She would have none of it. Her concern was compelling. She looked particularly bothered that taking a trip to the peak of the Erin-Ijesa waterfall was not just dangerous but largely over-reaching one’s limits. I looked at her but the presence of the Editor, Nigerian Tribune, Debo Abdulai, was not enough to dissuade her from ventilating her fear. But, that is Yejide Gbenga-Ogundare, my sister-colleague. I believe her motherly instinct took a better part of her. The editor had clearly said that day at the meeting “if it is true that people live at the zenith of the fall, then, we must also visit them. How do they get there? How do they live? There must be a road. How long have they been there?” Yet, Yejide remarked “Editor, of course people live there. When I visited the fall, the highest many of us went in climbing was about the third or fourth level. The walls of the mountain are slippery and the stairways hewn out terminate at the second level. It is dangerous!” The meeting ended and the editor said with a tone of finality “we have to get there and I want that piece published on Tuesday, October 4.”
On Thursday, the day after the meeting, I went about absent-minded wondering if Yejide was not altogether right. I met Baba D’Toyin, our ace photo journalist, old but age is yet to take a better part of him. I informed him that I would want him to direct me on the journey since I was driving to Erin-Ijesa. I was quick to tell him that he was excused not to go. His sense of duty would not allow him say no. He said “I will follow you.” To which I quickly replied “Let’s take Peter to come along. I am sure he will be delighted to come with us.” Peter revelled at the idea. He is a graduate trainee from the Obafemi Awolowo University. His interest lies in photography. He is young, witty. He carries about a deceptively small frame.
And so on Friday, we took off. We chatted as we travelled. After a few hours of driving, Erin-Ijesa community came into view. This is it, I said quietly to myself. We made our way into the community. It was obvious that we were new. The few passersby we first met looked re-assuringly at us. Approaching the gate to the waterfall marked a significant shift in my level of courage. We alighted from the vehicle. I looked up at the mountain. It was misty, dark and had an ambiance of mystery. A tour guide, Ayo, came to greet us. “Welcome”, he said. I looked at him, not knowing how to reply. I had a silent dialogue with the mountain. “Please do not swallow me today, perhaps I would come to offer some sacrifice should you allow me return,” that was my side of the conversation. I think the mountain agreed or else I wouldn’t be here with this diary.
“Please Ayo, we want to get to the community on top of the waterfall,” I went straight to business. His eyes lit in adventurous delight. To which he replied, “That won’t be easy. It is true there is a community up there but people scarcely make it to the seventh plain. Oh, there are seven plains here. Tourists usually get to the second plain after which the stairways terminate and they return. The rest of the journey would take us about two hours or more. We will climb the rocky walls of the mountain using tree roots for support and stones to gain balance. It is a strenuous undertaking. But save you and the other one (Peter), Baba here won’t be able to make it. The people who live up there bring their farm produce through the rocky walls of the waterfall.” I remarked quickly, “Is there no other route?”
He answered thus “Climbing down takes about three hours. There is another route if one goes through Ekiti but it is longer and not motorable.”
After the second plain, Baba was fatigued and quietly went back. Peter joined me as I quietly started climbing with Ayo leading the way.
The walls became animated all of a sudden. The shrubs came alive as though rudely woken by our climbing. My footwear became an impediment. I took them off. The buttons of my shirt came off. “Yejide was right after all. I shouldn’t have come. This is one ambition taken too far. I should know the limits of my job,” I told myself. The bushy tracts uphill brushed me painfully. I regularly soliloquised so as to keep my sanity as my strength began to fade. Peter had overtaken me. Ayo climbed so fast that I wondered where he got such freshness of vigour. After two hours of climbing, I panted so much I thought I would have a heart attack.
“We are on the sixth plain. We will soon approach humans here,” Ayo announced. I only heard his voice reverberate through the bush tracks. I couldn’t see him. We were already up a rocky level plain. We started to walk; at some point we began to run. A forest emerged. It was thick and dark. The tracks had disappeared, we relied entirely on Ayo. I was scared snakes or wild animals would charge out of the forest. I was exhausted.
Before long, I heard voices. I thought they were in my head but in front I could make out human figures. My strength was renewed. I saw Peter now and Ayo greeting a woman and a boy. I was happy. “You are tired; sorry, welcome to our community,” the woman said. We got into the community and at the first house with human presence, I asked for water and sat down heavily. After resting for a few minutes, Ayo was impatient so I started interacting with Aba-Oke residents. They were warm.
After a few hours, we started to descend. Of course, the residents gave us garri and oranges. My legs could not hold me anymore. They began to wobble. I couldn’t see clearly. I thought I would die before returning down. It started to rain. The roots and pebbles that I used as support had become wet and slippery. I had to sit on some and crawl on others. The journey was backbreaking. After a few hours, we got down the mountain. I was soaked in sweat and rain water. I couldn’t go any further; I sat in the rain. I saw some tourists down near the waterfall, they greeted me but I was too weak to reply. Baba laughed at me when he saw me. After some minutes, we decided to return. As we descended, we met some residents of Aba-Oke who carried farm produce on their heads. They descended so fast that they disappeared before we could fully notice.
Yejide was right but I am glad I went.