Tourism: Why I think Obudu should be one of Africa’s leading holiday destinations

Niyi

I have been somewhat reluctant to put this narrative down, even if I had rehearsed the story over and again in my head. Now, you may suspect that this due to me not having a particularly great experience. Well, that assumption won’t be true.

As a matter of fact, I have a deep longing to return to Obudu.

When the CEO of Remlords Travel and Tours talked about Obudu and its magnetism such that you never want to leave once you’re there, it looked like he was just trying to ‘sell market‘ – after all he is just a tour operator.

Scratch that! Nkereuwem Onung is not just a tour operator. He was the immediate past president of Nigerian Association of Tour Operators (NATOP) and presently Chairman of its Board of Trustees.

He has spoken about Obudu on two particular webinars: first, on the Seven Wonders of Nigeria platform and also on the Wonders of Africa. His commentaries were glowing and piqued my interest in the destination, located in Obanliku Local Government Area of Cross River State in Nigeria’s South-south region.

But then, some other reports were making the rounds that Obudu was not what it used to be. When you live in a country like mine, you know a thing or to about how things gradually depreciate because of mismanagement.

So, whose report do we believe on this matter? Is Obudu dead, as some proclaimed? Is Oga Remlords trying to pull the cotton over our eyes?

For emphasis and avoidance of doubt, I yearn for Obudu like a lover away in a distant place from his love, counting the days when he will return home to a loving, warm embrace he has missed so much.

What is it about Obudu that has brought this pining?

My affair with Obudu began definitively on November 9, 2020. It was a Monday and after an hour flight from Lagos aboard Ibom Air, we touched down in Calabar.

Mr. Onung was waiting for us at the Margaret Expo Airport, preparatory to the long 8-hour bus ride to Obudu. We – a team of tour operators and travel journalists from Lagos, Ibadan, Port Harcourt and Calabar – got on a coaster and set off on the journey. Another group was expected to arrive from Abuja later and meet us in Obudu.

The journey indeed was long.

After a slight delay waiting for one Nsikak, we made a stopover for lunch and another to take some pictures at the Ikom Bridge. We got to the foot of the mountain after 20:00hrs and it took another twenty-five minutes or thereabouts for the bus to navigate the winding intestine road up the mountain.

An experience which seemed tortuous to Mr. Nsikak.

We got to our destination, disembarked and found out that the Abuja team was hard on our tails, arriving within minutes. Into the reception we went and took in the immediate surroundings as the keys to our rooms were sorted out. From there, we decided to grab dinner at the restaurant before retiring to our rooms.

There wasn’t much to do after the long journey, besides temperatures had dropped considerably. Day One was effectively over.

Day Two and I was up early. It was approaching 04:00 hours when I opened my eyes. I peered out of the window and it was still dark. I laid back in bed under the duvet and got up eventually around 06:00 hours to take my bath.

Together with my colleagues from the office, Sam and Wisdom, we set out to explore before breakfast and the day’s activities began.

The weather was still cool, even though the sun rose early. We went towards where the African Huts were built to take some pictures.

After some time, we returned to eat a filling breakfast, before going on another recce and were joined by Elohor, Frances and Modupe. The ladies were posing for pictures at a spot overlooking a valley when suddenly a panicked, loud cry issued from Sam.

All this while, Sam had been busy flying the quadcopter to get aerial footage of the surrounding.

Apparently, he flew too high, not taking cognisance that we were already on a plateau about 5,200 feet above sea level. The wind wanted to play and it seized the drone from Sam’s control. We watched the struggle as Sam tried to bring the Mavic home. The wind won the battle and we saw the drone drop down somewhere into the valley.

We made a quick decision to try and retrieve it, if possible. We spoke to some local Becheve folks who worked with the resort and they told us it would take some hours to navigate down and come back. Sam made a call to the boss to let him know the situation on ground, after which he set out with Linus, the Becheve staff of the resort and another fellow.

Wisdom, the ladies and I returned to join the rest of the group for a quick facility tour, before having a chat with Mr. Bobby Ekpeyong, the Special Adviser in charge of the resort.

