Enugu is one city I’m not likely to forget in a hurry. Having read and heard so much about that mythical and fascinating cave, my enthusiasm for Enugu and its popular Ngwo Cave had always been at fever pitch. I added it to my bucket list when I first stumbled on it in back in school. Little did I know that my odyssey to this beautiful destination was nearer than I ever imagined. You know, dreams do come true if you dare to dream. I digress.
Once upon a time in May 2015, I arrived Enugu, the Coal City state in South-East Nigeria. It was a hot afternoon as I disembarked from the bus. Dusty roads, slow moving traffic, children crossing the roads, market women plying their wares and of course lots of ‘Igbo’ flying around in endless chatter. Nobody needed to remind me that I was finally in the heart of Igbo land, one of Nigeria’s three major ethnic groups. Indeed, Southern Nigeria is a beautiful region – full of history and adventure. I also knew my visit would be fun-filled but little did I know that finding Ngwo would be an experience I would never forget for the rest of my life.
I got up that Tuesday morning fully refreshed, had breakfast and headed to the hotel’s lobby with my camera to wait for my tour guide to arrive. Ngwo was of course uppermost on my mind at that moment and shots of adrenaline criss-crossed my entire nervous system. My tour guide was an old school colleague of mine who now resides in Enugu. Upon hearing of my trip he was so excited and looked forward to having me in town.
The cab arrived and we popped in. Driving through the city’s narrow and winding roads was fun, and as we approached the outskirts of the city, its beautiful environment began to fade into oblivion. Our destination was Ngwo cave, located within Ngwo, a sleepy community outside the capital city of Enugu. After about 40 minutes on the road, we took a corner and began our journey to the town. Finding the path wasn’t easy. There were no signs or symbols to indicate the route to the cave. “How could such a popular destination be so ‘unpopular’? I thought aloud.
Our driver stopped at intervals to ask the locals for directions. Some assisted, others did not. After about 30 minutes of merry-go-rounding and perambulating, we finally found ourselves at the Ngwo Pine Forest. This was supposed to be our gateway to the Ngwo Cave and Awhum Waterfall.
Ngwo Pine Forest is a massive hilly forest which parades a stunning tree canopy, thanks to the thousands of pines therein. The first thing that came to mind was to take a picture.
What a stunning sight it was! My host told me that this pine forest was a popular fun spot for the young and old, visitors and indigenes, and was used for camping, excursions, love feasts, retreats and a host of other social activities. In fact, as a child, he had come for excursion to this pine forest and later the cave. After basking in the euphoria of the pine forest, we pinched ourselves back to reality.
Still, there was no route or sign telling us where to begin our journey into the cave. Being a hilly terrain, some of the locals we encountered hinted us that the cave was far, far away down the hill. There were so many footpaths within and outside the forest; and we weren’t sure where to begin. We saw some young men relaxing under the shade and asked them for help. Before we could say Jack, they had slammed a whooping sum of N5,000 ($25) on us. We were startled. We tried to negotiate but they rebuffed our offer which was considered ‘meagre’. And they even boasted that we would get missing if we didn’t oblige to their request.
Seeing that their real aim was to make money and not be of help, we left them and decided to find Ngwo on our own. That was perhaps the worst decision we had made that day. And so we started walking, walking and walking. We followed footpaths in the bush and just kept going, hoping that we would find the cave. It was a long and tortuous journey downhill and there was nothing like a cave in sight. At some point, I had to sit down and catch my breath.
My colleagues reached for a nearby tree to pluck some cashew. We had walked for 60 minutes and found nothing. All we could see around us was just forests, hills, valleys and a beautiful vista of the city we had left behind.
We got up and continued our odyssey. After walking a few more yards, we heard a sound from a distance. Has luck finally smiled on us? Maybe. Maybe not. The trio (I, my tour guide and cab driver) moved in the direction of the sound. It was the cascading sound of water. We finally found the water and traced its path. Guess what?
This was the stream of water, which forms the waterfall pouring into the Ngwo cave. I later found out it was called Awhum Waterfall. Ladies and gentlemen, we were excited as we made our way to the mouth of the cave. Lo and behold, here we were standing at the apex of the Ngwo Cave. At first, my colleagues didn’t believe we were at the cave. As a child, my tour guide had gone on excursion and entered the cave from below. Well, here we were at the summit of the cave. At first, no one wanted to move near, except me. How could I come this far and not even take a peep into the large hole.
Thank God I did!
What I saw in that hole was simply stunning and majestic. Behold, it was the almighty Ngwo Cave! Well, this was perhaps the first time any visitor or tourist will have an aerial view of the cave. Correct me if I’m right *winks* And this became more like nature’s consolatory prize to us since we couldn’t find our way down to the entry of the cave. What a bitter-sweet feeling it was. The hole below was so huge, deep and massive; coupled with the cascading water and the loud sound emanating upon hitting the ground below. I could only imagine how the experience from down below would have been.
The sun was beginning to set. Though we wanted to keep searching till we discovered the cave’s entry but weariness and fatigue had set in. “The spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak”. Aside this, we had to consider the long journey back to the forest which was going to be a long hike uphill. So we just rested a bit, took some pictures and turned back. Guess it was just the wise thing to do at that point.
As we headed back uphill, I was particularly sad that such a popular destination as Ngwo Cave was not taken seriously by the authorities. No signage to welcome you or show directions. Nevertheless, the experience was an unforgettable one. Finding Ngwo was not pretty, but I’m grateful I found it all the same. Indeed, not many people can claim to have ‘stood’ on Ngwo.
Well, I did and I’m pretty proud of it!