A few years back, I was in the capital of an African country, and a friend travelled in the opposite direction, visiting Lagos for the first time. Outside Nigeria, Lagos’ reputation is legendary. And he wanted the most of his time. He’d asked: “What is the best attraction in Lagos?” After wracking my brain for a few minutes, I came up with a few options that I felt would jell with his kind of person.
“There’s Fela’s Shrine (he loves Fela’s music),” I started. And because he was something of a bohemian, I’d also mention the twisted excitement available to gentlemen of leisure on Allen Avenue. He had authored a novel some few years using Yaba as one of the settings, of which I had pointed out to him that his depiction was a concatenation of mixed and distorted facts. So naturally, I also recommended a visit to Yaba and its feisty, flea-market surrounding.
Other places such as the National Theatre, Broad Street and Freedom Park was on the list.
He had a swell time. But none of my recommendations made his wow moments. Of course, he was bowled over by his Lagos experience. Lagos’ aquatic splendour, especially, stole his heart. “Chalee, that long bridge (Third Mainland Bridge) was so surreal, I had to tell the driver to repeat that,” he gushed.
I had an earful of his rhapsody from him which ended wistfully: “If I live in Lagos, I will find always be on the water most time of the week.”
Continuing, he said: “Probably because you live there, you had become too familiar with the scenery you become insensitive to the little pleasures of the water. Nothing beats a cruise on the waterways.”
True, a boat cruise is an adventure that is below the radar of a typical Lagosian. Ask them what their idea of a swell timeout is and they would throw at you names of high-end restaurant, top-notch resorts and beaches and swanky hotels. That tells you boat cruise is one of the best-kept secrets of pleasure connoisseurs of Lagos.
I have sailed on several occasions. In a paddled canoe through the murky passage of the waterways of Makoko. On a speedboat to Tarkwa Bay. On a barge that drifted on the Lagos Lagoon under the new Lekki bridge, to Apapa and back to the Lekki-Victoria Island-Ikoyi vicinity.
This last one was quite memorable. We drifted, unhurried, in an open vessel, brushed by the cool breeze. We chatted. We dined. We danced.
From sunset till the moon shone brightly in the black canvas of the sky, a smouldering light surrounded by a sprinkle of twinkling stars.
We had an amazing perspective of the Lagos skyline. We saw, in new light, the beauty of the night. The city became a kaleidoscope of pinpoint lights that outlined towering silhouettes of buildings and shards of illumination from faraway lights shimmered and danced feverishly on the surface of the water.
I have also been on a ride once courtesy of Westwood Hotel in Ikoyi. I had gone visiting a friend who came from London, an old school friend, who lodged in the hotel for two weeks. Westwood Hotel is a tall pagoda by the waterfront, a hotel with an amazing view of the lagoon. It also organises boat cruises which makes it a good idea if you yearn for a change of scene and if you have a yen for a boat cruise. After about an hour, my friend informed me, they were about to embark on a picnic.
“Do you mind coming along?” I had long lost my phobia for water so I was game. It was one of my finest leisure experiences. It was the perfect experience to the nursery rhyme of “Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream…” We sat in a corner of the boat and we relived memories. We talked about books, music and movies, about yesterday and tomorrow, while the vessel glides smoothly and gently on the water until darkness wrapped itself around us and the water became sleek and slinking surface gleaming with diamonds of reflected lights. We were insulated from the noises from the street. All that punctured the tranquillity was soft voices, soft music and soft swishes of the water. The ambience was so surreal. It was as if I was hearing Spice’ Girls “Viva Forever” for the first time.
Getting on a boat cruise is easy. You don’t necessarily have to belong to a yacht club or a boat club to experience such leisure. A lot of beach and boat tour companies abound that specializes in leisure boat rides and picnic packages. You’d find them mostly on the Islands, such as Picnic Boat that offers a traditional cruising experience and TheLagosParty Cruise and Tours that does boat cruise and waterways events¬¬–its monthly boat cruise sails to various luxurious resorts in Ikare, Akodo, Ilashe and Snake Islands.
I was meant to be a part of an Easter family cruise and picnic, a five-hour cruise slated for April 22, 2019. It was a group expedition with a lot of built-in benefits: Three-course meal, grill and fries, coconut drink, massage, beach biking, beach volleyball and other beach games. Take off time was 1 pm, from Addax Jetty, by Orientals Hotel, Lekki toll gate. I was looking forward to it. But I eventually missed out due to some exigencies.
More and more Lagosians trying to break from the mould of daily living are holding birthday parties (and even wedding receptions) on a boat. One of them is “Big Josh” Adubi, who recently celebrated his 40th birthday by organizing an evening soiree on the water for close friends.
We chatted. “There is a feeling that cast away from the stress and problems associated with being on the ground, and while it last, you enjoy a different kind of comfort,” he said.
So, how do you choose your boat, speedboat or yacht? It all depends on your budget. The rest is down to your ego, your appreciation of quality leisure. The option is not close-ended. You can join a cruise.
Or you charter your boat. You can choose to drift aimlessly on the waterways. Most picnickers usually head to Takwa-Bay or private islands such as Inagbe, Ilase, Ikaare or Ibeche. Most operators allow clients to bring their food and drinks on board.
There is a lot more you can do with your day out on the water. For instance, you may decide to just go fishing. Some boat operators offer this service. Adeyi Davis, a retired banker, gets his kicks from fishing. He and old buddies, all in their 60s, get together once a month to pursue this passion. Their latest expedition was on June 28.
The company from whom they hired a fishing boat provided the equipment for ‘professional fishing.’ “I used the Biscayne and Shimano rods, complete with Alutecnos reels. When we got to the deep, the boat anchored and my friends and I did some bottom fishing use live baiting for some few hours,” he detailed.
Once I was in a pirogue (the native canoe, long, narrow, carved out of a single tree trunk) on the way to Ganvie, the community in the middle of a lake in Benin Republic. The old man who was paddling the canoe was good company. He was funny and he chatted animatedly, endlessly.
He told me his life story. For several years, he had lived in Seme the border community halved between Nigeria and The Republic of Benin, and while there, he had become fluent in Yoruba, though he is Fon. He offered to tell me one of life’s secrets.
“If you ever have to tell someone a secret which you don’t want him to ever divulge, take him on a canoe ride. Any secret divulged on the ground eventually get betrayed. Because man is of the ground; but on water, that secret remains a secret forever. It is the secret of the ancient, and we do it in this part of the world.”
I thought that was balderdash. I am not one for superstition. I was rather interested in knowing why he left the more lucrative job of being a ‘border tout’ to become a canoe operator.
“Living on water prolongs life,” he said. I agreed with him, though from a different perspective. Having a life around water does have a wellness benefit. And a boat cruise once in a while does one a world of good. What’s more, it is an affordable luxury if carefully planned.
I have a standing invitation to an upcoming cruise in August. This time, I plan to get on board.