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Life Lessons From A 40 Years Adventure
Here’s my jungle-story, and the lessons learnt after completing the challenge
For me, it was an adventure 40 years in the making. The first time I tried to ascend the rock was in the early 1980s. On that occasion, my guide missed the way. At the end, all I had for solace was a feeble pat on the rock after a long trek to the base of this rock of dreams - Oruku rock.
Two score years ago adventure found me at the base of this same rock. On that day, I and my friend meandered around the jungle perimeter of its base. It all ended in futility then. On December 28th, 2020, I returned to the same location for a second attempt at reaching the peak. The prospects of reaching the zenith was partly responsible for the long journey to my hometown. To prepare for this adventure, I had engaged in several days of stamina-building morning walking exercises. I am no stranger to the rugged terrain of my teen years. So I had to prepare even before I left Port Harcourt for Òsósọ̀, my hometown.
Time is running out. It’s now or never
The last week of December is usually a busy, festive period. As a result, it was not until the fifth day after my arrival that I could set out on my adventure. From my guesthouse, I picked up my guide on the way to our rendezvous. The season’s signature - dust and haze permeates everywhere. Stretching for about two miles, two rows of trees lined both sides of the lone paved road. The green-capped foliage offered much needed shade. Even though the sun has not risen, the heat was palpable, everywhere.
The Toyota Camry could only proceed at walking-pace speed along the narrow dusty road. Our team soon grew up to seven. Five of them rode in the car. I opted for trekking along with our guide to where we were to start our foray into the bush. Our destination, Oruku rock, was less than 2 miles away. Most of the town was in a festive mood. At the entrance into the jungle, we met three young ladies returning from the bush. They were on their home-bound trip from a pond about one mile into the jungle. Each had a water-vessel balanced on her heads. This was the height of the dry season. The ponds and streams were all dry. The women often have to trek several miles into the bush to get healthy drinking water. It has always been like this from times immemorial.
From miles away and from any location around the town, it is easy to catch a view of this unmistakable landmark. A few steps change in position or direction of gaze was all it takes. Withered grass interspersed the sun baked thin soil, reminding you of greenery's struggle with the hot dry season - harmattan. Our footpath snaked along through the baked dry laterite landscape. Some evergreen trees near dry riverbeds were still keeping their luscious green canopies. Others, in tune with the dry season, were already denuded of foliage. Far or near and all-around various rocks in every shape and size were beckoning for attention. I grew up and schooled in this hard environment. Still, everything now looked exotic to me.
We finally reached the perimeter of the massive rock. Unfortunately, we couldn't locate any of the ascent points to the peak - our destination. Now we could touch the rock. It was presumptuous to attempt our climb from an unconfirmed ascent point. It did not take us long to conclude we were on the wrong path. Well, if we can't find our way to our goal for now, we can at least retrace our steps to where we were coming from. It is better to be safe than to end up with broken bones while trying to be adventurous.
Having failed as we thought, in our attempts at climbing up, we tried to reach one of the lower elevations of the rock as best as we could. There were several mounds of earth near the base of the rock. They are the handiwork of farmers in their daily struggle - growing food crops from the thin laterite soil. Even though I grew up here now, I know better. Another level of resilience and was needed for anyone to survive in this almost barren landscape.
All the footpaths has disappeared. Now and then, our guide reassured us of his familiarity with the route. Three missed routes later, we were already getting exhausted. I was almost resigning myself to the thought that I may not reach this long sought after goal after all. If I can't make it to the peak of Oruku at this second attempt, the chances of ever reaching that height will tend towards remote with each extra year added to my years.
Follow whoever knows the road
Wewere almost giving up. Retracing our footsteps, we now set for where we came from - opposite to our long sought target. How will you ever know whether you will succeed or fail if you never tried? From an unknown source, help soon came along to spur us on in our joint resolve. Heading back in high spirits despite our apparent failure, we heard some voices alerting us of the wrong direction we were taking to our intended destination.
How will you ever know whether you will succeed or fail if you never tried?
"You are following the wrong direction."
To the unknown and unseen voices, my brother replied,
"Please show us the way."
The voices again replied in our dialect,
"Some people are already ahead of you and going in the right direction. They are not far away, you can come over and join them."
