Smiles flashed and hands waved as the local Hausa and Fulani people greeted us in their sonorous voices, “You are Welcome.”
Back in Abuja, my first response to this was confusion as the cadence of the phrase flowed each word into the next. I simply thought everyone was saying “You’re Welcome” before realizing they were welcoming me into their country.
The hands raised greeting accompanied by “Yaya” or “Sanu” filled our walks and shopping experience while we stocked up supplies for the next 2-3 weeks spent at Kwano.
After the SUV took us as far up into the park as it could go, the machine boys were called. Waiting with our luggage and food supplies at Gashaka village, we heard a roar as a gang of motorbikes flew towards us; dust in the hot heat.
Having gotten a late start on the day, we were hoping to get to Kwano before sunset. We were warned the roads were quite bad and the going would be slow. Only 9-10km away, it would take about an hour. For reference, from Serti to Gashaka, roughly 40km, it takes about 1.5 hours.
Here, the motorbikes were called machines. Very young boys learn to ride them and make money ferrying people up the mountain or into town. We needed 6 bikes between the two of us, our groceries and all that luggage.
The locals seemed pretty excited as we were the first students to come since last year. The children watched us shyly as their parents, some who were staff, introduced themselves and then we were off in a cloud of dust.
Although it hadn’t rained recently since it was the dry season, the steep terrain made the ride difficult with constant hopping on and off the bike during each hill. The breaks on my bike were broken. On one of the hop-offs, my leg got burned on the exhaust–the mark of Gashaka! My own fault for forgetting to change into pants. Unfortunately, the burn later popped while sleeping–causing more problems later.
Both M and I were having issues with bikes as she had gotten into a mini-crash earlier in the day. Luckily, both bikes were going slow over a bridge crossing and no one was hurt. Behind her, I just happened to be taking a video and had caught the whole thing on camera. Watching it later at the tourist camp, we saw a shoe flying in the air.
Arriving in the dark, M and I were both exhausted. Felix, the camp manager, made us some local food for dinner–rightfully assuming we were both too tired to do so–of eba (similar to DRC’s fufu or South African pap) and a thick, aromatic stew with some kind of meat. Eating with your fingers once again!
We moved into our rooms, unpacked and settled in for the weekend. The local staff left the next morning, but not before we gave Felix money to buy us some fruit in town. Our time in the market was short and we weren’t able to get enough fresh things. M and I then had the whole place to ourselves for 3 days before getting to work on Sunday.
The days were lovely as we sat listening to cries of different monkeys and explored within the proximity of the camp. However, nights were a bit scary as we were getting used to being alone and somewhat in the wild. Sitting out in the open one evening, we heard trudging around. Flashing our headlamps in the direction of the noise, eyes wide open, it was just a civet bumbling around. Phew…
Walking to the toilets (basically just an area designated for peeing and further off, a hole for #2’s) was a chore, as your imagination ran away with every little rustle of the bushes. In the evenings, we became “pee buddies,” just taking opposite ends of the dirt pile. However, if you wanted to do more serious business, you were on your own in the dark.
We realized several of our eggs had broken on the trip up and rotted in the heat. Gagging and choking back vomit, we washed out everything of the stench. Our dinners were quite simple for the next couple weeks: rice, beans, onions or pasta and tomato paste.
We each brought some goodies from home to supplement the meals. I had brought mainly treats–Nutella and extra crunchy peanut butter, some (melted) chocolate–while M had brought more spices. While packing, she had hurriedly bought some salt and pepper…which turned out to be black pepper and white pepper which we both found hilarious.
Conversations soon turned towards food–as it so often does in the field. Dreams of stuffed crust pizza, indian curries, lovely rare steaks…
Our next town day would be in 2.5 weeks. We definitely needed to explore the markets more for treats.