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Nigerian Field Society

Trip to: Camping Trip in Omo Forest

Date: February 4-6, 2012


Trip report: Stephen Turnipseed

The camping trip to Omo Forest has been long anticipated.  This outing would be extra special as it would be a 2-night trip over a 3-day holiday weekend toward the end of the dry season.  The organizer was Nicholas Wicks with the environmental NGO, Pro-Natura.

DAY 1 – Trip from Lekki to Omo Forest

The group of 5 adventurous guests met Nicholas at the Lekki Conservation Center on Saturday morning and formed a travel plan; distributed radios, determined order in the convoy, agreed on the exact route and maximum speed.  Escorted by a security chase vehicle we left at 8:30 AM under cloudy skies and a few scattered drops of rain which quickly dissipated.
After some distance past Epe we get on the main East-West highway which is paved and divided, although a bit overgrown with weeds.  Eventually we turn off on to a paved, but undivided road. Eventually the pavement ends and we are on a gravel road;  We know that we are getting closer to the forest when we start seeing logging trucks.  Our first stop, a small guest house in a community creatively named, “J4”.  This is where the security guards and the driver will sleep.  It is now 11:30 AM, a full 3-hour drive from Lekki without stopping.
After dropping off two of the guards and parking one of the cars and an SUV, we transfer gear into the pick-up truck then enter Omo Forest.  This area is not a pristine national park, but a loosely managed logging operation. Many of the trees we saw being hauled out were second generation plantings.
Another hour down a deeply rutted road with make-shift logs straddling streams we come the first really big obstacle, Bailey Bridge. This bridge spanning a significant river was build around 1960 by the British and basically has not had any maintenance since. The planks over the rusted iron works were rotted and impassable.  Our trip organizer had paid for the really bad spots to be topped with wood, but nothing had been done. It was now 1:00 PM so we relaxed and ate a sandwich for lunch while wood was located and put into place.
An hour later the bridge is deemed passable and the river crossing went without incident; It is a long way down to the bottom!  We continue for another 30 minutes down the rutted road over stumps and across streams.  Then the journey comes to a halt when we hit our final insurmountable obstacle; a big tree had fallen over the road.  No worries, it is only about 500 yards to the camp, … all up hill.  We hike our gear in, aided by a motorbike which carried the really heavy stuff.
A few trips up and down the trail in the hot humid air and we finally get settled into the clean and well maintained screened cabins with all our gear. It is now 2:30 PM.  We are hot, tired and hungry so everyone voted to sit down for a proper lunch under the covered table.

Camp Accommodations: The three cabins had six “proper beds” with foam mattress and mosquito net draped from the ceiling (since it was the dry season, I never saw a single mosquito the entire weekend).  A clever setup using a winch to lift/lower a bucket of water for a drip shower.  Water for bathing was dipped from a nearby rain barrel which is full from some prior showers.  Note: you need to bring your own drinking water.  There is a covered cooking area with a 2-burner propane stove which we would use to heat potable water for our instant meals and coffee.  There were kerosene lanterns available, but evening light was provided via a portable solar panel, battery and LED lights.  A single privet was a short walk down a well worn trail.
Immediately after unpacking and finishing lunch, our resident camp assistant, Titus, led the five of us on a hike.  The area has rolling hills with a few rocks sprinkled about.  The trail was clear of obstacles and easily traversed. Since this is the dry season, there was a layer of crisp dry leaves on the ground. Vegetation was healthy, but no so thick that would prevent a detour off the trail.
Around every bend there was a unique surprise such as a very large termite mound.  This area of the forest had some mature trees, some with extensive stilt roots or large buttress roots extending out for meters.  Then there was the occasional giant tree with massive trunk towering through the understory to become the dominant feature in the canopy.  Mature vines (lianas) draped from the trees in random twists.  Others were sending small threads down to make contact with the earth. 
Titus showed us evidence of the last visit an elephant made to this area about 6 weeks prior. There was a print left deep in the soft mud, now dried to form a cast of the foot that made it.  Of course there were also droppings and disturbed vegetation.
Hornbills called to each other with a sound like a young goat crying.  There were a few melodies from the common garden bulbuls, we did not find any other birds or animals on the mid-afternoon hike.
We returned to camp after about an hour of casually walking the loop and snapping pictures. Having seen the extensive logging operation on the way in, I was delighted with the protected area that I had seen.  This is why I came on the trip.
After a cool shower and dinner the group turns in early.  We go to sleep to the sounds of the frogs and insects.

