It was early September. And I was almost two weeks into a one month leave of work. That was some ample and valuable time! I had cash, but not much of it. I felt the urge to move… go somewhere, change my environment for a while. Daily, the weather was fair, with brilliant white clouds against gorgeous blue skies. That was a potent sign. I surely needed to be in some place(s) else, far better than the statues quo. I dared myself by fixing a date, and began to pack up as the day drew nearer. It was a Friday in the second week of September I set to leave, for at least a week. And to where…? It wasn’t just one place, but several places all in one place. Places I’ve never been before in a state I’ve been before. The places are in Cross River state, southeastern Nigeria. This place is a special place for obvious reasons which I would not bore you with in this post.
Cross River state… In at least three days. This was going to be one big adventure, I envisaged. I had only the basic necessities. No luxuries. I thougth that was good enough, and I set out early, by 8am. From Adoka in Benue state, to Ikom in Cross River state (CR/S), by public road transport.
My itinerary went like this –
1. Adoka – Otukpo (Benue), by cab. 30mins. N300. No delays at all.
2. Otukpo – Gboko, by cab. 2.30hrs. N800. 1hr delay to load + bad road.
3. Gboko – Vandeikya, by cab. 1.30hrs. N600. No delays. Fast loading cab that is not at the regular park.
4. Vandeikya – Obudu (CR/S), by motor bike. 30mins. N400. No delays.
5. Obudu – Ikom, by Sienna cab. 4.30mins. N1,200. Major delay of 1hr+ at park. And incessant stops to drop and pick passengers enroute Ikom.
So, I arrived Ikom as late as 7.30pm mostly due to loading time at the motor parks. Anyway, I was thankful I landed in one piece. All my belongings were in a brown backpack. One piece! Now I set out to find my base (lodge) from the gas station my transport had dispatched all its passengers. This was my first time in Ikom, I didn’t know anywhere. Cross River state is a relatively safe and very tourist friendly place, so I had little apprehension while waiting for a bike, alone in the early hours of night. I had just one vague address which I gave the motorcyclist that showed interest in me as I stood along the road. He was familiar with the location, so we sped off after breaking my last N1000 bill at Rain Oil gas station at popular junction I later learned to be Four Corners.
Tony is a new friend I met in an Adventure Forum online about a week earlier. He resides in Calabar, 4.30hrs away from Ikom by road. He was in Ikom already. He was lodged in a guest house in Mile 2, while I put up with a friend. Friend of a friend actually. Tony is adventurous. He quickly showed interest in the tour after I presented the opportunity.
After settling, Tony and I brainstormed (online) on our adventure for day 1 at Ikom. (You may be wondering why we chose to be in Ikom of all places in the whole wide Cross River state? You’ll find out shortly!)
Cross River state is a longitudinally stretched land mass with its capital Calabar, at the far bottom. The state is rich in recreational, natural, historic, and cultural sites, making it a real tourist’s dream. There is a lot to see, with most of these sites being Calabar, and some located centrally (Akamkpa/Ikom/Etung) and as far as Obanliku at the other end. It may take a minimum of a week for a relaxed tour of the entire state.
Popular tourist sites (and event) in the state include;
*Obudu Mountain Resort, Obanliku
*Agbokim Waterfall, Agbokim, Etung (via Ikom)
*Cross River State National Park (Akamkpa, Ikom, and Okwangwo Divisions)
*Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary/Drill Ranch, Boki
*Kwa River/Falls, Aningeje, Akamkpa
*Ikom Monoliths, Alok, Ikom
*Tinapa Business Resort, Calabar
*Annual Calabar Carnival, Calabar
Only few of these locations are very popular locations e.g. Obudu Mountain resorts, Agbokim waterfalls, Tinapa resorts, etc., while others as the State National Park with its three remote divisions and the Drill Ranch are very unpopular.
So, the locations we planned to see from our base in Ikom in no particular order are;
1. Agbokim waterfall
2. Cross River National Park
3. Ikom Monoliths
4. Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary
5. Kwa River/Falls
On the eve on our adventure, Tony and I decided on Agbokim waterfalls and Ikom Monoliths for Day 1 (on account of proximity), after doing some research online and getting helpful direction and tips from my host. Interestingly, one of the sites was unknown to him. We did not agree on the sites to visit on the following days because of uncertainties as unknown/unfamiliar location, distance to site, weather, etc. Unfamiliar location of site can lead you to get lost. And getting lost is expensive, timewise and moneywise, whether you’re touring in private or public transport. In fact, the latter is more expensive. And I did not have a budget for getting lost on this adventure.
Now, we had a plan for Day 1, I was set for a good night rest.
DAY 1: Agbokim waterfall + Ikom Monolith
Somewhere near Four Courners – Survival Park, by motorbike. N100. 10 mins.
