“45,000 to Katsina Ala.”
Looking at our Gashaka Information Packet, it explains we should pay roughly 30,000 Naira the whole way via private taxis—or “drop cars.” Having too much luggage between us, it was simpler and only slightly more expensive than the minibuses. We also hoped to get to Serti, the small town outside of Gashaka-Gumti National Park, by that evening—nearly impossibly with minibuses that have to fill up first, stop often and cram additional people in, fitting like human tetris pieces.
Our route was Abuja—Lafia—Markurdi—Katsina Ala—Takum—Marraraba—Beli—Serti.
Up early and at the Karu Motorpark by 6AM, we were trying to negotiate our way out of Abuja. Surrounded by a group of eager drivers, we were glad to have James, our driver from yesterday, with us for support.
I whispered to M, we should start out at 10 and not go higher than 15.
“45 is too much—10.”
“The gas prices have gone up, 45 is good price.”
“No, that is too much, we don’t have that much money.”
“Okay, how about 30?”
“No, we were told it would cost 30 to get to Serti and Katsina Ala is only halfway.”
Scowling and discussing among themselves in one of the many Nigerian local languages, James pulled us aside.
“Look, his taxi has a broken wheel and that one has no spare tire. You shouldn’t get into his car, find someone else.”
James looked up, said something in the local language, and shuffled us back into his car. The men clamored,
“Ok! OK! 20!”
“Your car is broken.”
“Ok, I’ll call my friend.”
“We won’t pay more than 12,” we responded.
“Look, prices have gone up and the roads are bad, you won’t find anything for that price.”
James nodded in agreement that it would be difficult.
“Ok, how about 15?”
The man nodded and called for his friend who arrived 5 minutes later. James looked the car over, approved the facilities and helped us load our many bags over.
Finally! We were off on our way. However, the excitement wore down with the rising of the sun. The car bubbled with the midday heat that was exacerbated each time the car slowed down in cities and at every stop for petrol.
M looked over at me, “Do you need to pee?”
“Yeah, I could go.”
Looking at the handbook, it said to notify your driver to stop on the road by politely asking: “I need to ease myself…” M gave this a go.
“Excuse me, I need to ease myself.”
“I need to ease myself…”
“I NEED TO EASE MYSELF!”
“WHAT?! PISS? WHAT?”
“WHAT? YES! PISS!”
“PISS! OK OK.”
Holding in our giggles barely, the driver stopped as we clambered out into the sparse vegetation. Oh boy was it hot! Used to cloudy London, hopefully we’d adjust for field work.
Nearing Katsina Ala, our driver asked, “How much more will you give me to take you to Takum?”
This was the next city over. We looked at each other, mouthed some numbers and agreed, “17 to Takum.”
He agreed and offered to call us a friend to take us further. Upon arriving, we waited in the dusty heat. Curious locals peered in with braver ones coming over to chat. The local women wore beautiful fabrics with bright prints and colors that you would think would clash but worked marvelously together. Our couchsurfing host had recommended buying some fabrics and asking one of the local women to make us a skirt–already making a mental list.
His friend finally arrived—a short cheerful man with an odd accent.
“We’ll pay 10.”
“That is too expensive.”
“The roads are very bad from Beli to Serti.”
“Your friend took us more than halfway and we only paid him 17 and you’re asking for more. How about 12?”
“That is because the road is very bad and now the fuel is so expensive.”
“We won’t pay more than 15.”
Finally moving on, fingers crossed we’d make it by dark. It was around 2pm and sunset was in 4.5 hours. Our driver seemed less keen, stopping every now and then in small towns and disappearing off to probably say hellos. At one point, he comically brushed his teeth (quite vigorously) and offered us Suya—a shish kebab with special seasoning.
The road after Beli was riddled with potholes and cracks—slowing us down.
“See how bad the road is.”
We agreed—but we still weren’t willing to pay 20,000 Naira.
Arriving in the dark at the Tourist Camp, we were sweaty and tired from sitting in a hot metal box all day. Unfortunately, the cherry 7-UP we had saved as a celebratory drink for arriving was now lukewarm and no longer refreshing.
We booked a room and organized to meet with some GPP (Gashaka Primate Project) and GGNP personnel to get us to Kwano, the field site, the next day.