Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Do You Know Where Biafra is?

Deep in the hills of Cross River National Park  it's hard to believe that you are in the country of Nigeria.  Over the years I have learned a lot about this fascinating country.  It's just not what I thought it would be.

My college years were spent traveling with a couple of professors, one of whom was from Nigeria.  At the time I didn't know much about the place, but I learned.  Over the years, Nigeria has become well known for internet fraud, political problems, and war.  I spent a lot of time not looking into Nigeria, because it was too dangerous.  But the professor that I knew in college painted a very different picture of this country that puzzles and frightens us a little bit as Americans.  Look on the State Department website, and you will see warnings about travel in Nigeria.  We are afraid of the place, and that outbreak of Ebola a couple of years ago didn't help matters at all.

The harsh truth is that Nigeria is an amazingly successful country.  Once run by the British, the official language there is English.  There are over 500 tribal and other languages spoken, but that is the official national language.  Nigeria is home to %20 of the population of Africa, and the city of Lagos is one of the most densely populated cities in the world with 15 million people.  Things are modern and industrialized in a lot of the country.  The discovery of oil a few decades ago put a lot of money into the economy in Nigeria.  They are the 10th largest producer of oil in the world.  They have ultra modern architecture, arts and culture, universities, museums, and since 1960 an independent government.  While they do have many communities that choose to cling to the old traditional ways; Nigeria is on the forefront of civilization.  And it all sits along the coast of West Africa.

This is a blog about adventures that anyone could have, and this one takes us to the town of Calabar, in southern Nigeria.  This city of almost half a million people has a history that's worth checking into.  It was one of the major slave trade ports in west Africa until the 1800's.  It's still a busy shipping port, and more.  It's part of what was once referred to as Biafra.  Biafra was the breakaway republic that stood up against a new Nigerian government and set off a civil war.  In 1967 war broke out in the southern regions of Nigeria between the Nigerian Government and the people of Biafra.  The war lasted only three years, but it left its mark on the country.  To this day, there are many people who still want to break away and have their own country of Biafra.

The National Museum is in Calabar, and you can learn all about Biafra as well as the years of British rule.  You can also learn about the history of Nigeria going back quite some time.  You will learn about slave trade and it's connection to America.  It's a fascinating place to visit.  And remember, I don't recommend museums very often.

One of the biggest things that impressed me about the idea of traveling in Nigeria is that they are working very hard to boost tourism.  This country also falls high on the list of friendly countries.  Calabar has many hotels and resorts to draw people in.  They are working on building a monorail to get around town and they have all kinds of man made attractions.  In December, they have Carnival, which draws a huge group in celebration.  In Calabar there is a university and regular sporting events.

Calabar and most of the southern regions of Nigeria are Christians and they have some beautiful churches to see.  The oldest in Calabar is the old Duke Town Church.  Keep in mind that if you are visiting Nigeria, the north is primarily Muslim which is why the new capital, Abuja was built in the center of the country.  They wanted to have a neutral town between the two religions for the seat of government.

Calabar has a shoreline and they have beautiful beaches.  If you want to come to the coast of Africa and lay in the sun, then this is a great spot to do it.  Calabar is also the location of ancient royalty of the Calabar people.  The Obong Palace used to be the seat of that power.

The Obudu Mountain Resort is one of the resorts that are looking to draw tourists.  It's in the amazing Cross River National Park, and you can stay in a villa if you like.  They have amazing pools, activities, restaurants and accommodations.  But, it's all about the view.  This park is one of those parks that's called a park in the clouds.  It's in the mountains, and it's rainforest.  Lush and beautiful.  Green and mountainous.  If you go for the view alone, it's worth the trip.

What will you see in Cross River?  Animals like elephants.  You'll see outstanding waterfalls.  You can take gondolas up and see all kinds of things.  You can hike or drive or ride around and see all kinds of things.

But the reason that this hits the list of Adventures for Anyone is the monkeys.  The Drill is native to Nigeria and is of the monkey family even though he looks a bit more like a Baboon.  The Drill was pushed to near extinction at one point and now the Nigerians are working very hard to protect them and boost the population.  At Cross River there is a ranch that takes care of these fabulous creatures and you can help.  You can spend the day there and help to take care of the Drills.

I love sanctuaries for animals.  They have sanctuaries for various animals all over the world, and volunteers are welcomed at all of them.  The Drill Ranch is no different.  There are two of them in Nigeria.  One is in Calabar, and there is also the Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary to the north.  Working with animals is rewarding.  I encourage everyone to give it a try.  You won't regret it.

So, take some time to meet an amazing bunch of monkeys.  Remember, they don't live anywhere else, so they are special.  While you're there, learn some history; particularly the slave and Biafra history, lay on the beach, go to a game, do some shopping, and meet some amazing people.  There's nothing quite like the animals, the museums, the resorts, and the view in Calabar, Nigeria.  Is it dangerous?  Maybe, but isn't that sometimes just part of the adventure?

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