It was my first trip out of Lagos post – COVID – 19 and destination was Obudu Mountain Resort as a support cast to a team from Naija7 Wonder on expedition to the resort to verify the state of the resort following series of stories about it being a dead end for tourists.
Also, the sordid tales of bad roads from Calabar to Obudu was another major concern.
I guessed the last time I was at the resort was either in 2013 or 2014 for the now rested Obudu Mountain Race, which was one of the activities generated by the state government then to drive traffic to the resort. There was palpable expectation in the air but not with a feeling of trepidation.
The trip was almost truncated as Air Peace a night before the trip cancelled the flight to Calabar without any explanation or alternate fly. Typical of Nigerian airlines you would say.
Wait for this, the same thing happened on the return trip but Ibom Air came to the rescue on both legs. I suspect Air Peace is beginning to witness a lull in it operations. Well, that is a story for another day. The trip to Calabar on this fateful Tuesday morning was a smooth one and I must say I was impressed with Ibom Air. That was my first time though.
Mr. Nkereuwen Onung, chairman of Remlords Travel, who is also the chairman of the board of Nigerian Association of Tour Operators (NATOP) and first Deputy President of the Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigeria (FTAN), was already at the airport to pick us; my colleague (Frank Meke) and myself.
After the rousing exchange of pleasantries, as it was the first time this year of we meeting the man we all fondly call Remlords or chairman, the driver sent the engine roaring but not without a brief discussion on the best route to take; either Calabar – Ikom – Boki – Obudu or Calabar – Ikom – Ogoja – Obudu. We decided on the formal as Remlords was more comfortable with it since it has been awhile he took the later.
I recalled that Calabar – Ikom – Ogoja – Obudu route was the route I took on my first trip to resort years back following the advice of a colleague, Paul Oloke, who was from Ogoja. God bless his soul as Oloke has since passed on. The first baptism we received on the route was spending about one hour between Calabar and Odukpani axis, no thanks to the bad portion of the road.
With trepidation we continued and to our surprised and of course, relief, from Baise to Obudu, the long stretch of road was comfortable to travel. Our only stop was at Ikom where we retreated for about 30 minutes to refuel and have our brunch as it was our first meal of the day.
It was great once more to be lost in the savoury and flushing natural environment with its greenery, and catch a glimpse of the pristine and serene local communities littering the route. We arrived at the gate of the resort just close to sun set and disembarked to register our presence at the entrance check – in and for photo shoot before beginning the journey of driving up the resort, which is over 1, 576 metres above the sea level. It is always a thrill driving up the resort through the 11 kilometres winding road, with about 22 bend.
In mine numerous trips to the resort one has done the drive up with okada and small cars (Taxis) as well as the cable car, which is about 870 metres (2, 850 feet) climb from the base. They all elicit different thrills and adrenaline push.
At the time was arrived the resort, the team of Naija7Wonder that had made it on Monday, a day before our arrival, were out exploring the resort. Our first spot of exploration was the Holy Mountain, with Declan, our tour guide, snaking his way ahead on his okada. This was one of the best times to actually be up the mountains and plateaus of Obudu, with the sun set gliding through the rolling hills and mountains.
It presents some kind of heavily sighting and bliss as you are enclosed in the warm embrace of the serenading Holy Mountain. Obudu plateau is a plateau found on the Oshie Ridge of the Sankwala Mountain range, spanning an area of over 40 square miles (100sq km) and rises to about 5, 200 feet, with its peak rising to a height of about 1,716 metres (5,630 feet) above sea level.
It is both awesome and enthralling sight to behold, with Sankwala Mountain range spreading afield into the Cameroun region Behind us is Nelia waterfall, one of the pockets of waterfalls, which is named after one of the daughters of former governor Donald Duke, the man, who re-energised the resort and brought it back from the brink through his sheer genius as one of the tour operators described him. Remlords described the resort as heavily.
Here you feel the quietude of nature as you are sometimes enclosed in the misty cloud or fog and all you hear around is the breath of nature with cascading sound of water from the waterfall, and the chirping and chattering sounds of birds.
The Holy Mountain to the locals is a hallowed and sacred ground because God is believed to dwell here in His awesomeness and majestic aura.
The people hold the belief that any prayer offered here gets direct access to God and easily elicit positive response from Him. While here you are also afforded a bird eye view of some of the resort’s communities and interact with the people, especially the children who are always fascinated by the sight of tourists.
With darkness gradually enveloping the hills and mountains, we made a retreat back to the resort and checked into our rooms, the presidential lodge at the chalets section. Plush and elegant to behold with exuding opulence but you no doubt notice that the élan and luxuriating aura of it doused by the years of abandonment.
This is the kind of picture and feeling that you get around, however, the resort has managed to keep it natural enchantment and attraction, especially with its natural environment still exuding it contagious and alluring elements. Certainly, you get a different thrill and experience depending on whether you are closeted at the chalets, which were the original blocks, now looking old fashion but still retains its appeal or the African hut and villas section where you also have the new Presidential lodge, further down, all looking span and swanky.
Refreshed and rested, I made my way late in the night to the forecourt of the restaurant to catch the last bit of the musical entertainment and bonfire show put on display for the benefit of the visitors by the local entertainers. It was a romantic night no doubt and early the next morning the team set out for Calabar but not without making a detour at the water park by the foot of the resort to catch a glimpse of the abandoned site but which is being brought back to life presently.
In all, one came away with the discovery that the resort’s magic wand remains unaffected by the lull. This is because it is a naturally luxuriating élan, which cannot be eclipsed by either bad management or years of neglect as it has been the recent history of the resort.
What is most important is the fact that the resort is still very much alive and back to its winning ways. Though it is not 100 per cent full proof, but there is a commitment and political will on the part of the management and state government to rewrite the wrong and make it once again the hub of Nigeria tourism because there is really no other site in the country that compares to its.
With its natural appeal, elegant and sophisticated facilities and service culture and most importantly, the avalanche of activities and excitement that one is sure to harvest. There is never a dull moment while here as you never can exhaust or explore all of its attractions and offerings no matter the number of days you spent here.
But you are however, guaranteed a romantic and refreshing time with nature at it best. Of course the people also make the difference. If you have never been at the resort, this is the best time to visit, as it is a blooming season. Make it ‘Christmas in Obudu’ and not ‘Christmas in Calabar’ or elsewhere and you will be glad you did.
By Andrew Iro Okungbowa