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January 26, 2013 / samwilson60

Abuja

All in all, we were relieved to discover that the stories about the Sheraton in Abuja were true – for some reason they offer camping for overlanders on the side, or rather round the back. It was a little uncomfortable standing around in the lobby waiting to confirm this, looking and smelling like we hadn’t washed since Benin, but eventually one of the security guards took us in hand and booked us in. It was all so professional, we started to wonder what exactly the camping ground might have to offer. Alas, it was as described by the South Africans we’d med – huddled up with the dogs. We had pictured a handful of guard dogs aggressively guarding the grounds; what we found was hundreds, guarding the rubbish dump and the small patch of grass infested with biting ants. The ‘handler’ was a really nice Cameroonian guy – a little over friendly by the end, but clearly passionate about his dogs – and the new-born puppies were adorable, but there was no getting round the fact that these animals lived in squalor and let themselves lose at night just when one of us needed a pee.

Our impressions of the ‘camping ground’ were only amplified by the contrast with the rest of the premises. Granted, it wasn’t what you’d expect from a Sheraton in Europe but from the pool-side bar in particular, you still knew you were at a Sheraton.

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By our third and final night we’d clocked the abandoned football pitch the other side of the dogs and the rubbish – if we’d been directed there in the first place perhaps our take on the place would have been less negative but then we probably wouldn’t have appreciated the relative calm and cleanliness as much either.

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We were in Abuja with the sole aim of getting visas, as always, and we decided before even arriving that we’d let someone else do the driving. None of the official taxis knew where the Cameroon embassy was but someone who knew where they were going and looked vaguely trustworthy eventually turned up offering a lift. Despite the delay, and Sam’s razor crisis prior to that, we still made it to the embassy before the stern receptionist. We’d made friends with her boss by the time she waded in, and he agreed to process our applications by 3pm that same day so that we could apply for Congo visas afterwards. The receptionist still tried to wade in and overcharge us but she’d missed the boat. We’d already accepted we had to pay in West African CFA (the currency of neither Nigeria nor Cameroon) and that to do so we’d have to use the embassy’s money changer, who turned up after about half an hour with no money. We eventually managed to leave them with the necessary amount in euros, by our calculations not theirs, and hurried out while they were still debating the accuracy of our maths among themselves.

The Congo embassy was further down the same street and here we just had one person to befriend. All smiles, he initially presented us with a list of visa requirements, none of which we fulfilled. As we explained our situation, he started shaking his head and protesting that this wasn’t possible but we rambled on and at some point it was clear he was going to process us anyway. He was fascinated, in particular, by our Cameroon plans (the Ring Road, Mount Cameroon, etc., etc.) and we studied the Michelin map together for quite some time before trying to bring the conversation back to business. Officially, he and his colleagues clocked off at 2pm but he even agreed to wait for us to get our passports back so that we could have our Congo visas the following day. This was better than ever – the potential for two visas within 24 hours or so. With a little help in French, Richard managed even better – he was told to come back at 9am the following day (his Nigerian insurance ran out in a couple of days’ time so really wanted to get a move on). We settled for a lie-in and a midday pick-up.

On fire, we even stopped back at the Cameroon embassy to see whether our passports could possibly be ready any earlier. We really felt like we were pushing our luck by this point, and the receptionist thought so too, but the boss agreed. We legged it before anything went wrong, and while we still had time to get back to the hotel to wash some clothes before picking our passports up. We tried to stop in at an internet café on our way but this was clearly futile so we just hopped in a taxi, confident if they could find anything in Abjua, the Sheraton was it.

The afternoon pick-up and drop-off went swimmingly, leaving the following morning free for car cleaning (inside not out, as always) and a photo shoot with the guard dog handler. We then picked up our passports at midday as agreed, swung by a supermarket of sorts and settled back into our new patch on the Sheraton’s defunct football pitch, away from the miscellaneous dogs but still not their handler. He wanted us to hit the town but with Sam on antibiotics by this point we settled on a beer with him after he got back, followed by an early night.

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