Funmi started her story on conquering Chappal Waddi here and now, we're going to see how each day went.
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!
It is a lovely morning. On days like this, I appreciate being an early bird. Partly because last night’s sleep was quite uncomfortable, partly because I woke up in time to see the Sun begin its journey West. I marveled at how unspoiled the village looked under the morning Sun. I walked away from our campsite so that I could sing and pray as I had done every other morning. This morning was special because the mountains that surrounded our campsite were an awesome wonder and there’s a different kind of song you sing when you’re in awe.
Toyeke had started fixing breakfast for us all. She remixed the leftover stew from last night into a geisha sauce and boiled yams. It was quite fun to shoot this morning as Rosie loved the morning light. While breakfast was in the works, I freshened up and shot an interview by the stream for the documentary. It was a re-do from the day before, just in case. Then we ate. Breakfast was quite eventful; Kola (Naija Trainer) seems to have a playlist for everything. Maybe because he is a fitness expert and personal trainer to the stars so he has music to get every bit of your body working. We danced to Fela, Lagbaja, Shina Peters and Ayefele as we ate and as I should have expected, this segued into a fitness session led by Kola. After our exercise, the community brought us food. Gosh, their hospitality is so heartwarming. We gave the messenger girl a few Ribenas to say ‘thank you’ and burst out laughing when she returned with 10 of her friends. Lol. They all got their own Ribenas.
It was a long morning. We spent hours gathering the porter troops, some of whom came from a nearby village. The negotiations went on and on because every time a new person joined the group, they would disagree with the agreed price. Bethel was very helpful here and so were our rangers - Officer Idris and ARO. Finally, we got a team of 18 porters and agreed on a price. Oops, not so fast. Some of them were so young, we were concerned about hiring them to carry heavy things up the mountain. The community leaders reassured us that these boys herald herds of cattle up the mountain and they also carry heavy things to the summit all the time. When they saw that we truly wanted only adults, they got upset and increased their prices further. It was such a long process and quite the lesson in cross-cultural dialogue. Eventually, we settled for a compromise: any young chap with a moustache or beard could carry the normal weight and anyone without could carry much lighter weights, except they were obviously adults in which case they could carry whatever they wanted. Phew!
Climbing Chappal Waddi for 6 hours was breathtaking. Forest, streams (with fresh water), grasslands, plains, hills, herders grazing their cattle and horses…wow. Sometimes we would take short breaks and wait for other groups to catch up with us and other times, we would leave tree branches at junctions so that others could find which way we had gone. I had prayed for rain to clear out the Harmattan haze and even though we did not get it, we got some clear skies and so our drone was a useful tool. The documentary crew kept shooting as we were climbing and we kept chanting call and responses (NYSC style) to boost morale. “Where are we going?” “Chappal Waddi”. As we climbed, we went back and forth between Nigeria and Cameroon, taking lots and lots of photos and making border jokes.
About 10 minutes to the summit, I pulled out the green and white flag and perched it on my shoulder to finish the climb. It was such a triumphant shot! It was such a triumphant feeling when we eventually made it to the summit (of course, far behind the porters who had basically skipped their way up there). Kola, as if on cue, turned up his speakers and the song was ‘Waving Flag by K’naan’. Some of our GPS equipment said that we were 2,420m above sea level and others said 2,419m so we settled for the safer option - 2,419m! As we took turns to take photos at the summit with the Nigerian flag, others started hammering the signpost into place. I am not quite the carpenter I thought I would be, but we all managed to get the nails in and stand the signpost on the rock, fortified by rocks.
We spent quite some time at the summit. It may have been two or more hours. Eventually, at sunset, we descended back to the river bed about 200m from the summit, pitched out tents for the nights, warmed our hands by the fire and went to bed. The night was cold cold cold and I was knackered by the end of it all.
There was no rush on this morning, just a lot of joy. I had lofty plans of catching the sunrise but man proposes and God disposes. I stayed in the tent chatting with Ibinabo and Rosie about any and everything. I even used my charming voice from inside the tent to sweet talk Kingsley into bringing me a hot cup of Milo. I was tired jo, and it was cold. Eventually, as the morning became warmer, I changed into some of the glamorous outfits I had brought for the mountain photoshoot. This was a lot of fun; with the camera capturing every twirl. These photos taken by Dotun are spectacular. The rangers made us a most delightful breakfast of rice, beans and stew and then we gathered up our things, burned our trash and cleared out camp.
We had one more short trip to the summit because we had some photos we could not take at sunset the night before. And then we began the descent to the foot of the mountain. It was quite seamless. The view of a mountain while descending is arguably more breathtaking than it is during the ascent. We made stops at fresh water streams, rested a bit, took lots of photos and kept going. By the time we made it to the foot of the mountain, our bike men were waiting for us to take us on the 3 hour ride to Njawai. They welcomed us with a roaring laugh (they were mostly teasing us), we gave a gratitude gift to the community for hosting us, got on the bikes and headed to Njawai. At the ranger’s camp Njawai, with tired bodies, Rosie and I managed to get some suya for the group. The suya was…well, it was the best we could get, so let’s leave it at that. We showered at the ranger’s camp with hot water (yay), some people did some handwashing (God bless Kola who was so kind to me even though we were all tired at this point), and we slept.
I almost strangled myself today. I had to go back to the hills because the documentary crew wanted some interviews with only hills in the background. With my blanket, I hopped on a bike and headed back towards the interview spot. As the blanket dangled from my neck and the bike sped along, I had no idea when I screamed! The blanket that was dangling had caught inside the spoke of the okada and I was getting strangled in real time. He stopped as soon as he heard me scream, I managed to get from under the blanket and I was quiet for a moment. It all happened so quickly and I was thankful that it was not worse, even though my blanket was beyond repair. Officer Abdulkarim had to dissemble parts of his bike just to get the blanket out and keep the bike running. I did the interview, quite solemnly, and made it back to Njawai. Eventually, after much delay due to my interview, we made it on to the tortuous rugged landrover, along that dusty road, and back to Nguroje.
At Nguroje, our bus driver was waiting for us and we were so thrilled to have cell service again. Most people slept until we got to Serti and we bantered a bit, caught up with our friends and family, and even ate much better suya which we had gotten from Nguroje. We made it in good time to Young JP Hotel in Serti, ate lunch, showered, and slept.
The next day was supposed to be a day trip to see the Emir and to visit Tunde Morakinyo at his station inside Gashaka Gumti National Park. That plan was changed at the last minute because of some logistical challenges and we rested instead.
We left Serti early, in convoy with the CP of the park, and made it in 5 hours to Jalingo airport for our flight to Abuja. In Abuja, we welcomed ourselves back with banga from Niger Delta kitchen, before the Lagosians among us caught our flight back home.
One more thing…we need you. All the guides and info we share are free of charge and help thousands learn about the geography, tourism and conservation work that happens at Chappal Waddi. Your support and contributions will enable us bring more substance to everyone who cares. Donate safely here.
Guys, I don't know about you but I think this trip was nothing short of amazing. Kudos to Funmi and her team on an amazing job done. We can't wait for the documentary to be out. Don't forget you can follow her thoughts here and view her images here.
Will you guys be attempting to submit Chappal Waddi anytime soon? What do you think of Funmi's adventure. Let us know in the comment section.