By some miracle, Sam appeared about two hours later, as we were rounding off the chit chat with Mr. Ekpeyong, clutching the missing drone.

With the meeting done, we left to explore other attractions within the area, starting with the Presidential Villa and Angel’s View where we spent some time taking pictures.

From there, we moved on to the Becheve Nature Reserve, went up the Canopy Walkway and down to the Grotto Waterfalls.

On leaving the falls, we went up to the Holy Mountain, caught sight of the Cataract Waterfalls and the Bamenda mountain range in Cameroun. The views were spectacular. Pictures were taken and videos made, while some took time to offer orisons to the Creator – there is a belief that whatever you entreat of God on the Holy Mountain will be granted.

According to report, the Holy Mountain is thus named, because people used to go up there to pray and fellowship after it was discovered by missionaries back in the days. It also played a significant role during the Nigerian civil war, serving as a hideout and refuge for the locals.

After our time on Holy Mountain, we returned to the resort, deciding against a visit to the waterpark which is at down at the foot of the mountain. We were pretty drained and we needed to go freshen up and prepare for the bonfire later in the evening. Smarting a bit from the sun – I failed to use my sunscreen because of the cool weather, while the blazing sun licked my face – I contemplated staying indoors after dinner, away from the evening activities.

Eventually, the music and excited noise drew me out and I joined the excitement, recording the dance around the bonfire. The locals were on hand to partake in the fun and they entertained us, while a couple of them got prizes for dancing. On the team, Wisdom and Frances emerged as finalists, with Wisdom letting the men down by allowing Frances to outdo him for the best dancer prize.

A worthy speech was made by Ambassador Ikechi Uko, thanking the community, reminding them that Obudu is a gift God has given to them. Adding that God does not cast pearls before swine, God does not give things to people who don’t appreciate them, he encouraged them to keep taking care of the gift.

With that, it was time to head to the room and grab some sleep. The journey back to Calabar was set for 06:00 hours.

We were up early and set to depart when we discovered Geraldine was missing. On our journey from Calabar, Mr. Uko had given each person a number and it was to be a safety measure to help in making sure no one gets left behind when we go anywhere. Once we get back on the bus, each number is called out starting from one. Once a number is not responded to, we know the owner of that number is not yet on the bus – so the bus can’t leave.

That was how we found out Geraldine was missing.

With Geraldine found, we bade farewell to Obudu, stopping on the way down to enjoy views of the intestine road from the Devil’s Elbow. We arrived at the foot of the mountain and made straight for the waterpark while a whole lot of renovation work was going on.

Obudu reminds me very much of my time at Honde Valley in Zimbabwe.

The Eastern Highlands is one the most alluring places in Zimbabwe. The topography is undulating, with stunning views of rows of tea and coffee plantations, while the weather is absolutely wonderful.

Honde Valley, as the name states is a valley, while Obudu is up close to the clouds, yet the climes of both are similar and perfect for retreats, getaways and making babies – yes, you read that right.

Besides, Obudu strikes me like a place where you can build some adrenaline activities.

There used to be the Mountain Race back in the days, but I am thinking about day to day activities to add to the excitement of a hike to the waterfalls or the ride on the cable car.

Activities like paragliding. Is it possible to build a zipline or skywalk in the area?

Our journey resumed and we made a brief stop at Ogoja to get some litres of fresh palm wine, and later on to grab lunch. We arrived in Calabar as the hour raced towards 17:00 and drove down to Monty Suites.

After checking in and freshening up, we rushed out to go to TINAPA Lakeside Resort to see the extent of the damage done, following the spate of violence that ran through many part of the country as a result of the alleged mindless shooting of innocent protesters by men of the Nigerian army at the Lekki Toll-gate on October 20, 2020.

We returned to Monty Suites, ate dinner and went to bed – apparently, there was a curfew in Calabar still on and there was no chance to explore the night.

The next day, we went down to see the Calabar International Convention Centre (CICC) which was also thrashed in the violent reaction. We headed to the Margaret Ekpo Airport International Airport, boarded Ibom Air and returned to Lagos.

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