The local children carrying water to the Chateau

Arlit, Niger - Gurara Falls, Nigeria

previous leg

Arlit, Niger
Gurara Falls, Nigeria
December 18th, 1974
January 4th, 1975
day 106 to day 123


of the

next leg

Kloto, Togo
Sansanné-Mango, Togo
January 25th, 1975
February 22nd, 1975
day 144 to day 172
Kloto, Togo - Sansanné-Mango, Togo