By Lordson Okpetu
An adventurous Australian couple, Stuart Clarke and his wife, Janelle, have achieved a rare feat in tourism by traveling from the United States of America down to Lagos, Nigeria on motorbikes.
The couple, who arrived Lagos Sunday night, shared their travel experiences with #ConciseMetro over breakfast at Airbnb, Obanikoro Estate, Lagos on Tuesday.
Describing Nigerians as the friendliest set of people they have come across in the course of their journey traversing five of the six continents on motorbikes, Stuart and Janelle, told Concise News that their decision to travel the world on motorbikes was not a spontaneous one. They planned and saved money for eight years to be able to embark on this adrenalin-pumping voyage.
Stu, as Stuart loves to be called, and his wife, Janelle, are both engineers. Stu is a graduate of Electrical/Electronics Engineering and worked with the Australian Navy before embarking on this adventurous journey, while Janelle is a Civil Engineer who worked with the local government council back home in Australia.
At the commencement of their journey, the couple flew from their base in Australia into the US, where they purchased two BMW 650 GS power bikes.
“We crossed from the US to Mexico on our newly purchased motorbikes, and thereafter toured Central America. We made our way to South America and spent 12 months touring all the South American countries on motorbikes except Suriname which we needed visa to enter,” said Stu.
After twelve months of touring South America, the couple flew from Colombia to Florida in the United States. Next, they crossed over to Canada on their motorbikes and journeyed by road into Mexico for another short stint.
“From Mexico, we crossed over to England by boat, then rode our bikes to Wales and drove down to Spain, visited Portugal briefly and later crossed over to Morocco.
Once in Morocco, Stu and Janelle crossed over to Mauritania with their motorbikes and traveled further down to Senegal. From Senegal, they crossed over to the southern part of Mali, on to Burkina Faso, then to Benin Republic, from where they crossed over to Lagos, Nigeria.
Altogether, Stu and Janelle have spent three years on the road. “We left Australia in February, 2014 and arrived Nigeria in March, 2017,” said Janelle.
One would expect that any westerner travelling through Africa would be scared of, at least, insecurity. Not Stu and Janelle. Asked about challenges encountered in the course of their journey across Africa, Janell said that insecurity was not among their worries because they know that people are generally nice to travelers.
“Only a tiny fraction of the people travelers come across are people with ulterior motives. We’ve never come across any of such,” stated Janelle.
“We are careful, we never travel at night. We also work with the advises our hosts give us. For example, we were warned not to travel through northern Mali, so we stayed in the south.
“People know their country, by following their advises, we are having a great time,” she added.
The couple, who claim not to be after setting any record, said their voyage was inspired by the passion to experience different cultures from all around the world.
“We get a lot of information about other cultures, but these are mostly from news we see on TV. For us, this is not the real deal. We wanted to experience it ourselves,” said Stu.
Stu and Janelle are not scared of trying out any kind of African food. They claim tasting local cuisines is one of the major reasons for embarking on this life-changing journey.
“If you don’t taste the local food, then you’ve not fully engaged with the host’s culture,” stated Stu who confessed to have already taken a liking for spiced beans as breakfast. As a matter of fact, Concise News met Stu having beans and Quaker oats for breakfast at Airbnb on Monday. Janelle was not left out too.
Janelle on her part said she has been lucky to have been served egg roll as breakfast at almost every country they’ve visited. She said she loves the egg rolls with coffee, but may be tempted to sacrifice it for another taste of ‘boli’ (roasted plantain).
The couple avoid expensive restaurants and choose to eat at local eateries and street canteens. They explain that this is partly to experience the local cuisines and partly to save costs as they are working on very tight budget after three years on the road without any means of income.
“We get sick often at the beginning of our journey as a result of the foreign food we eat and the way we eat them,” said Stu. “But as we go along, we quickly develop immunity to many of these illnesses. We rarely fall sick these days.”
The couple said despite initial disappointments due to language barriers, they were still able to find their way around with ease.
“We only spoke English when we left Australia,” said Janelle.
“We thought we would be able to find people who speak English everywhere we visit. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case. Majority of South America speak Spanish. Only Brazil speak Portuguese.
“So what we did was to learn the basics of major languages like ‘hello’, ‘thank you’, ‘please’. We combine these with lots of pictures and gesticulations to find our way around.
