A story written by Jakemond… If you missed part Forty Nine, read it HERE
After a while I calmed down and went back into the guest room with Maria Joana, and we gathered all our belongings. As we were leaving, my cousins were devastated and started to cry, begging us not to go, but we were determined not to stay there another minute. My cousin Uzochi helped us carry our bags, since it was late and there were no taxis. We walked about a mile to a hotel, where we found a room.
The following day, I took Maria Joana to my Aunt Comfort’s house and we spent a few hours there, after which I gave her a tour of the city. I showed her my secondary school, the house where I used to live with my uncle, St. Michael’s Primary School, the waterside, and the motor park where I used to hustle. Later that evening, we took an overnight bus ride to Jos; I had promised to take Maria Joana to the Yankari Game Reserve in Bauchi, not too far from there.
Jos is a very beautiful city, and many Europeans living in Nigeria prefer to live there because of its mild and pleasant climate. It’s a unique city situated on a plateau about four thousand feet above sea level, with beautiful vegetation and streets adorned with palm and date trees. We decided we would spend a day in Jos, so we booked a hotel room and took a tour of the city. We ended up at the local market, where we bought local jewelry and ointments. Maria Joana was pleasantly surprised by the diversity in Nigeria—its culture and people as well as the vegetation and climate. She seemed pleased with Jos and everything else she had seen.
Early the next day, we checked out of our hotel room and took a taxi to the motor park, where we were directed to the taxis heading to Bauchi State. We paid our fare and had to wait for other passengers to fill up the taxi before we could start the journey. The motor park was very large and was almost like a big market because of the many vendors, hawkers, and shops. There were more hawkers in the motor park than passengers, and everyone tried to sell us all kinds of things. It didn’t help that Maria Joana was white; she attracted a lot of attention. She was completely overwhelmed and exhausted, and people would not stop pestering her to buy things. The beggars were just as aggressive as the hawkers; they would send off their little children to specific targets, and the children would hang on to the person’s leg or clothes and wouldn’t let go until the person gave them some money. Maria Joana was horrified and I was about to lose my mind, but I remained calm and did my best to fend them all off. I gave money to the beggars and bought Maria Joana some dates from the vendors. After waiting at the park for about two hours, our taxi finally filled up and we started our journey to Bauchi. We arrived two and a half hours later.
Bauchi was not as beautiful as Jos, but it was a big city in any case. I had expected that there would be other vehicles going to the game reserve, but there were none. The reserve is far from the city in a remote location that covers about five hundred square kilometers, reaching up to Cameroon, and this allows the animals to roam free and unhindered by artificial borders or boundaries. We were eventually able to charter a taxi to the game reserve for an exorbitant amount of money. The road from Bauchi to Yankari was lonely and desolate. I thought I would see more tourists going to the reserve, which was one of the biggest in Africa. After several hours on the winding, dusty roads, we finally arrived at the gate of the reserve. Two hungry-looking security guards drinking tea in the shade welcomed us, and we paid the entrance fee. As I signed the visitors’ book, I noted the number of people that had come before us. We were about number forty thousand, and it amazed me that most of the visitors were foreigners. We got back in the taxi and drove inside the park to the housing area, about thirty kilometers away. Driving through the park, we were very excited; we saw lots of birds and some fresh elephant excrement. Getting closer to the accommodation area, we saw thousands of baboons milling around. There was a clear area like a football field where hundreds of baboons kicked around a round object, and we had to slow down to avoid running over some of them. I thought the name of the housing area should have been Baboon Camp.
The accommodation area was indeed very beautiful. There seemed to be more than five hundred cabana houses surrounded by trees. The houses were round and in African style, with thatched roofs. From the look of it, the cabanas had different categories; some seemed bigger than others. We went into the reception area to check in, and the receptionist told us about the types of accommodations. They had regular rooms, which were less expensive and located within the least beautiful cabanas. There were luxury rooms that were more expensive, and there were VIP rooms, which had air conditioning, were much larger, and were located in the prettiest cluster of cabanas. We paid for a VIP suite for five days, picked up brochures, and scheduled a safari. There was a restaurant that served continental and local dishes, and a museum with a gift shop. But the biggest attraction for us was the Wikki Warm Spring. As soon as we had checked into our room, we grabbed our towels and headed there. There were baboons all over the place, and signs warning visitors not to feed them. We ignored the signs and gave a few cookies to the baboons.
When we got to the edge of the hill, we had to climb down about five hundred feet to get to the warm springs. There were steps on the side of the hill, but it still wasn’t easy going down. As we got closer, we could see the clear blue water flowing below, starting from one end of the hill and flowing in the other direction. Amazingly, the bottom of the spring had clear white sand and you could see vapor rising from the water. The water flowed from a cave under the hill, and people stood by the side of the cave above the entrance and jumped into the water. Both sides were lined with trees, their branches leaning gracefully forward. We saw people climb up the trees and jump from them into the spring. All around, there were monkeys and baboons in the trees watching people swim.
