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Some of my most memorable trips have been to places I’d never intended to go. Calabar, in eastern Nigeria, was one of them.

For all practical purposes, to the outside world, Nigeria equals the chaotic megacity of Lagos and Lagos is Nigeria. Peer a little closer of course and there’s a lifetime more to discover. Serendipity brought me first to Nigeria (Lagos, of course), and then farther afield until the little aircraft I was in was taxiing into Calabar, 400 miles east of Lagos and not far from the Cameroonian border.

Calabar was a former slaving port of course, and now a quiet village between two important rivers. An old colonial church flanked some government buildings, set among hardwoods on the red soils of West Africa. The forest was serious, with thick mahogany trees and a thick canopy. It was tropical, but not jungle. And it was shrouded in damp, grey clouds when I arrived.

As the clouds parted the hillsides appeared. It could have been the hills of northern Nicaragua, if I squinted, painted with the same mix of magic and authenticity and primordial disquiet. Evenings the streets filled with couples on motorbikes, goats in the marketplace, the church bell, trucks with loudspeakers on their roofs advertising on wheels. For that matter it could have been western Sumba in Indonesia, another place on earth that shares the distinction of being memorable, magical, and totally unplanned.

May life bring more little evocative adventures like Calabar; it’s too short not to catch a glimpse of these magical corners of earth.


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