Sunday, February 6, 2011

Time off the Truck

At the moment, I'm sitting poolside charging my computer at the Sheraton Hotel. I would usually be in the pool on a hot day like today, but if you're not staying in a room at the Sheraton, they charge 15 dollars a day to swim, along with 18 dollars an hour for Internet, so if I did both it would cost the same as an Alaskan king crab dinner back home.(Which sounds so good right now) If I wanted to spend money like that I wouldn't be camping behind the hotel's guard dog kennels,next to the sewer treatment plant, and would be staying in a room.

From poolside I'm looking out at the attractive women wearing bikini's and I'm sure their bare skin is sexually frustrating the predominately wealthy Islamic men, who aren't accustomed to seeing so much skin, staying in the Hotel. Heck they are sexually frustrating me, right now since I've been traveling for 4 months now.

Tourism doesn't exist in Nigeria, so most of the foreigners that are here are flight attendants and captains, or people doing business in Abuja, and probably don't experience Africa beyond hotels like this.

It's exactly what I expect a rich hotel to be like in a place like Nigeria, where everything costs a fortune so that only the wealthy can afford to come here. There is security everywhere, cars are examined for bombs before driving through the gate, the bar at night is swarming with Nigerian ladies of the night, buzzing around looking for a rich guy to sting with their looks and then go with him to his room.

I was going to splurge today for lunch and finally get away from the truck meals and upgrade to one of the expensive hotel restaurants. Three months sleeping in a tent, eating the same things over and over, and driving through towns that only offered cooked grass cutters, large ass rats,to eat. I have really been craving a big steak or Cheeseburger. So I walked into this restaurant with the finest clothing I have, my safari pants that you can zip off into shorts, and a blue American Eagle collared shirt, that I didn't even know I packed, but glad I had.

When I walked in, everyone stopped eating and looked at me, like some hillbilly walking into a black tie party. The restaurant was being rented out by an Islamic business, everyone was in expensive traditional clothing. My hopes died, and I turn around, and walked dejected, back to the truck like a little boy who saved up money for two scoops of chocolate ice cream, only to find the ice cream store was closed.

I've been relaxing in Abuja, Nigeria for a week now, waiting on two visas. Nothing too crazy has gone on in town. Though towns around Abuja are out of control at the moment. A guard dog, did get loose while we were back behind the hotel in our camp spot, which made things interesting as it started running around hyper on it's new freedom, not sure what to attack. The kennels, that we stay behind are used to train stray dogs into becoming guard dogs, to attack intruders. Last year, one got loose and attacked someone camping, so when a dog starts running around it grabs your attention.

The situation reminded me of camping in game parks in eastern Africa and how nervous men got when a honey badger would come into camp. Pound for pound honey badgers are the most aggressive animal in the world. Short legged, they have a Napoleon complex, the temper of a street fighter, and the reputation for going straight for the male genitals, like a girlfriend who just caught her boyfriend cheating. They have been known to take down full grown Kudu, and even make male lions run nervously out of the way when they jog by. So whenever one walks into camp, every male pays attention, sits up straight, and nervously crosses their legs.

We haven't seen a drop of rain since, the first weeks of our trans Africa trip, in the Atlas mountains of Morocco. So we have been accustomed to dry weather, sleeping only in mosquito nets, to escape the malaria carrying mosquito's at night, but at the same time trying to stay cool in the hellishly hot and humid conditions.

A few nights ago, our group was in the Elephant Bar, in the Sheraton, taking advantage of happy hour, when beers are half off and actually affordable. One attractive Nigerian lady of the night, came up to a few guys I was with and said, "hey handsome you are hot, you want some of this," A few of us played around with her for a few seconds, enjoying the attention. She then responded, "if we wanted to get out of here and go back to my place." I joked again, "sure we are staying in the tents behind the dog kennels, besides that sewer treatment plant," which she laughed and walked away unimpressed, knowing there were bigger wallets in the bar to search for, and a more comfortable night in the nice beds of the hotel.

Our laughter was soon, interrupted by the manager of the hotel, coming up to us and telling us campers, "that once every decade it rains in Abuja, they call it the "mango rains," and not to interrupt your beer fun, but it's happening right now outside the hotel, so you might want to get back to your tents."

I'm sure the ladies all got a kick from it, as we ran outside, to a full blown storm ripping our camp apart, blowing over our tents and drenching our laundry hanging up. It took awhile to gather everything up and cover the remaining tents with tarps, and pound the remaining tents down with spikes, but after we accomplished that we ran around in the monsoon rains,like school kids, who had just been set free for recess and enjoying rain after two months of dry hot Sahara Desert heat.

It was like the scene from my favorite movie, "Shawshank Redemption." Where after spending years digging his way out of prison and finally escaping through the open sewer pipe , and into a rain storm, Andy rips off his prison clothes, and takes a moment to stand in the rain, his eyes closed, his hands reaching into the sky, flashes of lighting illuminating the darkness, and soaking in his freedom.

As darkness falls around Abuja, the Sky's come alive with tens of thousands of fruit bats, the size of ducks, that look like foxes with wings, with at least a 3 foot wingspans. Like World War Two bombers, heading off to drop their bombs, every sunset they show up in increasing numbers. Every night I am amazed at how many there are and how big they are. For an hour they just keep coming, all heading in the same direction towards the setting sun, like migrating Canadian geese back home, but not in a V formation, but almost evenly spaced. they don't dart around like normal bats.

We have a few more days here till we leave, making our way to Cameroon, to start the slide south down the African continent to Cape Town. Like astronauts that lose communication with NASA, while they travel around the dark side of the moon, I will be away from contact with the outside world for a long period of time as we spend the next two months traveling down roads that are the worst in the world. At times they warn us it could take all day to travel 100 feet. We are racing the the clock, to get through the area before the rainy seasons begin again, some time around the end of February and beginning of March. Which makes travel almost impossible. "Houston we have a problem."

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