Magicians conjure up several animate and inanimate objects that seem to challenge nature’s supremacy. Nature, however, has been a step ahead of magicians and when at its best, it is quite unbelievable what nature has to offer. Its beauty is best appreciated when man allows nature to have a free hand, while he sits and enjoy.
With rising global environmental challenges, like global warming and the green house effect, enjoying the best that nature has to offer seems to be synonymous with day dreaming. But like dreams, some do come true as there are a few places where the nature's dreams could be lived. These are dotted around the world, and one in particular sits in Nigeria: Obudu Cattle Ranch.
From the name, Obudu Cattle Ranch was at the outset meant to serve as a thriving pasture for cattle. But the highly conducive and almost perfect weather, coupled with the unusual conglomeration of tourist attractions compelled residents to ‘chase the cows away’, transforming the natural haven into a resort where worries are cast away.
The ranch is situated on a plateau formed by a network of numerous hills each standing several hundreds of meters above sea and ground levels. It is quite amazing how the hills joined to form a perfect slightly undulating rolling topographical plateau where the pastures are lush green and the experience is simply heavenly.
In 2005, when I first visited the ranch, it was on a low class tour which started with a long bus ride from Calabar, the state capital, to Obudu on the outskirts of the capital city. After what seemed like an endless journey, we came to a place where hills abound.
The entire region seemed desolate and certainly off the national grid, as thick bushes that were pruned to give way to a labyrinthine road network, challenged the hills in what seemed like a battle for the king of the jungle between the hills, the roads and the trees. The journey became quite frightening when the road led to one that was carved out of a rock. On the left was hard rock, and on the right, there wasn’t any barrier to guard against falling over the cliff. Needless to say, drivers on the road became very patient as they orderly navigated the bends.
At this point, fear set in and like other passengers, I astutely lifted the driver up in intercessions while praying for our safe arrival at the ranch. My prayer was answered as we arrived at the hill side, the only challenge being climbing the hill which looked like Mt. Everest. On inquiry, we were told that the only way to get to the hilltop (the ranch) was via motorcycles. You’ve got to be kidding!
After parting with three hundred naira, I was sandwiched between a professional motorcyclist and Michael, a fellow tourist. I took this position to ensure cushioning, just in case. All set, we took on the 20km challenge and after covering about 5km, an unprecedented fear befell Michael and I, while the motorcyclist laughed on.
At about 7km from the foot of the hill, visuals of things below began to fade. I trembled as we navigated the sharp bends, 50 in all. My heart almost came out of my mouth when we cycled by an oncoming vehicle that was speeding at unbelievably full throttle. There weren’t many barriers to keep one from falling off and only God alone knows what are fates of cars with failed breaks and overambitious cyclists like mine who seemed unperturbed by the strong dangerous stench palpable all around us.
On the last 10km, things got scarier, as we started cycling into the thick clouds and at that point, Michael and I began to make confessions per chance we found ourselves before the judgment throne. The cyclist was not spared as I clung tightly to him with my head totally buried in the little space at his back. Like a bandwagon, Michael understandably did the same to me as we tried to stay calm when everything seemed otherwise, apart from the cyclist who seemed to be enjoying the free scary show.
After a tension-laden 25 minutes of cycling, we reached our destination and the first sight we beheld was that of a herd of healthy cattle gracefully grazing on the lush green pastures. Armed with a mini map of the ranch, we set out to fully explore it. But first, we approached Protea Resort to purchase some beverages.
Unlike the usual shop prices at the ground state, things are quite expensive at higher altitudes, a price tag that compelled us to share a can of Coke with some crackers we brought with us. Being a lover of water bodies, our first point of call was the waterfall.
At the waterfall we met tourists like us who were truly radiant as they posed for photograph shots with total strangers. From the waterfall, we moved like a team to the next point-of-call, the ranch’s zoological garden. To get there, we had to cross a suspended rope bridge. God help you if you fell off.
Unlike the contemporary Nigerian zoos where animals are kept in strong barriers, sometimes in chains, Obudu Cattle Ranch’s zoo is PETA-compliant and could be termed Animal World as the animals were allowed to move about in their niche while restraints were strategically placed to prevent tourist interference with the serendipity and tranquility of the animal kingdom.
Our exploration was cut short by drizzling rainfall and we all scrambled to the available shelter, the resort. After two hours of light downpour which went late into the night, it became risky descending the hill. To prevent being stranded, the governor of the state, Mr. Donald Duke, who incidentally was on the ranch on that particular night, ordered that the party hall be opened to all with the DJ playing music till daybreak.
After a fun filled all night rendezvous, I took to the hills around 5am to catch sunrise on Obudu Cattle Ranch. I navigated the ranch on foot, walking from one point to another while savoring the beauty of Mother Nature. What struck me was the way these hills joined together without leaving any trace of joints, nexus or whatever geographers might prefer to call it. The sight was too beautiful to describe, as I got soaked with the euphoria that I had to lay on bare grass. I fully gazed at the skies and hilltops while relishing the awesome nature of nature. The beautiful sunrise came up around 6:45am.
Obudu Cattle Ranch is not all about nature as this would be obscured if not for the enhancements and pruning by the diligent ‘curators’. Artists, gardeners, horticulturists, herdsmen, engineers, builders, solar electricians and other professionals are the brains behind the Obudu Success Story as the ranch has become Nigeria’s and indeed West Africa’s frontline tourist center, and lovers’ haven as it is witnessing a large influx of honeymooners from far and near, what a place to see the moon!
Last week when I decided to revisit Obudu Cattle Ranch, this time in grand style, the positive transformation is quite unbelievable as motorcycles had paved way for cable cars which enable visitors to catch a glimpse of a larger part of the ranch from the sky. Also, there is now an evident presence of uniformed and plain clothed security operatives which becomes necessary in this age of kidnappings and militancy. There are huts, halls, and houses for visitors on holidays and getaways. The resort now has a plane strip and helicopter pad for air transport, and rovers for guided tours.
On the overall, Obudu Cattle Ranch has evolved from isolated hills with pastures grazed by cows to a multimillion dollar national treasure which is the pride of not just the Obudu community, but of the entire nation and the West African geopolitical zone as evident in its playing host to numerous political retreats, international sporting events and corporate summits.
In the light of these, Obudu Cattle Ranch is therefore more than a tourist centre, but a symbol of hope to the African continent, and Africans all over the world that despite the challenges, Africa will rise far above its limitations; just like the sunrise on Obudu Cattle Ranch.