In October a user came onto the Climb.co.za forum advertising a rock climbing competition in Nigeria. Cash prizes to the value of $12’000 to be won, all flight tickets and hotel accommodation will be provided for!
It had to a be a scam… right!??
Neil Margetts from the SANCF followed up with Mr. Deji Falae and below is the awesome outcome that transpired.
Story by Brian Weaver
It was all a bit rushed. I had to change some Rand to Dollar before leaving to the airport; but after sitting at First National Bank in Hatfield for half an hour only to discover that the normal Forex person was not in the office. This left me wondering what to do. It was already 11 and I needed to be at the airport at 12. Yvette and I decided to try Menlyn and head direct from there to the airport.
Menlyn was quick to tell me I could only do a forex at the airport which concluded that. We made it to the airport by 12 and by the time I check my baggage through it was 13:15. I still hadn’t gotten any dollars so we raced around the terminals looking for a forex counter. Eventually we found one and were able to change some Rand for Dollars.
Now I was really running behind, it was 13:25 and I hadn’t gone through passport control or bought any lunch and flight was supposed to start boarding at 13:15 to depart at 14:15. After a reasonably quick line in passport control I made it to News Café for a quick sandwich purchase and continued to the gate. No lines make things pretty simple. When I walked on to the plane I was greeted with a big smile by David and then the question: “where is Andrew?” I presumed he’d be on the plane by now; he was well ahead of me in the check in process. We were happy to see him arrive on to the plane a few moments later.
The flight was brilliant; in fact, I thought it was a little short. Six hours felt like such a short time. The food was a little less than amazing but the wine made up for it and the company made for riveting discussions. Andrew (Porter) told me about how they were able to outwit the rangers at Camp 4 and we shared Spitzkoppe stories to compare granite types. We had only seen a few images of where we were going but were very excited nonetheless.
Upon landing in Lagos, we were met by a uniformed officer who swiftly took our passports and asked us to follow him. We were a little unnerved as we watched our passports disappear in front of our own eyes but excited that we had just skipped the entire line into immigration, of which we were at the back. A few minutes later our passports were returned to us and were stamped without us ever having seen an immigration official. It only took a little while to collect our baggage and by this point we were quite garrulous and excited to see where we were going next. Biola found us around this time and we made our way outside to a bus where we were greeting by a police officer holding an AK-47. He was there to escort us.
The air was stifling and thick. The air conditioning in the bus was welcome. After a short drive we arrived at our hotel for the evening, the Ibis. It was beautiful. The reception area was designed very well and we could see the bar and restaurant area in the background. We were pretty hungry by now and were trying to get a hold of Benito to join us for a drink in the bar; but, alas, he was busy at a party and could not join us. We sampled some of the local beer; I seem to like Gulsten whilst Andrew and David liked Star. The food was local cuisine and was incredibly tasty except for one item that David had on his plate. He tried it and pulled an incredible face. I thought it can’t be that bad. I put my spoon into the viscous liquid and as I raised it I noticed that the texture resembled mucous. Somehow I still managed to put the spoon in my mouth. The taste was awful! But I had tried it and now I know what to stay away from. Later I was I told by David that he couldn’t believe that I examined it and still ate it.
The next morning I woke up in my room and realised that I had no idea what time it was and what the plans for the day were. I looked at my phone and saw that it was 9:15. Having no idea what time zone I was in, I was a bit worried that it was 10:15 or 11:15. In actual fact, it was only 8:15. Andrew found himself in a similar dilemma that morning, having woken at (what he thought was 6:15) only to realise that it was still dark out and really only 5:15.
We were on the bus by 9:15 and catching our first glimpses of the city of Lagos. It was quite a sight. The buildings are quite old and worn; the traffic is utter chaos yet very functional; the sky is polluted and hazy. The people were incredibly friendly, each one of the venders on the street greeting everyone in the bus. This was the same for the fuel stations, where petrol is R3.25 a litre!!
That was the first shock to our systems. The second shock to me came when we pulled out of the station into traffic that I could never imagine navigating! Our driver simply pushed in and people moved, bear in mind that we were in a 20 seater bus!
The bus weaved through traffic with the greatest of ease, horn blaring constantly. This is how people indicate they are going to squeeze past the next vehicle on these roads with no lanes. A road that we normally would consider to have two lanes with a shoulder has 4 cars abreast with a fifth one pushing through. Chaos!
