Caring less about the cloud of bubbles saturating the cave, we brought out our cameras and began to snap way. Just then a voice screamed at us from behind. “What is the meaning of this! How dare you bring cameras to this place. Do you want to defile the work of God?”…
Thirty minutes to 9th Mile, another 30minutes to Awhum Monastery, and yet another forty-five minutes to the flooded Limestone Caves, all the way from Enugu, the coal City- this is the trail that leads to the marvellous showers of Awhum Waterfalls.
A thirty-minute bike ride from Enugu, capital city Enugu State, Eastern Nigeria, snakes through a stretch of steep sided and picturesque hills which had been dissected in different parts by stream channels and has exposed extensive coal beds at its valley floors. The hills jet to the skies on both sides of the Enugu-9th Mile express road, and with lush carpets of vegetation it enshrouds its slopes and mask its lithologies of sandstone, shale and limestone.
The small nodal town of 9th Mile stands at the intersection of Nsukka, Udi and Ezeagwu roads. Retail shops and kiosks of various sizes line the cross junction. The smooth road to Awhum stretches ahead and climbs up a gigantic verdant ridge in the far distance.
“… a narrow footpath peaked from a bush behind the concrete fence of the monastery…”
It’s 12noon and some dark clouds had just begun to kick off the piercing rays of the sun. Our Okada sped anxiously through the villages of Udi L.G.A, and pulled up at the end of a tortuous dusty road- the gates of Owhum Monastery. As a cloud of dust announced our arrival, the Okada man pointed to my left, “Oga, that’s the path that leads to the caves and waterfalls oh”.
We turned to the direction in which he pointed, and a narrow footpath peaked from a bush behind the concrete fence of the monastery. Beyond it loomed a fertile landscape of thick forests underlain by towering ridges and a deep valley at the centre- the valley that houses the treasure for which I have travelled a hundred of miles to behold.
Larger packets of darkened clouds continued to gather. It was going to rain. And although our anxieties rose further, our quest stood yonder. “How far are the caves”, I quickly asked the Okada rider as he turned his motorcycle and began to rev up his engine, preparing to take off.
“Bros, e far small oh. You go waka like 1hr before you fit reach there oh”.
His statement weakened me to the soles of my feet. I beheld the dimming skies, then my dusty heavy boots and the bottomless valley stretched before me; and the lips of wonderlust sang a Yoruba proverb in my ears: “A task that will not delay one should not be delayed by one”.
Without wasting time further, Agu and I started off on the narrow footpath. It laced through picturesque fields of grass and flowery plants, punctuated with low trees and shrubs, gently carpeting the ridge slopes leading into the abysmal valley.
As more clouds gathered and gradually shut off the rays of the sun, we multiplied our paces. The ambient heat receded, opening its door for a chilly atmosphere which is further accentuated by the thick forest canopies insulating the valley floors.
Beds of sand and sandstones at the ridge tops evolved into outcrops of limestone as we descended further into the valley. The narrow paths had changed into a ruggedly sculpted chain of staircases formed by small depressions dug into the rocks, serving as foot holds. Drizzles of light rain began to descend through the forest canopies. Numerous stream channels resurged as the paths further dug into the limestones. A high cliff began to rise to the left as the paths seemed to level out.
Passers-by kept warning us to move faster if we hoped to return from the caves before nightfall. The rains became heavier, and the overhanging forest canopies could not shield us any longer from its showers. The towering limestone walls engulfed the footpath and narrowed as it terminated beneath a wall punctured in different parts by massive caves. A statue of Mary stood on a platform above the path and beneath the caves. The damp rays of sunlight sneaking through the thick canopies seemed to cast a mild blanket of green tincture on limestone walls, giving the enchanting milieu an ambiance of awe and wonder.
A flooded narrow crevice swings to the left from the foot of the caves. From within it suddenly emerged a group of people singing and marching past with their faces costumed with looks of piety. Some carried jerry cans of water, and others held small bottles in one hand and umbrellas in another.
As soon as they passed, we descended into the flooded crevice which led into a mind blowing stretch of 300m long limestone cave in which laid the twin cascades of Owhum Waterfalls. The first waterfall intrudes the cave at about 100m from the entrance, while the second and biggest cascade stands at the far end of the cave. Small sinkholes at the roof of the caves permitted a stylish illumination of the cave and the flowing stream along the cave floors glistened with each incident light.
“…the footpath terminates beneath a wall punctured in different parts by massive caves. A statue of Mary stood on a platform above the path and beneath the caves. A flooded narrow crevice swings to the left from the foot of the caves…”
Caring less about the cloud of bubbles saturating the cave, we brought out our cameras and began to snap way. Just then a voice shouted at us from behind.
“What is the meaning of this! How dare you bring cameras to this place. Do you want to defile the work of God?”.
A group had come to visit the waterfalls, and one of the men was angry that we brought cameras to the cave.
We looked at the man with surprise. His indignation began to accelerate as he approached. I quickly released a plastic smile and asked if one was not permitted to bring cameras to the caves. It hit another spark in his head.
“So you people did not see the signboard on the road to the cave? Is that what you are trying to tell me? In fact I am going to seize those cameras right now!” He was now within three meters from us. We began to beg and explained that we were first time visitors at the caves and were not aware of the rules. fortunately, he calmed down and warned us to keep away the cameras. The Catholic Church at the Monastery had taken responsibility of the management of the caves and the waterfalls, and for reasons best known to them had banned the use of cameras at the caves.
We complied and followed the group as they climbed farther into the dim cave. Everyone bent and each one protected his belongings the group crawled beneath the first waterfall. The waters were cool and pristine. The taste of freshness at the corner of my lips triggered a burst of excitement in my nerves.
At the rear end of the cave, the second waterfall plunged down from the 30m-high roof with enormous vigour. The showers inundated the cave with a billion bubbles of water vapour, soaking the calcite walls and everything within its confines. A group of sculpted figures reposed at a corner in-front of which some of the pilgrims stood or knelt as they offered words of prayer. Some other people clustered beneath the heavy showers of the second waterfall, praying and singing aloud.
Amidst the cacophony of thundering waters and praying pilgrims, I quickly marked the location of the man that challenged us earlier- he was now under the heavy waterfalls, I gently slipped out my camera and took a few snapshots, and just before anyone turned to my direction, I pulled Agu and we sped off towards the entrance of the cave. We didn’t look back until we had walked a great distance from the cave.
The rains had now stopped and the sun had begun to illuminate the firmaments once again. Our cameras suffered dampness from the dense vapours that engulfed the cave. As we climbed the ridge and continued on our way back, we later saw the signboard warning against the use of cameras at the cave. Funnily enough,the sign read:
“…INSIDE THE CAVE AND WATERFALL, NO PHOTOGRAPHING OR FILMING IS ALLOWED”
It was already late. Our mission was already completed, the world must not be kept in the dark any longer, our cameras shall provide a light: a peak into the world of unlimited tourist potentials our country, Nigeria is blessed with.
- The end of the cave: The second waterfall plunges down from the 30m-high roof of the cave (background). Pilgrims at the waterfall praying before a set of sculpted figures at a corner of the cave, some metres away from the second cascade (foreground).
This article was written by Folarin Kolawole
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