my 'Okomu National Park Experience'
Okumu National Park was the first area of rainforest to be protected by conservation laws in Nigeria.The park covers an area of three hundred square kilometres, it lies about 65 kilometres west of Benin City. The forest sanctuary is home to a unique range of animal species, including the vulnerable Nigerian white-throated guenon monkey, the wrinkled hornbill and dwarf crocodiles among others. The sanctuary has great potential for bird and animal watching.
The journey to the heart of the forest from Abuja was not an easy one.We drove all day up to the late hours of the night,this was however due to our guides unfamiliarity with the terrain.We drove through bumpy and dusty paths,trashing through thick forest and somewhere along the road we were faced with a heavily padlocked gate in the middle of the jungle.This was to be the entrance to one off the roads leading to the park.The long wait for the ranger that was suppose to man this gate sent every member of the group into a state of fear.We locked all windows and expected to see a lion appear from no where.Others even teased that they cited monkeys which further hightened tensions especially among the female members.
After a long wait we heard the sound of an approaching motorbike from the dept of the jungle.The ranger appeared and appologised for keeping us waiting.We drove for about 20minutes before we finally got to the main camp.After a long drive,this was our major contact with large group of human.The cook,front office officer and other officials at the park welcomed us and we had a long wait before dinner was ready.
Checking into our rooms wasn't any easier.finally we had to hurry into bed before the lights went out.
At the first light of dawn,our host woke us up and briefed us about the journey ahead; 'the Nature Trail Walk'. We were all excited and we picked up our heavily armed guard and two other officials before being dropped off at our starting point of the 1.6km walk.(the armed guard we were told was to protect us against any wild animal we might encounter on our way or poachers) We eventually did not encounter any of these but we saw breath taking sites.From the giant ant hills to tall mahogany trees that seem not to have an end when you look at them.We also saw trails of elephant foot tracks.we caught site off a few monkeys that seem excited at our presence.
Getting to the foot of the tree house, we were briefed on the do's and don't of climbing the awesome 73 steps climb up.Not all of the team members got to the top as only the brave survived the climb including an amazon; 'CHARITY AKWA' duff my hat for her courage.At the top of the tree house was a breath taking view of the forest which seem to have no end.
The members of the trail including yours truly and another merry-go round crew member, paul Zawaya set back for another 1.6km walk back to the main road where the trail started.We rode back in our bus and once at the camp settled down to have breakfast,rested for an hour before setting out for more adventure with the swinging bridge.The bridge was a facinating suspended walk way constructed with strong heavy twine across tree trunks.It also gave us a view of the vast jungle and you can feel the high current of water flowing under you.It was only the brave that made this climb too.
At about 4pm we returned back to camp,refreshed and this time we decided to visit the famous Okomu rubber plantation,a spawling espance of land with trees well lined on all sides of the road. it was an opportunity for our crew which came from the northern part of the country to see this wonderful cash crop' rubber'. We saw how it was tapped and heavy trucks were on ground to convey the produce to where they will be reprocesed.
That was not our main mission there, our mission was to wine and dine.In the junior workers estate was a sprawling 'mammy market' with music blarring from all corners as the joint owners were trying to outdo each other.We finally settled down to eat and cool off with cool and fresh palmwine.Pepper soups were in different variants but eating of' bushmeat' was prohibited in the environment.The traders or joint owners risk being arrested if found dealing in bushmeat.There was so much fun that we never wanted the trip to come to an end,but as the saying goes; 'anything that has a begining must have an end'
Back to the main aim of the trip.The trip to okomu national park had a dual purpose which cut across both tourism and hospitality perspective-
1-The trip was aimed at assessing the strenght and weakness of the okomu park hospitality outfit as we as to proffer solutions and possible recommendations where necessary.
2-Secondly,the trip was to enable the team experience nature tourism, and assessing the preservation and conservation of biodiversity in its natural state for posterity while appreciating the serene nature of the natural environment.
okomu national Park fulfilled all this but would trive better if the autorities incharge step up their effort towards the maintenance of the park considering the global desire for eco-tourism.There is no denying the fact that the park is underfunded which can be noticed in the state of the facilities on ground. The rooms are not too palatable,the park swimming pool was home for frogs and toads.The staffs were also unexposed and lack training in new trends in hospitality.The food served was expensive compared to the standard and taste.Power supply is another area that government needs to look into as a park of that magnitude lacks power supply as the park is been run by a generating set which only comes on at 6pm and turned up by 12am.Communication is also terrible as your only chance of communicating with the outside world is by placing your phone at strategic location and must not be moved or you lose the chance of making or receiving your call.