Calabar, Nigeria, December 19 - 21, 2007

Trip Start Sep 19, 2007
Trip End Jan 05, 2008

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Where I stayed
Paradise City Hotel

Flag of Nigeria  ,
Saturday, December 22, 2007

Cross River is Nigeria's southeastern most state, along the border with Cameroon and separated from the rest of the country by a river of the same name.  Calabar, the state's capital, is an old colonial trade port that was a major slave export center during that era.  The city is pleasantly located on hills beside the river and is a world of difference compared to the rest of what we saw in southern Nigeria.  Calabar is quite clean, well organized, and rather prosperous, in contrast to many of the other areas we passed through.  Not only are there roundabouts and stop lights in Calabar, but the cars actually stop for them, and the moto riders even where helmets. 
We didn't go to Calabar, though, to appreciate its organization and well-mannered drivers.  We were there for only one reason - to get visas at the Cameroonian consulate, one of the few places in West Africa where it's possible to obtain them.  (The other is Lagos, the Nigerian capital city, not really an option because of the danger involved in going there).  Unfortunately, though, the consulate was closed the day we got there because it was Tabaski, the Muslim feast holiday commemorating Abraham's willingness to sacrifice is son on God's orders, so we had an extra day to wander around Calabar, eat well, and catch up on Internetting. 
With all the bad news that has come out of Africa over the last several decades, people in wealthy countries are inclined to think of Africa if not as a place of war and total chaos at least as one of stagnation and stuck at a point in time.  However, as I saw throughout West Africa, there are remarkable changes occurring even in some of the poorest countries and for most of the last decade Africa as a whole has had a remarkable rate of economic growth, albeit from a very low base.  This reality is apparent in numerous ways ranging from urban traffic congestion to the amazing proliferation of mobile phone service, Internet access, and ATMs and other banking services.  A functioning banking system and credit market are considered essential to economic development and the availability of ATMs in Nigeria is an example of some of the changes that are occurring.  All the most recent copies of travel guidebooks, editions printed in 2006 and 2007, advise their readers to bring lots of cash to Nigeria because, among other things, there are no ATMs in the country.  However, by the end of 2007 the reality we found in Nigeria was that most significant cities and towns had banks with functioning ATMs.
Our accommodation for two nights in Calabar was tent space in a grassy field behind the decrepit Paradise City Hotel, which was kind enough to provide one grotty room with toilet and shower facilities for the 17 of us, the closest thing to a swimming pool at the facility being the huge puddle on that hotel room/bathroom  floor.  At least the place had a pleasant outdoor watering hole to drink the evenings away at, one with (like most places in Africa) plenty of "working girls" vying for male travelers' attention. 
The first evening I joined others from the group for dinner at Freddy's, the town's popular and expensive Lebanese-owned expat hangout.  On the second evening, though, I was feeling some real group fatigue and decided to venture out on my own to a large place with outdoor seating and live music a few blocks from the hotel named The Krab Bar and Carwash.  Yes, the establishment did serve both of those business functions. 
As I was eating my dinner, a whole grilled fish and some yollof rice, two well-dressed local men asked to join me at my table since the others were all taken.  Their names were Judd Jack and Michael, and it turned out they were both British educated, one working in Cross River State's economic development department and the other for a Dutch joint venture that was building a large cement factory in the state.  Both also characterized themselves as economists, and I had my best evening of deep and nerdy economics geek talk in a long time with them, learning quite a bit about Nigeria's and Cross River State's economies in the process.  Toward the latter part of our conversation we were joined by a massively-bootied woman I assumed was a girlfriend or perhaps a lady of the night to accompany one of them.  She remained silent. 
Judd and Michael insisted not only on giving me a ride back to my hotel but also paying for my dinner and beers.  We then got into their massive freshly-washed Toyota 4-Runner SUV, still accompanied by the quiet large-rumped woman.  The woman and I got into the back seat for the short ride back to my hotel/campground, and it wasn't long before she started massaging my crotch.  "Uh oh!" I thought.  When we arrived at the hotel I thanked Judd and Michael for dinner, the ride, and their hospitality, but as I got out of the car the big-bootied woman made motions to get out with me. 
"What's this?" I asked, as I stepped out.
"Mister Warren," Judd said, "we got you an African woman to join you in your tent for the night."
I tried to escape without causing offense.  "Errr, ummmm, ohhhh, thanks guys, that's really nice of you, but I really can't.  I appreciate it and all, but I have a wife back home who I'm very devoted to and, well, I just couldn't.  But thanks so much!"
"OK, Mister Warren, we see you," Michael called out as I walked away.  The two seemed to get a good laugh out of it.
"Damn!" I thought afterwards as I saw Dave "The Hat" at the truck.  "I should have brought her back and introduced her to Dave.  He loves Black women with big booty!" 
We spent most of next day waiting outside the Cameroonian consulate for them to process our visas, ones which the price quoted to us by the officials kept rising until to $135 for expedited processing.  In the meantime we did some shopping for food at Calabar's big outdoor market for the next week's journey through the jungle to Cameroon.  By mid-afternoon our passports were ready and we were able to leave town.

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