Travelling by road to obscure locations can be a nightmare given the state of highways in the country, but some Nigerians like Inyang Effiong are still hitting the road. Adewole Ajao spoke with the biker who embarked on a road trip from Lagos to Austria on his bike recently
Inyang Effiong admits to being close to reliving the words of a popular Ebenezer Obey song. Like the late Olabisi Ajala, who inspired the singer’s evergreen hit of the 1970s after travelling around the world on a motorbike, Effiong’s recent road trip from Lagos to Austria was on a KTM 690 power bike. The bike was one of his silent companions for over two weeks when he rode from Lagos to Austria last March.
“It is something you can lift alone if you fall down and it is very good in the desert and on sand,” he said fondly of his bike. “Being in the desert was also not a big issue. It cannot run very fast but gets the job done. I rode for 15,000 kilometres with no major problem. So I guess it did its job.”
Unless you are a crusader for the environment like Chief Newton Jubunoh, the very notion of travelling such a long distance by road still sounds like a hair-brained scheme. But he tells me it was another in several sojourns that he and his biker colleagues make yearly. This pleasure ritual has taken them to quite a few countries within and beyond the West African sub-region after the road trips started some years back.
“This is not a one-off. Every year my friends and I do between two weeks to one month on the road. We have been doing this for a while. The last trip was to Senegal. We have also been to Gabon and Central African Republic. We have done a loop of West Africa to Guinea. What we do is fix a time and if you are ready or not, it continues.”
According to Effiong, who has an engineering degree and sports several tattoos on his right arm, the road less travelled has its upsides, and there are lots of things to experience instead of being holed up in an aircraft watching movies and fellow passengers. Unfortunately, his recent trip was without the usual posse. While the Lagos-based engineer could get some time off his job, his usual companions could not.
“No matter how much you read, there are some things you cannot learn unless you hit the road,” Effiong says. “When you see things, it is very different from when you travel. I look at it as learning and getting to know how things are elsewhere. You can also reflect when you are alone and driving at breakneck speed.”
His recent trip commenced from Lagos on March 20. Armed with a GPS, three maps and lots of water, he went through Benin Republic and stopped at Lome in Togo to service his bike. A run up-north took him through Burkina Faso where his first stopover at Tenkodogo spilled into a two-day stay, recalling that the sheer enormity of the country blew him away.
“It will take like three countries the size of Nigeria,” he said of the Francophone republic. “I went to the eastern and western parts. I later crossed into the south eastern part of Mali. Then I went to the capital Bamako.”
Mauritania was also a new experience for the afro-donning rider. After being sent back at its border due to a visa issue, he was still able to reach the capital of the Islamic republic Nouakchott. Another issue he encountered was the scarcity of petrol. Having been used to buying fuel at fuel stations and roadside mongers before entering the North African country, a ride to some parts revealed a nation that thrived on diesel. But there were other discoveries as he admitted to pushing his bike to the limit due to ample space to ride without impediments.
“In the whole of its eastern part of Mauritania, there is no motorcycle. This is not an exaggeration because they do not have petrol and do not use petrol cars. They use diesel cars, so in such places you do not start asking for fuel stations but use whatever you see.”
Effiong’s other observations dwelt on the price of petrol which doubled once he left Nigerian shores. He recalls that it was readily available in most countries, and despite the steep price it did not shoot up the transport prices like it did at home.
“You go to places where their petrol is N250 per litre and the cost of transport is lower than that of Nigeria. Fuel is not subsidised by the government. So you discover the price of transportation is not linked to the price of petrol unlike most people think. When discussing with people, it is no longer an argument because in Nigeria we think transport costs should go up, but it should not be the case. Most of the countries I passed through do not have trains but their taxis are also better looking.”
Morocco was his last African stopover before entering Europe via ferry. During his five-day stay there, he was reunited with his wife who was busy at a motor rally. After riding for 9,000 kilometres, he could just see her for ten seconds. He was also confronted by the frequent changes in weather - a huge departure from reading about it in books.
“At any point in time, I ensured I had around 12 to 15 litres of water because one can last without food but cannot survive without water. Then I also had my kit because the biggest problem in Morocco was not the heat but the cold. It can kill you at night if you’re not dressed appropriately. That was now the contentious part of the journey because the whole of the world knows that place as Western Sahara but they call it Morocco because they have taken over that place, and run everything.”
After a day on the ferry, Effiong landed in Spain. There were also interesting stopovers in Germany and France before he reached the Austrian city of Salzburg on April 7 then went on to explore Maatighofen and Saalfeden in the southern part of the country. After travelling such a long distance by road, Effiong and his bike parted ways when he chose to return home by air via Frankfurt in Germany.
“From Morocco, I went by ferry to Spain. It took 28 hours. I could have done it in four hours but I wanted to go to Barcelona. But I could not come back due to the closure of the Malian border. So it was either I went through Algeria, for which I did not have a visa or went through Guinea which I had done already.”
By the time his trip out of the country commenced, the Malian hostilities had also gained ground. With similar insurrections around the borders of several African countries he crossed, he said he was not perturbed. Since he was riding solo, they were the least of his worries.
“The beauty of this is that if you are travelling alone, most of those things are not really a problem. For instance, if you hear about Nigeria from the outside, you would never come here because people ask me outside the country how we cope with the killings and bombings. So it is the same thing for me with those countries. Although I would never go into a country where there is a major war. If it is just insecurity, you are not a threat riding on a bike.”
Effiong confirmed that another trip was in the offing next year, and hopefully the posse would not be depleted. With militancy and outbreaks of hostility in those parts of Africa gaining ground, he retains an optimistic but philosophical disposition about the annual trips. “We plan to go to the Central African Republic, South Sudan and maybe Kenya. Let us go to see what the fighting is all about. Who knows, we might be part of the solution.”