Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Honeymoon on the mountain top

Obudu MountainShe was on the team of Protea staff that started the Obudu Ranch Resort, so it came as no surprise when my wife, Tina, suggested this high altitude destination for our honeymoon. The visit would be her third, but for me as a first timer, the experience was out of this world. We secured our reservation by telephone, well ahead of time, and the trip was really something to look forward to.

Obudu MountainWe had set our wedding date to coincide with the Christmas and New Year holidays to enable me make the trip from London to Lagos and then to Enugu. 28 December 2005 was our special day in Enugu. Maybe it was their way of recognising Tina as one of their own, but Rudi and Sandy at the Nike Lake Resort added a Protea touch to our reception that was more than having a little fun. Great guys both. The ceremony was just fabulous. There after, Tina and I set off for Obudu, Cross River for our honeymoon.

It was a difficult journey from Enugu to Obudu through the Abakaliki - Ogoja road, which represents the stack realities of the Nigerian transport situation. Someone was neglecting their job leaving that road in such terrible state of disrepair. We got into Obudu rather late in the evening and could not use the overhead cable cars designed to take visitors up the mountain. Driving from Bottom Hill to the mountain top was a bit scary, especially for a first time visitor like myself. Talk of an uphill task! It would intimidate any inexperienced driver: perfect for a 4x4, but if your car was in any bad shape just forget it!

However, as soon as you've negotiated the numerous hairpin bends (about twenty, or so, of them) on this lonely, single two-way traffic route, you came suddenly into a wonderland that can only be described as out of sight. Yes, Protea Hotel Obudu Ranch Resort is paradise on earth! The blaze of lights that greeted you; the layout and structures of buildings that appeared to jump out of a story book; and people, beautiful people. Amazing! It was impossible to believe that I was still in Nigeria. As we disembarked, I held my wife thinking aloud: Baby, why can't this whole country be like this? She laughed. She knew I felt at home. She was sure I'd enjoy my stay here.

At 1,576m ASL, Obudu Hills is actually part of the Cameroon mountain range. At this time of year (Harmattan season) the weather is just temperate, with the maximum temperature averaging 32°C in the hot months.

click to enlargeObudu is a border town; some six hours drive north-east of Calabar, the capital of Cross River State. It is bounded immediately to the north by Vandeikya in Benue State, and to the east by the Republic of Cameroon. A commuter service takes you from Margaret Ekpo Int'l Airport Calabar to an air strip in Obudu town, from where you can get to the ranch. You may also get to Obudu from Enugu via Abakaliki and Ogoja, or through Gboko and Vandeikya in Benue.

click to play movieIt is only when you get to Obudu town that your journey to the mountain top and Ranch Resort really begins. Cable cars are provided to take visitors from Bottom Hill to the top of the mountain, but alternatively there is always the road: a single-carriage, two-way traffic route that begins as a lonely stretch, before turning into a meandering uphill task!

click to enlargeDriving up the mountain could be quite scary to a first timer. There are about twenty serious hairpin bends that keep the nose of your car high. This will challenge your nerves as well as your driving competence. Although helpful if you're using a 4x4, but don't even try if your jalopy is in any bad shape. Signs are posted along the route to alert you of how much distance you have left to claim your prize.

click to enlargeAnd what a prize! Protea Hotel Ranch Resort is a hidden paradise, and it is fast expanding. This expansion is a joint venture between the Cross River State Government and the Protea Group. Probably because of its location, this resort is being developed as a full-fledged small city. On completion, it'll have its own banks and cash points, an hospital, shopping centre, internet, postal and communication facilities, etc.

click to enlargeDesigned to boost tourism in this part of the world, the effort even includes a bullet and bomb-proof presidential pavilion, complete with its own helipad and staff quarters; a governor's lodge, and a royal suite. A special army garrison is also planned to station close by. Wow! But wait, there's a lot more surprises.

click to enlargeWhether you drive up the hills or arrive by the cable cars, you're welcome to the reception building, which also houses the restaurant and a bar. From here you're taken to your quarters, depending on what type of reservation you made. There are even some unique 'African village' style structures here. Food is served buffet style. Well, if you arrived via the helipad, no doubt, your reception would be a special one.

click to play movieGuided tours are provided for guests here, morning and evening. We rode on the bus, passed a small village market springing up as part of the resort, and then halfway first to the Holy Mountain, the highest peak on this range, and completed the ascent on foot. This peak assumed its name from people visiting the spot for prayers, believing in its spiritual potency. The scenery from here is simply breathtaking! The distant waterfalls is even better observed from here.

click to play movieThen we drove to the Grotto, a rock garden with cold spring water gushing from the rocks. The atmosphere here is very relaxing. We next visited the vegetable farm, from where the restaurant obtains part of its food ingredients; and then the animal farm. Horses and cattle are bred here, and there's a milking factory for Farm Fresh milk and yoghurt. There's also a safari-style Gorilla Village for lovers of wildlife.

click to enlargeSporting facilities are not left out of this arrangement. There are tennis courts, squash courts, a 9 hole golf course, and a large gymnasium for keep fit addicts. Fancy a sport of swimming? Then take a ride in the cable cars to Bottom Hill, and you'll immediately fall in love with its Natural Swimming Pool. Additional facilities are also being planned. You couldn't fail to commend the efforts of those involved in promoting activities here.

Once at Obudu Ranch Resort, time stands still for you. Only when its time to go are you jolted back to reality. Protea is having a little fun; but you need to go plan your next visit, eh!