Survival Park – Agbokim Waterfall. Motorbike. N800 for two.
8.30am saw me leave my friend’s friend’s place. I had a small cross bag containing my phone and camera chargers, notepad, Biro, ATMs and ID cards. My Nikon DSLR camera stayed in a tote bag. The atmosphere looked gloomy. Still rainy season. Typical, wasn’t it? These parts gets more than enough milimeters of rainfall at this time of the year. I prayed earnestly for the heavy clouds to make way for sunshine. The importance of light for good photographs cannot be overemphasized. Moreso, we needed fair weather for a dry and uninhibited adventure.
Earlier in the morning, I had called Tony for a rendezvouz at Survival Park. I spotted the signage of his lodge “Ejas Hotel” along the road, en route the park, via Mile 2 road. It should have been a very easy reach for him. All he needed do was to walk up the Mile 2 road and get a bike and head to the right. It wouldn’t take more than 2 mins to the park. But he got lost anyway! Bike took him to a bus park in the opposite direction to Survival Park. I phoned and gave him directions again so he could find his way back. I had to wait some more, after an initial 30 – 45 mins of waiting for him to get ready and be out. I sat patiently at a kiosk near the motorbike park. The cyclist conveyed passengers from here to Agbokim. They had scrambled for me as they did passengers dropped by cyclists from other destinations. They’ll even go as far as paying for fare for the dispatching bike so that there wouldn’t be delays. I watched with interest as they called out “Agbokim” to new potential riders. It is spelt ‘agbokim’, but sounds like “agbok’ oom” when pronounced by the locals. Noted! Later, my attention shifted to the dull skies as I raised my gaze. I had a blind optimism that the weather would clear even if it was evident that it would drizzle, shower or rain very soon. Finally, my empty stomach got my attention.
My hunger murmured without a sound. I needed some breakfast, no matter how small. It was going to be a long day. Tony was not going to be here anytime soon. I stood up from my comfort of the kiosk, and went on search of a meal. No canteen in the vicinity, so I took a walk in the direction I had come. After about 5 mins walk, I noticed a smoky shed on the opposite side of the road. It looked like a mini-canteen. The smoke emanated from firewood under a large pot beside the basic structure. In front of the shed was a plastic basket containing plates and cups, and a wash basin, on a table. A adolescent girl was on standby. No customers were seen sitted on any of array of benches next to miniature tables inside. I crossed the road to inquire of the menu offered. Jollof rice was my first choice for a meal today. But this was a special canteen. Only moi-moi was on sale. They were steaming in the cauldron over the smoky wood. The girl explained.
I requested for a serving as I took a sit. Jokingly, I asked that I would return it if it didn’t taste good. She smiled, as she got a 555 stainless steel plate in the plastic basket and headed to the black pot. My eyes shifted to main road to watch for Tony passing on a bike to Survival Park. At 10am the day was still young, to visit two locations, but with any more delays there would be a problem. We had no idea how far Alok where the Ikom Monoliths was, so we had to be done with Agbokim tour as early as possible. Besides, I feared for the weather.
My moi-moi serving arrived. It was brown, steamy and shaped like diver slipper for a baby. Freshly unwrapped from leaves that gave it flavour. I noticed some embedded ingredients- dark green, not fish or egg or kpomo. I was a quite disappointed. I cut and picked it with the fork that accompanied. It tasted OK. I ordered for another after devouring the first. Paid N200 (or less, if I remember correctly) and left. I did not want any trouble much of beans is notorious for in the digestive system, especially on a day as this.
Tony joined me shortly after I returned from breakfast. The Agbokim-bound cyclist almost shred his shirt off him as he alighted his bike. I warded them off.
I was seeing Tony for the first time since we’ve been communicating on phone and chatting online (Whatsapp). He was fairer than he looked on his display profile. The spectacles were the same, typical of a geek. He also looked calm and easygoing. His big bag hung on his shoulders, I had advised, for safety reasons, not to leave it in his lodge the first time he phoned to tell me he was getting ready.
We exchanged greetings with a handshake. The bike men watched from a distance, like we were not potential passengers anymore. I took the advantage to pick a preferable bike man. There was no particular criterion used.My pick looked mature and well dressed. We approached him, just as he met us half way, in the midst of some other four transporters stationed under a large tree, off the road, where there were several others.
Survival Park in Ikom to Agbokim town in Etung, where Agbokim waterfall costs about N700. The ride is cheaper for two passengers at N400 each. So the cyclists often wait to carry two passengers to the destination.
When we couldn’t get a rebate (even of N100) on the fare for us both, we set out. The fare must have been exact enough for the bike man to be very insistent on it.
