Monday, January 5, 2009

The Calabar Christmas Carnival: The Main Parade

Day 1 of the carnival had boosted our curiosity, eagerness and energy to catch the main parade. After walking around for a while, we finally settled in the media stand which was perched up on wooden beams to offer a good view of the parade and it was right opposite the judges point so we got to witness the best dance performances.

Donald Duke-the creator of the Carnival led one of the bands and the crowd went absolutely crazy when he and his wife made their appearance!

After catching the morning three-hour parade, I somehow still had some reserve energy and after some refreshments, I accompanied Roy to the Stadium where all the bands were returning after their tour of the city. They performed one last time in the stadium and this time I was right in the front on the tracks and I got excellent frontal views of the entire parade.

The Calabar Christmas Carnival: The Kids Parade

Donald Duke-the former governor of Cross River State started the annual Calabar Christmas Carnival in 2000 which has surely put Calabar on the international map of carnivals! The entire month of December is lined up with exciting activities including live concerts, shows, youth development programs etc. The street parades are on 26 December (Kids) and 27 December (adults). The parade starts from one point and walks around the major roads across the city and heads back to the National Stadium. Eager and often undisciplined crowds line up on both sides of the road and other clearer viewing spots (we saw some on back of a billboard). Five bands compete for the best choreography, costume, music etc and of course the overall best band trophy! Each band has about 10-12 sections of different costumes. The overall theme of 2008 carnival was sustaining the earth's treasures. There are 3-4 adjudication points where the bands are at their best to impress the judges. Luckily for us, we befriended a Nigerian-British documentary maker who was making a documentary about carnivals. As press, he had direct access to the carnival, so we hung out with him as his assistants and got a fabulous view of the entire parade on both the days.

The Kids parade was absolutely stunning. The children had endless energy given they were walking around under scorching sun in heavy uncomfortable costumes some ever barefeet!

No Monkey Business

Drill monkeys are short tailed rainforest monkeys that survive only in a handful of places one among which is the Cross River State and are one of Africa's most endangered primates being hunted for bushmeat! We visited two conservation initiatives Cercopan ( and Pandrillus ( Both organizations have a captive facilitates in Calabar and much larger forested areas few hours north of Calabar. Having made up our minds to wake up in a forest on Christmas Day, we headed up to Afi Drill Ranch on 24th morning. After five hours in a taxi and wahalla with our taxi driver over how much we owed him, we completed the final leg of our journey on a "machine" (what they call bikes here) meandering through a uphill and downhill muddy road. The Ranch is home to about thirty gorillas, chimps and drill monkeys and other forest animals including mongooses, parrots, pigs, eagles and others I didnt know about.

The ranch has a shared full equipped cooking facility to allow us to make our own food. It has about six netted cabins which allow for a panoramic view of the forest. They have a hole in the ground loo and an open shower area. Afi is run by an American couple, Liza and Peter who have been here for about twenty years (a number we were repeatedly reminded of).

After settling our stuff in our cabins, we headed for a serene walk in the forest. First stop was the various monkey enclosures. The chimps were the noisiest and the naughtiest of them all-one particular chimp loves to play throw and catch with his food with visitors-he seemed to pick me that day! And as Peter was telling us its not clear who is amused by whom! The male drill was the most striking with a blue and pink bottom!
We then walked over a seemingly rickety but strong canopy walk way built by the former governor of the state-Donald Duke. Its a 40 meter drop and was designed with an aim to allow visitors to enjoy the forest without disturbing the flora and fauna. The views from the canopy (where I did dare to look sideways and down while trying to maintain my balance) were quite breathtaking. The grandiose project was more of a personal wish and showgame without much of a plan for training the staff in maintenance or proper use.

We then headed on to the Bano Waterfalls. The cool and clean water was as close to a pedicure I could ask for!

In the evening, along with the unexpected chill, came christmas carols! I was with a group of people who are used to the tradition of xmas with carols, turkey, wine, the tree and gifts! Our collective peeling, chopping, cooking & eating was accompanied by a intensely polarised debate about the future of Nigeria in which we all were on one side and Peter on the other!

The next day we repeated our walkway and waterfalls tour albeit a bit more slowly this time. Peter was kind enough to offer us fresh palm wine and dropped us in his new land rover (which was a gift from the governor in an attempt to woo him!) to the nearest town.

Calabar: A City I could Retire in!

Calabar, the capital of Cross River State, is a pleasant, laid back town set on top of a hill, overlooking the Cross river. It was a major port town in the East and approximately a third of the slaves were transported out of Africa through here. It is the home of the Efik people , Efik also being the language they speak here. Parts of the city house beautiful colonial buildings which were shipped frame by frame from Europe. The host family we were staying with--their house was shipped from Germany!

It is also home to the 19th century Scottish Missionary, Mary Slessor who is known to be the champion for abolition of inhumane traditional practices like the killing of twins! You see her tomb in the photo below.

We passed by one of the oldest churches in the region, the Duke Town Church built in 1904.

Cross River state is also home to the best conservation initiatives in captive breeding of primates, one species of which is actually found only in this region in the entire world.

Also as everyone who heard we were going to Calabar said, it is the cleanest city in Nigeria with rubbish trucks and garbage bins (though the christmas spirit did allow for some littering!).

The Calabar Museum, housed in a building constructed in 1884, is the best in Nigeria and was quite different from the other museums in Jos and Lagos, in the sense that it had actually preserved complete furniture and other items from 18th and 19th century. It had a numerous photocopies of excerpts as well as original books, journals, newspapers. What caught my attention were vociferous writings of foreigners against colonisation and the slave trade and also a record of the education policy which claimed to register the private schools that existed during that time and wanted to structure the curriculum.

A short trip by speed boat took us to Creek Town, a small settlement near Calabar. After a stroll under the streaking sun, we cooled down with minerals in a cute bar called the "Abuja Bus Stop"! Another town a boat ride away is Oron, from where, boats depart for the neighbouring country Cameroon.

The shots I got of the sunset on the marina, I consider my best sun set shots ever!

We stayed with the most adorable host family who fed us and took care of us to the point that I refused to leave at one point:)

Holiday on the Road! Highlights

I am finally back in Lagos after a 14-day road trip across Southern and Eastern Nigeria. Among other things, the highlights of my trip are:
  • watching my perfect sun set in Nigeria and getting in on camera!
  • hit by a chimp in what he thought was a throw-catch game (luckily for me it was squishy coco-yam and not a stone!)
  • waking up in the middle of lush green forest on christmas day
  • finally getting to eat whole roasted fish like the one I scrumptiously enjoyed in Abuja when I first arrived in Nigeria
  • drinking fresh palm wine (like our toddy in Kerala)
  • watching a Nigerian hip hop artist-Tuface-live in concert
  • staying with lovely host families who showered us with their warmth, food and protective care
  • an excellent view of the entire Calabar christmas carnival (called Africa's biggest street party!)
  • eating a three-course buffet dinner at a top hotel for FREE
  • managing to squeeze in work with two GIVE member organizations