We left Salt Lake City on Monday, May 4th in the afternoon on United Airlines flight to Houston where we would then catch the Boeing 787 Dreamliner directly into Lagos, Nigeria. Our flight into Houston was delayed for some reason I have since forgotten and the short layover we had scheduled disappeared before our very eyes. When we did land in Houston we didn’t quite have to sprint to catch our flight but the rate of my heart beat did quicken as I imagined missing our flight and what that would do to our tight schedule in Lagos. There’s only one flight per day into Houston on United and pushing everything back a day would have been disastrous.
Thankfully we made the flight with a few minutes to spare but we were pretty much the last passengers to board before they buttoned up our plane. Despite our late boarding, we were all happily surprised to that our section in EconomyPlus was wide open so the nine of us (my two kids, Eli and Kylie came along too. More on them later.) quickly and smartly split up and made ourselves comfortable by securing our own rows of three seats each which allowed us to spread out and sleep a bit better on this 12 hour red-eye flight.
Even though I have been to Lagos multiple times it’s always exciting to get there and to watch the reactions of the “rookies” as we land and start the arrival process:
- There’s getting off the plane and entering the hot and humid arrival hall. No A/C! What the…??!!
- Ebola check by the Health Ministry. (That was actually a new one for me.) Thankfully we all passed, even though we smiled as they pointed the heat camera (gun?) to check our temperatures because we thought they were taking our picture. Dang foreigners! 😉
- Immigration. Hoping the $180 each we spent on visas would actually get us in to Nigeria?? It did!
- Luggage pickup and Customs. Took just long enough to get our “priority” tagged suitcases that we all started wondering if we should have packed extra underwear in our carry-on bags but thankfully all of our bags emerged and we headed to Customs. We had lots of stuff–soccer awards, balls, donated goods, etc. The Customs Officer asked me why we were here. I told her “holiday.” She asked me again so I said ” Visiting friends.” Seemingly not liking either of my answers very much she asked me again. This time I told her: “Soccer.” That was the magic word and she waved us all nine of us and our 15 bags through.
- Waiting for Pickup. Every time I exit Customs and into the sea of people, especially with a large group, my guard goes up high and fast and I always tell my guests don’t talk to anyone and keep your things very close. I had hoped to see Dickson immediately, as usual, but this time he wasn’t there. I called him and he told me that due to the heavy rains traffic was worse than usual but that they were close and positioning the bus for us. What seemed like 30 minutes later, finally our crew showed up and we could safely move to our bus with our escorts. The unfortunate thing was that literally just standing there waiting got all of us acquainted with how easily sweat comes in Africa. On the other hand, the ladies got an early lesson in “Africa Time” with which I am already very familiar, but still grates me and my Type A personality.
I know that driving or riding in a bus doesn’t sound overly thrilling but in Nigeria it’s an absolute blast. The sights, the sounds, and daredevil tactics of our driver are great cures for jet lag and makes for a very memorable experience. Traffic in Lagos is unreal. I mean UNREAL! But our driver must have been emboldened by his American “cargo” and literally no fewer than two times got out of our stopped lane of traffic and started driving into the opposite lane of traffic. So, that’s funny and all that BUT what’s hilarious is to watch his surprised reaction when drivers on both sides of the road honk, yell at him, tell him he’s #1 in Nigerian, etc. for doing that. It’s sort of like: “Um, Mr. Driver (or “Pilot” as they call them in Nigeria), did you think anyone was going to be happy about that ballsy move that just inconvenienced a lot of other people?!” I must say that, while I don’t condone breaking traffic laws and being a jerk-driver, his tactics did shave off at least an hour, maybe two, of our 10 mile ride from the airport. The reason I know this is because Dickson, in another car, left Lagos Airport the same time we did and finally got to the hotel around the time we were finishing up dinner and had been settled for quite some time. We were all shocked at how long it took them, presumably (stupidly?) obeying the traffic laws, and grateful to our “Pilot” for the efficient, albeit very obnoxious, and speedy trip from the airport.
Our hotel, Protea Hotel Headway Ikeja, was really NICE! And importantly, very secure.
Some of the ladies tried the spicy local Nigerian dishes at dinner (I knew better!) and you’ll have to ask them how they liked it but I noticed the next three dinners everyone ordered pasta or something a little more bland. That probably says all you need to know.
The willingness and courage to try something new displayed by these ladies (and my kids) was such a valuable thing to add to our adventure in Lagos and enabled us to make the very most of the trip and turn good things into great. More on those great things next…