Early travel experience
I started travelling very early. I can’t remember the very first travel, but I do recall that my early travels were by train. Travelling by train is exciting. You see everything. You see changing vegetation. You see towns in stunning perspectives, which you cannot see when you are in a car. When you move through a town by train, it is like watching TV. It is an amazing experience. I spent most of my early life travelling by train. I still travel by train when I am outside Nigeria, especially in Egypt, South Africa, Europe and America.
Unforgettable travel experiences
It was in Mombasa, Kenya, in 1998. I can’t swim. And here we were in a boat going to Wasini Island, where you have this nature reserve crawling with big coconut crabs. We all looked forward to eating the crabs, but when we got to the seaside, we were told the Indian Ocean was rough. The tour operators suggested we cancelled the trip. The South Africans who were used to water agreed to the cancellation. The Germans who were used to water agreed to it, but the Nigerians who were not used to water insisted: “We are going. We must go and eat these crabs.” The tour operators gave in, but they took precautions, handling each of us pills for seasickness. They also took along orange peels. So, we got into an ancient dhow. We were just minutes on our way when the water became turbulent and the waves began to toss us up and down. Then we knew why the white people refused to get on the vessel in the first place. They feared the waves. But we were Lagosians. We had no clue about the risk we were taking, hence our excitement and insistence on embarking on the trip. Before you know it, people were throwing up, grown men were crying like babies. The motion sickness pill was useless, so they gave out basins for those vomiting and they applied the orange peel to their noses. I was one of two persons who did not suffer motion sickness. It was scary and it was fun.
The other unforgettable experience was in Zimbabwe when I walked with a lion, not in a zoo, but the forest. There, they taught tourists how to handle the lions––how to talk with lion and how not to be afraid of lions, “look the lion in the face”; “a lion will only attack you from the back,” and “when the lion comes at you, don’t run.” After a few minutes of indoctrination, we decided to go and walk with the lions. These lions were humanized a little; they knew humans before they were released into the forest, so they wouldn’t attack you first. However, to show any sign of weakness is to invite catastrophe, after all, they were still lions. So, here I was, walking with a lion named Pezuma; then a lioness came from behind me. I heard it approaching, I turned and panicked, I was about taking to my heels when I remembered the training. I pointed my stick at the lioness and screamed. The lioness halted, turned and walked away and after sometimes, I continued with the pet lion. That was a close encounter.
Dealing with languages
Ideally, I should be fluent in at least six languages, but language is not my métier; nonetheless, I have been able to communicate anywhere I have been by using sign language where necessary. I found out the biggest sign language everybody understood is a smile. But I also know smiles don’t work everywhere, because some people who are racists would think you want to take advantage of them.
I never knew what the cloud feels like untill my first time at Obudu Cattle Resort. There, I was able to touch the cloud. I opened my hotel room and cloud floated in and I quickly shut the door. A residue of clung to my hair. Whenever I tell people this, it appears to be like a fairy tale. I don’t think there are up to five places anywhere in the world that are as beautiful as Obudu. That place is amazing.
Then Victoria Falls at Zambia-Zimbabwe border. I have never seen such a force of nature anywhere else. That is why the locals call it Mosi-o-Tunya, which means “the smoke that thunders.” You could hear the sound and you could see the rainbow comes out of it. It is a beautiful place.
Then there are the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt. How did humans ever build these awesome structures some 4,500 years ago?
I have also seen Petra, a city carved into stones and one of the Seven Wonders of the World, located in Jordan.
Lalibela in Ethiopia is another amazing place I have been to in Africa. I was dumbfounded by the Lalibela churches, 13 churches carved into stones on the ground. Still, in Ethiopia, there is also the first mosque ever built in Africa.
In terms of wildlife, Kenya’s Masaai mara is an exciting place I have visited.
Essential travel items
My travelling bag has to have Panadol, Flagyl (Metronidazole), toothbrush and toothpaste and malaria tablets. These are taken for granted––and also a power bank for my mobile phones.
I am an ‘expectant’ person, so I don’t suffer culture shock. I look forward to stuff like that. When you set out to travel, you set out to meet new things. If I arrive somewhere and everybody looks the same, and everything is the same as where I am coming from, then it is not exciting. I look out for something different. That is essentially what a travel life is about––discovering new people, new culture.
I eat what a frequent traveller can get everywhere in the world. Quaker oats, boiled eggs, chicken and probably rice, these you will get everywhere in the world. Even in Japan, I was able to get rice to eat. That was the only thing I knew from their menu. Every other thing was written in the Japanese language. So I just say rice, rice, rice and they brought it. I have restricted myself to this food that anyone can get any time anywhere in the world.
In Spain, I locked myself out of my hotel room and I couldn’t speak a word of Spanish. I was on the tenth floor and I needed to get people’s attention to come and open my room. I had stepped out to watch a game called sixes on this cold February day. I stepped out of my hotel room and unwittingly closed the glass. I didn’t know it was anti-theft; you can’t open from outside; you can only open it from inside. So I couldn’t go back in and I had only jeans and singlet on and I was dying of cold. I kept shouting hola! (hello) and nobody understood me. Instead, they waved at me. That was my predicament until an old man walking by approached me and said hola. I held my door and pointed at it; the man laughed, before going away to inform the management of the hotel. Sooner, they sent somebody and opened the door for me.
The second ordeal was more embarrassing. I was in the bathroom having my bath when someone came banging on my door. I hurriedly tied the small towel––the towel was rather too small––and when I opened the door, I came face to face with the housekeeper, and people were standing in the corridor. As I raised my hand to clear my face and talk to her, the towel fell. The woman remembered me until I left the hotel. Anytime she saw me, she’d go laughing. I am sure she told everyone in the hotel. That happened in Ghana.