Again, my brother replied,
"Please lead us to them and I will pay for your help."
We then caught up with the unseen voices. Two young boys and a girl were heading to their farm. They led us to join the other team before we parted ways.
Thick bush has overgrown the unmarked route. Old trees, thick grass and shrubs heavy with wild furry fruited plants covered the old path. To the youngsters and newcomers in our midst, we sounded the alarm.
"Do not allow a single thread of the tiny golden fur to drop on your bare skin. Such a contact will bring wild-fire like stinging burns to your skin."
Our forerunners on this trip, we were well on their way. They were creating a way where there wasn't any through the thick bush. Along our route, we encountered several stacks of rocks arranged in half or complete circles. This place, now long abandoned, once thrived with flourishing farm settlements or hamlets. That must have been anything from 40 to over 50 years ago. Now, there was no longer any sign of human activity except for some few farms barely surviving the dry season.
Atlast, we reached a seemingly benign ascent point. We all picked our steps up the steep slopes. For hundreds of feet in both directions of this formidable wonder of wonders - Oruku rock was spread out in its sprawling grandeur. We soon made progress. Climbing the rock is only easier when ascended from the right location. Otherwise, the slopes were too steep to climb around most of the rock's perimeter.
The locals and teens in our group climbed up with relative ease. The older ones and the "tourists" were lagging. I was the last of the laggards. Now and then, one of the less nimble climbers voiced out their apprehensions.
"I am not sure I can make it to the top of this rock o."
Yet we kept on dragging ourselves up. At other times, some will ask, "Even if we make it to the top, how are we going to get back to the base?" "Is there an easier route back?" Both concerns lingered on my mind as well, but I never vocalize them.
Oruku rock is among the hundreds of hills called Kukuruku hills. Reputed to be the highest points on these stretches of hills, it is still a super midget when compared with renowned mountain ranges like Kilimanjaro in East Africa and the Himalayas in Asia. One unique feature of this granite dome is its alluring picture perfect round conical top. Seen from a distance, it seems there will be no place for a foothold at the peak. Despite its steep slopes, it was easy for people to climb - even for the first time adventurers.
Only those with serious joint pains will find it difficult to scale. Unfortunately, my limbs were plagued with pains while climbing. I had spent several days building up stamina and clocking miles on daily morning treks before embarking on this adventure. The testing time finally came for me to prove my mettle. It was then that my knees, hips, and ankles quivered and vibrate to my subsumed fears. Still, I pressed on. At some points, I had to crawl on all fours. At other points, I had to sit on my butts and drag my feet up while facing the down-slope direction. One lady on our team couldn't go further. She had to wait for the rest of us to go up and return.
Breathing was becoming strenuous with every step uphill. We had to stop after every few steps to fill our lungs. If climbing a rock that is less than 2000 feet above sea level leaves us panting for breath, I can't imagine what it would have felt like climbing higher mountains. At the beginning of our ascent, the veterans of previous climbs cautioned us to remove our sneakers. The rocky slopes were such that no matter how firm the grip your shoes have on the rock, the sharp gradients were such that your hiking shoes can get twisted off your feet. To avoid this potentially risky experience, everybody climbed up barefooted. The granite rock is not Persian rug, but we have a few hundreds of feet to climb.
It’s now or never. The will to find the way
Forty years ago, I used to ascend similar steep slopes with relative ease. It is now or never. All along, we were encouraging one another.
"See, those guys and gals up ahead of us are climbing this rock for the first time. If they can make it, so can you. Just keep going"
I was no longer sure of myself either. Still, I pressed on.
Near to the peak of the rock, I sighted an open crevasse near to our uphill rocky path. The thought came to my mind, "What if I lost my grip, tumble down and exhaust my outstanding life breathe hundreds of feet below in a heap of broken bones?" I told myself, "Chris, perish the thought. You are the oldest member of your team, you must lead them back safely." Unofficial leader as I was, the thought of being responsible for everybody's safety was foremost on my mind. Yet, I don't even have the "Oruku climbing" experience to boast off.
The open crevasse was near to the peak. Incidentally, at this seemingly most foreboding point, there was a hefty detached slab of rock. All I needed to do was to stretch my hand and grip the further end a little beyond arm's length. Having secured my grip, I hauled myself up the last few steps to the peak. The younger and more agile among us were already dancing at the top.