This continued at 100km an hour on the highway which consisted of a two lanes with a divider and then two more lanes for opposing traffic. Apparently, the taxis feel that there can be a reversible lane on the other side of the road and no one batted an eyelid other than the three of us. Again, chaos!
There were police checkpoints along the way to Ondo State. At each checkpoint there were street vendors too. We raced through each of the blocks as we were in a government vehicle with two AK-47 carrying police officers. on-board. When we arrived in Akure our bus was cut off and stopped by a group of men in a Toyota. One of the men jumped out of the Toyota with and AK-47 and immediately one of the police officers on our bus was on his feet and heading out to meet the man. We learnt that we had just been pulled over by the Commissioner of Transport because our bus was moving too fast! Our driver was given a stern warning and we were allowed to continue. David was laughing profusely about the situation.
We arrived at the hotel a few minutes later, which was a different venue than the one we thought we were going to. Later we found out that there was a press awards conference at the Sunview Hotel so the Emperor was an equivalent option. We had an early dinner and waited to go out to the hills, but the time came and went along with the sun. Our first day was over and we were admittedly a bit tired. The next day would be along soon enough and we would have a lot to do.
Sunday morning was interesting. We woke up and were rearing to go! We ordered breakfast, which took a really long time, the better part of an hour really. As it turned out this was the theme here in Akure for food whilst staying at the Emperor Hotel. We were collected at 9:00 and were driven to Idandre. The first domes we saw were large enough to get our attention. The boulders on the sides of the road were as big as some of the boulders in Rocklands. We were officially excited.
We were asked to scout for some new possible lines for the competition to be held on. It was not going to be an easy task. It had been a while since I’d climbed on Granite so I naturally wanted to get on the local rock and try out an existing line. It was a complete change on pace for me with the tiny holds and smearing feet. I onsighted the line and I put the grade at around 23 for the first pitch. Andrew and then David followed me up. We had to hurry as we needed to get back to Akure to attend a press conference being put on by Commissioner Deji Falae.
Andrew, David and I were having a great time until all the cameras were on us and we weren’t quite sure if we were meant to act focused or amused or look like we were having a great time, which in fact we were.
After the press conference Deji personally took us to another possible venue for the climbing competition. It looked to be very promising. We had a spicy scramble up a long slab with a tricky traverse at the top. At the start of the scramble Deji said that he would watch us from there. Andrew and I raced up the slab and as David followed us he decided to take a slightly easier route. At the top we found a beautiful dihedral with roofs at the top. There is a crack that heads right and a series of roofs to the left. A beautiful crack climb is off to the left by a few meters. We cannot wait to get back there and open some amazing new lines. On our descent we were mobbed by a group of on-looking children. They were all very impressed with the fact that we were climbing there and I wouldn’t be too surprised if some of them had never seen a white person before. We made a quick stop at the local school again to reassess if we could put up lines there for the competition seeing as the access would be too difficult elsewhere.
Deji is a very friendly and motivated man. On the way home we had an in depth discussion about politics in Africa. The Governor of Ondo State is setting up a plan that will stand the test of time; the objective is to leave the state in a better circumstance for the next holder of the office than it was given to him. The aim is to have a proper ten year plan in place for infrastructure and development that should not be affected by politics. This naturally is a very difficult objective to achieve, but with the aim of being selfless and putting the people above one’s self, it may very well be achievable.
Deji has a great deal of confidence in the Governor. He mentioned that he had been to South Africa, Johannesburg and Pretoria for a week before. We spoke about South African politics too but no need to go into that. Deji has done so much to make this MARE Festival successful, you can see that he is working around the clock to get things done right. The press conference is a very good example. The objective of the press conference was to put a positive spin on the event; he appealed to the members of the press to help him make this event a success.
After we got back to the hotel, the three of us sat around the dinner table with beer and planned our assault on the mountain. We thought that we had a really good plan and after we concluded our debate it was off to bed. The next morning we were up at 6:00, breakfast by 6:30 and Martin was here to pick us up before 7. When we arrived at the school, it was full of kids! EEEEeeeek. Not my personal favourite to be honest, I have a “thing” about people I don’t know touching me. I also find mobs of kids a bit worrisome.
Now, here, I am faced with a mob of kids that wanted to hang all over me. Fortunately Martin and some of the older boys were able to keep them away from us while we were setting up our gear and finalizing David’s plans to walk around and rap bolt some midway anchors.
