All genuine knowledge originates in direct experience. – Mao Zedong.
On September 3rd, 1988, my girlfriend Linda and I set off overseas. We intended to be away for two years. As it turned out, by the time we returned home for the final time, six years had passed by. In that time we had visited 35 countries on five continents, taken thousands of photographs and written home dozens of times. We had also found time to become engaged in Vienna and get married in New Zealand.
These are my diaries from those years. They chronicle our journey from a couple of naive country kids from the South Island of New Zealand to hardened world travellers and adventurers. They also chart my emergence as a writer, beginning with farmer-style notes in a 1988 New Zealand Farmer’s Diary, to long, descriptive entries as our adventures unfolded out in the world.
There will be occasional gaps in the narrative: times when we were settled somewhere and I didn’t keep up with my entries. There will also be letters we wrote home, letters we received on the road, photographs, maps and other bits and pieces.
Where it is necessary, I will add relevant explanations in the form of annotations at the bottom of each entry. And although I will reproduce these diaries as they were written, occasionally, I may omit details that are too personal or sensitive. But rest assured, all swearing and offensive material will be left intact and included for your delectation!
DAY FIFTY-SEVEN Our first day in Kano dawned hot and hazy. We sat round in camp waiting for an agent from Criss Cross, the local Bureau de Change, to arrive to change money for us. They have a nice little system to drum up business. They will stamp the Currency Declarations without writing any figures so you can fill in what you like!!¹
Scotty, Linda, Craig, Pullar², Snake and I went up to the post office to collect our mail. There were only two letters for Linda and I, one from Pippa and one from Kate³, then to the Central Hotel for a beer. From the hotel we caught a taxi up to the old market inside the original walled city.
The moment we stepped out of the taxi we were besieged by touts wanting to show us round. We paid 2 of them 1 Naira each and they led us into the labyrinth of the market.
We wandered through the twisted maze of narrow alleyways between mud walls where merchants hissed and shouted to catch our attention and show us their wares. I stopped at a stall to argue with a vendor to buy one of the traditional hats, or Fotu, for each of us. We looked at fabrics and embroidered rugs and jewellery and all manner of strange food, gems, perfumes, gums and other exotic things.
The floor of the alleys ran with water and waste and from every corner beggars and ragged children peered. We spent a fascinating hour in there then got a ride back to camp on the back of a small truck.
In the evening, a mini-bus arrived to take us to a Chinese restaurant that Adu, our guide had booked for us. We had a sumptuous meal with lots of wine, followed by dancing, first to Western music then to the very different beat of Arabic music, provided by a group of Lebanese at the restaurant.
The mini-bus took us back to the Central for several rounds of Schnapps (hic!!) then Linda and I wandered (staggered!!) back to the camp.
¹Throughout Africa, you needed to fill in a Currency Declaration when you entered each country. Every time you changed money legally (ie at a bank) the amount of currency you changed was entered on the declaration and it was stamped. When you exited the country, the amount of remaining currency had to match the amount you had entered with, less the amount you had changed officially. This was supposed to stop black marketeering of currency and also the illegal export of currency. Of course, like any official system, there were ways around it. The black market rate was usually much higher than the official rate so it made sense to change as much on the black market as possible. So the forging of Currency Declaration entries was a matter of course. I was particularly good at it. My favoured method was to change a whole number of US Dollars or British Pounds, say US$10, at a bank, then change the 10 to 100 on the currency declaration. This allowed a further $US90 to be changed unofficially: a process which often involved a good deal of risk but was very, very exciting!
² Real name Paul. I’m not sure why we called him Pullar but I think it may have been because he was adept at “pulling” girls!
³Pippa and Kate are two of Linda’s friends from Rangi Ruru, the prestigious boarding school all three attended.
DAY FIFTY-EIGHT At 9:00 Adu arrived with the mini-bus to take us all on a tour of Kano. First stop was the Criss Cross Bureau de Change where everyone changed money then we drove up to the Central Mosque. The heat and dust combined to form a thick haze which hung over the city like a shroud. In the square surrounding the mosque we photographed a horde of ragged children that gathered round the van.
From the mosque we drove to the Kano Emir’s palace. A rare surprise was in store for us. The Emir (the town chief) was about to make one of his rare appearances. His approach was heralded by a tall man dressed in a splendid red, black and green robe and mounted on a black horse.
When the Emir arrived he sat on a raised platform (no one is allowed to be higher than the Emir) and answered each question from the crowd by whispering to one of his green- and red-clad assistants who then spoke it aloud.
After the palace we spent an hour looking through the Kano Museum then drove via the old city wall to the old market. We spent a lot of money there: Linda bought a gorgeous woven blanket for 200 FF [French francs] and traded her watch and 500N¹ for a bracelet & a pair of ear-rings. I bought a bracelet for 25N.
On the way back to the camp we stopped for a local lunch at a canteen.
DAY FIFTY-SIX Once again we were away early to avoid some of the heat, heading north towards the first major town, Maiduguri. We got there at about 10:00 and spent two hours at the bank trying to change money. After taking all that time to change 4 traveller’s cheques, the slimy little geek in the Bureau de Change decided he didn’t want to buy our hard currency. Luckily, a lady in the car-park came over and said she would change our money for us.