When the Clarkes left Australia, they knew next to nothing about mechanical repairs, aside theories. But along the line in their adventurous journey, they have developed some survival skills.
“Having suffered 20 tyre bursts and dozens of engine breakdowns, we can now work lots of mechanical repairs ourselves. We have assembled a good toolkit,” said Janelle.
On health challenges, Stu and Janelle said that they take precautions on health issues, like making sure they are on antimalarial drugs and having frequent bug sprays as they traverse Africa. Aside that, the couple said they hardly worry about health issues as they hardly fall sick. “We are not ‘worry-ors”, joked Stu, eliciting a round of loud laughter from everybody seated at the breakfast table.
Challenges with border patrol officials
Stu and Janelle claim to have developed a strategy they say work very well in dealing with border patrol officials who ask for money to have their papers stamped. “We get asked for bribes, we are used to that. We obviously can’t afford to pay bribes at every border, so what we do is just wait,” explains Janelle. “Eventually, the border officials get bored of our presence and stamp our papers. So, we don’t need to get involved in arguments, we don’t fight, and we don’t pay the bribes either. This method worked for us in Africa, South America and as far as Central America,” she added.
“When we left Benin Republic for Nigeria, we were asked to pay $20 by border officials,” chipped in Stu. “We deployed our method and we were let off. But on crossing into Nigeria, no border official asked us for anything. They only asked if we have anything for them, when we replied ‘no’, they said ‘no worries’ (laughs), and we were allowed to continue our trip.”
The couple who journeyed into Nigeria just to enjoy themselves and interact with the local people and culture said they will be in Nigeria for one week as it was love at first sight when they arrived.
“Nigeria is not at all close to what the western media portrays. Nigeria is the friendliest country of all the countries we’ve visited in Africa,” said Janelle when asked about her honest opinion about Nigerians.
“We passed through about a hundred checkpoints from Benin republic en-route Lagos, Nigeria. At each of those checkpoints, we meet policemen and military men who welcome us warmly,” she added.
Stu shares Janelle’s opinion about Nigeria and its people. He added that they feel more at home in Nigeria because there is no language barrier in communicating with Nigerians unlike the other West African countries they’ve passed through.
The adventurous couple, however, revealed that they will avoid the northern part of Nigeria due to the insecurity issues over there. They are planning to limit their Nigerian tour to the west coast, visit Calabar before heading out to Cameroon next week.
The Clarkes’ typical day
Stu and Janelle, who have in their possession what one may be tempted to describe as the widest-traveled pets, said their typical day starts with a shower, breakfast and then a walk with their pets, Shadow and Negretta, to keep them fit and help their bowel movement.
Thereafter, they climb their bikes and ride round town with their dogs. They ride no more than 300km per day. During the bike tour, they would stop for lunch at any roadside eatery that catches their fancy, stroll around with their dogs for sightseeing and then arrange for a change of accommodation for the next night.
Pets: Shadow and Negratta
Janelle has a pet, a mini Pinscher named Shadow. Shadow was picked up in Colombia and adopted by Janelle during their tour. The dog was picked up after a car ran her over in Colombia and nobody came to her rescue. “Shadow lost one of her eyes as a result of that accident. Nobody owned her, nobody wanted her, so we adopted her,” explains Janelle.
Stu also has a pet he loves so much, a bigger dog named Negretta. The story goes that Negretta was picked up as a stray dog hit by a truck in a small town in Venezuela. She had to live with a vet for a year for rehabilitation. She has a steel rod in her legs to enable her walk again after her unfortunate accident. According to Stu, the Vet Negretta was living with asked him if he would adopt Negretta for better care. He did. Negretta never fails to put the leg with steel rod across Stu’s neck whenever he lifts her up. Sign of gratitude? Who knows!
No second time
Asked if they would embark on this kind of journey again, the couple chorused ‘no’. “We may visit Africa, North America or South America on bikes again, but we won’t embark on touring the world on bikes again at a stretch. It’s very draining,” explains Stu.
“We planned this journey for eight years and saved vigorously for 5 years to be able to fund it. We sold everything we had except for a few boxes of stuff we have left in our parents’ place. After touring Africa, we would have just a little money left to fly us back home. We are back to having nothing,” said Stu.