Afi Mountain Monkeys, Nigeria, Dec 22 - 24, 2007

Trip Start Sep 19, 2007
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Trip End Jan 05, 2008


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Flag of Nigeria  ,
Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Our planned route through Nigeria underwent several changes as time progressed due to uncertainty over road conditions through the jungle into Cameroon and timing around getting our visas in Calabar.  In the end, time constraints forced us to abandon our plans to visit Yankari National Park in northeastern Nigeria, said to be one of the best for wildlife viewing in West Africa. 
Thus, the Afi Mountain Drill Ranch at the edge of Cross River National Park, along with its satellite facility in Calabar, became our only true sightseeing experiences in Nigeria.  Both facilities are dedicated to caring for orphaned chimpanzees and breeding and rehabilitating endangered Drill Monkeys, a species of large baboon with a restricted range in Nigeria and Cameroon.  The Drill population in the wild is in decline both because of the bush meat trade and habitat loss due to deforestation.  The organization that operates the facilities is named Pandrillus and is run by an American couple from Oregon
The Drill Ranch is located in a remote mountainous area a long drive north of Calabar.  As dusk was nearing as we approached Ikom, Dave and James began to look for a safe-looking place to camp and the massive lawn in front a low colonial-looking building several hundred yards from the road looked like the perfect place.  The building turned out to be a school, and the caretakers were pleased to let us camp out front for one weekend night and serve as our guardians.
We arrived at the junction to the Drill Monkey Ranch early the next afternoon.  The last ten miles or so of rutted, puddled, washed-out muddy dirt road into the mountains turned out to be a slow slog that took a good part of the afternoon, but digging Daphne out of the mud, shoveling to widen the rutted track, and our makeshifts repairs to small bridges to enable Daphne to cross proved to be good practice for the days ahead in Cameroon. 
While the Drill and Chimpanzee enclosures at the Pandrillus facility in Calabar were rather small ones typical of zoos, those at their Afi Mountain Drill Ranch cover many acres and provide the animals with a near natural habitat, something that's important since part of its mission is to rehabilitate Drills to reintroduce them into the wild.  While the Drills mostly seemed docile enough and quite disinterested in our presence outside their enclosures, some of the chimps showed their displeasure with being gawked at by flinging some of their excrement at us and then screaming with laughter
Our walking tour also included a stop at a waterfall and the cool pool below it, for most of us the closest thing we'd come to having a shower in many days, and a "canopy walk".  The canopy walk at Afi Mountains is supposedly the largest in West Africa, according to Pandrillus higher and longer than the better known one at Kakum National Park in Ghana (because Nigerians insist on having the biggest and the best).  I have a serious fear of heights, so for me this whole experience was less thrilling than it was terrifying.  Walking from one small platform built around a tree to another to another via a swinging steel and rope cable walkway while gradually ascending to the treetops more than 100 feet above the ground was not my idea of fun, and I was seriously worried I might "freeze" at some somewhere in the middle of one of the bridges.  But who would come to rescue me in the middle of the rain forest in a remote part of eastern Nigeria?  It's not like being home (or at least on TV at home) where you can just call your local fire department to get your cat out of the tree.  And they said, "Oh look at the Quadruple-Cockaded Gray-Assed Golden-Beaked Hornbill!" as I was hanging on for dear life on one of the bridges.  "No, I can't look at anything.  At this point I can only think about survival and getting out of this thing alive!" 
Survive I did, though, to make it back to the truck at our two-night campsite in a forest clearing near the Drill Ranch's entrance to cook Christmas Dinner.  It was actually December 23 but Dave asked me to do Christmas dinner there and then since he didn't know how bad conditions might be on Christmas day in the jungle in Cameroon.  My attempts to find pork or turkey or any other traditional Christmas dinner ingredients in the market in Calabar two days earlier turned out to be futile, so we ended up having "Tropical Christmas" with Rum-Flambeed Beef Strips with Peanut-Chili Satay Sauce, Citrus Rice, vegetables, and several salads.  Yeay, my last cook duties of the trip! 
Our last day in Nigeria involved driving back down the horrendous dirt road in the Afi Mountains, a stop at the market in Ikom for a few more provisions for the jungle crossing, successful navigation of the seven police checkpoints leading up to the border, and finally Nigerian customs and immigration bureaucracy at the border post.  While this made for a rather dull day overall, Dave's plans for dealing with Lyndon's and Janice's expired Nigerian visas provided some entertainment and bit of suspense to the day.  The two had obtained Nigerian visas on their own before joining the group and the dates on the visas were such that they expired two days before our departure from the country.  Although this might not be of particularly great concern in most countries, Nigeria's legendary corruption is such that similar infractions in the past have resulted in huge "fines" of up to $500 by corrupt officials on the make, and with seven checkpoints where passports and visas might be inspected on the way out of the country, that could really add up. 
Dave's solution was to hide Lyndon and Janice under the back seat of the truck and have many of the rest of us provide cover at the checkpoints before the border by sitting around and above them.  Well, it can be both a bit frightening and a bit hard to keep a straight face when a big mean-looking Nigerian police man with a gun gets onto the truck to do an inspection, and you're trying to hide a couple visa-violators under the seat.  Fortunately, the plan worked and the "fine" they were required to pay at the border post for their violation was a minimal one. 
Upon leaving Nigeria and having survived it I have to admit to feeling a bit disappointed.  So much of what I heard previously about Nigeria, including the descriptions and warnings Dave gave us earlier on in the trip, paint the place as an absolute hell on earth - a place of exploding oil pipelines, gunmen invading crowded restaurants and holding patrons hostage, constant road stops by corrupt police trying to extort money, food shortages and political protests and religious riots between Christians and Muslims, and an infrastructure that has decayed to a point of disintegration.  Certainly we experienced some mild chaos and official corruption, and Nigeria is by no means an easy place to travel.  But the reality, though, was nowhere near what I had come to expect, so my having "survived Nigeria" is nowhere near the feather in my traveler's cap I expected it would be.
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