Arriving on an Ibom Air flight Z4 0101 from Lagos, we touched down at the Obong Victor Attah International Airport, Uyo at 11:00 hours, or thereabouts, and were warmly received by Madam Shalom Asuquo-Ankoh, CEO of Travel Lab, and our host the Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Tourism, Honorable Orman Esin and his team.
We, the team from Lagos led by Ambassador Ikechi Uko, comprised of Madam Ime Udo, CEO of Leadway Travels and Vice President of NATOP; Michael Balogun of Tour2Nigeria; Obinna Emelike of BusinessDay; Ms. Frances Ukpabio; Sam Opoku and I. From Abuja, came Namure Erhahon of Brisk Travels on the same flight with Prof. Edem Eniang, a leading herpetologist and Director of the nonprofit Biodiversity Preservation Centre (BPC) in Uyo.
Together we got on a tour bus where a couple of other persons, including tour operators from Rivers State, Helen Arinze-Odumodu and Mina Princewill were waiting; and we drove down to the headquarters of Ibom Air where we were received by the COO of the airline, George Uriesi along with Director of Airline Services, Amaka Echetabu and Group Manager (Marketing & Communications), Aniekan Essienette.
After a brief meeting which centred on promoting Akwa Ibom tourism and the role of the state-owned Ibom Air in facilitating tourists’ arrivals, the combined group under the aegis of Naija7Wonders got on the bus and we set off to explore one of Akwa Ibom’s innate assets – gastronomy. For the record, Akwa Ibom is a foodie’s paradise and the state should be a leading culinary tourism destination.
All set for lunch, we arrived at Much More, a respectable eating spot in town, serving an assortment of exquisite local cuisines. After taking our seats, our orders were taken and the team listened to the erudite Prof. Eniang educate us on various wildlife species endemic to Nigeria, particularly the region.
Some of these species include, the pincushion ray or thorny freshwater stingray – Dasyatis ukpam, Calabar Ground Python – Calabaria reinhardtii, and the Calabar Angwantibo or Calabar potto – Arctocebus calabarensis, a strepsirrhine primate of the family Lorisidae. Others include Sclater’s guenon – Cercopithecus sclateri, and the Zebra Gecko – Hemidactylus eniangii. Finger foods, or what we refer to in these parts as “small chops” was served, as we devoured the mental pabulum Prof was dishing out.
Meanwhile, the aroma of the delicious meals being freshly prepared from the nearby kitchen wafted into our nostrils, as we struggled to concentrate on Prof’s lessons on wildlife and conservation. We learnt from him that alligators are not found in Africa. According to him, what people refer to as alligator in these parts is actually a species of crocodiles.
Soon the food was served and everyone enjoyed the savory offering. Fisherman’s soup seem to be a hit among those who asked for it. Other offerings included: afang and editan, etc. With our stomach stuffed and soul pleased like Isaac, it wouldn’t have been difficult for a smart person to have asked of us a request which we would have gladly granted. Thankfully, neither a Jacob nor Esau was nearby.
We got back on the bus and made our way down to the Biodiversity Preservation Centre (BPC), a privately-owned mini zoo by Prof. Eniang. It was another educative session as the Prof showed us around. Some of the species we saw included civets, monkeys, pythons, turtles, parrots and crocodiles. A few plant species with medicinal properties, like pepper fruit – Dennettia tripetala – were also identified.
A palm wine ceremony took place, as a keg of the potent sap was brought. Each person was handed a drinking calabash, while pepper fruit leaves and a plate with some salt and pepper was put on the table. Usually, the pepper fruit is preferred, but because it is not always in season, fresh pepper is used. A pronouncement was made in the local dialect by the young man who brought the wine, after which he took the first draught.
The wine was then served and the drinking commenced. You take a leaf, dip in salt and shake to remove the excess and then chew with or without pepper fruit. This, we learnt helps to make the palm wine go down well. Before we departed, we were given BPC T-shirts, while the Honorable Commissioner made a cash donation, as well as two domestic animals to BPC.
It was already dusk by this time and the bus took us down to Ewet Housing Estate, where our hotel was located. We checked into Majesty Realm Hotels and after a freshening up, we got on the bus and set out for the Christmas Village. The Honorable Commissioner was waiting to receive us on arrival, having departed from us at BPC when we came down to the hotel.
The Uyo Christmas Village offers a 32-day Christmas experience. All around, the light shone brightly with music and lots to eat and drink at several stalls and booths. There was also a soccer contest played under the floodlights. After a tour of the village, we settled down to enjoy dinner and some refreshments, before retiring for the day.