Sophia and Rey left Lagos two weeks earlier. The Abuja Airport was closed for repairs, all passengers, international or domestic had to be flown to Kaduna Airport, a city about 210 Km north of Abuja. The process of getting on a bus or taking a taxi from Kaduna back to Abuja as described by passengers was horrendous and not so funny experience, it was a total chaos that took hours, where people now find their ways back by road. For travellers who went through the few weeks of the Abuja Airport closure around March/ April 2017, it was a torrid time.
Bolaji Alonge, having a drink with Rey Byhre, Bogobiri, Ikoyi Lagos.
Hearing Rey, a Norwegian International Photographer and a friend based in Abuja relay the experience, I told myself why not go by road? I wanted to take pictures of Nigeria anyway. Did a lot of travelling in the late 90s and early 2000s between Lagos and Abuja by road. The prior plan was something Sophia came up with. ‘Let’s go to Yankari Game Reserve this Easter Weekend with some other friends’, I was like….. Yeah!
Water Bucks, Yankari Game Reserve, Bauchi Nigeria
Yankari Game Reserve Bauchi is the oldest wildlife conservation area and ecotourism destination in West Africa. Its history dates back to 1956, it was established for the preservation, conservation management of its wildlife, cultural, historical, geo-morphological attributes for posterity, education, research, recreation and tourism. First opened to the general public in December 1962, the reserve has been attracting thousands of tourists annually. It is also popular among researchers and students of Biological sciences, archaeology and tourism.
Baboons of Yankari
Yankari is recognized as having one of the largest populations of elephants in West Africa, estimated at more than 300 in 2005. The growth of the elephant population has become a problem for surrounding villages at times as the animals enter local farms during the rainy season. The elephants have also stripped the park of many of its baobab trees. I really wanted to see the elephants.
The Yankari Game Reserve, a place I’ve always wanted to visit, saying no to an opportunity for a visit was not going to happen.
Got my phone, a One Plus 3 phone with a good camera, took my Canon DSLR too, and as the journey of 760 Km by road deep into the heart of Nigeria started, of course, my camera did its job, eyes of a Lagos Boy seeing more. I began what turned out to be a journey that took a whole day and half the night to get to my destination (Sophia and Rey’s residence in Abuja). The first delay was before leaving Lagos, regular menace of religious worshipers, creating total blockade on the Lagos Ibadan Expressway.. We finally made it out of Lagos by 10 AM riding on an Air – Conditioned mini Bus, carrying about seventeen of us with kids and all was going well. Stopped somewhere in Akure, 308km into the trip for some stretching and refreshments.
Going on, the sun was beginning to set when we approached Lokoja. I will not spend time explaining the terrible state of Nigerian roads. It’s a constant meandering of huge potholes almost on every stretch. The gauntlets of Security Agents one goes through on the roads takes some fun away. but again, they are here to ‘protect’ us.
On our downward slope towards Lokoja 569 Km in, a loud bang rocked our bus, and the screams of JESUS, especially by the kids rent the air. The bus rocked but I could see that we were not somersaulting and bodies not flying everywhere. The smell of hydraulics and rubber took over, white smoke billowing from the left side of the bus too. The bus was in the middle of the road and we were sitting ducks for a truck on the loose coming from behind down the unpredictable slope to scoop us off, thankfully, that did not happen.
It turned out that the Bus Driver had underestimated the road, believing it’s all smooth after all, he’s been plying this route about 72 thousand times, or he is so sure of some hidden skills he has, he slammed into a huge concrete boulder lying dangerously by the side of the road and actually sticking out. Of course, our bus was definitely not going anywhere at that point. Some people around helped to push the bus off the road and passengers were thanking God, Jesus and all they could call upon. It was getting to 7pm, darkness all around. By normal calculation, I should be in Abuja by now.
We were finally able to find another bus from Lokoja going to Abuja, that was going off course and ended up dropping me about six Km away from my destination around 11pm on a desolate part of the Express road. I walked and walked…
I was also busy chronicling my epic trip to the famous Yankari Game Reserve using an audio device app on my phone for voice recording. Joined up with my friends, then was hit with the news that Rey, one of the main persons behind the planning of the trip was not going to be a part of it. A very important work came up and the Nigerian Navy had to yank him off to the Niger Delta (oil region), the very South of Nigeria on the same weekend of our trip to help with photos. Oh well, how is this going?
On our way to Bauchi from Abuja the following day, I then met up with others going on the trip. Fantastic collection of people from different parts of the world, all but one person working in Nigeria. We were two Photographers on the trip, Abayomi and myself.
The distance of Abuja to Bauchi was another shocker for me, Southern Nigerians like myself tend to forget sometimes how huge Nigeria is. We were looking at another 403 km, this trip took almost a day as well, apart from a break of about an hour and a half for lunch in Jos. This was a particularly slow trip and the Roadblocks by the Nigerian Army in Northern Nigeria is something other Nigerians have not really seen, it feels like a war zone in some parts, and it is constant meandering of sandbags and those guys really look like they’ll so shoot to kill. With due credit to the Security Agents, these were territories that were deemed too dangerous for tourists just a few years ago, due to the Boko Haram menace. But today, it could be said to be a lot secured and movements and activities are beginning to improve.
On finally getting to the gate of the Game Reserve, we were all excited as we were greeted by this huge warthog and her piglets just going about their business and everyone was cool, to other side was a ram stubborn, chasing and headbutt anything that passes by. The Yankari Game Reserve Management and organization is a story for another day.
We all came out at the gate awaiting some paperwork before going in for about a few miles to get to our lodges. Stretching and taking selfies. I was going to take a selfie with Sara with the gate behind us, then I started looking for my phone. Really, I hate to look for my phone, looked in my four pockets, nothing.. Then I thought to go back into the bus and to look where I was sitting. Got back into the bus, looked on the sit, the floor, still no phone. Then I thought to look in the crevice of my collapsible seat on the isle, there I saw my phone and my heart sank to my toes as I just could not believe what was in front of me. My phone was bludgeoned, the screen shattered into thousand pieces with some parts so crushed it gave out powder. It happened when I stood up, the phone fell in and I most probably opened the seat for the person behind myself and in the process crushing my phone, the phone was thoroughly destroyed. There goes my voice diary in my Yankari Diary.
After all the condolences on my crushed phone, Mia, who became my roommate, offered me her phone to be able to make calls to loved ones so as for them to know I am alive and not been trampled on by a herd of elephants.
For the first time in many years, I was truly free and fully present with friends having some of the best times of our lives for three days. We went on a Safari and it was nice, the two trucks have a way of helping each other push start, looked odd in the beginning but we got used to it. I hoped to see the elephants. Our guide said only if we were lucky, those guys (elephants) are really hard to find…..
My Yankari Diary continues in the next blog..
Bolaji Alonge is an artist, international photographer, actor and journalist from Lagos, Nigeria. His visual language speaks of the wonders of nature and human exchange, urban culture and searches for historical continuity in a world that is sometimes heavily fractured. He is also a globetrotter who has travelled around the world during the last decade documenting exotic culture and history. In May 2017, Bolaji organized his “Eyes of a Lagos Boy” photo exhibition at the prestigious Freedom Park in Lagos.
His second solo exhibition “Urban Culture – Historical Continuity” was held at One Draw Gallery, Ikoyi, Lagos in November 2018, establishing Bolaji’s brand of photography to a new audience, receiving great reviews from artists and art lovers worldwide.
Photos By ARL for awfirm.org
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