Page Five - 'FRENCH AND BRITISH NIGERIA'

February 12 1953 (Thursday) Land Mileage 2475

We had not seen any "frontier" signs, but judging by the large 'bill boards' around - and our trusty book - we were in French West Nigeria. The country around us was still constantly changing. We saw some very large grey birds with long legs and beaks; we thought they were a species of crane. These were the first birds that we had seen, other than what we thought was an eagle a few days earlier. 

Suddenly the Land Rover started to run hot and Don removed the thermostat, so that we could complete the remainder of the short trip into the fort town of Agadès. According to our book, petrol supply was uncertain at this quite large fort, but they did have aviation spirit! We did have problems finding our way around the fort, but we managed to fill up both fuel tanks with petrol. Don and David checked the Land Rover over thoroughly again, sorting out the overheating problem. The town had a small store where we could replenish some of our tinned food. While in Agadès, we had to report to the Police and Customs. It was quite interesting that there was a jail there; all the inmates were sitting outside, under guard, making plaited straw mats; presumably for sale. Someone had to keep the police in uniforms and food! No speeding fines here.

On our way once more and there were definitely signs that we were out of the desert; there was a lot more growth in the way of shrubs and small trees. There were numerous types of very colourful birds flying around, which unfortunately we could not identify; we had no books in which to look them up. Diane managed to spot an ostrich which was with its young, but they were away before we could take any photographs. There were a number of people around and we noticed how much darker the skin colour was here, than where we had been previously. The people also wore a lot of beautiful ornaments in their ears, noses and around their necks. The women only wore very colourful skirts, quite a change from the voluminous robes that the Arab nations wore further North. It certainly made life very much more interesting, but the one thing that did not change was the terrible dust we had to endure, billowing into the vehicle all the time. The 'road' was very winding and there were still parts which were very sandy; we needed to keep an eye out for markers, as in places the track just did not exist. A good reason for the availability of aviation fuel, as most people presumably arrived in the town by air.

There were more and more people around; we passed numerous camel trains and herds of donkeys being sent along the way towards the small towns. At 15h30, we found a nice little patch of trees just off the road and the decision was to stop for the night. It gave us a chance to check everything out and tidy up ourselves and the Land Rover. Two animal herds passed by during the night and we could hear people chopping wood, for what seemed like hours.

February 13 1953 (Friday) Land Mileage 2675

We made a move at our usual time, to find we had a visitation outside. The locals had brought us some onions and they were delighted that we gave them some cigarettes and matches in exchange. We had been told that the latter two items were good bargaining products, which is why they were aboard. They moved off, their faces wreathed in smiles. The roads continued to be very bad and dusty, as we set off on yet another day of our expedition.

At 11h30, we pulled up for a wash and general clean up, plus a much needed drink. David took a few photographs of the villages and the camels. On roads unimproving, we arrived at Zinder at 13h00, to hear the usual story, everything was closed until 14h30. The advantage of our bad timing was however, that we were not driving in the full heat of the day and we had an enforced rest.

Zinder was quite a large village with a hotel, petrol station, stores, garage and even a bank. Here we had to report to the Police and Chef du Cercle, also the French customs. The contract that had been signed in Algiers for us to cross the Sahara was now at an end and we had to have it cleared before moving on. As everything was closed, we made our way to the hotel for the magical cold drink, which we hoped we would find there. It seemed that in Zinder, everyone, including the Police, worked the hours that suited them and it was most annoying to find we were hanging around after two thirty, waiting for everyone to return to their offices. We finally got our passports stamped at 16h15 and pretty fed up with the situation, we finally got moving again, only to decide after one hour on the road, that we really should pull off and set up camp for the night.

We had very little sleep that night, as we were in territory where drums were on the 'top of the pops' list. It was a very noisy night, with lots of shouting, keeping up with the throb of the drums. We could see fires in the distance, but the sound obviously carried and it seemed as if it was right outside the vehicle. Perhaps there had been a wedding, or similar, as it really sounded like a full scale celebration. When the partying finally came to an end in the early hours of the morning, the family dogs took over and barked their way through the remainder of the night. We were really very grateful when dawn came and we could pack up and move on our way again.

February 14 1953 (Saturday) Land Mileage 2855

Early start to the day and on the road by 07h00. The road here, although dirt, was really quite good. We passed through the small village of Takieta and 42 miles further on we came to the British Nigeria / French Niger border. Passports to the fore yet again, then through the border into British territory. Here we almost had our first accident of the trip; exciting stuff, we forgot that we had changed from right side of the road to the left on coming through the border and we suddenly found a large truck coming straight at us. It was a close encounter and a near miss, but miss we did. The road gradually improved and 50 miles before reaching Kano, we found ourselves driving on tarmac. This was the first real piece of tarred road we had been on since leaving Ghardia and definitely cause for celebration.

