The whole day was dedicated to the Obudu Cattle Ranch in Obanliku Local Government Area. Breakfast was at Sankwala, a shanty town but unfortunately the only “developed” place around, after all it had bukas and provision stores. As this was the honey market day, we stopped again at Utanga to buy more honey, but the bees may have detested our over- indulgence and stung some people.
Not far away, a number of us were interacting with a local rice farmer and his children. They were drying parboiled rice on the road before milling. Well, we gave a helping hand and did love the fun…walking on rice!
At 10.30am, we were at the foot of the Cattle Ranch called the Bottom Hill. It was like being at the end of the road as the natural barrier in front seems insurmountable. Looking closely though, one could see even the road meandering around hills and disappearing into the clouds. A network of pools called the Water Park just lay meters ahead and from that direction, clear waters came rushing, over the stones and keeps going.
Someone spotted what looked like huge steel “cobwebs” with giant “spiders” attached to it, so we went to take a look…Oh it was the cable car! Said to be the longest in the continent and the first in West Africa, the cable car line stretches from the Bottom Hill to the top of the plateau above -a staggering height of over 1700 metres above sea level! We wasted no time going into the base station and to our delight, the student rates were reduced so we decided to have a try.
The engines from the control room were started, and the steel ropes rolled on, carrying the fixed cable cars. As each reaches a platform below, the automated door opened. A maximum of 8 people could hop in. The car does not stop but turns through a semi-circle before the door closes and it starts its journey of climbing the mountain. Well, if one misses the first one, no worries, there are over 30 of such cars, and the next one arrives immediately.
Now inside, many had quite a scary experience. The car was almost entirely made of transparent glass, making one see all below him; and as you know, height and depth scares man. The cable car was not fast but slowly crawled, the way a spider makes calculated moves to catch on unwary prey. The valley lay below our feet and so was the mountain road and even scattered settlements. Other cable cars came passing by, some with passengers.
At times, the clouds engulfed us and we could see nothing, but finally, the rolling hills lay beneath our feet and we could see beautiful buildings in a distance. We were at the top of the plateau and many were glad to end the 15 minutes ride, vowing never to do it again. For me, a million more times would not be enough!
At the Resort reception, we met other tourists, foreign and local, but it was the cold winds that welcomed us. The building itself was decorated with African arts, all of them choice pieces, making us look odd in our western attire; this was an encouragement to appreciate my own culture.
Our first destination was the Ranch Falls and Natural Swimming Pool. We passed by the vegetable farms on the way where carrots, cabbage, lettuce, e.t.c. are grown. First timers complained of the weather. Our guide laughed and said, “This is even hot, soon it will get cold”.
We descended a steep concrete trail to a valley below, but thanks to the renovation the steps were not slippery. As we went down, it became darker. The air was thin and we breathed faster. A disturbing noise made us talk on top of our voices, it was the falls! White clear liquid came thundering down the brown rocks, producing a loud noise. The waters roll down from the two falls, circumvent rocks before going into the natural swimming pool. The excess water spilled over and kept going. We could not dare swimming for the water was so chill that we felt that it may have been refrigerated; yes, it was by nature’s fridge…what else did we expect in the clouds?
Climbing out was very difficult, requiring much more effort and stamina. Our hearts were beating fast and we were breathing through, not just our noses but our mouths. Occasionally we paused to take a deep breath before holding on to the rails and dragging our legs along like wounded grasshoppers.
Finally we were out of the valley, but the horses nearby did not seem to care about how much pain we had as they nibbled the grasses in silence. I became envious of them. ‘If only wishes were horses’ I said to myself, ‘I would ride on you in retaliation’. The bad weather was however our chief concern, for it began to rain. This was not the type of rain we were used to; it was drops of ice water. We ran for safety.
We spent our forced break in the yogurt factory and took some time to say hello to the well-fed diary cows and bulls. There was yogurt too to quench our thirst. Then the rain temporarily stopped, but the clouds steadily covered the plateau, reducing visibility. We kept moving.
