We shall not be deterred by obscure visa rules! Despite numerous people having signed up and then become demoralized by the concerns over safety as a tourist in Nigeria, the 3 of us remaining — Letti, Sandy, and myself — decided to forge ahead to make it here anyway. If it weren’t so hard to fly here as well (I had to take 4 international flights and even a train with a ton of international drama that even involved INTERPOL!), maybe we could have gotten more people to join.
I began with the travel hack I had just used when flying 3 months ago to Syria
1) Transfer 29,500 miles from Chase Ultimate Rewards to my free FlyingBlue account
2) Gain a bonus 20% miles to make it 35,000 Flying Blue miles
3) Redeem the 35,000 miles for a Premium Economy Flight on Air France from JFK in NYC to CDG in Paris.
Once arriving at JFK Airport Terminal 1, I then took advantage of Priority Pass members just having gained access to the new VIP One lounge at JFK Terminal 1, saving me the $40 admission to skip the long Christmas lines at security. This was made even better when the staff at VIP ONE remembered me again from the COVID-19 days.
As for premium economy on AirFrance: it wasn’t bad! It’s unique for having a shell format where to “lean back” the bottom of the seat slides forward; add that with a nice plushy pillow, complimentary socks, and the leg/foot rest that comes out (that you can hide under the blankets for take off and landing), I was able to sleep pretty soundly the moment I sat down. The food is the same as what they serve in regular economy.
After almost getting 7 hours of sleep on the flight, I arrived in Paris at 7:45am and marched through passports for another long march to get out of CDG airport. Then I took the RER B train for 5 stops to reach Gare du Nord before my a 10:24am Eurostar train to Brussels Midi Station.
Along the way I had accidentally missed the Gare du Nord stop on the first pass, so I got off and returned back, only to get stuck in trying to get out when my ticket to leave wouldn’t scan (Paris requires the ticket you used to get in in order to leave another station). So I rushed in with someone else leaving and somehow nobody stopped me when the alarm went off.
I even enjoyed an espresso outside Gare du Nord afterwards, waiting for the authorities to catch me.
Returning unfettered back to Gare du Nord and boarding my Eurostar train, I experienced an uncanny parallel universe moment back to the time I stowed away the very same train in the reverse direction 3 years ago.
Arriving around noon, I tucked away my bags at the lockers at Brussels Midi train station and took the metro to a random neighborhood for an Ethiopian pourover at a nice café, an hour’s workout at a Basic-fit gym for €10, and a haircut for €35. I then returned by metro to retrieve my bags from the train station locker and hailed an Uber up to Brussels Airport for a 7:55pm LX797 SWISS Air flight to Geneva. I even had enough time to enjoy the very same lounge in the very same seat I had sat in only a month earlier while on my way to the Canary Islands.
Landing in very chilly Geneva at 9:10pm, I finally caught up with a full night of sleep in a real bed at the nearby Nash Airport Hotel.
The next morning I took the 5 minute airport hotel shuttle back to the GVA airport for an 8:30am QR102 Qatar Airways flight to Doha. Before going through security, however, I had to stop at the check-in desk to show proof of my Nigerian visa where they then also forced me to check in one of my bags. Despite my pleading and worries over the reputation of how baggage is usually handled at Lagos Airport (even the Nigerian agent at the counter said he knew exactly what I was talking about), there was nothing they could do about policy. So I spent another 5 minutes reorganizing all my important stuff into my smaller backpack as if preparing to lose my larger bag for a few more days, asked them to tag on whatever sticker they could to indicate super priority and fragile status, and I then tossed in an AirTag inside for good measure. Then bidding my bigger backpack farewell, I now had less than 20 minutes to bolt through security and passports to reach the very faraway C terminal at GVA before the gate would close on me. And in all this time I’d later find out after all the running from security I had left behind my flight ticket!
Too late to turn back, I forged ahead at passports where my jaw understandably dropped (in the good kind of disbelief) when I was still stamped out of Schengen without being asked for my ticket. Then after a bit more of huffing and puffing while the overhead announcements were making “final boarding” calls, the gate agents scanned my passport and happily printed me a replacement flight ticket before letting me board. I walked towards my seat with less than a minute left before the gate finally would have closed on me. Whew!