We stopped the Land Rover and found some warm orange juice to celebrate our arrival in a new country. Dusted the Land Rover as well as possible and then had a wash ourselves. We left the village along what was a very flat stretch of road and eventually arrived in Kano. Having decided that we deserved a break from travelling, we thought we should book into a hotel for a couple of days. This meant leaving the guns somewhere, so we decided to report to the Police first, then ask them if they could keep the guns under lock and key for a time. This did not prove to be a problem and we then went in search of a hotel. On arrival at the hotel we managed to get two rooms, but in different buildings. As the buildings were next to each other, it proved not to be a problem and we knew that Diane would be safe with David there to look after her.

First on the list was to have a really good bath in plenty of hot water and wash our hair. Bliss, has water ever felt this good before? Having got cleaned up and dressed, we all met up on the verandah for tea and sandwiches. This was a real treat as we had not seen fresh bread since Algiers. We all decided that we would enjoy a rest and we would meet up later in the main building of the hotel. We were fascinated by the lizards, which were everywhere; they were all over the walls of the hotel, as well as the trees outside and all very new to a family from England. We went for a short stroll around the gardens after a delicious dinner, before yawning our way to real beds for a good night's sleep. We had mosquito nets in the rooms, which were a necessary part of the good night's sleep and large fans turning constantly overhead to keep us cool; it was very hot there, even at night.

February 15 1953 (Sunday) Land Mileage 2998

Don and I were woken up at 04h00 with tea! Having discussed this with each other, we presumed some sort of mistake had been made and they had taken the tea to the wrong room; it seemed such an unearthly hour to wake anyone up. We had previously ordered tea at 07h00 and it had duly arrived at that time. We have often wondered if the person who was supposed to get the early wake up call ever made it to his destination on time! 

We got up and washed and dressed in our own time, then met David and Diane just going into breakfast. Afterwards Diane, who had brought some of her school books with her, decided that this was a good opportunity to go and sit in the garden and do some work. The three of us went for a walk and we managed to gain admission to the Kano Club as honorary members. This was great, as it meant that we had the use of the swimming pool at the club. We went back for Diane, collected our swimsuits and stayed at the Club until lunchtime. How we all enjoyed the cool water and the luxury of being able to swim once more. It was very hot by mid-day and we made our way back to the hotel for lunch and a rest under the fans. By this time, we had managed to get a room in the same building as Diane and David, so this was much more convenient all round. We had tea ordered and sent up to the room at 16h00 where we all met up again. Don then went off to have a good look over the Land Rover to see what might, or might not, need seeing to, before we went on our way again.

In the early evening we went down for a drink before dinner. I realised then how my feet had become used to wearing brogues over the last week or so; high heels were killing me. I would have to learn all over again how to be a lady! It was a very hot evening and night; despite the fans being on all night, none of us slept very well, simply because we were too hot. Only last week we were complaining we could not sleep because we were too cold; is one never satisfied?

February 16 1953

Tea came at a respectable time this morning, then we all met up and went off for breakfast. We then decided to go for a drive around Kano, have a look at the sights and do a bit of shopping. We also left some films to be processed. I tried to buy some shampoo, but didn't have any luck. I wonder what people in Kano use to wash their hair? I did manage to buy a pair of sandals, so the horrible high heels could go back into the case until I was ready to try wearing them once more. David, Diane and I then went for a swim, while Don took the vehicle off to the garage. He joined us not long after and we all had another refreshing swim before going back to the hotel. It was a really hot walk, but we had no choice as the Land Rover was hopefully being checked over. After lunch and a rest, Don and I walked to the Nigerian customs office to make sure that all papers were in order and to see how work on the Land Rover was getting along. David and Diane both went off to the Club for a swim and Don and I decided to have a walk around Kano. Unfortunately , everything was closed so there was not much to do and we ended up back at the hotel again. That evening, on going for yet another walk, it sounded as if there were hundreds of birds everywhere. We had not heard them before, so made an enquiry as to what they were. It turned out that the noise was coming from some burrowing insect; we never did find out what they were called.

February 17 1953

Usual start to the day, then we collected our passports and went back to the customs offices to fill in various forms. I was beginning to wonder how many forms we would have filled in by the time we reached our destination. We then went and checked up again on the Land Rover, to see when it would be ready. We finally got back to the hotel hot, tired and more than ready for a swim, having left Don at the garage talking cars! Don joined us for lunch then planned to collect the vehicle at 15h00. On looking in his briefcase, he found that £70 had been stolen while we were out. I can assure you that in 1953 this was a lot of money. The police were notified, but they said the chances of recovering it were very small. How right they were! The vehicle was duly collected and paid for ,as luckily we managed to cash traveller's cheques in Kano. We then started to pack up again feeling pretty depressed after the loss of the money. It was rather a miserable ending to an otherwise much needed break. We had a last evening walk around before going to bed, knowing that we would start back on the road the following morning.