I unpocketed my compact camera to enable me take shots of interesting scenes while in motion. My main camera remained in my black tote bag. The bike man road well and fast. I noticed as we gradually left Ikom civilization with painted block storey houses, fuel stations, tarred roads, to smaller houses and then to what looked like a village with shanties in an area with dilapidated roads. Soon, the road degenerated to a dirt track with intervals of asphalt dumbs for construction. In uninhabited places were farmlands, mostly cocoa and and maize. Tony and I had small talk while the bike sped though the muddy road that stained our footwears. The cyclist like others had rain boots on for the trip. It was near the middle of the long ride that it began to drizzle. We were thankful that it was not a major downpour. The drops hit our faces hard as were in motion, the rider had to shield his eyes with his left hand as he started with his right. My camera was back in its place a long while ago. I used to tilt my body out so I could have a wider field of view of things but this often causes an disbalance and the bikeman (Ken) cautions that I sit straight.
After about 30 mins on a bike in the shower, we entered a semi-rural settlement where began to notice Agbokim on almost every signpost (for churches and schools especially). “We are here already!”, I thought. Another 5-10mins, we were past the town junction at a bend where there was sound of falling water in a valley behind a row of buildings, a street and finally a turn, down to an area of land with two white gazebos detached from a motel-like building later discovered to be Agbokim Resorts. Ken, the bikeman, was kind. He was the second paradigm of hospitality during my visit to state. The first was the the bike man that took me to my host living down a steep valley road. In the dark, unilluminated rough road, off the main road, he rode me to my destination without changing exorbitantly knowing that I was a stranger, (where others would abandon you to walk on feet). After dropping us in the rain to enter the closest gazebo, he zoomed off in search the street for the tour guide that seemed to be absent. We were made to understand that the tour guide resides in the main building and should be in the vicinity of the quiet neighborhood. Opposite to the site is the community leader’s home. Behind the site was a boulevard with Acacia trees. Behind the boulevard emanated the heavy crashing sound of falling water. Agbokim waterfall is the street’s end. Tony and I heard its call loud and clear from where we were, some 80 meters away. It was audibly magnetic!
5 minutes past and no sign of Mr. Tour guide. Still, it was raining lightly. Time was about 11am now. We took matters into our hands by deciding to see the fall ourselves without a tour guide. There was a clear area with knee-high grass about from where the line of Acacias began. I supposed that was where we ought to be for a view of the waterfall. We entered the tarmac road that went down the street’s end and wound around the fenced site to link the boulevard behind. We went off the road before the boulevard, into the clearing. And what we saw is something we’d never seen before. Several streams of white-cream coloured water all falling off a semi-circular or C-shaped cliff, and with lots of water droplets rising from the crash. It is magnificent! The sheer volume of water and the sound of it. We took great cautioun because we were in a precarious place and without a guide or railings. At this vantage point, it is very easy for a visitor to forget that he is on the edge of a cliff. The first rivulet that fell was just over the patch of succulent grasses. In fact, as we later learnt, a guided tour of Agbokim is mandatory, owing to many hazards on the site. So unguided tours are risky (especially those without the knowledge of the resident tour guide.)
As we watched the waterfall, took photos, selfies and videos without restriction, a middle-aged man and a woman joined us. They seemed like folks who were concerned about the new faces in their neighbourhood. But their was no problem, after Tony and I introduced ourselves as visitors. The man posed for a photo with the site in the background later on. I requested for his number so I could send him a digital copy via Whatsapp. And soon he was on his way, with his wife.
The rain drizzled at the edge of the cliff and the entire Agbokim and environs when a buff community youth arrived after the couple left. Another introduction followed. We inquired how we could get a proper tour of of the site, where we can get to the base of the waterfall. The dude was wearing a shirt with cut sleeves on a three-quater short. He talked of a trail after the boulevard, that led through surrounding rainforest on the far right, to the falling waters itself. A large Achi tree blocked view of any path from this alternative position, but we knew there had to be some way down there. We might not get to the ground fall and flow itself due to the sheer volume of the water that yielded a flooded bank. Not safe!
The young man requested for N1500 from us each for the tour. That sounded both expensive or exploitative. Sacarstically, I asked ff that was payment for two. But we had little option since the official tour guide was still. After haggling some more. Already, we were leaving the cliff and going into the boulevard behind the short-fenced site with the two gazebos or reception or tourist hang-outs. I don’t remember agreeing on a final price, but we were on our way to the forest trail leading down to the fall. A call came from the detached main building (supposed to be a tourist lodge). The youth was called by an elderly man at the entrance of the building. A dialogue on local dialect ensued. And we were asked to return to the building area using the shortest possible route which can only be achieved by jumping over the short fence. The elderly man intoroduced himself as Mr. Dave, official tour guide of Agbokim waterfall when we met him at the entrance of the lodge. He requested that we wait for him at the (closest) gazebo we first stayed on arrival, while he finished up his clean up and went to get properly dressed for work…