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Friday, October 24, 2014

Yellow Mitsubishi: The Third Road Trip

Omu Resort (Lagos), Osun Osogbo Sacred Grove (Osun), Idanre Hills (Ondo)


With the four-day weekend early this month (October 4 to 7) a great opportunity for a road trip presented itself, and so road tripping we went.


Lagos

We started off on October 4 with a visit to Omu Resort in Bogije Town, off Lekki-Epe Expressway. The resort is a couple of minutes after Ajah. If you're visiting Omu Resort for the first time, keep your eyes peeled. The resort has a small easy-to-miss sign at the junction where you're supposed to turn off from Lekki-Epe Expressway, and if you’re not careful you will miss it, like we did.  

Looking at Omu Resort from the outside you might think for a moment that you’re in the wrong place. Within the compound are two large rectangular buildings, painted grey, that made me think of a warehouse or some other kind of storage facility. The expansive compound sits by the water, but I was disappointed to find that the resort makes no use of the waterfront – there’s just tall grass covering the shoreline and blocking the view.

Our tickets cost N3,600 per person – a discounted price because there were ten of us. Platinum tickets, which we got, cost N5,000 per person (without the discount) and allow access to all the attractions. The Gold ticket is cheaper at N3,000, but does not allow access to everything.  


Omu Resort has a zoo, a Go-Kart course, quad bikes, small pitches for football and volleyball, a Seaworld with aquatic life, a few amusement park rides, an archery point, indoor games like snooker, and a mini golf course. The zoo was quite exciting, with an impressive variety of animals – a (lonely) lion, a (friendly) hyena, baboons, ostriches, emus, geese, a crocodile, tortoises, jackals, peacocks, a donkey that is allowed to roam the compound freely. 

The lion, 'Simba'

Baboon

Hyena

Donkey roaming the grounds


Ostriches ignoring my attempts at friendship

Their lion is (not ironically) named Simba, and our guide described how he’s fed. Every day the resort gets a live goat which the zookeeper releases into Simba’s den through a latch, and then Simba ‘hunts’ the goat. On our way out we saw the unfortunate goat that was to be Simba’s lunch that day. It was quite young and I felt sorry for it.

Zoos leave me with mixed feelings. I enjoy seeing the animals, but I also wonder what they do all day, worry that they get bored with their caged lives.

Omu Resort does not have a restaurant on site, so you will have to call (probably days) ahead and order your food. This is the only way of getting food at the resort besides bringing your own, which you are allowed to do. You might be able to get snacks like biscuits and popcorn at the resort, but not much else. Omu Resort also does not have provision for lodging, so you’ll have to make it a day trip. 

Osun

We said goodbye to Omu Resort at about 3 pm and headed to Osun, where we would be spending the night at MicCom Golf Hotel and Resort in Ada. We got into Osun early in the evening, but getting to Ada took much longer than we had anticipated. As we weren’t exactly sure where we were going we had to navigate using a combination of smartphone maps (which our driver did not trust) and the good old stop-and-ask. We reached MicCom Golf Resort at about 9.45 pm.

We paid for our reserved rooms, collected our keys and were ushered out of the main building and toward a rectangular block that reminded me of the hostels at my old secondary school. As we stepped through the entrance to this block I noticed a sign on the wall that said ‘Hotel Annex’. I did not like the sound of this. We later learnt that this block contained the hotel’s older rooms.

I’m reluctant to badmouth MicCom Golf Resort. To be fair, we did go for the cheapest option available – the ‘Studio Room’, which cost N5,980 per night. Prices for other rooms range from N6,670 (Double Room) to N34, 500 (Royal Suite).

So we took the cheapest rooms; still, I don’t think it’s unfair to expect a few basics from a place like MicCom – working water heaters for hot showers (none of our rooms had this), 24-hour electricity (apparently the hotel needs to reach a certain percentage of occupancy before they can run the generators through the night). The good thing was that PHCN electricity was pretty stable the whole night.

I enjoyed the food at MicCom, at least. Their rice and efo riro was a delight and cost N1,500. Food prices at the resort range from around N1,000 to N2,000 per plate.

With sunrise the next day we were able to appreciate the resort’s well-kept grounds – acres of green spread over a rolling landscape, with trees dotting the space. The bright sunlight, the brilliant blue of the sky and the people out playing golf made for a very pretty picture. 





We found the swimming pool, and a lawn tennis court right beside it. The pool was unimpressive and the water did not look as clean as it should have. There was a pale little frog chilling on the pool’s wall, like it was sunning itself after a leisurely dip and had as much right to be there as any human.

We left MicCom early on Sunday afternoon and decided to make a quick stop at the Osun Osogbo Sacred Grove just outside Osogbo. The Osun Osogbo Sacred Grove is set on forestland along the banks of River Osun. The quiet road leading to the gates is surrounded by trees and vegetation, and several small black and white monkeys appeared on tree branches and the roadside to stare at our bus. Something about the place made me want to talk in whispers and walk on my toes, to cause as little disruption as possible. 

