29000km is a lot of kilometres but that’s exactly what the legs of steel of Adi & Fabian have cycled in the past year and half. Their journey is now reaching its final stages with only three countries to go: Angola, Namibia and South Africa, but that’s the future.
Today we will go through the Africa of Kings and Kings – I don’t think Queens are a thing there – where coronations still happened and each territory has its leader. Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon and Congo were the backdrop of their last four months and that is exactly where we are traveling today.
In the last interview you seemed a bit disappointed by the lack of traditions and identity of the countries you had been in. Did this change during the last months? You seemed to have discovered a different Africa now.
Yes, in the countries like Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ivory Coast, we unfortunately have not seen much culture. Of course we heard drums during the night many times, but we expected more before we started this trip.
In Ghana the culture of the Ashanti is still very strong and they have a lot of influence nowadays. Ghana is a developed country in comparison to its neighbors, but proudly kept its traditions.
Voodoo has its origin in Benin and is still celebrated in some regions. Unfortunately, it was the rainy season during our visit and at this time, the ceremonies pause. At least we have seen a shrine and talked with some locals about their traditions.
In Nigeria we were surprised about the various cultural aspects of daily life. Nigerians are very proud of their country and each tribe of its origin. Most people wear traditional dresses or at least a traditional hat. Then there are the kings or sultans in most regions, which still hold a lot of power. We stayed with many kings during our time in Nigeria and we loved it. They were always very generous and interested in our journey. Through them, we learned a lot about the culture and what their key responsibilities are.
One of the things that surprised me the most was your encounters with Kings. How did these interactions go and how does this hierarchic system work?
In most countries we passed, there was a chief of the village and in some countries those chiefs are called kings. From what we could observe, in Nigeria, the kings were the ones that had the most power. The king has a kingdom and he rules it according to the traditions. They have no political power, but guide the people in all sorts of matters. They sit on their throne most of the day and have a palace with lots of workers.
The interactions were always different and very interesting. The most surprising fact was the generosity of all the kings we met. They always invited us for food, provided luxury accommodation and even wanted to give us money for the road.
When I was writing the tittle of this post, I almost wrote “The Africa of Kings and Queens”, but the truth is that I never saw any queens or women leaders in your posts. From your experience, what’s the role of women in West/Central African society?
Actually most Kings we met in Nigeria they have a Queen and call them like that. The only thing is that they are basically powerless and are supposed to stay in their palace and take care of the kids. Most kings have several wives and there is no limit to the number of wives or children.
In some villages we have seen women as the head of the village and they were respected without any question. In general the role of women in West/Central Africa is very important, since they take care of the household, the kids and most of the time they are responsible to earn most of the money as well. Unfortunately, it seems that all this effort is not appreciated enough by the men and society. Hopefully this will change in the future, since more and more girls are entering school nowadays.
You have been attacked by bees, visited by butterflies and chased elephants and monkeys. Tell us about your wildlife experiences and if your views on animals have changed.
Unfortunately, there at not many wild animals left in West Africa. We hardly saw any animals, not even monkeys. In Central Africa this changed a lot, since the population density is even smaller than in the West. Gabon for example has large populations of elephants, chimpanzees, gorillas and other mammals. Due to the dense rainforest and the inaccessibility of most regions, it is hard to spot them in the wild.
So, basically one has to visit a National Park to see any animals, since all the others are already gone.
If there is something I love about your Instagram is seeing the resourcefulness of Africans. What were the most prodigious cases of “African engineering” you witnessed?
Every day we saw how they fix their cars, trucks and motorbikes again and again. Their patience and talents are enormous. They fix everything, because no one can afford new equipment. We have seen people fixing completely destroyed TV’s, phones etc.
In one sentence:
Benin: The country of Voodoo
Nigeria: Immense population in a diverse country ruled by kings and sultans
Cameroon: Mountainous, diverse country in the hearth of Africa
Gabon: Dense rain-forest with lots of wild animals and high prices
Congo: Diverse landscapes, rather undiscovered interior and underestimated due to its huge neighbor (Dem. Rep. Congo)
Compared to the rest of your cycling journey, were there any different/harder challenges that you had to overcome in the past four months? Which ones?
The fight against Malaria stayed and we had several infections again.
We had to give all our energy and focus to get the visa for Nigeria. Finally, we got a business visa thanks to the help of a friend who works in the country. For a long time, we were not sure if we could actually enter Nigeria, since most travelers skip this huge country.
In Nigeria we were attacked by some villagers while camping. This was definitely the scariest moment on the entire trip.
The border crossing between Nigeria and Cameroon was challenging, since the road was steep and difficult to overcome with our bicycles. We had to push uphill and downhill.
I’m always a sucker for a good landscape. What were the top three breath-taking places from the last months?
Mambila Plateau in Nigeria, the Jungle in Gabon and the Congo River basin in the Republic of Congo.
Africa has been your “home” during the past year. Is there anything from this continent (an attitude, an ingredient, a quote…) that you are definitely going to bring back with you to Europe?
Yes, definitely! We want to bring the hospitality back to Switzerland, since that is not a big part of our culture. Almost every time we have a problem there is a solution to this problem and this is great in Africa. All Africans told us: “Be patient, there will be a solution!” This optimism is awesome and it wouldn’t hurt if more people thought like that.