Andrew and I suited up and he led the first pitch of the current bolted route. I was carrying the gear and trailing a rope so I fought my way up the pitch and then belayed Andrew as he onsighted the second pitch. I had a really hard time getting up the pitch, I felt quite off-balance whilst climbing it. I was even more unnerved by the three holds that broke, each of which left me slipping off but not falling. We made it to the top of the route and planned our descent into a bowl with trees. This is about 45m above the ground so we fixed a line (after much debate on how to do so) to set up a top rope for a route we found underneath.
When I got to the ground I was literally mobbed by the school kids, who proceeded to hang on me. They were all very excited to see me get to the ground. Packing up the gear and getting to the car was pretty complicated too, with all the kids literally hanging on me. Oh well, put on a brave face and survive it.
It took us a few hours to get back and wait for the arrival of the others. We thought they would arrive by 2pm but six hours later they still weren’t there. Fortunately they joined us just in time for dinner. The conversation revolved greatly around the reversible lanes and chaotic driving. Chaos seems to be a continuing theme in Nigeria. We came to the conclusion that we would all work the routes in advance so that we could see how difficult they would be and see if the moves would actually go.
The group was happy to see the mountains and get the routes bolted. The Spaniards were psyched to get up the mountain and missioned up on our fixed line getting bolts in as they went. Paul was in his element coordinating and marking where bolts needed to be placed. It was fantastic. The kids were back too and the others were able to experience the mobbing.
On Tuesday morning, Jimbo, Marijus and I ran up the multipitch and had a bunch of fun in the process. It felt much better the second time around, no fear this time. When we got down we looked at the other lines and watched Andrew and David aid bolting a line. They were looking pretty good and it was quite a sight, seeing them bolting a line on lead. It was even more amazing to actually try out the climb and discover that the moves pretty much would be possible (apart from maybe one or two slightly blank sections).
The other two competition lines were bolted shortly after the aid line was completed. They both looked like the moves would all be possible right from the start and both looked like very high quality lines. After hours of debating, we decided that it would be necessary to “enhance” the climb in order to make it work out for the competition. The next day three small pockets were drilled by Paul, our judge and organizer. I was very curious to see what they felt like. But I was taking a rest morning back at the hotel. Jimbo, Andrew and Marijus tried out the two lines on the left of the crag which were bolted from the aid line. They figured out all the moves and thought they were pretty cool.
The plan was to finish testing the lines in the afternoon so that we would all be prepared for the competition on Friday morning, but when we arrived at the festival for the opening ceremony we were ushered into a tent where were seated behind the Governor as well as the Kings of the area. David was caught out in the open by a film crew and interviewed about the MARE Festival. The rest of us were laughing at this stage thinking we were lucky enough to avoid the film crews. The opening ceremony was on a time table that was really far off. It looked as though the Governor was meant to deliver his opening address at 13:30 but he took to the stage closer to 16:30. At this point we were invited to go up on stage and dance with the Governor, a great honour according to Bob(our nickname for Mr Batula).
We made it back to the hotel well after dark and we were very tired. At least we managed to eat some dinner and have an early night; well, all of us except for Paul. Paul was picked up by Boband whisked away to the Governor’s house for a cocktail evening. Paul told Bobthat we shouldn’t be disturbed as we needed to climb early in the morning. He spent the evening rubbing shoulders with local celebrities and Nollywood (Nigerian Hollywood) stars. I think that he had the much better deal as far as the ceremonies went. The wine was flowing and the temperature was nice and cool compared to the tent in the sun.
Morning came and the bus was late. This was another theme of the trip. Of course it was a little worse today than it had been on previous mornings seeing as today was the start of the competition. So the result was that we managed to climb the first route in semi-cool temperatures and the second route was in full sun. Jimbo and Marijus got the ball rolling on the first route with consecutive sends. Jimbo dubbed the route “Is My Driving Dangerous?” (24). Andrew was up next and he fell on the crux. I flashed the route after a bit of time in the crux. Jorge climbed the route quite well reaching the same point as Andrew, though he ended up screaming veraciously and aiding his way up some of the rest of the route as he fell off. He was having a good time.
The second line saw Marijus set off first and fall near the top. He was very disappointed with his lapse of concentration. Jimbo went up second and sent the line calling it “Crispy Chicken” (23) which was an ode to David’s love, or borderline obsession, with chicken. We all teased him about his chicken but to be honest, it was normally the best option for lunch and dinner regardless. Andrew went up and got quite far, past the crux actually, before coming off. I flashed the line and was pretty excited about the two lines as they were fantastic climbing!
