As we set out from the dock around midnight (only 2 hours late), the scene would have had any Hollywood effects person in tears. The only light, a string of old globes flickering down one side of the dock. The black sky shedding a steady rain, with barely a breeze to disturb it. The unmarred swell of the dark ocean more like the quiet breathing of some enormous beast than unborn waves riding simply through. No submarine rose from the depths and no black faced commandos stormed the ship, but as we slipped beyond the lights, I truly felt as if I was on an adventure.
I climbed down the cramped and winding steps into the main cabin area hoping to find a dry place where I could doze through the night. As anyone who has taken some form of transport like this knows, the locals don’t wait for any silly views. They fight and claw their way into the best spots- stretching out over multiple seats, curling up on the most comfortable looking luggage, and laying their sleeping mats down in the aisles. After looking around, I wasn’t too upset since all the normal exists were blocked by bananas and news stories about overloaded ferries sinking started to crowd my thoughts. So, I climbed back up on deck, and still in all my riding gear, curled up under a bench to fall quickly asleep while the warm rain continued coming down.
The grey light of morning was barely visible when the captain came by to wake me. We were starting to head into the massive delta leading to Calabar, out to sea the flares from oil rigs were still brighter than the rising sun, and towards shore the white wakes of high speed patrol boats were visible. The captain asked me to go below and make myself scarce since even though this was a regular ferry, a white face could cause problems and extra ‘fees’. Once we got into the delta proper I was allowed back up on deck and was once again immersed in a new and fascinating world.
The leaden sky was still releasing a steady stream of rain, but instead of the bright, hard colours of the night before everything was a muted shade of grey. The sun was a washed-out globe in the sky, the dense forest along the river’s edge was drab, and the silt filled river seemed sullen as the ferry pushed it’s way upstream. It was a scene of silent foreboding- the perfect heavy quiet before the sudden explosion of an ambush from another delta from another time and thousands of miles away.
CRACK! CRACK-CRACK-CRACK!! The sound was unmistakable- gunfire from up ahead. I looked around wildly then headed to the small bridge, only to see the captain and his helper looking bored and tired while they stared ahead. I asked them what was happening and their bored response was simply dual shoulder shrugs.
Okay, okay- it must be normal. I knew there was both an army and naval base in the area, so it must just be training or something. They do this run every week, so it must be normal. I’m just reacting to a normal situation. Everything must just be normal. Perfectly normal…
The rest of the trip proceeded with me standing beside a life ring, ready at any moment to jump into the river and make for shore if the intermittent gunfire seemed at any point to become threatening , you know- like just like normal.
By the time we docked I had calmed down- this might be part of The Niger Delta Region, but Calabar had very little history of trouble and with multipile military bases in the area I shouldn’t be surprised if part of their drill involed small arms training. As we docked I completely forgot about the noise when I started to realise what unloading the bike would entail. The dock was similar to that in Cameroon, but it was high tide- from the edge of the dock I could barely touch the tire of my bike and it still needed to be lifted over the railing! The guy who ran the dock workers came over as I was looking at the bike, the gleam in his eye as he counted his windfall was blinding.
$150 USD to unload my bike?!? A $150?!? Fine- screw you! I’m tired, I’ve just gone through an amazingly annoying immigration process, and I’m still wondering about the now silent small arms fire- whatever energy I have is needed to keep me breathing- not negotiating with you and your dollar sign eyes. I’ll wait until low tide and spend some time asking around- maybe see if someone has a proper ramp or something… Until then, I’ll grab some food from the dockside vendors and maybe take a nap in a corner.
I had barely bitten into some mystery meat when an enraged captain stalked over to me with the smirking dock guy trailing behind him. I *HAD* to move my bike *NOW*. It was blocking the front of the boat and making unloading all the bananas take too long. It *HAD* to go! I told the captain that there was no way I was going to pay $150USD to unload my bike- I had paid less than $10 to load it, so despite Nigeria being more expensive and the process being more difficult I just wasn’t going to pay. That’s when something amazing happened- The captain got it. He didn’t care that I was being screwed- I was a white tourist, so that was just the way of the world. No, he saw that I was done and that the only way he could get his unloading going was to get the dock guy to see reason. The ensuing argument was great dinner theater and by the time I was done eating, a much more sullen dock guy agreed to $15USD to unload the bike. I still had to negotiate a bit, but since I was negotiating a rate that was still over the odds (I was still white) the captain had my back.
This unloading was worse than the last- all I remember is a local woman watching me instead of the unloading since I was completely over-acting; pacing, starting to call instructions before cutting myself off, pulling my hair and beard- the works. And every bit of it was honest- I just couldn’t help myself as I watched the unloading of my bike being directed by a most unhappy boss. But, once again, it went off without a hitch and I was riding out of the dock area before I knew. Riding out to the resuming noise of gunfire.
P.S. I tired for photos at both places, but was shot down very quickly by officials at each. Bummer.