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American traveler in Lagos....

Birmingham, Michigan
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American traveler in Lagos....

Are there any 'tourists' in Lagos? Are Europeans/American tourists ever spotted anywhere?

I have heard conflicting information - with the great majority of people telling me:

'Don't go there unless you have someone picking you up from the airport who you know well... etc'

I do not believe that I am dumb enough to take an unlicensed cab / get caught in 419 / etc.... I believe I can care for myself there ....

So, what is all the hype about?

What can really happen to me if I visit Lagos? By myself?

Kuala Lumpur...
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1. Re: American traveler in Lagos....

Robbed? Kidnapped?

Philadelphia...
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2. Re: American traveler in Lagos....

I would NOT do it. Ever. Not until things improve significantly there.

I've been through Lagos twice, to visit friends. For both visits, I had a personal, written invitation from a Lagos resident who had a government ID. This was required, along with a round-trip ticket and proof of financial solvency, in order to obtain a visa.

On my first visit, in 2006, my friends got caught in one of Lagos' infamous "go slows" (traffic jams), while I waited at the airport for over an hour, with no cell phone, no way to reach them, and little idea of how things worked in Nigeria. There was no such thing as a pay phone, and I'd been told to bring mostly $100 bills for economy of exchange. Having heard much about the "unofficial payment" system in Nigeria, I wasn't about to argue when two uniformed gentlemen asked me for a "tip" to reunite me with my luggage. Aside from my well-hidden Franklins, all I had was small change and a $20. They were all too happy to accept my $20.

On my second visit a year later, I thought I was prepared for the airport, with currency from my previous trip in denominations appropriate for tipping (alas, the government had redesigned the currency in the interim, and my bills were useless) and a tri-band unlocked GSM phone (which still turned out to be the wrong frequency for Nigeria, despite the vendor's assurance). Fortunately, my friends were waiting for me, due to a huge delay in Paris, so I managed to get through baggage claim without incident.

Since I was staying at friends' homes, and doing all my local and interstate travel with Nigerian citizens, I didn't have to navigate the complexities of the taxi/travel system alone, and I wouldn't advise it. The stereotype of all Americans being scandalously wealthy is alive and well in Nigeria, even among people educated in the U.S. No matter how good you think you are at bargaining, the only way to avoid being taken advantage of is to not need anything -- and that's impossible if you travel alone.

Nigeria has welcomed GPS tracking, because it makes it possible to locate taxis and rental cars that go missing. When I was there, it was customary to get a driver along with the rental car, because it would be too easy for people and cars to disappear. I wouldn't dream of trying to navigate the roads by myself, day or night. Once you've been stopped for a routine inspection by military-looking police with rifles, and seen typical "disciplinary measures" by the roadside, you want to be sure you're traveling with somebody who knows the country and its customs. (A member of my church made the mistake of trying to photograph a police officer there a few years ago, and she nearly got locked up for it.)

This being said, I have to say that I would not have traded my experiences traveling in Nigeria for the world. From the cocoon of having a local escort, I was able to meet people and visit places no ordinary tourist would ever see. Nigeria really is home to some of the friendliest people in the world. When you visit someone's home, they greet you with "You are welcome" -- and they mean it. The children have been raised to treat their elders with respect, and they fall all over themselves trying to help you carry even the tiniest package. I loved being called "Mami" or "Auntie" instead of some of the more disparaging terms used for women in the United States. Although sometimes it was a struggle to find privacy, and I had to do a bit of finagling to convince people that I was capable of doing my own washing (done by hand) and ironing (done at whatever point during the week the electricity was on), it was refreshing to spend time in a place where my gray hair was respected.

It was also wonderful to be able to dispel some of the myths about the United States, just by participating in everyday life. When I helped with the cooking, people were surprised that I would know how to shuck corn. When a local church was clearing ground for its new building, and I helped pull weeds, they were amazed to learn that we pull weeds in America, too. (Strike one against Hollywood!)

