A Daytrip to Abeokuta

Hurray for spring break! We were one of the few who decided not to leave the country while our colleagues hopped on planes to fancier destinations like Lisbon, Madrid, Amsterdam, Prague, Kuala Lumpur, Nairobi, Istanbul, and London. So we got to enjoy how peacefully quiet the school campus, albeit with frequent interruptions to power, Internet, and water services. The drive to the neighboring Ogun state to visit the Olumo Rock in Abeokuta was therefore a nice excursion. It certainly confirmed how nice the Nigerian countryside is, and how pleasant it is to get out of congested Lagos.

We reached our destination in two hours, after fixing a wobbling tire along the highway, and stopping occasionally to ask for directions. Traffic disappeared once we got off the city limits past the international airport, and the roads were in much better condition. Vendors selling various sizes of mortars and pestles, mainly used for the Nigerian staple pounded yam, lined the fringes but we didn’t stop as we were trying to make up for lost time. There were lots of trees on each side of the highway until we entered Abeokuta.

 

The town itself is interesting, especially the market area. British colonial architecture was prevalent in both new and old buildings and houses, many of which sported fancy doorways and windows. The peeling paint, signs, and cracked walls simply added character to these structures. I could easily spend hours walking around with my camera, but the narrow streets provided miniscule parking space as sidewalks were non-existent. Abeokuta, also known as city “under the rocks,” seems cramped and competed for space with boulders and bunny hills. One of these is the site of the Olumo Rock.

The Olumo Rock is regarded as a park, shrine, and tourist attraction. Its view is now marred by the construction of two elevator towers, built by the former governor who was in the elevator business. It is meant to allow older and less fit folks to go up the top of the rock and skip the hundred-step stairway. But it has been developed and appears to be managed adequately. We were welcomed by a middle-aged man in front of the closed gates, who proceeded to brief us on the fees involved: N500 entrance per adult, N100 for camera, N100 for parking, N250 for tour guide, and so on. It would have been better if they put up a sign for these, but at least he gave us tickets with the correct price printed on them. The park is clean, with spacious parking lot, toilets, a cafeteria (it didn’t have much but one can buy drinks and some souvenirs).

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Our guide was a young man who is proud of the rock’s history. He hung around patiently as our son tried to chase the goats. He took us to the shrine and the sanctuary, where locals hid their women and children during inter-tribal wars. They carved holes for preparing food, and built little rooms — although only one was left intact. With the goats, the tour would have taken only 20 minutes. But we took our time, which was the whole idea, to enjoy a wonderful view of the town from the top of the rocks. Had we known better, we could have brought our lunch up there instead of eating it in the car.

We passed the market again on our way out, and it was very tempting to stop at the fabric section — Abeokuta, being known for its indigo adire (tie dye) cloth. But my husband, who hates shopping, told the driver to go faster instead. I guess I will have to make another trip myself.

News feature about Nigerian mortars & pestles

The Olumo Rock

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