We got some diesel for the truck then parked on a side street while we took turns looking around. A stand next to us sold ice-cold Coke, Fanta, ginger ale etc and we bought some fiery satay sticks from a vendor on the corner. We also found a supermarket selling RIBENA and MILO¹
Russ, Skip and Ian left us to spend a few days looking around on their own and the rest of us decided to night drive until we reached Kano. The afternoon was baking hot but I made myself a possie [comfortable position] in the aisle and lay there reading a copy of Newsweek which I nad bought in Maiduguri. Bette Davis died last week and there was a mass exodus of refugees from East Germany into Czechoslovakia, but there doesn’t appear to have been any major world crises in our period of being incommunicado.
We stopped in the late afternoon for cold drinks at a wayside service station then drove on towards the sun, setting huge a fiery behind the scrubby trees of the plain. Just after dark we stopped at a “truck stop” for a mouth-burning meal of goat stew and rice, washed down with a lot of Coke.
Everyone slept as we drove on through the cool night air and we arrived at the Kano Tourist Camp at 2:30 AM. We pitched our tents and had a quick wash then slept.
¹ Ribena and Milo are both western products, something we’d seen very little of on our journey so far. Ribena is a blackcurrant cordial and Milo is a chocolate powder that is made up with either hot milk or hot water into a very delicious drink.
DAY FIFTY-FIVE A six o’clock start had us well on the way before the day’s heat started. We drove for about two hours heading north-east towards the Cameroon-Chad border where Waza National Park lies.
The land we were passing through was hot, dry and arid, with amazing hills of huge boulders rising out of the plain.
We got to Waza to find that the park was closed for the wet season so there was nothing to do but turn around and head back towards the Cameroon-Nigeria border. Waza is reputed to have the greatest concentration of elephants in Africa but the only wildlife we saw on the way back was a group of giraffe near the road.
We stopped for lunch near the border then spent about 4 hours sitting in the truck in the sweltering heat while the Cameroon Customs and Immigration procedures were completed, then a further hour while the Nigerian C&I was done. Hey Presto! A small barrier amidst a mass of squalid huts and we were in Nigeria.
We drove out of the border town & through 5 police and army checkpoints towards the setting sun. We found a campsite beside the road and Linda and I pitched our tent without the fly on so we could watch the moon and stars above us and to keep cool as the air was hot and the ground retained much of the day’s heat.
DAY FIFTY-FOUR Departing the quarry after a nice relaxing bath in the creek, we drove, and drove and drove. Our destination was the town of Gorua, on the edge of the semi-arid region¹ and we reached it just before lunch.
Approaching the town, we drove alongside, and then crossed, a wide flood-plain covered with sparkling pools of water with a sluggish river flowing at the centre.
We changed some more money at a hotel then spent an hour wandering through the dusty market streets.
On the road again, we drove the afternoon away as waves of heat washed over us and the land dried and shrivelled with the passing miles. Rough and rugged boulder-strewn hills protruded form the plain which gradually flattened out until, at day’s end, it was flat and dry and featureless.
We camped beside the road under the warm and hazy glow of a full moon.
¹ Known as The Sahel, this is the region between the savannah-lands of central Africa and the empty wastes of the Sahara Desert.
DAY FIFTY-THREE We woke up to a cold mist blowing over the tops and by the time we were all up it was raining. However, it had cleared by the time we had packed up and we headed off into the clean, freshly-washed hills. The road was good apart from a few stretches of mud and broken tarmac and we sailed into Ngaoundere at 10:30.
We changed money at a hotel then hit the market where we bought food, fruit and veggies, and lovely tasty satay sticks, cold drinks and, wonder of wonders, chocolate!!
We ate lunch just out of town then drove all afternoon in the heat as around us the country dried out and the forest turned slowly to pine plantations (so much like the McKenzie: hot dry winds sighing through the pine trees growing in a hot dry land)¹.
We pulled up for the night early, about 4:30, beside a river flowing between grassy hills. After we had pitched the tents, Linda, Ian and I climbed up a nearby hill. It was pretty much a waste of time as we had to slog our way up through shoulder high grass only to find that the view from the top, while worth a look, wasn’t spectacular. We nevertheless took a few photos then thrashed our way back down.
We finished the perfect day with a bath in the warm, fast flowing creek then a tasty meal of steak, spuds, salad and peanut sauce.
The night was uncomfortably hot.
¹The landscape reminded me of the Mackenzie Country, a high alpine plain where I had worked as a shepherd.
DAY FIFTY-TWO We were away from the quarry by 8. As the heat came into the day, so the storm clouds gathered and by 9:30 we had battened down, endured a torrential storm and rolled the sides up again.
The country we passed through was the same as Northern C.A.R., that is, rolling plains covered with subtropical forest.
We had planned to change money in the first town we came to but we discovered that Friday is the first day of the Muslim weekend, so all the banks were closed and in fact we had to take a detour in one town to avoid a crowd of people kneeling on rugs facing Mecca!
As we drove through the afternoon, we rose up above the plains into high rolling foothills, the cover giving way to less dense bush and jumbles of rock outcrops. We camped the night in a roadside quarry at the top of a ridge overlooking a wide plain, on the other side of which a range of broken hills lay, brown and rugged in the evening haze.
Two herd boys drove their mob of cattle past us, one of them strumming a 1-string guitar. They paid us virtually no attention and took their charges away into the trees to a hidden corral.
Ian and I walked over to an outcrop of rocks and watched the evening draw to a close. The rock we sat on was smooth and warm from the heat of the day and faced due east. The ridges of bush rolled away into the haze and we stayed until the fiery glow of the sun had disappeared behind a huge cloud that sat on the horizon, and darkness had lowered it’s great bulk gently onto the land.
After a yummy tea of curry and mash, we slept well with a breeze sighing around the tent.