At last, I reached the top too. Glorious.
If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
— African Proverb
Along with other adventurers, fifteen of us reached the peak of the dome. The top was as my mum had explained it to me. She never ascended the rock back in her youthful days, but she had passed on the information she garnered from other adventurers. My uncle also told me that in the 1960s, "white men" who came touring this rock used to pay a pound sterling to every local who opted to stay with them camped overnight at the peak of the rock. The top was an oblong curvy dome with an irregular flat top stretching and measuring about 40 diameter at the highest point. The edges quickly drop off and I had to shoo some intrepid youngsters to the less foreboding central point of the peak.
Not long after we reached the peak of Oruku, the two farmer boys that guided us earlier on were back by our side. In no time, the duo has made a light work of this same rock I was huffing and puffing to climb. My brother asked them, "You did not go to your farm again?" To which they replied with wide grins, "No." They certainly counted it more worthwhile joining in our fun-time atop the rock than another round of wearisome labour at their farm. Thinking about it, forty years ago, I and my brother were like these young farmers.
I and my brother used to farm together like these two brothers. Even though I've never escorted tourists to Oruku rock, I used to do similar feats when tourists came to stay at the town's famed Tourist Centre. That was in the 1970s and early 1980s. Ajaokuta Steel Complex is about two scores straight line distance from these hills. Back then, tourists from India, Russia, America and some well-heeled Nigerians used to patronize this lonely outpost. I along with my friend used to haul tourists luggage hundreds of feet uphill. Then, our wages of less than one naira (20 cents) was a great deal enough to suffice for lunchtime snacks at school.
Jubilant laughter, backslapping and high fives erupted as we reached the peak. Camaraderie pervade the whole throng of adventurers. A young lady from the other team shared her biscuits with the rest of us. One boy came with his MP3 player. It was now dancing time. Everyone joined in the celebration.
At the peak, many adventurers often etch their names on the rock to mark their having made a date there. Looking round, I saw my surname "AKINLADE", already scribbled on the granite rock. A namesake has recently made it here before our arrival. The youngest from our team now carved the same name below the one we saw. These names often survive for months or years before the weather wears them out.
All around us and stretching far into the horizon were other jagged granite peaks. But Oruku rock has the most regular geometric and more inviting shape. Hundreds of feet below us, the edges drop off into the valleys. Visibility was poor this time of the year, hence it was not possible to take in the pristine, beautiful views that clearer days would have afforded us. (The blue background of Oruku at the beginning of this story was photoshopped in by the author)
Far below, cultivated farmlands spread far and round the rock. Some parches of dry grassland have already experienced their annual recurrent baptism of wild fire.
When viewed from Ososo Tourist Centre, Oruku rock always looms large and dominating on the entire hilly landscape. The Tourist Centre was lost in obscurity, completely screened off by the haze.
Our smartphones were meant to capture selfies and pictures of the sights we saw. But, in the middle of nowhere, there was mobile telephone network coverage right at the top of this rock. The nearest telecommunications mast was two or three miles away. Could it be possible that the granite rocks were helping to extend the reach of mobile phone signals? We could make calls to friends and relations in town and in other parts of the country. I called my people back in Port Harcourt.
I reached my goal.
It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.
- Sir Edmund Hillary
At the peak, desiccating harmattan breeze changing direction every so often hugs you from every direction. Loose items get blown off the edge. Any accidental dropping of your mobile phone will be farewell kiss to your gadget and your cherished selfies. That won't be the best way to end the year's adventure. We all knew better than to let such mishap befall any of us through carelessness.
Seen from a distance and from images, the dome of the rock appeared to be a sharp drop-off. At its highest point the peak dips off gently with a diameter of about 30 feet all round. Like me, it was the first time ascent for many of my co-explorers. As expected, everyone was immediately at work flashing with their smartphones. My Canon G15 was slugged, secured in my waist pouch while my smartphone was inside my zipped hiking pants. I needed to be sure of what I was doing all the time. Any of these shiny gadgets will always lose out in any rough encounter with this unforgiving fairy-tale-like granite landscape.
