Nigeria -> Benin Republic (10 hours)
I left home by 4.30 am to meet up with the rest of the crew at Forte Oil, Falomo. Some of our pals who were not going on the trip were there to escort us to the Nigerian/Benin Republic border and I remember thinking how it didn’t feel like I was about to ride across several countries.
As usual, I had developed phantom malaria symptoms some days before the trip, being my mind’s usual tactic to dissuade me from doing something it thinks could be life threatening. I kept getting images of international death and horror, and thoughts like “Is it cheaper to die in Togo than in Benin Republic?” kept coming to me. Ridiculous thoughts I know, but when you’re afraid, the ridiculous becomes all too real.
Once we got on the road however, the only thought that could find space in my mind was the ride.
My engine’s shriek soon settled into a familiar background carpet of sound that would stay with me throughout the trip.
(It’s difficult to describe the joys of riding to a non-rider. Even after learning how to ride, and going on a few rides within town, it took a trip out of Lagos unto open roads for me to truly experience the exhilaration of becoming one with a machine and having its power respond to your thoughts.
It’s an almost out-of-body experience, observing the cyborg-like feed of information about road conditions and possible hazards ahead, from your eyes into your mind and having your man/machine hybrid respond accordingly.)
We then proceeded to ride through some of the most nightmare-inducing roads I have ever seen in my life.
I had no idea at this time that I would be riding in pitch darkness all alone on this road a day later, dodging man-eating potholes and gun-toting border-control customs operatives and their flashing torches on my way back into Lagos. If I had known, I would surely have turned back at this very point, but then I wouldn’t have had this awesome action movie of an experience.
We got to the Nigerian border by 8am and spent almost 5 hours waiting for “paper work” to be completed. We took several selfies in the spirit of Nigerian Jollof.
Benin Republic -> Togo Border (4 hours)
After sorting out the paperwork, we rode slowly across the border into Benin Republic, this time having to tow a bike that had weirdly stopped working. Luckily, a popular Bike dealer in Cotonou had sent his boys to escort us into Ghana, and they were able to lead us to the bike workshop, where we spent another two plus hours getting the bike certified fit to travel.
The time was slightly after 4pm by then.
This was the time we had planned to be approaching Accra, and we had not even fully left Nigeria. Again, if I had known what was ahead, this was another point at which I would have turned back. It’s interesting to note that no other border delayed us like the Nigerian border at Seme.
Before we finally set out, we bought foreign-priced fuel for the first time. I can’t remember how much this cost, but it certainly wasn’t 145 Naira per liter.
I also remember seeing amazing vehicular contraptions at Seme Border filling stations, being used to ferry thousands of liters of petrol for sale in Togo.
We were advised to fill up our tanks in Cotonou since petrol was more costly in Togo. A full tank would take us from Benin to the Togo Border comfortably where we could then fill up again before riding into Togo.
This was when the journey really began.
We rode through Cotonou, led by our escorts. It was already rush hour and we kept running into traffic. It was annoying for me although they were certainly better behaved than our terrible Lagos drivers. A lot more bikes though, and it was a common sight to see well-dressed women riding motorbikes.
It started raining and the white road-marking became slippery. After my bike fishtailed a couple of times, I quickly learnt to avoid those lines. The roads were good though.
The scenery was so spectacular at some inconvenient spots that I wished I had a Gopro to record what my eyes were seeing. The process of stopping the bike, dismounting and removing my gloves before taking a picture was a lengthy one, and I didn’t want to be left behind in a strange land.
We finally got to the Togo border at about 6 pm. It was projected that we would be spending just one hour in Togo.
Gists flowed around how good the roads were, and the adrenaline rush that comes with moving pretty fast. We started making plans for our anticipated 10 pm Accra arrival.
Unknown to us, “mans” was simply proposing, while our plans were busy being dismantled in heavenly places.
Togo border -> Ghana border (4 hours)
We thought we would exit the Benin Republic/Togo border before nightfall , but again, this process took longer than we anticipated. By the time we were done with the border, it was about 9 pm. We refueled just inside Togo, exhausted from the long hours of riding, and with Togo still to be crossed before getting to the Ghana border.
The estimate we had was that the Ghanaians would need about one and a half hours to clear us. We were hopeful that we could cross Togo in about one hour and get to Ghana before they closed. Tiredness was already setting in, but the consensus was to ride on.
We then proceeded to ride through the darkest towns I’ve seen in my life. I was so tense during this part of the trip.
If you’ve ever had problems with driving at night because of glare from oncoming vehicles, just imagine how much worse it would be riding on a bike through unfamiliar territory.
Ghana Border -> Accra (5 Hours)
Sleeping at the border was seriously being considered because those Immigration officials were meticulous and painstaking in checking every letter of every vehicles’s VIN. I couldn’t believe it, at almost 12am we were looking for VIN numbers and reading it out while the bespectacled officer followed on his notepad.
I had expected tempers to be quite short by this time, but peace still reigned supreme. Going through adversity together definitely brings people closer.
We set out for Accra, having been promised by some fast-talking Ghanaian that we could make it in 2 hours. By this time, one of us had his clutch misbehaving, but thanks to the amazing engineering of the Germans, the BMW was still performing excellently. This same bike got back to Nigeria stuck in only one gear (gear six), and still left a lot of us behind. (I’m accepting contributions for my own BMW (GS) by the way). I don’t know of any other marketing that can beat what that bike did performance-wise.
It was during this last lap that fatigue set in for me. I started feeling drowsy at a point and became so worried that I would sleep and fall off the bike that I had to park and stretch my legs.
I kept my bike running and my eyes constantly peeled for danger during this short rest to avoid stories that touch. My riding partner graciously stopped ahead to wait for me, after which we continued the trip together until we met the others at the Lower Volta bridge.
I can only compare the loneliness of that stretch of road to the back roads leading to Ibadan through Epe/Ijebu-Ode. If you’re familiar with that road, you know exactly how scary it would be to driving through it by 3 am.
I was able to keep myself alert only by imagining that the world had ended and we were the sole survivors (in my defense, riding at night through unlit areas is boring. No scenery or humans to stimulate the mind, just blackness and that narrow path lit by the bike’s headlights). I even had imaginary action music playing in my head.
At 4.30 am Nigerian time, Saturday 25th November 2017, twenty-four hours after leaving Lagos, we rode into our hotel in Ghana, where I promptly fell asleep as soon as I checked in.