I had some of the best foods, met the most amazing people, experienced different ways of doing things, and developed a strong appreciation both for the people of Nigeria and for the infrastructure we have at home (e.g., potable hot/cold running water, 24x7 electricity, road repair crews, waste removal services, internet, regulated public transit and ATMs). I also learned that no matter how careful you are about brushing your teeth with bottled water, eating only cooked foods, and avoiding meat, sickness is inevitable when traveling off the beaten path. Goats and chickens abound, and when their feces dries into dust, it becomes part of the atmosphere. You can't help but ingest it, and you need to be prepared for illness and weakness. Again, if you have a local sponsor, you're safer than you would be on your own.

If you truly want to visit Nigeria, I strongly advise you to have a VERY well-trusted Nigerian sponsor -- perhaps a religious or educational organization, or an individual you would trust with your life, liberty and health. Check out the paperwork required for obtaining a visa, and you'll get an idea of what you're facing. There have been enough scams involving foreign investors that the Nigerian government is understandably reluctant to grant visas to outsiders unless you have an exceptionally good reason to visit. If you look at the CIA's travel alert website, it will tell you which regions to avoid. (Of course, if you look at the CIA website, you'll probably never travel anywhere, but it's still worth knowing.)

It is a shame that it's so hard to travel to Nigeria, and I hope that someday it will be easier and safer. But unless you have a personal connection there, you might do better to consider another destination. (I just returned from Hawai'i Island, where the climate and architecture are similar, the people are just as friendly, and it's significantly safer and easier for a solo traveler. Plus, you don't need a passport or visa, and people will understand your accent.)

Ut oh -- now I'm craving new yam, pepper soup, Maltonic, akara and fresh Nigerian bread, warm from the oven. Sigh.

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3. Re: American traveler in Lagos....

When was your last trip there?

Birmingham, Michigan
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4. Re: American traveler in Lagos....

Thank you, kindly, for your nice comments.

I have never been to Lagos.

What should I expect landing at the airport in Lagos? What are the chances I would make it to a hotel without much hassle?

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5. Re: American traveler in Lagos....

Travel 251, when was your last trip in Lagos?

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6. Re: American traveler in Lagos....

Lol.....there's always hassle in Lagos! You just have to grow a tougher skin.

Johannesburg, South...
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7. Re: American traveler in Lagos....

Lagos is definitely not Africa for beginners, but if you are not easily ruffled there really is no reason not to come to Lagos. Don't really think Lagos is a safety risk if you exclude traffic. The negative travel advise is directed mostly to the north of the country. You will be hassled, but that is part of the fun. For tourists though there is little to actually see in Lagos. Yes it is hectic and vibrant and full of life, but there are no good museums, clean beaches or sights. The fun in Lagos is in attending social functions and for that you need to know people. There is a decent travel book about Nigeria out last year and you can find a review here guardian.co.uk/books/2012/jan/29/looking-tra…

Hope that helps

Birmingham, Michigan
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100 posts
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8. Re: American traveler in Lagos....

Yes. This is helpful. Many thanks.

What type of hassle will I face if I arrive alone at Lagos airport and then try to find transportation to Ikoyi? Will the customs/immigration guy at the airport demand a bribe? or will the taxi driver do the same? will I be robbed immediately upon leaving the airport?

The Nigerians I have met seem like wonderful people. Does everything change once you actually enter the country? Seems like a lot of worrying to me...

I am curious if other Americans who have traveled to Lagos (for any reason) have encountered major problems....

Johannesburg, South...
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9. Re: American traveler in Lagos....

well I have been here over 2 years now and quite like some aspects. Of course infrastructure is bad, but once you get to know people they are really nice, very resilient and full of life.

The hassle you will get is just your normal stuff where everyone will try and get you a taxi, change money or carry your bags. You might be asked for a bribe by customs people. I usually just stare at them. You will be charged much more than locals for things like taxi rides or when you bargain at the market. Where do you get the idea from that you will be robbed as soon as you leave the airport? If you have all these worries I suggest you try something easier like South Africa or Botswana first. Then maybe Ghana and if you still interested in Africa you can try Nigeria. No point being being all worried when you want to be a tourist.

Birmingham, Michigan
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10. Re: American traveler in Lagos....

The Nigerians I have encountered through my business have all been wonderful people. I have no reason to believe that a visit to their country will be anything but wonderful... though, of course, with issues relating to the developing nature of the country.....