DAY 2 – Climbing Beetle Hill

The next morning on our first full day in the forest, our plan was to climb a peak called “Beetle Hill”.  The view was suppose to be worth the trip, so off the 5 of us go, guided by Titus and the Pro-Natura driver, Bart.  We took two vehicles, a small 4-door Toyota Hi-Lux pick-up truck and one of the guest’s Toyota Land Cruiser.
Bart took us on a an unexpected detour along the way to take care of some official business.  He had seen some wood cuttings in the now protected zone and was going to have a word with the offenders.  We park next to their operation.  Turns out they are from the nomadic Fulani tribe typically found in Northern Nigeria.  This group is known for cattle driving and they are never without their herding sticks.  These young men were in the forest cutting small trees and making the sticks for sale.  Bart, gave then a strong lecture, then loaded the half dozen intruders and their wood cutting tools into the back of the pickup and off we go.  We drop them at a make-shift village a few kilometers away next to the river crossing.  Bart gives them the tools back and leaves them with a warning.  It is a never ending battle to protect natural resources.
Now that the illegal wood cutters had been removed, we could resume our quest to climb Beetle Hill.   First we have to get to it.  The small pick-up got high-centered on one of the make-shift log bridges and could not proceed.  Erik was a much more proficient off-road driver and skillfully navigated the obstacle with his Land Cruiser so we all pile into this vehicle for the rest of the journey. 
When we arrived at the base of the hill and follow Titus through the undergrowth and up the incline of moss-covered rock.  The vegetation was not a hindrance, but the hike was a good workout on this hot day.  Be sure to bring and drink plenty of water.
As we get closer to the top we find groups of small, but brilliant red beetles.  Ah, now I understand the name, “Beetle Hill”.   And after a strenuous hike we finally we reach the summit and enjoy the view which is nice and green (except for the haze from the harmattan dust).  No wide swaths of clear cut areas like I had feared.
One guest was a geophysicist, who broke open a piece of the rock and described it as “true granite”.  The trees were sending out roots across the granite surface to find any cracks to cling to.  The roots are useful to help climb the upper portion of the hill.  There is an unusual tree on the summit forming a perfect arch reaching 10 feet above the ground.  Titus showed us evidence of elephant visits.  Hard to believe that they would go to the effort to climb such a steep hill, but clearly they have.  We rested, walked around the top, admired the view then began the downhill hike and journey back to camp.
Early that evening, our host, Nicholas Wicks, showed us all of the interesting images that had been captured since December since three camera traps were first deployed near camp.  The units are motion triggered and have infrared capability at night.  Since much of the animal activity is after dark, this tool is one of the best ways to make systematic observations.  The animals included:   a solitary bull elephant, monkeys, civet cat, forest pig, squirrel, and tropical tree rat.  Also got couple of pictures of the wood cutters that we just evicted.
The group had our final dinner under the covered eating area and retired about 9:00 PM.  A cool breeze picked up indicating that it might rain, but it never came.  The slightly cooler temperature made sleeping more comfortable.

DAY 3 – Trip Home

After a casual breakfast, we packed up and hiked our gear down the hill to the vehicles.  The 90 minute drive out of the forest went smoothly as the big bridge was now repaired.  We met at the Pro-Natura office in J4, then swung by the guest house to get the driver and security.  The 3-hour drive back to Lekki went without hitch.

A Few Trip Notes

The trip was a series of adventures which I would recommend to anyone who likes the outdoors.  This is not a luxury safari, so don’t’ go with the expectation to see lots of wildlife from the back of an open top vehicle or have meals prepared for you.  Do go to enjoy being under the canopy of the tropical forest in reasonably comfortable accommodations.  There were no un-official road blocks on the road, but the police check points were numerous.  The camp was well built, clean and comfortable.  Guided hikes thorough the big trees and up Beetle Hill were the highlight for me.  The unexpected challenges with the large bridge, small log bridges, fallen tree, and removal of the wood cutters was all part of the experience.  There are some good picture taking opportunities.  Bird watching is challenging in the forest, but better close to the J4 guest house.  Go fully self-sufficient in food and water.  Take water with you on the hikes and stay hydrated.  This trip offers the opportunity to learn about the stresses being put on the forests in Nigeria and the good work being done by a few environmental NGOs. 


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