Rockstar in Lagos

 The floating slums of Lagos. Nigeria

I don't go to each and every one of the places I visit for pleasure. I prefer to avoid some places and effectively, I manage to avoid many of those I don't want to go to, but not others. Had it been for me, I would have avoided Lagos, as I have been able to avoid other cities with a bad reputation. However, this is the only place where I can obtain the Benin visa, so I have no other alternative. Lagos is a megacity of some 25 million inhabitants and it has one of the worst reputations in Africa, along with Nairobi and Johannesburg. Now I have to go through it. Nigerians call it: "Center of Excellence."

I leave Ibadan very early in the morning with the naive purpose of pedalling the 160km in a single day, despite my fragile state of health. However, shortly after leaving I realise something important. I will not achieve it, and not because of the distance, but because I do not think I will come out alive. Quickly, I realise that I am on the most dangerous road that I have been to in the entire world. As I cycle along the edge of it, trying to stay as far away as possible from the reckless traffic, everything around me is a cosmic chaos of vehicles that, like asteroids, flow through space without direction or order but at hair-raising speed. The images are memorable. Due to a traffic jam on the opposite hand, the drivers on that side decide that they might as well cross into our side and drive in the opposite direction. So, I can see how the vehicles on my side try to pass themselves, many at the same time as usual, while suddenly they have to dodge the vehicles that come in the opposite direction. In the middle of such a scenario, I am with my bicycle, and today I have the certainty that I am going to die in a traffic accident. I will try to avoid it because it is not worth it. After 60 km, I stop and hitch for a ride and after an hour of waiting, a truck driver stops to rescue me and takes me until the outskirts of Lagos. I still have hell ahead, but at least I have extended my life for another 100 km.

Entering Lagos is nothing short of intimidating. Located in a delta, the city is increasingly defragmented into pieces until it disintegrates into the water. I take the legendary highway that is built on the massive Lagos lagoon and as I pedal, on my right side I can see Makoko, the gigantic floating slum in the darkness of thick smoke and pollution. The images are shocking. Dozens of kilometres of houses made of corrugated metal sheets, cardboard and wood, mounted on piles of garbage that in turn floats on the water. Being used to the poverty of the slums of my city and my continent, South America, and having travelled through a large number of materially poor countries, few places like these manage to have an impact on me. Makoko, like Khayelitsha in Cape Town, Rosinha in Rio, or Dharabi in Mumbai, is one of them.

I have a very long way to get to Lekki, where Jaco's house is. I will stay at his place during my stay in the city. As soon as I get off the highway I am finally in urban chaos and instead of encountering dangers, I find an inexhaustible source of fans. I'm filthy, my face is full of soot from the smog and they do not know me. I have not been on TV, but at every stop, I arise an overwhelming curiosity. It starts with one person, then with another one who sees that person talking to me and so on until I am surrounded by an avid crowd asking about my story. Sometimes there are so many people that those in the back have to find out who I am from the words of those by my side passing mouth to mouth all the way to the back. Everyone, absolutely everyone, points at me with their mobile phones to take a photo. The warmth of Nigerians overwhelms me. Everybody is smiling, everybody full of positive energy and wishing me luck and strength. As a teenager, I dreamed of being a rock star for at least a week. A Tommy Lee, an Axl Rose, a Diamond Darrell. I had to come all the way down to Lagos, to feel almost like one of them.

Everyone in this city seems to be interested in and caring about me, to the point that, except for the traffic, I don't understand where the dangers are. On my way to Lekki, I stop at the supermarket at a service station to avoid imminent starvation since I hadn't eaten anything since breakfast. The cashier asks me what I'm doing there, and I tell her that I'm crossing Africa by bicycle. She doesn't believe me until I point out the bicycle parked outside the store and I show her photos on my iPod. When I'm going to pay, she looks at me with a smile and an accomplice look and says: "Go, go, there's no problem, do you need anything else?". On the one hand, I am moved at every corner by these people's hospitality, on the other, I begin to understand why business in Africa doesn't work that well.


The healing begins

In the end, I choose to stop stopping because otherwise, I will never get to Jaco's house before midnight. It takes me two more hours to find the place in the residential neighbourhood of privileged people where he lives. Jaco works in Lagos for a Canadian oil multinational and, like a good South African, invites me to stay in his 2-story house and 5 rooms, for as long as I want. Robert, his Beninese cook, will always have food for me, and here in Lekki, when there is a blackout, the electric generator turns on automatically to keep the air conditioning running. I could not imagine a better place to start healing.

Throughout this trip, I have been interviewed twice in "Ser Aventurero" (Be an adventurer) a radio show in Cadena SER of Spain. In one of those interviews, Dr Jose Antonio listened to me while he was on guard in a hospital in Valencia. Captivated by my story, José contacted me by e-mail at that time to tell me that if at any time I have a medical problem, that I should not hesitate to contact him. Almost two years passed since that contact and now my body has a challenge (not a problem, remember?) so, as soon as I arrived in Lagos, I sent Jose my most exquisite collection of infections and inflammations with a vivid description of everything that has led me to them. José comes almost immediately to my rescue after consulting with other tropical medicine professionals in his hospital. They suspect that I have a strong bacterial infection that is impetiginised. They prescribe to start with an atomic bomb of 1 g of amoxicillin + 250 mg of clavulanic acid and an antibiotic ointment to apply superficially on each wound.

After visiting one of Lagos' trusted pharmacies to avoid buying fake medicines, so common throughout Africa, I start treatment right away. During the 10 days that I take this radioactive bomb every 12 hours, I can fully understand why I resist until the very last minute to take medicines. My infections begin to contract and dry out in less than two days, but the side effect is brutal. The antibiotics annihilate each and every one of the bacteria that I bring with me. The bad, but also the good, the ones that with so much love and care I have accumulated throughout Africa and have protected me against most evils. Each food intake implies a later visit to the bathroom where everything that had entered, leaves directly through the back door. Between my mouth and my anus, there now seems to be a direct pipe without a stomach or intermediate intestines. Everything that comes in comes out almost straight away. All the delicious meals that Robert cooks seem to have no permanence inside my body. However, I must admit that in less than a week I feel like new. My ankles and my feet, look human again after several weeks of being deformed and I find it hard to get used to walking without fear of treading on pain. The scars will stay forever, but the pain is now gone. Thanks to José, I feel that I have been reborn, my doctor guardian angel at a distance.

I spend 10 days purely resting and letting my body recover at Jaco's mansion in Lagos. I use part of my days to explore this gigantic city to which I have lost all fear. Walking around town with discretion and without displaying valuables, at no time did I feel any danger to be there. I have not found more than curious and friendly people in the cosmic urban chaos in which they dwell every day. During those days of rehabilitation, I also take the opportunity to enjoy a comfort that I had forgotten for many months that it existed. I get my visa for Benin too and I dedicate myself to eating a lot because I have lost more than 10 kg in the last 3 months. I am skin and bones.

I have a few days left on my visa, but I'm looking forward to going back on the road. Mainly because I have to cycle little more than 130 km to get to Cotonou for one of the reunions I've been waiting for the most for months. There, I will continue resting as much as I want, but in order for that to happen, I have to get there, and to get there, first I will have to leave Nigeria. On that last day, something totally unexpected would happen in this very controversial country called Nigeria. A day in which I came to think that I would not leave at all!