We finally got to the bottom and put down our things by the pavement. We took off our clothes, folded them neatly, and laid them on our bags. After we had spread out our towels, we jumped into the water. It was so hot, it felt like fifty degrees Celsius. I was jolted as soon as I hit the water. I relaxed and tried to allow my body to adjust to the temperature, but after a few minutes I couldn’t take the burning anymore and I climbed out of the water. But I couldn’t stay out of the spring for long because there were blood-sucking tsetse flies everywhere and they stung like crazy—and unfortunately, they seemed immune to the insect repellant I was wearing. I jumped back into the water to prevent the flies from biting me, but even there, they would bite any exposed part of my skin. I decided to mentally block the inconvenience from the flies and proceeded to enjoy myself in the water.
Maria Joana and I had fun swimming and playing in the spring for quite a while. At one point, when we were the only ones left, something unexpected happened. A big baboon got down from the tree, nonchalantly grabbed all our clothes, and climbed back up. We spent more than half an hour begging the creature and making all kinds of expressions to get it to drop our clothes. After what seemed like ages, the baboon climbed onto a branch leaning directly over the spring, and as we watched, it dramatically let go of our clothes, which landed in the water. We weren’t upset, though; it was actually the highlight of our evening. Still marveling at how smart and mischievous the baboons were, we returned to our room, showered, and then went to have dinner.
The next morning, we were ready for our safari. We finished our breakfast before eight and were the first ones on the truck. A tour guide explained things as we drove along. First, we went to areas where the wild pigs were, and then on to the buffaloes and antelopes. After that, we went in search of elephants and before long ran into some herds. It was my first time seeing elephants, and there seemed to be a thousand of the giant creatures. They were eating up tree stumps as they moved, and some of them would not give way for our vehicle. One even got close to our truck, but never attacked us. It was beautiful observing the animals in their natural habitat. After three hours, we returned to the base camp, showered, and had our lunch. We went on the afternoon safari as well, and spent the rest of the evening at the Wikki Warm Spring.
Maria Joana and I did not adhere to the rules of the camp. Even inside the cabanas it was clearly written that visitors should not try to befriend the baboons or feed them. But in our naiveté, we felt we knew better than the camp keepers. Every morning before we left the cabana, we would leave food on the porch for the baboons, and by the time we got back, the food would be gone.
On the third day, we went on a trail with a tour guide and visited several ancient caves with what looked like rooms carved into their sides. The guide explained that people used to live in those rooms in ancient times, and there were still relics within them of the way the occupants had lived. There was writing on the walls and floors, and there were calabashes and broken pieces of objects that looked like cooking pots. We saw rocks of different shapes; I presumed the flat ones were used for grinding and the bigger ones for sitting. Though the rooms were primitive, I was fascinated by them and wouldn’t have minded spending a night or two in them. We later went deep into the bush and visited other places where people used to live. Around mid-day we went back to the camp, exhausted. Later that afternoon we went on another safari, and when we returned, we spent the rest of the evening by the warm spring. Fortunately for us, we didn’t have any encounters with the baboons this time, even though they followed us the entire time. We kept our eyes on our belongings all the while.
By the morning of the fourth day, we had no more cookies to put on the porch for the baboons, but we didn’t think too much of it as we left the cabana. To our greatest surprise, we returned to our room at the end of the day to find that the refrigerator had been ransacked and all our food eaten. Apparently, the baboons were upset that we didn’t leave any snacks for them and decided to take matters into their own hands. They had climbed up our roof and managed to squeeze in through an opening. Fortunately, they hadn’t destroyed our other belongings; they had only wanted the food. We thought it was hilarious, and besides, it was completely our fault. We hadn’t followed the rules and had ended up paying for it.
Early in the morning on the fifth day, we were lucky to catch a ride with other tourists who were leaving the reserve. They dropped us off at Bauchi, where we went to the motor park and got into a vehicle going to Kano. We arrived late and spent the night at a hotel. The next morning, we got up early to start our tour of the big and beautiful city. Even though Kano was predominantly Hausa and Fulani, there were many Igbos and people from other tribes. We visited the emir’s palace, toured old Kano, and ended up at the big Kano market, where I bought some traditional Fulani dresses for Maria Joana and other gift items. From Kano we went to Kaduna and spent a day there, with the intention of continuing to Maiduguri the next day. But we realized we didn’t have much time left because Maria Joana’s leave time was running out. We traveled back to Owerri and spent two days visiting my family, after which we returned to Lagos.
We spent the next few days in Lagos relaxing and going to the beach. By the time Maria Joana was ready to return to Spain, I was satisfied with myself, knowing that I had entertained and taken very good care of her so she would have no reason to change her mind about getting the police report to the Spanish embassy. Maria Joana left Lagos for Barcelona and I stayed behind, waiting patiently for my fate. It was the most agonizing period of my life. I was truly overwhelmed by anticipation and uncertainty. There was no guarantee that Maria Joana would send the required information, especially as I was broke and would once again be dependent on her if I returned to Spain. My relatives and friends weren’t helping my state of mind, either—they all thought I wouldn’t be able to return to Europe, that there was simply no way the Spanish embassy would give me a visa. Anxiety completely took over me and I started to wonder if I had made my biggest blunder yet by returning to Nigeria. I had literally passed through hell to get to Europe, only to turn around and squander my gains simply because I wanted to legalize my stay there. Nonetheless, I tried to persevere and keep a positive mental attitude….
To Be Continued…