These were seriously amazing lines that were not overly difficult and yet looked like they would be tough as nails before there was chalk on the holds. Jorge had some bad luck and could not manage to work out the sequence to arrive at the first bolt. David made it to the second bolt quite comfortably before a foot error saw him fall off right before the easy ground.
We headed back to the hotel for the rest of the morning and returned to the crag for the afternoon so that we could work on the two routes in preparation for the final. We worked together to figure out the sequence on routes 3 and 4. We dubbed route 3 the “Burden of Guilt” project owing to the drilled pockets to allow the route to flow at around 28. The “Full Circle” project is much much harder, my guess was 32/33. It felt harder than the line Clinton and I were working in Blouberg previously, which is essentially a slab boulder problem. There is a sequence past the circular dish of crimps but it is nails. I did the moves once so there is a discernable sequence but it was beyond all of us for this sort of timeframe.
The next morning the bus arrived on time and we were ready to climb by 7:30. But we needed to wait for the Commissioner to arrive with the television crews. This only happened around 9:00. Fortunately we managed to climb the long “Burden of Guilt” line in the shade. Andrew set off first and reached the overlap before falling off. Marijus fell off a little higher than Andrew. I set off first climbing past the first crux before I broke a foothold. I was really disappointed but had another chance. Jimbo cruised past the first crux, then past my highpoint and continued another 4 bolts falling just before the top out due to a breaking hold. We were all cheering and impressed! I got back on after he was finished and slipped off lower than my previous attempt. At this point we all knew that it would take something special to alter the outcome of the competition.
The final route ended up being very tricky as we expected but none of us reached the points we expected. Marijus and Andrew fell off at the second bolt and Jimbo and I were off at the 4th. I was hoping to reach the 5th but was outwitted by the sequence yet again. Jimbo, Marijus and I were unable to escape the cameras and were interviewed about the routes and our feelings towards the MARE Festival. We were able to head back to the hotel and prepare for the closing ceremony and prize giving. I was feeling a bit ill so I wasn’t in the best of moods but the rest of the crew was psyched! They were dancing and partying from the onset of the concert. We were seated on stage with the kings, senator, governor and commissioners of the state. Once again, this was quite an honour. We weren’t quite as please to be seated in front of the wall of speakers but after we found some toilet paper to stuff in our ears we were a bit happier.
The ceremony and concert were great. We eventually made it back to the hotel around 12am and got some rest. The next day was a full rest day as the bus was in Lagos dropping off the Spanish climbers. I enjoyed taking the day off and sleeping off some of my illness but the others were rearing to go. Everyone else made their way to the local market to buy some Skorpio Vodka, which did in fact have a scorpion in it and which was eaten by David! I guess the chicken ran out or something. Bob was less than impressed with the jail break owing to the fact that the government was directly responsible for our safety.
Monday, the bus was late again and we did not get in much done in the way of climbing. Time was short and our tempers were getting shorter too. We only had Monday and Tuesday left to climb and bolt lines but most of Monday was wasted. When we arrived at the trad climbing area there was a fire right beneath the routes. It seemed as though Murphy was working against us. We ended up walking up the 660 steps to the Ancient Idandre Village. It was an impressive sight but there was so much litter all over the place, it was really an eyesore. Before it becomes a world heritage site it will be necessary to clean the area thoroughly and ensure that other people respect it as much as the visitors will.
On our final day the bus was right on time. We made it to the school yard nice and early and we got in all the climbing we possibly could before the wall went into the sun. After it was in the sun, Paul, Marijus, Jimbo and I did some bouldering. The problems were fun but our skin was a serious limiting factor after having climbed so many granite routes. By lunch time we had all given up and decided to call the climbing portion of our trip closed. Jimbo, Marijus and Andrew managed to get in some swimming that afternoon while Paul and I walked to the supermarket to buy some Nutella and bread for the drive to Lagos in the morning.
The drive back to Lagos was chaotic, even more so than the drive to Akure, as we were now in the lane that vehicles would drive head on towards us. It was not particularly worrisome though. I think we had all gotten used to the idea that the drivers were actually in control of the situation. The drive was actually quite interesting, particularly once we were in Lagos and had to drive 45 minutes to make a U-turn simply because the centre barrier wouldn’t allow any for quite some distance.
Overall, the trip was great fun. The climbing was good, the rock was of high quality and I would really be interested in returning next year. Now that we have a good idea of what is required of us for the MARE Festival, we can be more prepared with the right mentality for the event as well as bringing along some more specialized gear, like plastic holds and material to build a climbing wall for the kids.
We all hope to return to Nigeria next year.