Pushing my luck and finding out I had been reassigned to a middle seat, I asked a flight attendant if it was possible to be moved to a better seat, since it was not a full flight and I genuinely had thought I had paid a little extra a few days before for an aisle seat. They quickly obliged! I enjoyed the rest of the 6 hour flight thanking my lucky stars reading the International NY Times, drinking a ton of water, and eating all the food.
I landed at 4:20pm local time in Doha, Qatar to take advantage of another 9 hour layover. I first stopped in at the standing-room-only Al Maha Lounge while waiting to finally meet Letti Hale in person as she would land about an hour later for a similar layover in Doha. As we got to know each other outside the lounge, we took an elevator back upstairs from the transfer area, and left through security and immigrations.
Then it was Letti’s turn to share some travel grief: whereas I was able to stamp into Qatar easily on my brand new and fourth USA passport, Letti’s USA passport got her a time-out with their immigrations captain. While I waited for her in baggage claims, she was released 30 minutes later; during her time out she was informed that when she had applied for a same-day 2nd passport so she could still travel while her original passport was still at the Nigerian consulate for her visa, the latter had mistakenly been tagged as “LOST.” Therefore Letti was flagged by INTERPOL to be traveling on a stolen passport! After seeing that the passport was indeed not stolen at all, the Qatari passport police allowed Letti to pass but informed her to fix this issue as soon as possible at their local US Embassy.
At this point it was already 7pm and everything was closed. Letti, now not wanting to risk her flight out to Nigeria, almost decided to turn back into the airport. But with enough cajoling, we decided to make the most of her Qatari freedom.
At first we tried to hail an Uber to get out but then found out that Uber was no longer allowed to do pickups at the airport since the World Cup. This being a relative minor annoyance at this point considering everything else we just had been through, we hailed a regular Karwa taxi waiting outside arrivals and enjoyed a small dinner and shisha by the Corniche at Desert Rose of Souq Waqif.
After a pleasant dinner getting to know each other, Letti still wanted to return to the airport on the earlier side to minimize any more issues with her “illegal” passport status. To make it up for me if all went well, she’d use American Airlines Executive Platinum Status to access the Gold and Platinum Lounge back at the airport, while I’d tag along as her free guest. Who was I to stop her?
Suffice to say when stamping out of Qatar, Letti was once again pulled to the side where a far more competent senior officer spent time to reassure Letti she was going to be fine in West Africa; Qatar was being much more strict due to their closer ties with INTERPOL.
We then spent about 15 minutes looking for this more premium lounge, which was well worth the trek for their a la carte dining, great food, and first-come-first-served shower rooms (which we totally took advantage of before boarding our 9 hour red-eye flight to Lagos).
This was the seat I paid extra for to maximize the chances of a good night’s sleep in economy: No seat in front of 29K to stretch out my legs!
Finally after one more flight on QR1407 from DOH to LOS, we arrived in Nigeria at 8:50am in the morning.
This is when it USED to get tricky.
There had been numerous tales of how frustrating an arrival into Lagos airport can be to the point where people actually give up and pay the bribes that may be asked of them by airport security and staff there. For example, you may be taken into a room for “visa processing” where they’ll then ask you for “coffee money,” or they might search your bags for something to make up a rule about (unmarked vitamin pills, restricted food or electronics) and ask you for a “fee” to let you go without confiscating them, or find something wrong with your visa and/or passport and ask you to pay some kind of “tax” to let you go.
Whatever the case, I’ve learned the best route in other countries was to pretend to not speak English or to not understand what they’re asking you until they realize they’re losing both time and money with you and will let you go anyway. As long as you have a visa or proof of a visa on arrival, stand your ground and with enough patience, you’d be out the door into arrivals.
But we experienced NONE of that. Karthik, who travels to Lagos to visit his family every year, said it came with the recent renovations to Lagos airport; everyone inside the airport was so friendly and welcoming to us that the only related “hassle” was how the departure card that we had to fill out while waiting in line seemed to be proud how it was issued free of charge.
