Finding Paradise On A Budget

Growing up in Nigeria with a silver spoon, addiction to luxury was an acquired behaviour, regarding travel I abided by an implicit rule: if planes didn’t go, neither did Koko. Obligatory road trips were cushioned with extravagance. 

Eventually, my family experienced a period of financial woe and in denial I held onto luxury “like a drowning man at sea clutching to straws” at the expense of my mental health, peace and happiness. A couple of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) sessions later, I’m trudging towards the bare necessities and living within my own means.

A $100 largesse from my baby sister as a birthday gift initiated a three element challenge: 1) Travel within that budget. 2) Carry only the essentials. 3) Experience the bare necessities of life. So I grabbed a backpack (another first) and went off to explore The People’s Paradise – Agbokim Waterfalls, Obudu Cattle Ranch, Cross River National Park – hoping to find Old Mother Nature’s Recipes.

My handy sidekick

Unmerited Kindness

Seated up front next to the bus driver, Mr. G, I got firsthand commentary and front row view of Cross River State’s natural grandeur. Lost to green expanse of flora and an occasional glimpse of the sun on calm rivers, I barely realized five hours had gone by on the road from Uyo to Ikom.

Mr G offered to be my escort to the motorcycle park where I’d secure a ride into Agbokim Village – home of the waterfalls. It is at this park we met his distant cousin, Nkanga, a resident of the village. Ordinarily Nkanga and I are worlds apart – he a rustic villager and I, a supposedly sophisticated city girl, but we share a common language. He is so kindhearted and generous that he offers to share his home and meals with me along with his family. Amazed by this gratuitous offer, I agreed to at least dine with his family before retiring to the hotel.

A two room clapboard-walled structure made of teak, erected on a concrete floor is home to Nkanga and family. His wife wrapped me in a warm welcome, then proceeded to fill the air with aroma of spices as she cooked dinner on open fire, replacing the initial musky scent. I was introduced to every passing neighbour as “our sister from a far distance”, dinner progressed to an affectionate chat under the starry skies with the whole family: Nkanga, “Sister”, Mama (their daughter) and nieces. I couldn’t bear to peel away from such warmth, so I stayed. Never have I seen a group of faces light up simultaneously into sincere smiles when my decision was voiced.

For the first time in months I slept early and soundly without the aid of prescribed sedatives; for this miracle I had my new family to thank. Seeing the waterfalls and its environs in the morning was the icing on my perfectly baked cake.

The beautiful cascades emptying into the Cross River
A shared meal

*          *          *

Hills Come Alive

This leg of the trip was quite spontaneous. As Mr. G had earlier informed me Obudu was three hours away from Ikom – wanderlust awoke the cloud-surfing looney that dwells within. The narrow road linking Ikom to Obudu is mostly shaded by canopy of trees and surrounded by intimidating yet magnificent mountains. All through the car ride I remained in awe of this beautiful successful marriage between rainforest and mountains.

Conversing with a stranger at the ranch – also on a solo dolo tripwell into the morning; travel, hobbies, careers, music, poetry, prose . . . he spoke of music as a Lover that’s seen him through the good, the bad and the ugly. Sitting in the pitch black night, he reintroduces me to Her (music) and we fell into laughing fits listening to the last verse of David Allan Coe’s ‘You Never Even Call Me By My Name’.

“growing up in the midst of family conflict music was my escape, I could listen to songs in my head and zone out. It said so much with so little.” – My Stranger

I. Fell. In. Love. And music became mine.

Just as Obudu Cattle Ranch welcomed dawn I went hiking and then it was clear there had been an inner awakening, because the hills came alive with singing, the trees swayed in the wind. Sitting among the clouds in meditation I listened.

Falling even deeper in love.

Sunrise on The Obudu Cattle Ranch
The Obudu Hills

*          *          *

Peace At Last

I set out with the knowledge that new strides are accompanied by challenges, unfortunately it didn’t prepare me for the road trip from hell. The driver’s greed cost us daylight hours, indulging in incessant pick ups and drop offs between Obudu and Akampa, exploiting hitchhikers (I learnt firsthand the difficulty in challenging the unsafe public transportation norms on Nigerian roads). Against voiced warnings, trying to make up for lost hours, he sped through the dilapidated Federal Highway and poof! In an instant both tyre and journey were wrecked. Stranded at a few minutes to midnight without a functioning car jack I began to question the driver’s sanity and my continued loyalty to this madness.

By divine intervention I’m sprawled out on the bed of a dingy, noisy hotel in Akampa Town, unable to proceed to my preferred camping lodge in the Cross River National Park, Oban Division. I lay awake watching the clock crawl, desperately waiting for daylight to come save me, pacifying my agitated mind with Lindsey Abudei’s ‘Out The Magazine’.

Although disappointed that I wasn’t able to wake to nature’s alarm, arriving at the park, greeted by a huge sign reading: Slow down, here, animals always have right of way. Right then I felt in my soul that this was worth the stress. With a total absence of noise it is nearly impossible for words to convey the peace experienced. I was transported to a realm of near mystical tranquility.

Thus I decided to share this experience via a short video of the forest’s sights and sounds as I hiked for three miles through a quarter of it.


*          *          *

Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life
are not only not indispensable,
but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.
– Henry David Thoreau

I DID IT! Surmounted all three challenges and the bare necessities came bearing numerous bounties. Nature remains a veritable gold mine, this year let’s endeavour to unplug from the chaos that plagues our modern world and benefit from Her wealth.



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