The road to the grove

The Osun Osogbo Sacred Grove was designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 2005 and is the venue of the yearly Osun Osogbo Festival that takes place in August.  

At the gate we paid N100 each to get in. The attendant said it would cost an additional N2,000 for every camera we wanted to take in. We ended up paying N3,000 for three cameras.

Past the gates and all the way to the shrine you will see many surreal sculptures.



These carvings stood right in front of the shrine


These little black and white monkeys were a constant companion. This one sat watching for a while from the entrance to the shrine.

There’s an old suspension bridge that takes you across a part of the river. The bridge is a tad unsteady so we did not attempt to cross it.

The old suspension bridge

Ondo

We said goodbye to the Osun Osogbo Sacred Grove and set off for Akure, where we would visit our main destination, Idanre Hills. The plan was to get into Akure by evening, spend the night at Royal Birds Hotels, Agbalaka, visit Idanre Hills early on Monday and then head back to Lagos.

Just outside of Akure our bus broke down, and so we had to split up, find transportation and make our way to the hotel in two separate groups. It did not help that it started to rain, and that the second taxi my group took broke down a short distance from the hotel!

We all eventually made it to Royal Birds and it was pretty amazing. Our rooms were large and spacious, and we had a charming view from our balconies. Plus the showers ran hot water and we had electricity and a good internet connection. Our rooms cost N9,000 each, the hotel’s least expensive. I did not get to see much of the hotel’s food menu, but their peppersoup was good and came at a reasonable price – N750 to N800 per plate. Breakfast was complimentary for one occupant per room.

We left Royal Birds for Idanre around noon the next day. Idanre is just about an hour’s drive from Akure. We had to stop and ask for directions a few times, but we made it there okay. The site was officially closed to tourists the day we visited – apparently the town was preparing for a festival and there were rehearsals going on within the compound. But, thankfully, we were able to convince the attendants to let us go in.

We paid the entry fee (N500 per person) and were assigned a guide who advised us to buy drinks from the sellers at the base of the hill. He assured us that we would need the drinks for the climb, and he was right.

About 660 steps take you to the tourist summit of the hill. According to our guide, the main summit cannot be reached in one day. There are four rest stops along the stairway to the top, so you can take a break and catch your breath if you get tired. 

A portion of the stairway. The hut-like structure is one of four rest stops along the way.

There’s also a small lodge at the tourist summit where I think people can spend the night. It doesn’t look too inviting from the outside, though, and it did not look inhabited at the time.

The lodge

Climbing Idanre Hill was relatively easy as a result of the stairway – 660 stairs seemed like child’s play compared to our Erin Ijesha experience. The views are amazing. You don’t even have to reach the summit to start enjoying them; just look behind you as you go up.



We reached the tourist summit and the town lay sprawled beneath us, a perfect picture. 



Higher peaks

Our guide took us to see some of the attractions at the tourist summit – the old primary school building, which was in use from 1896 to 1928, the old prison built in 1906, and the old court.

The old primary school

The old prison

The old court building, as seen from the side. Notice the round patch of grass just by the verandah? According to our guide, it’s forbidden to step on it. He said the ‘ancient crown’ landed on this spot when Oduduwa descended, and that at the coronation of every new king sacrifices are made there (or something like that).

There’s also an ancient palace, but we didn’t get to see this as we were running quite late. It was time to leave for Lagos after a long weekend very well spent. 


Photo credit: Yellow Mitsubishi

Friday, October 17, 2014

Talking to Strangers

There’s this guy I used to see often. Sometimes I’d be riding in a danfo and pass him on Ozumba Mbadiwe Road; other times I'll walk by him while I’m walking across Falomo Bridge to Ikoyi, always on my way to work. He’d be either running on the culvert that divides Ozumba or stopped on Falomo bridge doing stretches, headphones clamped over his ears. I used to wonder about him – what drove him, if he was training for something, if he was ‘FitFam’, but like a really hyper version, like FitFam 10.0.

One day I saw a video on Instagram. My friend, Ore, had seen this guy one morning doing his warm ups on the culvert on Ozumba and made a video. I left an excited comment saying how I saw the same guy all the time. Ore responded: ‘he’s begging to be interviewed’.

A seed was sown and I went away thinking, ‘well, why not’?

But it wasn’t ‘why not’ in a rhetorical sense. Cos when I asked myself why not, a few reasons came to mind:

1) He could scream insults at me for interrupting his intense workout.

2) He could get up and, without warning, start chasing me down Falomo Bridge. And he will catch me; he can run.

3) He could tackle me and toss me over the railing of the bridge, and I would go tumbling into the lagoon, hoping my backstroke would be good enough to save my life.

