My diary of Chappal Waddi - Nigeria's highest mountain (Part 1).
Today, we launch mountnigeria.com. It is the first site that provides detailed information about Chappal Waddi - the highest mountain in Nigeria and West Africa.
Thank you all so much for your response to the last post. We got a lot of engagement and your questions made me smile. Today, I will share the first part of my daily diary as I climbed to the summit of Nigeria’s highest mountain. I realized that the story was long and juicy so I have broken it into two parts. I also share a website - mountnigeria.com - that I have worked hard on just for you. This website answers all your FAQs about the mountain and gives you everything you need to successfully climb Chappal Waddi. Before you read my diary below, don’t forget to get a copy of our game - Fill in the Black. Fill in the Black is a hilarious guessing game that celebrates blackness and is a perfect for individuals, families and even offices!
Now, to my daily diary, Part 1. Let’s go!
Can I say I woke up very early, when I didn’t actually sleep? I spent the night ruminating on the sad fact that one of my friends had dropped out of the climb at the last minute. I also went through my packing list (for the umpteenth time), confirmed from my teammates that they were all set for work in my absence, and eventually played Chike’s album as I scrolled through Twitter. By 5:30am, after my devotion and a long shower, I got into my Bolt and headed for the airport. In the cab, I shared this tweet. At the airport, I linked up with Kola and Ibinabo. Checking in was hassle-free (except for the constant stares from people who were probably wondering where we were going with huge backpacks). The flight to Abuja was smooth and on-time. In Abuja, we met up with the rest of our crew - Toyeke, Kingsley and Dotun. Then, Tunde Morakinyo - the Executive Director of Africa Nature Investors - joined us. He had been a crucial part of the preparation for this climb so having him on our flight was exciting. We also met, for the first time, Moise and Rosie who were part of the documentary crew. Meeting the producer, Rosie Collyer, was pretty cool because she and I had been speaking almost daily for the last few months. It was real: a documentary crew was interested enough in my story that they would follow us on the trip.
At the Overland Airlines counter, we were treated quite warmly. We were checked in and granted early boarding so that we could properly get the footage we needed. Between the banter at breakfast, the banter while waiting for boarding and the filming process, we had built a decent rapport by the time our flight got to Jalingo. Jalingo was hot and dry! The Sun works hard in Lagos but the Sun works harder in Jalingo. At the airport, our bus was waiting for us alongside Tunde Morakinyo’s car and MOPOL. We has sent the wooden signpost, sleeping bags, tents, snacks and drinks, water and other heavy items for the climb ahead of time by road and so the bus company had picked them up. We co-opted Tunde to our bus and drove in a convoy. After a quick stop at a supermarket to buy some more snacks, we began the drive from Jalingo to Serti. Taraba is gorgeous…the hills littered the landscape almost the entire way, only punctuated by illegal logging of redwood trees. After 5 hours, a few stops to get photos, and even a short security break, we got to the Transit Camp at Serti. The plan was to get dinner at the camp (Tunde has called about an hour earlier to get dinner rolling) and then head over to the hotel we had booked. We received a very warm welcome from the officials of the National Park and settled in to get some food. As we were eating the delicious rice and chicken stew, I decided to call the hotel to inform them that we were in town and would be coming soon. Turns out that soldiers had bought our rooms since according to the keeper, our booking was incomplete without money. Lol. Thanks to the National Park officials, we found two empty rooms. The girls squeezed into one and the boys into the other. It wasn’t much of a squeeze, to be honest, because these rooms were very roomy, they were well ventilated and this turned out to be the most comfortable sleep of the entire trip. We charged up everything we had that had a battery, everyone showered (Toyeke and I showered outside, village style) and we all went to sleep.
Birds will wake you up at Serti if you’re not an early riser. The night before, we had agreed on a schedule for the day so by the time I woke up to shower (outside, in the dark, before the Sun could wake up and cramp my style), I was pleased to see that most of our crew had woken up. We got a delicious breakfast of yam and egg sauce from the officials of the National Park. They spoiled, us, they truly did. Our biggest complaint about the breakfast was that we wanted more! We also finally met Bethel of Nature Connects, who would be our official tour guide for this trip. At breakfast, we consolidated the list of foodstuff we needed to take to the mountain as we knew that Serti was our last chance to buy a variety of fresh foodstuff. Toyeke was in charge of everything food on this trip (she runs Toye’s Kitchen in Abuja) so between the items we had shipped by road in advance and the snacks we bought at Jalingo, she knew exactly what was outstanding. Food is cheap in Northern Nigeria, but not in Serti o…Serti did not get the memo. Things were so expensive. Anyway, Toyeke and an official with a motorbike visited the market to buy yams, ginger, and so on. As they went, I also went to the hotel that disappointed us to pay some money so that they don’t sell our rooms to soldiers when we return from the mountain. This was important because the National Park had told us that they wouldn’t have those spare rooms when we return. We shot the photos for the morning, loaded up the bus, said our goodbyes to Tunde Morakinyo, and went on our way.