February 18 1953 (Wednesday)

Without too much of a rush we packed up, left Diane and David at the swimming pool, paid the hotel bill, got some more money from the bank and replenished the stocks of food. We then went to the police station to collect our guns. The key for the gun room was with one of the officials at the law courts, so we had another delay while he was tracked down. It was by now nearly noon and we still had to collect Diane and David from the Kano Club. This was an excuse for a final cold drink, as it was so hot and then we were on the road again for next part of the journey. Notes from our trusty Trans-African Highways book read as follows: "Kano to Bangassou Distance 1509 miles: The last 1108 miles of the route given run through French Equatorial Africa (including French Cameroons) the first 401 miles through British Territory (mandated territory administered by British Nigeria and British Nigeria itself). The question of the route to be taken on the last part between Fort Sibut and Bangassou (341 miles) is dependant on the time of the year and the state of the Lake Chad floods. Although in the Rain Chart November to March are shown as dry months in French Equatoria, the inundations south of the Lake only recede completely for two months in the year viz. January and February. During December and March it is necessary to travel via Bongor instead of Fort Lamy." There was also an all weather route, but this would have added miles to our trip. We just hoped that the rains would not start early and our aim was to do the route as direct as possible from Kano to Bangassou.

The shock came only a few miles out of Kano when we were back onto dirt roads again, but other than that we had a pretty uneventful afternoon. We drove through a few small villages where every thing was very dry, waiting for the rains that we hoped to miss. At 17h00 we found a very nice clearing and we decided that this would be an ideal place to set up camp for the night. Don tried the radio to see if we could pick anything up and sure enough we had some lively music to enjoy while getting everything ready for the night. Several of the locals who were walking by were intrigued by the music and stopped to listen. Diane and David made a fire in a cleared piece of ground, not because we were cold, but we hoped that it would keep away a few of the flying intruders, including mosquitoes, that were starting to move in on us. We did not stay up very late and by 19h00 we were all tucked up and ready for sleep.

February 19 1953 Land Mileage 3173

Early start with all the usual and on the road as soon as possible. We had not gone far when we were stopped by a policeman who waved a letter at us. We presumed that he wanted it delivered somewhere en route and we nodded yes, with the result that we had a passenger! With the three of us sitting across the front and Diane in a small seat behind, there was really not room, but we squashed up and he managed to fit in. When we reached his destination in Potiskum, he was a very much wiser and dustier man and I am sure that he will never hitch a lift in a full Land Rover in the future. As he was sitting on the outside he got the full force of the dust and he had been sitting there for around two and a half hours! He was quite a sorry sight!

Don suspecting a problem with the Land Rover, had decided to investigate only to find that we had broken yet another spring. We managed to find a garage where an African helped Don take the old spring off, then replace it with our repaired spare. This meant we needed to repair another leaf as soon as possible so we had a spare to carry again. We had been lucky enough to repair the last one in Kano. The African who had been so helpful did not want to take any money, but Don gave him the equivalent of ten shillings for his help and he was very happy person. We took to the road again and arrived at Maidugari, which was the provincial head quarters, at about 16h00. We had to find the Police Station to get our passports stamped, so decided that we may as well stay the night at the rest-house, as it was already quite late. Finding that the rest-house was full we went on to the police station and they told us that we could park on an open piece of land opposite the station. We decided that there would be too many neighbours, so that was also not a good idea. Don was quite worried about not having a spare spring with us, so he decided we should see if we could find a garage that was large enough and with all the equipment needed to repair the broken leaf on the one we were carrying. While driving around we came across an English couple (Mr. and Mrs. Price) who invited us in for cold drinks and tea. The next thing we knew was that we had been invited to dinner and to stay the night. The Land Rover was parked safely in their compound outside.

What wonderful people and very hospitable. We all enjoyed hot baths and felt better than we had at any stage since leaving England. We had the most delicious meal I think we had ever tasted and finally all of us went off to bed feeling just great and very spoilt.

February 20 1953 (Friday) Land Mileage 3392

At 06h00 tea was served and we got up to an excellent breakfast; this was better than any hotel! We finally left them at 08h00 and made our way to the recommended garage. We managed to get a spring made up for an emergency, not the correct one, but anything was better than nothing. We also went to the bank to top up the financial situation, then we were on the road again.

Leaving here we drove through quite thick bush country and lots of it; the scenery was changing constantly and gave us plenty to look at and appreciate. It was such a joy to see trees and grass around us once more. We saw some beautiful crested birds, which again, we unfortunately were unable to identify, together with many pelicans. We hoped to take some photographs, but by the time we were ready to take the pictures, the birds had all taken off. We seemed to be quite good at this exercise! We also saw a troop of monkeys that crossed the road in front of us; this caused considerable excitement inside the Land Rover. They were quite beautiful, most of them being a red-brown in colour, but there were some grey ones as well. It was still very hot and at 16h00 we decided that it was time to find somewhere to stop for the night.

We managed to get our clothes washed- thank goodness for nylon shirts, which dry quickly - and we had a good wash ourselves. Although there was no sand around now, the dust was still pretty horrific. David and Diane again cleared an area in which to light a fire, in the hopes that it would keep the insects away and we had our meal. It was far too hot to sleep and it must have been close to mid night before we finally managed to doze off. Apart from the heat, there was also the clamour of birds to listen to; what they were that made so much noise at night we never found out. This was a totally different world at night now, as well as during the day.

PAGE SIX - 'FRENCH CAMEROONS AND EQUATORIAL AFRICA'

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