Trip to: Cross River State
Date: January 31st – February 4th, 2014
Trip Leaders: Robin and Hugh Campbell
Trip Report: Lesley Lababidi
All eleven Cross River explorers are in good spirits as we embark on the highly anticipated journey to Calabar, Afi Mountain, and Obudu Cattle Ranch. A diverse and concentrated agenda has been organized by Robin and Hugh Campbell. Over the next five days, we will delve into the history of Calabar, learn about wildlife and environment conservation, and explore the mountainous region of the Afi Mountain and Obudu Plateau.
On Friday morning, we fly Arik Air from Lagos and arrive in Calabar only one hour behind schedule. The short wait to collect our luggage gives us a chance to admire wooden wall panels that depict nsibidi motifs, an indigenous system of writing.
We climb aboard our bus and enter Calabar, the capital city of Cross River State, which is situated in the extreme southeastern corner of Nigeria. Distinctively different from Lagos, we admire Calabar’s tidy sidewalks, rolling hills, and treelined, flowering gardens. Cross River State boasts ‘The People’s Paradise’, and we are ready to experience it.
We arrive at the Transcorp Metropolitan Hotel, drop luggage and quickly climb back aboard the bus that takes us to the Marina. At the dock, a motor boat awaits us to drive to Creek Town. Our boat maneuvers around fisherman and boats filled with villagers and produce on their way to market. The banks of the Calabar River are lined with dense mangroves and lush palms.
We pass Twin Island. Here, Mary Slessor, who arrived in 1878 as a missionary from the United Free Church of Scotland, fought against the killing of twins in infancy. During that time, the tribes of this region believed that twins were a result of a curse. They believed one of the children was fathered by an evil spirit. Mary Slessor educated people that these beliefs were not true and risked her life to rescue twins. She hid the twins on this island now called Twin Island; this land is owned by the descendants of those rescued and orphaned.
Once at the jetty of Creek Town, we begin our trek along the hilly, red-dirt roads. The first Scottish Presbyterian missionaries began their work here. Life along these roads seem to have been frozen in the time of the last century.
A two storey prefabricated house built possibly around 1890 stands on a hill that overlooks the creek. Generations of chiefs from this community lived in this now dilapidated house. The name above the door reads, Eyo Eria Ikon. Old pictures dangle from walls; phonograph records collect dust on a table; a chandelier swings; a cracked mirror shows reflections of a past not quite suffocated. Through a translator, we speak to an elderly woman, the great-grand daughter of the owners of this house. She says, the inheritors plan to renovate this once grand house.
Returning to the path, we come across cast-iron cannons, an old 1846 ship bell, the District Mission Court House, and the Presbyterian Church that was founded by Reverend Hope Masterton Waddell who arrived from Liverpool in 1846.
As the sun is weakening in the afternoon haze, we climb aboard the boat and return to the Marina to head for Calabar Drill Ranch. This rehabilitation center and captive-breeding program is dedicated to Drill monkeys, Mandrillus leuophaeus. Pandrillus, a Nigerian NGO, was founded by Peter Jenkins and Liza Gadsby to re-introduce drill monkeys to the wild. Peter Jenkins welcomes us to the center and speaks to the serious threat to both wildlife and rainforest throughout Cross River State.
We return to the hotel to freshen-up. Sylvie and Andy Dunn hosts us at their home. We enjoy a delightful meal in their beautiful garden. Two speakers join us. Imong Inaoyom speaks to the group not only about the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Cross River Gorilla of which there are only 300 in existence, but also Drill monkeys and chimpanzees. Chief Orok Okon speaks about the history of Calabar and presents the Nigerian Field Society with two books, The Quas: A Historical Perspective and Belief Systems. Peter Jenkins joins the dinner and reminds us of the importance of conservation and the dangers to the environment when natural habitat is lost in southeastern Nigeria.
We bid farewell to our hosts and return exhausted to the hotel for a short night and rise early to be on the bus at 7:30 and begin our second day.
On time, we pack the bus and begin the long journey to Alf Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary. Thanks to Sylvie Dunn our upgraded transportation vehicles provide more room and comfort. A five-hour drive north of Calabar through rainforest, villages, and plantations on rough roads, we arrive at Ikom Town. To our relief, we find a well-stocked grocery store with cold drinks.
Thanks to Peter Jenkins, a police escort arrives. We pile into the truck beds and begin a two-hour drive over approximately 56km. The dirt road winds up and down steep hills and through streams made passable only by wooden planks. The scenery is stunning with views of the Afi massif towering over the camp.
At the Sanctuary, the resident biologist, Lindsey Maess, introduces us to the dedicated keepers and researchers that care for the dwindling population of wild drill monkeys, gorillas, and chimpanzees. She emphasizes the serious encroachment from farming, hunting, and logging all of which threaten the rainforest and the natural habitat of forest animals.
