A 9-day adventure through Southern Nigeria
By Jumoke Munu
The thought of going on a 4-day trip in one state in Nigeria is exciting, but spontaneously traveling across states in two regions, and with like-minded folks, is an indescribable thrill.
Last July, I was invited by the Nigeria Association of Tour Operators (NATOP) to its Annual General Meeting in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State. It was short notice, but I was good to go; but many tour operators I know and have bonded with on trips over time couldn’t make it for different reasons.
First of all, introductions
And just as I was wondering who would be my travel buddies on the trip, my friends from Nigeria Tourism Lovers (an excellent WhatsApp Group that’s a fine hub for travellers and travel practitioners in Nigeria) connected me with two colleagues who had confirmed their participation and would be departing from Lagos.
We hooked up shortly and booked our road trip. The plan was to spend three days in Uyo, for the tour operators’ programme, spend an extra day sightseeing in a neighbouring state, and then return to Lagos.
On the way to Uyo, I got properly acquainted with my newfound friends Tola and Aisha, played games and laughed so hard over jokes and other shenanigans. Tola is a super jovial person, with him there’s no dull moment and he’ll always bring good vibes to light up the whole place. He’s also a tour operator and a photographer. Aisha (aka Aisha of Magsha) is a great travel buddy as well; both were great company and it didn’t take long before we bonded.
This night-time fun was followed next day with a gastronomical adventure, with the state treating us to diverse delicacies; spoiled for choice, I started ordering meals which names sounded interesting. Needless to say that I fell in love with the state and its culture.
I love the ambiance of Uyo, the fact that it’s not a jam-packed place compared to where I live (Ibadan). And there is much to be said about how soothing the city’s overall outlook is.
Ikot Abasi, a historical marvel
On the third day, we visited the colonial-era building often called the Amalgamation House, located in Ikot Abasi, in two coaster buses and a couple of cars, all filled up. Ikot Abasi is a repository of sorts of key events from Nigeria’s past, including memorials to the famed Aba Women’s protest (1921).
The town also houses important relics of the trans-Atlantic slave trade: the Point of no Return, slave bunker/ dungeons and a slave warehouse almost the size of a basketball pitch.
The highlight of the visit for me was finding out that the Aba women protest didn’t only happen in Aba, but that it extended to the creeks of Ikot Abasi and other communities of the South-South and South East. I was also fascinated by the seafood we saw at the market while driving past and I heard that they’re affordable and fresh because they are freshly smoked.
According to our original plan, we were to spent Day 4 in a state in the South-East, but within a twinkle of an eye we changed that to Obudu Cattle Ranch in Cross River State, about eight hours away by road.
As would be expected, we lost time discussing the decision and costing the additional expense. Once we came to a consensus, we hired a ‘space-bus’ because we had two other interested adventurers joining us. The bus took us from our hotel in Uyo to Oron where we had decided to take a boat ride to Calabar.
We learned it would be a shorter travel time than if we travelled by road. I didn’t know what I was expecting to see at Oron but I was fascinated with the sight of the creek and the Atlantic Ocean flowing side by side without borders but both were flowing on their own and the fact that they didn’t mix kept me wondering and amazed at how beautiful this sight is.
A spicy delicacy, and a long drive uphill
The journey on water was exhilarating. The boat was duty bound to stop at two marine check points for inspection; if the vessel isn’t carrying illegal freight, the checks are a breeze. Immediately we reached shore at Calabar Marina, we took bikes to the park close to University of Calabar, and where Obudu buses are been loaded. No sooner had we alighted from the bikes than we were welcomed with roadside hot and spicy pork that we couldn’t resist. It was really tasty and this pork is now added to my list of must-eat every time I visit Calabar.
The bus set out at 4:00pm. Our deal with Haruna, the driver, was that he would take us uphill after all other passengers must have alighted downhill; a friendly guy, he let us play music our device on his vehicle via Bluetooth and we had a beautiful road trip karaoke. When we eventually got to Obudu, however, Haruna declined to drive us up to the cattle ranch, so we had to book a hotel downhill for the night.