After filling out the sassy departures card and giving it to the immigrations officer who all wished us a Merry Christmas, we were out within minutes.
Then having remarkably retrieved my checked luggage at baggage claims (no thanks to the AirTag which claimed my bag was still back in Geneva), we almost made it free and clear without being asked to stop to give any money until an officer at customs insisted to us that we had things to declare (when we did not).
So when walking into the “items to declare” area, I then without stopping immediately weaved back out into “nothing to declare.” I did NOT want to ruin my bribe-free streak. Although another officer tried to stop and redirect me, I kept walking until another man in a suit told the officer to let us go since we only had backpacks on. Huzzah!
Then outside arrivals, we were immediately harangued to accept help in finding our friend or a taxi in exchange for some Christmas money. We therefore tired them out by walking nearly a whole kilometer around the parking lot to finally find Vincent, our guide and brother of the owner of UComeAfrik, Confidence Aguiyi.
Vincent then drove us 20 minutes to our accommodations at Sapphire Residences in Ikeja where we met up with Sandy who had arrived 4 hours prior and also said she had experienced nothing but hassle-free kindness at the airport.
This is what Letti and Sandy did for introductions:
After a quick settling in, freshening up and moving into our rooms, I began to confirm the hard way how Nigeria does not truly accept any American credit cards; nothing and no card was working and all the banks said everything on their end looked fine. Therefore in order to pay for the rooms, I asked Karthik to transfer money to the lodging’s local Nigerian bank account and I’d Venmo him back. Thank goodness for having friends in the right places.
While Vincent and Letti needed 2 hours for a nap after our early morning, I took Sandy on a walk around the neighborhood for coffee. The only spot we could find after 20 minutes of walking under the 90ºF/32ºC heat were 2 very similar coffee shops inside the Radisson Blu, which in turn also owns 2 separate hotel properties within the same complex in Ikeja. We then found out the hard way that coffee is not a widespread thing in Nigeria.
Once Vincent was ready to pick us up and after playing duck duck goose in trying to find each other within the massive Radisson Blu complex, we then retrieved Letti from her beauty sleep and set off about an hour’s drive southeast for the Lekki conservation center.
Located on the other side of the city way past Victoria Island and after 5 minutes in trying to restart our van on the side of the freeway (with a little help from a man pushing our vehicle for a few feet to get things rolling again), the conservation centre took us in right before they closed the door at 4pm.
Not short of friends and finding monsooners around the world, I reunited with Karthik in the flesh from Egypt, Svalbard and South Korea! His family lives in Lagos for whom he remarkably finds time to hop back and forth between here and NYC.
Although we had intended to grab tickets and start our tour, the office was temporarily closed for about 10 minutes due to enormous crowds already inside. We therefore sought shelter from the heat inside the lecture hall’s decent A/C:
2 very well behaved peacocks inside kept us company:
After about 15 minutes, the ticket office reception desk reopened. Weaving through the crush of people wanting to get in first, we paid 5000 Nigerian nairas per person to get our 4 wristbands.
We were then told to wait up to another 30 minutes before being let in. So we returned to the lecture hall.
After 20 minutes, the guides came up to talk to us, first asking those who were afraid of heights to excuse themselves from the canopy walk and take another route. The rest of us were then let inside the conservation area to explore.
Look for the tree that can cure Gonorrhea:
Although there are reportedly numerous animals in the conservation center, we only saw monkeys brave enough to approach us:
Despite our best efforts to get to the front of the group to save the time we had lost earlier while waiting for tickets, we were relegated to the back where we waited nearly another hour in blocks of lines to get closer and closer to Lekki’s otherwise stunning canopy walk.
Eventually after seeing numerous clusters nervously make their way up the suspension bridge, it was our turn.
Reaching 73ft above sea level and 401m long, it is the longest canopy walkway in Africa.
The first stop takes you to the “Decision Making Tower” above where you have one more chance to turn back before the next tower…
Then it’s all the way through and to the top:
Then once you reach the highest point, enjoy the panorama view of what used to be the jungles of Lagos Island now becoming a 78 hectare conservation center.