Back from the past
Our excitement soon wore off. After some rounds of group pictures and selfies, it was time to descend the hills. Fifteen minutes later, we were back on the downhill trail. Again, I was the first from behind. This afforded me the chance to capture shots of the receding adventurers while lingering over this alluring jagged landscape. Midway downhill the lady who couldn’t make it to the peak re-joined us. The base was another 10 to 15 minutes cautious walk away - downhill.
We made it to the peak, finding our way back to base was less foreboding. Descending was simpler but no less daunting than ascending. At some points I had to crawl on all fours. At other points I had to crawl on my butts to maintain balance. The youngsters, even the first timers, were traversing the sharp slopes with relative ease. I can't turn back the hand of time now. Forty years ago, I used to run up or down an almost vertical rock at the back of my school. Now, no thanks to some nagging pains in my joints and hips, my knees and feet.
Am I envious of the more adept youngsters who seemed to traverse the sharp slopes with ease? No, not at all. Anyone of them was me - forty years ago. Forty years ago, I couldn't have afforded the time or luxury to engage in this type of adventure. Now, even as it was then, hunger and poverty stalks much of this environment and its hardy inhabitants. Only those with full stomachs and some more food to spare ever make out time for adventures. And that accounts for why the rugged beauty of this hilly landscape has been left unexplored and unappreciated by the locals. Don't blame them. I know them. They are my people.
The peak of this rock had seemed unreachable to some of us some few hours ago. Now, we overcame that foreboding challenge and were heading back home in triumph. We will tell stories of what we saw on our way to and fro. Yes, we did it.
Home is beckoning. Slow down. Now
Halfway down the hill an accident almost happened. One lady with us on the trip started running down the slope. This prank ought to be a no-brainer, "No", "No". Apparently, she was overtaken by euphoria. "Hey, look I've achieved what I thought I won't be able to reach." It turned out to be a premature celebration for her.
In a matter of seconds, her speed became faster than she could stop herself. Unable to slow down or stop, she screamed out, playfully at first and then in fear. That was when the lady who did not make it to the peak alerted those further downhill of her danger. "This girl will fall down if nobody stops her."
I was further uphill, crawling down from behind. The entire scene of imminent disaster was unfolding slow-motion style before my eyes. And I was helpless to do anything to stop the oncoming accident. And I prayed. "God Almighty, please don't let this girl fall down. Otherwise, there will be no stopping her. She will just roll and roll downhill non-stop. In the aftermath, we will then have to pick broken bones at the base of this rock. And then, I will have to write a report at the police station. Who will even believe me? They may even accuse us or whoever of having used her for money-making human-sacrifice ritual." Through the years, there has been no report of any accident or falls while exploring Oruku rock. God, you must forbid it
Somehow, God answered my (our) prayers. One of the young men further downhill heard the alarm. He deftly glide to the path of the "running away" girl and arrested her imminent fall. The base of the rock was now a about 300 feet away. "Run-away" girl sustained some bruises to her feet and toes. We all heaved sighs of relief. We will sustain our happy ending after all. I learnt that the injured girl was not even from Ososo. She came with her friend on a visit and adventure. No longer able to walk easily, her friends helped her along the trail. Town was about a mile away.
Several hills spread out for miles all around the town. All through several generations, navigating these treacherous terrains has become second nature to my people. There are several other foreboding rocky and picturesque hills far and near Oruku. All these are awaiting their turns for adventurers to come, if ever. Oruku rock always steals the show from the other rocks and hills. In the town, most of the young men are commercial motorcycle riders. None of them have the time for adventure or exploration. On a good day, the average earning of about 2,000 naira ($4) will be all that most of them have to show for their restless rides.
We all marched in a single file through and out of the bush. While on our home bound trek, one of our guides discovered this wonder of wonders. We could have missed it had he not drawn our attention to it. This live tree, seen from a distance, took on the physiognomy of a very pregnant woman (no pun intended). From a distance and viewing from under a shaded tree canopy, at first, even the woman in our troupe couldn't believe that this live tree was not a pregnant woman. It was a live serendipitous moment. Quickly, I grabbed some frames with my Canon camera before rushing to catch up with the other adventurers. They were already several scores of feet ahead of us.
