Dan­ger­ous hikes

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Travel -

THE old car num­ber plates still carry the in­scrip­tion beloved of the peo­ple of Plateau State in cen­tral Nige­ria: Land of peace and Tourism.

Years of spi­ralling vi­o­lence have rocked the re­gion of out­stand­ing nat­u­ral beauty. But tired of the un­rest, young hik­ers have now de­cided to re­vive the slo­gan.

Every week­end, An­drew Ni­ag­wan and his friends defy the in­se­cu­rity to chart new trails and kick-start tourism in the breath­tak­ing lush coun­try­side around the state cap­i­tal Jos.

“We now have over 60 hik­ing lo­ca­tions and we are still dis­cov­er­ing some more,” Ni­ag­wan says as he hikes near­ing the top of the Shere Hills, a moun­tain range that not so long ago at­tracted tourists from across Nige­ria.

Hold­ing a can of white spray paint, Ni­ag­wan draws ar­rows on stones to mark the fresh trail.

Up ahead, a guide hacks through the dense veg­e­ta­tion, his ma­chete fly­ing in great arcs to re­veal the path.

“For years, peo­ple used to avoid the area, but thanks to us the hik­ing fever is back,” Ni­ag­wan, a tall psy­chol­ogy grad­u­ate in his 30s, says proudly.

The na­ture en­thu­si­ast cre­ated the Jos Plateau Hik­ers Club in 2013 with his 82-year-old French friend Yves Gat­tepaille, who has been walk­ing in the re­gion for decades.

So pop­u­lar are the ex­cur­sions that there is a burst of new clubs to keep up with de­mand.

Now new­com­ers like The Hike Team, Jos Hike It, and The Way­far­ers of Jos are also or­gan­is­ing weekly walks in the hills.

“Dur­ing the cri­sis with the cur­few we have to stay in­doors and the in­ter­net has been the best com­pan­ion,” says 26-year-old hiker Me­tou Kwallo.

“We are tired of the vi­o­lence. We can’t be al­ways liv­ing in fear.”

Fit for a queen

The fresher mi­cro-cli­mate in Plateau State is an ex­cep­tion in the often suf­fo­cat­ing heat of Nige­ria.

The oth­er­worldly beauty of the dome-shaped out­crops of rock and es­tab­lished ho­tels have long made Plateau a favourite hol­i­day re­sort for rich Nige­ri­ans and ex­pa­tri­ates.

But in the early 2000s, the tourism mar­ket cooled off af­ter bloody out­breaks of vi­o­lence be­tween Chris­tian and Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties rocked Jos and the sur­round­ing area, killing more than 10,000 peo­ple, ac­cord­ing to Hu­man Rights Watch.

The Jos area lies at the cross­roads of the pre­dom­i­nantly Mus­lim north and largely Chris­tian south and was on the fringes of the Sokoto Caliphate be­fore the Bri­tish colonised Nige­ria.

But the indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties, helped by the moun­tain­ous ter­rain that pre­vented con­querors from rid­ing through on horse­back, re­sisted the wave of Is­lami­sa­tion from the north.

In­stead, Plateau be­came home to many Chris­tian mis­sion­ar­ies ar­riv­ing from the be­gin­ning of the 19th cen­tury.

Re­cent his­tory has again shown that long­stand­ing ethno-re­li­gious griev­ances can resur­face at any mo­ment.

In June, af­ter three years of rel­a­tive peace, more than 200 vil­lagers lost their lives in mas­sacres blamed on eth­nic Fu­lani herders near Jos, trig­ger­ing fur­ther un­rest.

The waves of vi­o­lence have sunk the lo­cal econ­omy, most ex­pa­tri­ates have packed up and many busi­nesses have closed, ex­plod­ing the un­em­ploy­ment rate.

The Hill Sta­tion Ho­tel, once the finest ho­tel in Jos, is now en­tombed in dust, while cracks spread across its walls.

“Gone are the days when the Queen of Eng­land stayed there,” says Mankat Dewa, a lo­cal en­tre­pre­neur, re­call­ing the visit of El­iz­a­beth II in 1956, when the ho­tel still hosted lav­ish ban­quets in its lush gar­dens.

“Jos should be the first touris­tic site in Nige­ria, but the sec­tor has de­clined be­cause of bad gov­er­nance and suc­ces­sive crises.”

Se­cret lo­ca­tions

Aware of the re­gion’s po­ten­tial, Plateau Gov­er­nor Si­mon La­long said at the be­gin­ning of Novem­ber he wanted to “re­sus­ci­tate” tourism at a con­fer­ence on the sub­ject in Jos.

“We are go­ing to fo­cus and put more at­ten­tion on tourism as a source of rev­enue for not only Plateau State but also for Nige­ria,” he said.

“In­stead of Nige­ri­ans run­ning to Kenya or Bri­tain be­cause of their weather, we would do the need­ful by de­vel­op­ing the con­tent and up­grad­ing fa­cil­i­ties that are in place.”

Many in Jos, es­pe­cially young peo­ple, seem to agree and are be­ing joined by Euro­pean and US ex­pa­tri­ates for scenic hikes, bar­be­cues and wa­ter­fall dips on ex­cur­sions that some­times at­tract hun­dreds of peo­ple.

“Of course, we need to adapt the sit­u­a­tion. We avoid ar­eas where at­tacks took place in the last months,” says Ni­ag­wan. “When we plan to go camp­ing for the week­end, we keep the ex­act lo­ca­tion se­cret un­til the very last minute.”

Ni­ag­wan’s strat­egy ap­pears to be work­ing. “So far, we’ve never had an is­sue.” – AFP Re­laxnews

— Reuters

A meet­ing point at Iko­gosi Warm Springs re­sort in Ek­iti, Nige­ria.

The Amu­rum For­est Re­serve, where un­du­lat­ing rock for­ma­tions sur­round a sa­van­nah dom­i­nated by tall grass in Jos.— Pho­tos: AFP

The hik­ing fever in Nige­ria has re­turned.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.