In every direction we looked, the dominant color was green. The hills were spread out as far as the eyes could see, like tents with green velvet roofs. Well, if the cloud men see is what they call heaven, then we were there, walking in the midst of its beauty. The gardens and lawns were well kept, the surroundings clean.
We passed through hotel suites, the gym and tennis courts. ‘Was this a place flowing with milk and honey’ I wondered. Literally it was as bees were kept on the Ranch and so were diary cows for milk.
We stopped at the gate of Becheve Nature Reserve, a virgin mountain forest with a tree house. Our guide hesitated for a while then shook his head. What was the problem? “The cold would be worse inside… the trees trap clouds making it precipitate for a longer time” he explained. We moved on, climbing the highest point of the Plateau where the new Presidential Villa was located.
Then, the clouds were literally covering us such that one could not see a person five meters away even when he hear his voice. Water vapor from the clouds gave all of us premature grey hairs. Despite this, we moved on.
Our next stop was the Wooden Village where all the building is made up of sound and weather resistant wood. Even the conference centre and children’s playground was made of wood. We got close to the summit of the Plateau and could hardly see anything other than the ash-white color of the clouds. This obstructed our photographs and we were disappointed. Even at the new Presidential villa, we could only see what the cloud cover made look like a shadow…that was still afternoon! As if that was not enough, the temperature dropped to about 50C and we were all shivering. Cardigans were almost useless as we ‘coughed out smoke’ every time we spoke. I think we were more miserable than rain-drench hens; rather we were like African immigrants on the streets of Moscow in winter. No thanks to the mountain rain, more ice drops fell from heaven and we ran for safety. I guess it is a twice beaten, twice shy situation for us.
The temperature on the ranch had dropped and our shivering trunks said ‘enough is enough’. We were freezing. Our hands and feet suffered the most as they had become numb, like that of someone preparing frozen fish. We did not care if we would be counted as cowards, for no place of interest could make us stay any longer in that nature’s fridge – not even the Becheve Forest, waterfalls, tree houses, bird watching, golf courses or even the prospect of having lunch in a village on the mountain.
We hurried back to the cable car station as fast as our numb legs could carry us and it was warm inside, the heaters were working. We decided that it would be a road experience when descending the plateau, but we indulged the warm temperature inside such that any attempt to get taxis was repelled by the cold winds outside. The only thing that did not linger on with us was time, and the thought of spending a night on the Ranch, when the temperature would be at its lowest ebb was a nightmare in itself.
We finally boarded taxis, very glad to leave. The car rolled and swerved us -this way and that way- as it descended the giant snake road. If one were bold enough he could look down the seemingly bottomless valleys by his sides or away into the distance. Blue clouds covered endless hills, merging them with the skies. The weak ones simply closed their eyes as we descended, even as the cable-car poles seemed to be leaning. I know you would have been among the weak ones, so open your eyes…. It had been an 18-minute drive along the meandering mountain road. We had passed through 20 u-bends, the scariest of them all being the Devil’s Elbow. We were at the Bottom Hill once again, away from the unbearable cold.
On our way to Obudu Town to spend our third night, our vehicle developed a problem with the gears and merely crawled. The dusk had descended. After about an hour of travel (without gaining much ground), the bus apparently told us that she was unwilling to continue – the way a stubborn horse does. It was only then that we realized that we were in the middle of nowhere. In front of us was the road where no vehicles were plying; by our sides were thickets and mountain ranges overshadowing them. There were no houses and the predominant silence was only tempered with by our own voices as we pushed the vehicle up the hill and allow it to roll down. After about two hours, we saw a few buildings. There, some people risked their jobs to give us lodging, at least to the vulnerable ones in the group. The rest slept in the bus by the roadside, expecting anything darkness may throw at them.
We found solace in the large full moon. She was shining brightly, and so was our hope that the next day be better!