8:00 am — I brave the torrential downpour and head from Ilupeju to the island, crossing Third Mainland Bridge. The plan is to pick up Sam from Ajah and then begin the day at Lekki Conservation Center. I am not particularly opposed to driving in the rain, as long as visibility is good. When it rains, the roads are scanty and usually, those driving alongside me are careful and cautious. It should be an unsafe time to drive, but as with many things in Lagos, this works upside down. I keep company with a scratched collection of Shina Peters’ songs drowning out the sound of the rain.
8:30 am — I make it to Sam with the rain behind us. Sam, who has lived in Ajah for 3 years, has never visited LUFASI Nature Park — a mere 5 minutes from where he lives. I offer to give him a quick personal tour of LUFASI. It is a great impromptu way to start the day because LUFASI Nature Park is perhaps one of the most serene escapes in Lagos. We are let in before the park’s typical opening time of 9:00am — insider privileges — and watch as the members of staff work hard to prepare for guests. As we walk, I share environmental stories and the nuances of the forest with Sam. He is the ideal guest to give this tour — keen, curious, enthralled by nature and he knows just the right times to ‘ooh’ and ‘hmm’ in acknowledgement of my stories.
9:45am — Sam and I drive down from LUFASI Nature Park to Lekki Conservation Center (LCC). Typically, the center opens at 8:30am and closes at 6:00pm every day. We breeze down Lekki Epe Expressway with very slight traffic despite the fact that the roads are often congested following rainfall. Thanks to the newly completed Ajah flyover, our drive is only punctuated by a handful of traffic lights and the superfluous toll gate that stands just before LCC. The rain is also beneficial in that we meet a very thin crowd upon arrival at LCC; a crowd that would more than quadruple two and a half hours later when we leave. Ayodeji joins us at LCC and our trio begins to explore. We are squeezed into a tour group of expats and their security personnel, armed men whose courage I would come to realise depends solely on the guns they wield. As the tour guide explains the history of the center and some conservation projects, we are greeted by the occasional swinging monkey and the persistent sound of chirping birds. Down the line, we spot a crocodile graciously resting in the water with his head rising just above it. Eventually, we reach the thrill factor of LCC — Africa’s longest canopy walkway.
10:30am — The canopy walkway is remarkable and offers a spectacular experience. Humans are creatures of thrill so it is no surprise that we will pay to frighten ourselves. But the walkway is less frightening than it is exhilarating…except for the policemen escorts who backed out 15 seconds into the climb. At some point, our heads are on the same level as the top of the tallest trees. When we take a moment to soak it all in and look around, we see the Atlantic ocean peeking through the trees. Ayodeji, whose first time it is on the canopy walk, is a joy to behold. As I push the ropes to augment the swinging already caused by the wind, she squeals some times and freezes at other times. Sam on the other hand is failing miserably in his attempt to ‘bone face’ his way through. I laugh a lot because it is fun; fun that everyone in Lagos should experience at least once.
11:00am — After the canopy walkway, we proceed sans tour guide or expat group to the Savannah area. This place is usually a lovely spot to hang out with family and friends, play giant floor chess and checkers, view the spectacularly coloured Japanese koi fish, jump over obstacle courses and even buy suya. But today, the path leading to the Savannah area is flooded. We are asked to return to the reception after the canopy walkway but we decided to wade through the flood. This is fun. Until somewhere close to the koi fish pond, Sam’s pants are invaded with ants. Once he screams and I make sense of what he is screaming about, I whip out my camera to catch some footage of his reaction to ants in his pants. I even catch a few seconds of his pants coming down as he ‘strips’ to attack the ants. The ants are handled, we see the fish, we lose our bearing for a bit and then we return to the reception. By the time we are done, LCC is inundated with weekend tourists and we are glad we came early.
12:30pm — We continue down Lekki — Epe Expressway to Lekki Arts and Crafts Market. This place is a real treasure but it has become increasingly difficult to get here. The road leading to the market is bad for bigger cars, impossible to navigate for smaller cars and a nightmare in the rains. I am sceptical when I see the floods, especially after losing a bumper to this road three years prior, but I figure it wouldn’t hurt to try again. We make it quite alright, taking corner roads where possible.
In the market, we find an excellent array of clothing and bags made from ankara prints, leather works, crafts, art works and generally fascinating souvenirs for anyone to take home from Lagos. But this market is not for visitors alone…everyone will find this place interesting. I find the bags made with crocodile hide (complete with the head of the croc) particularly unique and fascinating but that fleeting feeling is met with hesitation. Where did the crocrodile come from? Was it reared or caught humanely, is it endangered, was it poached; questions that are poignant enough to make me want to return to this market for research purposes.