Because, with any of the above outcomes, when they tell my story people will say, ‘Ah, o ma se o. But why did she not just mind her business? Shebi it was office they said she was going to.’

***

For about two weeks I didn’t see this guy on Ozumba; and as I was taking a different route to work I could not see him on Falomo Bridge either.  

It was my last day with my former employer the morning I saw him again.

Running late for work, I was marching across the bridge when I saw the familiar figure, legs splayed out like he was doing a split, the ever-present headphones over his ears, sweat running down his face and neck and turning his clothes a darker blue than they were.

This had to be some kind of nudge  after today, with my job change, who knew when next I would have cause to walk across Falomo Bridge in the morning like this? Who knew when I would see him again?

I didn’t slow down as I approached the man; there was no hesitation. All the reasons you can have not to talk to random strangers in a place like Lagos faded from my mind. I stopped in front of him, my feet a few inches from the length of off-white fabric he had placed on the ground to protect his clothes from the dirt. He looked up at me and nodded, making a gesture that seemed to say sorry I’m in the way; please go ahead

I shook my head, bent forward a little and started talking. He eased off his headphones and listened, squinting up at me in the sunlight. As we talked I noticed some of the people I had passed on the bridge earlier on in my march overtake me, giving us curious looks as they went. I told him about seeing him working out often, about my curiosity, and about the video and Ore’s comment that had prompted me to stop and talk to him. I asked if he was training for something. He said no; he exercised for his health. He said that, being a doctor, he was aware of the importance of exercising, and that if his patients knew half the things he did they would be much better off. He said he was working on a book on health and fitness, so he could share some of this knowledge. He did not attempt anything remotely bizzare.

When I thanked him for talking to me he thanked me back, saying it was nice having someone stop to ask for once. I was glad I did. (And thanks to Ore, for being the prompter.)

I haven’t seen this man since, but I like to think he’s still out there doing his thing. And I really hope he writes that book.



Friday, October 10, 2014

Danfo Chronicles: Dancing Solves Everything

It wasn’t long after I got on the bus at Obalende that I realised the driver was one of those mad ones. As soon as the bus was filled he leaned on his horn and swerved into the road. And from then on he drove at a terrifying speed when the roads were free, slamming on the brakes when he had to slow down or stop, constantly tooting his horn, running into potholes like they didn’t exist and switching lanes without warning. The bus conductor, hanging from the doorway of the bus, seemed to be enjoying himself; he shouted greetings and taunts at every other danfo* we passed. The radio was playing loud fuji music that instructed men on how to hold on to their Nigerian women – apparently it came down to money and good sex. (This is me saying it the nice way; the singer’s language was much more colourful.) None of the other weary passengers seemed to mind all of this very much. Apart from the occasional half-hearted ‘e ni suru o’*, we were all stone faced and stoic, holding on to edges of our seats. We carried on this way, our driver angering other road users and drawing curses all the way but causing no death or bodily harm.

We got into Victoria Island and approached the toll plaza just before Lekki Roundabout. In the distance we could see the long lines of cars, trucks and buses easing slowly toward the tolling booths. I took it for granted that our driver would find the shortest of these queues and quickly join our bus to it from behind, like any normal human being would.

But no.

Between each line of vehicles there were empty strips of road wide enough to fit a bus like ours. It was into one of these spaces that the driver directed the bus. He was going so fast I thought he would crash into the traffic cone ahead, and then into the culvert and caution sign that separated the toll booth from the road. But he screeched to a stop just in time, stepping on the brakes and sending us jerking forward. Somebody cursed the driver and his mother.

So there we were, stuck between two lanes of vehicles. The plan, I assumed, was that the driver would appeal to the other drivers to make room for us; either that or our driver would try to squeeze in. Knowing the temperament of the typical Lagos driver, and with the other drivers having just witnessed our driver’s stunt, I knew we would have a hard time getting on the queue. And we did. The driver beside us on our right had set his face in an immovable mask and was pretending not to see our bus.

But our driver had a plan.

He signalled to the conductor who hopped off his perch in the doorway – his shorts were riding low and exposing the top halves of each ashy buttock – and sauntered into the space between Mask Face beside us and the car in front of him. Mask Face didn’t do anything; I think he was trying to figure out what the plan was. So was I.

As the vehicle in front of Mask Face rolled forward, leaving a few metres of asphalt behind it, the conductor spread his arms wide and started to dance, turning around and wiggling his narrow behind at Mask Face’s bonnet. Mask Face’s face wasn’t so masky anymore. He slapped his horn and leaned on it even as the conductor danced some more. Of course, Mask Face couldn’t run our conductor over. He sat there furious and impotent, blaring his horn as our driver eased his danfo into the widening space in front of him.

The conductor gave Mask Face a cheerful wave and hopped back on the bus as we drove toward the booth, mission accomplished.

Just another day in the life.


* Minibuses commonly used in Lagos as public transportation

* ‘Have patience.’