Aisha had reached out to some of our Tour Operator friends who recommended that we stay at a hotel called Valley of Beracah. Aisha was able to negotiate the prices and we got a good deal for our overnight stay. At first, I was skeptical but eventually I settled in and at this stage all my folks were beginning to bombard me with questions and I gave them full update about my long trip and afterwards I had a really cold bath and slept like a baby until Haruna’s call came in.
“Living in the clouds”
It’s now Day 5. We woke up just before 6am and began the journey that’ll take us uphill. Haruna had recommended another driver for that leg of the trip, but we had to wait until the vehicle was fully boarded; that achieved, the bus set out at 10 am. We began our tour of the ranch almost immediately, welcomed by the thick fog and a freezing weather.
I didn’t come prepared for such a cold weather, so I had to wear five tops to keep slightly warm. We got ready to start the day’s tour; our tour guide was outside waiting when we stepped out. At this time, everywhere was clear but moments later, we couldn’t even see who was standing next to us. We were living in the clouds, literally.
Our itinerary included visiting the African huts, the canopy walkway, Grotto mini waterfall, the Holy Mountain and the Presidential Villa. We playfully dipped our feet in the waterfall and enjoyed the feel of the rush on our bare feet. I was dazed by the waterfall walkway, with its charming carpet grass. I can say that it’s the best waterfall walkway I’ve seen in Nigeria.
Just while we were at the waterfall, it began to rain heavily and our hopes of doing more tours hit a brick wall. The guide left us at this moment, because he had to attend to other tasks. So, we had to find our way to the market for lunch, hike up the Holy Mountain and then locate the presidential villa.
As a hiker, I’ve been to several mountain areas with beautiful views, but Holy Mountain stole my heart. It’s got the most beautiful view I’ve ever seen in my life –from the waterfall gushing out to fogs floating on the surface of the earth and then the bikes riding on the trails and crossing slowly into Cameroon.
Our tour of the Presidential Villa began with the Donald Duke apartment, followed by the super beautiful huts and then to the canopy walkway in Becheve, where we viewed the radiant forest covered in fogs just before it began to drizzle. I also saw the fattest cattle — I didn’t know cattle could be this fat and cute. Obudu made me believe in the beauty of nature and makes me more than ready to see the next beautiful places in Nigeria.
Shortly, we retired to the bar with some new friends. The revelry done, we exchanged contacts on our way out of the canopy walkway and I was grateful for the warmth the bonfire gave us that night.
Day 6: We left Obudu at dawn, headed to Ebonyi, Enugu and then Lagos. We reached Enugu late in the afternoon, famished. I rushed a tasty plate of rice and stew. Afterwards, we booked a Lagos-bound night bus; we had a few hours to kill, so we headed out to the breathtaking Ngwo Pine Forest.
At about 9:00pm, our bus left Enugu and I was excited about the night journey as I haven’t really traveled that long and in a commercial vehicle overnight. Before I knew it, I had slept off and we were already at Awka when I woke up. I asked why we were waiting and I was shocked to hear that the state had declared a curfew (12pm-4am), because of the ongoing election, and so we couldn’t proceed.
Sightseeing Benin City
At that time two of my co-travellers were out enjoying the local night life. I shook off the sleep in my eyes and went to join them to sip on some drinks, eat suya, listen to good Ibo songs and gist away, forgetting my worries of getting to Lagos later than I had planned. The owners of the bar we sat were extremely sweet people, I honestly now rate Awka nightlife as one of the best nightlives I’ve ever experienced.
Kingsley would be our host here. He made us feel like we were back in our homes with his hospitality: he cooked up nice homemade food, after almost a day of junk food. In Benin City, we explored Ogba Zoo, the National Museum, the popular Igun Street and a beautiful art gallery owned by one of my travel buddies’ friend, Lucia. That’s not to mention that we also had a taste of the city’s night life, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
Our host also succeeded in convincing us to stay an extra day, this made us spent two nights and three days in Benin. On our 9th day, we almost got tempted to go on another adventure but we decided to return to Lagos and rest. We agreed that we’ll brainstorm and plan another adventure asap.