Once you reach the Observation Tower, the canopy turns at a right angle while staying the same height above sea level for another tower.
Make a wish?
After the “Wish Making Tower” the walkway returns back to sea level.
Once you get to the “Hands Free Tower,” it’s back to the exit.
You can climb a manmade treehouse on the walk back:
By the time we got back out it was already 7pm and everything else in Lagos to visit was closed. So we headed back to our hotel, stopping in a popular neighborhood on Lagos island for dinner at the cavern restaurant Kappadocia.
Apparently this is the hot spot to be for the upper crust: In the hour and half we dined there we witnessed a proposal upstairs and a birthday party downstairs back to back.
When it came to paying the bill, we confirmed (and after a formal call with Chase Bank) that most of Nigeria would not accept international credit cards whether American or Sandy’s Asian cards. Therefore the manager summoned a black market currency exchanger to come inside and swap our $100 USDs at a rate of $1 for 1170 nairas. Karthik, being a friend, swapped money with me earlier at a slightly better rate of 1200 nairas for $1 USD.
But because of the lack of hard cash in the country, our black market exchanger offered a discount if he could transfer the nairas instead electronically to Vincent’s Nigerian charge account where he could then pay for the dinner and I can keep track of his tab on my end. After the 3 way exchange where we gave $100 USD to him, and then naira from him to Vincent’s account, and then Vincent back to us for our dinner bill, we were squared away for the night and turned in by 10pm.
The next/this morning we slept in and set out at 10am for the Makoko floating village, where a third of the community is built on stilts along the lagoon. To reach there you have to first walk a few minutes through the part of the village on solid land:
Once reaching the edge of Lagos Lagoon, we got into a canoe for an incredible and evocative tour of Makoko and its display of human ingenuity and tenacity.
We stopped at the local orphanage and school, currently housing up to 400 children and where the Makoko chief’s son showed us around. We gave him 10,000 nairas each to help support the community and for the tour:
The views of Makoko from the bridge connecting the school and orphanage:
We then rowed around Makoko for another half an hour where we got to meet and shake hands with the chief himself and nearby and curious children yelled out the equivalent of “foreigner!” in their local dialect (more accurately translated to “white person!”!)
Once getting back on land, we had lunch at a local Bukka Hut for Nigerian (and very spicy) jollof rice and then drove to the equally incredible Nike art gallery:
Belonging to adire textile designer Nike Okundaye, her gallery features exhibits and a ton of traditional to contemporary Nigerian art for sale:
You can climb up 3 stories all the way to the top where there’s no air conditioning (so you wonder how they keep the artwork intact in the intense humidity):
We even got to meet Nike Okundaye herself on the way out:
Feeling inspired (but not having enough room in our luggage to take any back home), we drove to the nearby Lekki Craft market for souvenirs:
Then driving back to Ikeja we took an intense 20 minute walk through the frenzy of Balogun Market, where nearly everything can be sold and bartered:
The oldest Anglican church, Cathedral Church of Christ, Marina, is nearby:
Our walk through the market ended at Shitta-Bey Mosque and also Lagos’ oldest:
Finally, returning to Ijeka, we took a tour of the Kalakuta Republic Museum for 3000 nairas per person:
The museum is located in the 3-story house where Nigerian political activist and Afrobeat recording artist Fela lived and had declared his Kalakuta Republic as an independent self-governing state in defiance of Nigeria’s military dictatorship.
Fela lived there with his family of 27 wives and 7 children until his death in 1997 and his house was then converted into a museum filled with his personal belongings relating to his colorful life and career.
The tour takes up floor by floor, ending at the chill rooftop bar where we got a few drinks and learned how to play the local Nigerian game Mancala:
To finish off our day, we had an early and very local Nigerian dinner at the outdoor poolside restaurants at Esporta Suites:
Tomorrow we head for Benin at 9am where Priyanka and Lauren joins us in Cotonou!
- At time of posting in Lagos, it was 33 °C - Humidity: 75% | Wind Speed: 11km/hr | Cloud Cover: slightly foggy haze