The sanctuary is home to about 400 Drill monkeys and a group of chimpanzees. The area of Afi Mountain Sanctuary is nearly 100 square km. Different groups of animals live in massive enclosures, each approximately 20 acres in size. These enclosures are large enough to assimilate living in the wild. It is hoped that one day these animals can be reintroduced to their natural habitat. We watch the keepers roll wheelbarrows of food into each enclosure and observe the line of dominance as each monkey rushes for food.
The camp is set up for overnight visits for those who are interested in experiencing camping and forest life. The accommodations are basic. Screened bungalows on stilts overlook the forest and mountains. After a complete tour of the facilities, we climb back in the pick up trucks to be reunited with the bus that will drive another two hours to Obudu Cattle Ranch .
It is nightfall. We drive along the switchbacks that lead to Obudu Plateau. When we arrive at Obudu Cattle Ranch, it has been nearly twelve hours since leaving Calabar. Rooms assigned, we meet for dinner and soon everyone bids goodnight to a second day filled with discovery and adventure.
A rolling mist covers the plateau in the cool, fresh morning air. We are ready for a day in nature! Professional guides from the Wildlife Conservation Society, who also are experts in birding avail themselves to lead individual or group hikes. Our groups divides up according to interests. Some experience the canopy walk and natural reserve. A group treks to Holy Mountain and the Cameroon border, returning to the resort to enjoy a dip in the stainless-steel pool and water-park, which is located at the foot of the plateau and can be reached by an Austrian-built and maintained cable car!
Another group of the very fit, hiking enthusiasts decide on a 7-hour trek to a distant waterfall. Along the way, one member points out the volcanic rocks from the once active tectonic environment, a process that created plateaus and valleys. The major rock types are Pre-Cambrian volcanic rocks—ancient shale rock and quartz. Birds are a prime interest. The group records the following bird sightings:
African Stonechart, Saxicola torquatus
Broad-tailed warbler, Schoenicola brevirostris
Red-collared widow bird, Euplectes ardens
Western green tinkerbird, Pogoniulus coryphaeus
Senegal Coucal, Centropus senegalensis
Green Turaco, Tauraco persa
Yellow-mantled weaver, Ploceus tricolor
The day concludes with a special dinner prepared personally by Chef Henry Ekane. Included on the menu are fresh, home-grown broccoli, strawberries and purple cabbage from the ranch’s organic garden. After a day of fresh air, exercise, nature, and good food, we retire satisfied to our rooms, which are cooled by the mountain breeze.
Returning to Calabar takes seven-hours. We, again, drive over rough roads only interrupted with a pleasant stop at Ikom Town to take cold drinks at our favorite grocery store. Back to Transcorp Metropolitan Hotel, the group dines at a local bush bar on grilled crocker fish.
Before saying good-bye to Calabar, our last morning in this fine city, we partake in a delightful, light breakfast at the home of Sylvie and Andy Dunn. With just enough time to visit the Calabar Museum, we head through the busy streets of Calabar before heading to the airport.
The Calabar Museum was constructed in 1884 for the British government to oversee the Bight of Benin and Biafra. It was prefabricated and shipped from England. The museum has a wealth of information from the slave trade, the story of colonial rule, production and export of palm wine, and Nigeria’s independence.
Standing on the veranda, the visitor enjoys a wonderful view of the Calabar River. On the ground floor, a superb library containing original documents during colonial times, gift shops, and exhibits. A cast iron bell, dated 1848 and used aboard a ship, is positioned on the grounds. Upstairs is a superb example of the living quarters used by colonial officers.
It is time to bid Calabar good-bye and return to Lagos. We extend our sincere gratitude to Robin and Hugh Campbell for organizing this excellent trip. The time, planning and gathering of people and information to put together a safe and interesting trip is, indeed, a feat of methodical organization. Thanks goes to Ayo Inika, native of Cross River herself, for first review of this trip. Appreciation goes to Sylvie Dunn who was instrumental in organizing reasonable rates and making sure our transportation was comfortable and to Andy Dunn for inviting dinner speakers, Imong Inaoyom and Chief Orok Okon.
Without the generosity of Peter Jenkins who provided two pick-up trucks with police escort, we might have found ourselves on a 2-hour okada ride! Many thanks to our drivers for driving over, around and through pot-holed, narrow roads to arrive safely at our destinations. And, as a Yoruba would say, we thank ourselves, for being open and flexible to receive abundance along the journey.
However, allow Chef Henry Ekane to have the last word, a proverb from his native Obudu Town: ‘The palm-wine tapper knows that to fill a calabash, the slow sap will drip all night.’