Going off what I had been told - a nice drive with senior diplomats and a couple doctors followed by a picnic - I decided a bottle of wine would be nice. Knowing less than nothing about how to select a nice wine, I asked a friend who made a recommendation. I also decided to make some cookies. I was a little uneasy about this choice - I knew the others were older Europeans and that they were bringing fruit, cheeses, and meats. I didn't know if homemade cookies would be deemed as "sophisticated" enough. In the end, I went with my gut - literally. I love the cookies and wanted an excuse to make some, secretly hoping they wouldn't like them so I'd have to eat all the leftovers! (Yeah, my superpower is that I can ingest an amazingly disgusting amount of sugar) Oh, I also decided to dress appropriately - a bit on the preppy side.
I arrived at my friends’ home and immediately knew something was off. The gate to his compound opened and there he was in grungy jeans, boots, a dingy long-sleeved shirt, and a baseball cap. Nothing matched. And he was standing in front of a bright banana-yellow truck-like vehicle with an open bed and seats inside.
As we hopped in the two-seater cab of the banana car, my friend told me the other diplomats would not be able to come, but that we were going to pick up the doctors and then head out. He said there would be six of us, and then explained that the truck was actually a 25 yr. old Austrian military personnel vehicle. We drove for about 10 minutes to the Julius Berger life camp. Berger, as they are more commonly known, is a German construction company – one of the largest construction companies here in Nigeria. They bring over a lot of ex-pats to work here and created a compound outside of Abuja to house them. Berger sets up their people very nicely! Anyway, we met up with the rest of the group – 12 Germans - with three Mercedes off-road safari vehicles. Everyone divided up between the four vehicles – I was now in the open bed with a doctor and three interns in their mid-twenties – and we took off.
As we drove past the lake, the doctor in the back of the banana vehicle told me how surprised he was that I was going with them. He had thought Americans were a little too . . . cautious (he wanted to say scared) and that we weren’t allowed to do anything like the outing we were on. I laughed and told him I had been invited on a “drive around the lake followed by a picnic.” The doctor laughed. I thought to myself, “Yeah, Sunday drive with diplomats around a lake followed by a picnic . . . very different than off-roading in an Austrian military personnel vehicle through the forest outside Abuja.”
For the next six hours we circled the lake. During the expedition, we experienced 2 popped tires, 4 incidents of vehicles getting stuck in mud, one vehicle getting stuck in a river and having to be towed (fortunately, we were towards the end of the journey), and getting lost multiple times. The original road we took began as a paved road, turned to a dirt road, then devolved to a dirt path, a walking trail, and finally a general direction. It was at that point that the banana vehicle became the lead vehicle, turned in the general direction of where we were supposed to go, and began to forge a path. Literally, this tank plowed a path through the forest, mowing over small trees, shrubs; anything in its path! Unfortunately, as a result, I became intimately familiar with the flora and fauna of the region. Each time we’d create a path, the vehicle would disturb the trees and the insects, spiders, bugs, ants – whatever else lay in wait in the trees – would rain down on those of us in the bed of the vehicle. At one point, we smashed through branches on which hung a beehive. The vehicle behind us later explained how funny it was to watch five grown men jump out of their seats, swatting at the air and yelling at seemingly nothing. Oddly enough, didn’t seem so funny at the time to those of us in the vehicle.
At the end of the day, we stopped at a gated area on the edge of the lake, sat around eating barbeque and recounting the adventure of the day. They didn’t touch the wine, but they loved the cookies. Thanks, Babe. It was your recipe. Wish you had been there, also. I ended the day without having seen any animals, but with a horrible sunburn on my face, neck, and arms, and swollen arms and legs from about 25 bee stings and bug and spider bites all over. But it was a fun day. And don't worry, I talked to the doctor the next day and none of the bites were poisonous and nothing had laid larva eggs under my skin.