3:30pm — After lunch, we proceed down the expressway to Nike Art Gallery. This place is a delight to visit or in Lola’s words, ‘four floors of awesomeness.’ All forms of photography are prohibited inside the gallery (as they are in any gallery worth its salt) so we emerge with only a photo of our trip and Mama Nike; the brains behind the gallery. From canvas paintings to sculpture to beaded portraits to furniture and recycled art, this place is an art lover’s haven. Unfortunately, majority of the clients who purchase these works are foreigners even though all but a handful of pieces are created by Nigerians. I am particularly fascinated by the vast array — perhaps tens of thousands — of art on display and how meaningful each piece is. Well, all art is arguably meaningful however there is a strong aura of liberation, activism and everything but disparage in the gallery. It is clear that each piece (starting from 5,000 Naira) is carefully and painstakingly selected by the renowned ‘Mama’ Nike Davies — Okundaye, whose pieces are among some of the priciest at 10 million Naira and for good reason. Yet, the focus is on uplifting other artists, giving a voice to others who want to express themselves. A tour of Lagos is incomplete without a visit to this gallery.
5:00pm — Making it through the streets of downtown Lagos — Isale Eko — we are held up by our first major traffic jam. We entertain ourselves with Lagos rhythms — Asa’s Eyo, M.I’s Beef and Undisputed Champion and hawkers calling out to buyers in that sing song voice that has become characteristically Lagosian. We drive by Cathedral Church of Christ standing out amidst a sea of ancient buildings. We peep at the intricacy of its architecture as we drive down the Marina. It is our quickest stop today because it is not a stop at all.
6:00pm –Traffic everywhere else is relatively light so we make it just at the top of the hour to Railway Compound in Ebute Metta. As we drive through the historic gates, a sense of wastage overwhelms us. Buildings are abandoned, ancient tracks are neglected and lawns have become bushes. Still, there is a fascination and sense of wonder that comes with old things and that is not lost. As we approach the museum within the compound, we bring out our cameras and begin snapping away. And then comes the bubble burst. For a second, I wonder why we are being shouted as in such a hostile manner and then a young man — the one doing the shouting — manages to clarify that the abominable thing we have done is to take photos. It is not my first visit to the museum and I am a bit shocked at why we cannot take photos OUTSIDE (there is a rule against pictures inside). Eventually, the manager comes out and apologises for the hostile welcome we received at the gate and also explains to us that the museum is closed; typical office hours are 10am to 5pm from Tuesdays to Saturdays. Our experience at Railway Museum will become the topic of our in-car conversation as we head out to our final destination. No small talk, as poor customer service experiences, arbitrary photo-taking rules and poor maintenance habits are enough for a dissertation.
7:00pm — As we navigate parking at Fela’s ‘The New Afrika’ Shrine, I breathe a sigh of relief. We make it to the Shrine just before the Sun goes down and I eagerly anticipate a cultural and musical epiphany. What a disappointment. Fela’s Shrine is a marvel but only if you are marvelled by the things that Fela was marvelled by. It is no place to have sober enjoyment — Fela’s shrine prides itself as one of the few places in Lagos where weed is celebrated openly without much disguise. I am thirsty so I order a can of Malta Guinness. Fela’s music blares through some of the loudest speakers I have ever heard and it is difficult not to rock one’s body along with the beat. Fela made legendary music and that’s a highlight of this place. After ten minutes, five of which were spent searching for the waiter so we could pay for the Malta Guinness, we leave to find a place where we can have a relaxed conversation about our day and hear each other without attempting to out-shout the speakers. Truffles at GRA is my pick and we do not regret the decision as we munch on yam chips and peppered snails and wash them down with virgin cocktails. I know I will return to The Shrine on a Thursday night since Zee assures me that Thursdays and Sundays are epic.
The following day — I have had time to breathe and look through the amazing photos we took with my camera and Sam’s iPhone. “How will I rearrange this list”, I ask myself? I pen down my adjustments and then Sam sends a message on Instagram, “let’s do Abuja next.” Ayodeji’s comment follows, “what?” I smile knowing that we will do a 24 Hours series in Abuja and all the Nigerian states and then we’ll attempt to cover Cairo and Capetown and all the attractions in between.
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