Friday, April 22, 2011


"45," I thought. "When you need reading glasses to pop a zit."

Happy birthday to me. For my birthday, I got a 4 a.m. thunderstorm that somehow shut off the water supply to my hotel room. But I had power, so I could see in the bathroom mirror. No fair, I thought. Wrinkles AND zits. No fair at all.

I wore my Tevas in honor of the muddy ground, and made my way to the front gate in the dark. I had to wake up the guard to get out—it was 5:30 a.m.—but only had to stand along the road for a minute until a taxi pulled up.

"Inland Waterway," I said.

The driver nodded and I got in, trying hard not to think about all the warnings about not taking taxis alone in the dark in Nigeria.

So far, it's all been quite safe, I reminded myself. The panicky warnings have been exaggerated. I think.

"Which boat?" The driver asked when we approached the dark port on the outskirts of town.


He stopped his Toyota and waved me down an alley. The sun hadn't risen yet, and the whole area looked different in the dark from yesterday afternoon, when I could see clearly.

Oh, great. I stood looking at my ship when I reached the dock. I'm on Endurance.

First, I had to hand over my backpack, which was weighed on a hefty scale and then loaded onto the Endurance. Then, I headed over to a long line at Immigration, which was located in a tiny lit office at the back of what looked like a long concrete storage shed. The sun rose as I waited, illuminating a series of steps and holes to be avoided in the shed. No one in line looked too happy. I guess getting up at five in the morning to stand in line so that officials can glare at you isn't the ideal way for anyone to spend the morning.

Eventually, a man in a uniform pointed at me. I took my turn at walking into the tiny office, where I filled out a form, handed over my passport, and was sent outside again to wait.

I took the opportunity to change money and return, waited some more, and finally was handed back my passport. I was stamped out of Nigeria.

Boarding the Endurance also involved a tiring, miserable line of people. The ferry officials took the opportunity to be kind of mean, and harangued everyone to wait in a rigid single-file line. I couldn't squeeze in between the people at my place in line, and I was extra-harangued until one of them made room for me.

The sun peeked through the clouds but the day was overcast as I found my want up the stairs to the first-class cabin. A guy in a uniform took my passport and starting bitching that I had the wrong visa ("If you continue from Cameroon to Gabon, you need transit visa, not tourist visa"), so I argued with him for a while and then just left it. He was certainly wrong.

Almost all the seats were taken, and I fell asleep as yet-another-absurdly-delightful Nigerian movie came on. The ferry motored off into the Gulf of Guinea.

Next stop, Cameroon.

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