Just a little trying set the ball rolling
The harmattan haze blurs out visibility. Hundreds of feet below, footpaths and withered farms spread out, reaching as far as eyes could see into the pervasive dusty haze. For scores of miles all round we were greeted with breath-taking vistas and overwhelmed by ponderous granite rocks and hills.
Back from the peak of dreams
Back to town, the Camry was parked at Ikpena Primary School. My brother drove up and caught up with the injured girl and her group. It was then that the First-Aid Box at the back of the car came in handy. Getting her to sit down on a rock nearby on the rocky dusty unpaved road, he cleaned up her bruised feet and toes. Her sweet face grimaced as the methylated spirit stung her open wounds. Afterwards, my brother drove her to the clinic for treatment. I trekked the remaining distance back to my grandmother's family house less than half a mile away.
Lessons that will linger on, always
At long last, I conquered the rock - Oruku rock at Òsósọ̀ in Akoko Edo Local Government Area of Edo State in Nigeria. This majestic granite dome is part of the hills and rocky ranges called Kukuruku Hills. That is the name we called them during the pre-colonial and early years after Nigeria's independence.
My goal on this quest was just to reach the peak of Oruku rock, catch a glimpse of it captured shots of its rugged beauty and that of the surrounding hills.
Here are some lessons this adventure taught me.
Some adventures are worth retrying again. If you failed at your first attempt, try again. Forty years is a long time. You may not have put off an adventure for 40 years. Or you may even be asking, "Is it even worthwhile trying to resume or complete an adventure that has been postponed for forty years? My answer is,
Don’t just pass through life. Live. And the time to start living out this outstanding brief life of yours is now.
The time to pursue those lifelong goals you've put off one time too many is now. Do not give up on the dream. Start living. Start rejuvenating. Start storing up memories. Because tomorrow is not guaranteed.
When you make a try, God will somehow make a way out of no way. But first, you must make a try. While on our way to the top of Oruku rock, we lost our way and considered turning back. Somehow, help came our way at the last minute and from an unexpected source.
Stop quitting too soon. How will you know if you will succeed or fail if you never make a try?
While on an adventure like this, you must prepare before you begin. Preparation and acclimatization is a must. Always prepare and make provisions for even seemingly benign adventures. The First-Aid Box in the car has never been used on any journey. But it came in useful in the least expected place.
Even if you fail at reaching your desired target, the trying and the effort could be more than worth it. The time to start enjoying the beautiful sights, sounds, colors and the exotic environment is now.
So, while on with your quest, always make out time for serendipity. It was while we were on this trip that we discovered a grotesque “pregnant tree” shown in the image below.
The safety of everyone on your team is of paramount importance. Oruku has been there for millions of years. You can always come for a revisit.
Next time you begin an adventure of this nature, always remember that there is safety in numbers. For most mortals, it will be foolhardy to undertake solo adventures to places you are unfamiliar with. Always be ready to lend a helping hand. Who knows, that could be your own salvation too.
Slowing down doesn't mean you become complacent or stop short of the goal. It simply means, don't throw caution to the winds because dangers and risks often surface where you least expect them.
Just as the temptation to quit is often greatest when you are about to succeed, so is the temptation to be careless when your goal is in sight. You must resist both.
I grew up in this hardy environment. These days, I never cease to wonder what made my forbears to resort to this rugged and almost barren environment - for refuge. When I asked my uncle about it, his answer was just as I suspected. Fleeing from primeval intertribal wars, my ancestors came to seek succour and refuge in this almost barren and tasking landscape. Today my people in this lonely outpost love to glory in the rugged beauty of these craggy hills.
Unfortunately, the place is getting more constricted as the sparsely fertile arable land is being taken over by non-indigent migrant pastoralists. What the future portends is uncertain and only time will tell if these hills will suffice to preserve and secure the indigenes of Ososo through the uncertainty of Nigerian politics and unrelenting modernity.
My forty years adventure is a proof that you (we) are immensely capable of more than you (we) thought possible. What adventures are you willing to start or re-start now?
The author originally published this story on Medium.
Thank you for reading.
DISCLOSURE: The picture of Oruku rock at the top was taken in 2011. The blue sky background was photoshoped in.
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