The journey from Serti to Nguroje was delightful. It was scenic, we made a few stops to get drone shots and soak in the mountains, and we even played around with mini personal photoshoots. You know those winding roads that snake through the hills and leave a stunning view behind them, yes, those were the roads on the Mambilla Plateau. Gosh, I would love to see the plateau again during the rainy season. The roads were mostly good until we got to Nguroje. At Nguroje, the good road came to an end and we needed to swap our bus for a rugged Landrover for the rest of the journey to Njawai. We spent two hours just waiting. First, our stuff needed to be offloaded from the bus to the rover and then, of course, the car wouldn’t start. At some point, I went to ride horses with the boys of the village, who were celebrating something. We left Nguroje at 4:00pm.
All 10 of us and a driver were CAGED inside this Landrover. There was our group of 8, Bethel, and an armed ranger who was given to us by the National Park. The truck had burglary proofs on them, they literally had to use ropes to tie the door shut, and they were carrying a jerrycan of fuel as well because that was the last place available to buy fuel. Our legs were interloped on each other’s and it would have been no better to have the windows open since with the windows closed, we were drenched in dust. The best our masks and scarves could do for us was minimize the dust inhalation but we could taste it. It was a very uncomfortable ride. Very! It would have been such a beautiful experience if the mode of transportation was a bit more conducive. There’s an opportunity for us to fix it so that more people can climb this mountain. Anyway, we made jokes the whole way because if you cannot cry, you must laugh. We named the car Waddina (after the mountain, Chappal Waddi) and every time she broke down, we would chant and encourage her to keep going. The young men (because they were very young men) who drove us were basically re-engineering this vehicle everytime it broke down. Whenever she broke down, we would take photos and stretch our legs. Oh, I forgot to say that there were two conductors; one on the bonnet and another on the roof of the van. Fam, Survivor did not do more than this o.
By the time we got to Njawai at nightfall, we were welcome at the Rangers Camp. They offered us three rooms where we set up our sleeping bags for the night. They even boiled water for us and we enjoyed the outdoor showers with warm water. In the absence of energy for dinner, we drank Ribena, ate biscuits and slept.
In the morning, Bethel saved us! We had decided to begin our hike from Njawai to the village at the foot of the mountain - Amansale. He assured us that it was better to take bikes to Amansale and I am so glad we listened. We woke up, had oatmeal for breakfast, got ready and made sure that everybody was doing well.
Bethel went to the immigration point to sort out permissions, because the climb takes us in and out of Cameroon. As he was doing that, we took lots of photos and just relaxed. I must say that people here do not like to plan things in advance because they always insisted that it was at the point of departure that they would give us final costings and so on. Eventually, when Bethel returned, he negotiated with the bike men (all 13 of them), we loaded all our things on the bikes, and then set out. The bike ride turned out to be only 3 hours long (We had expected a much longer ride). The 3-hour ride included stops on the way for the crew to film, as well as photo breaks. When I tell you that this view was gorgeous, it was gorgeous. Riding through the mountains, on a very tiny rugged path, crossing streams and riding over rivers that had thin planks as bridges…wow. The views felt like they had come straight out of a storybook. Interesting story…at the last village before Amansale, we all stopped so that Kingsley could set up his gimbal and fly his drone. I lay down on one of the bikes to rest. Next thing, all the guys on my team came and scolded me for doing that. They told me to sit up properly. We had noticed that in this village, all the women were inside and only the men were out but I had not imagined that laying on a bike may be considered lewd. Hehe. I fixed up immediately! It was another reminder to always be vigilant wherever you travel to.
Finally, we go to Amansale. The hospitality here was second to none. The village head welcomed us and answered all our questions about the mountain and their history. We all sat on the carpet on the ground (instead of the benches beside the men), because we didn’t want to upturn their sensibilities when we noticed that there were exactly zero women outside. But when the village head said that he hoped tourism would make way for their kids to go to school, I did not pass up an opportunity to ask him if the girls would be allowed to go to school. He said yes! We bought chickens from them, Toyeke cooked dinner, we set up the tents (led by Dotun and Kola) and had dinner. We also got food from the community, even though they saw us cooking. Very kind people. Then we slept!
Stay tuned for the actual climb of Chappal Waddi and the intriguing things that happened between Day 4 and Day 8.
Question: are you surprised by any part of this diary?
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