Amidst a whirlwind fire cracker filled festive period we managed to escape to Ondo State for a very brief visit to see family and soak up some non-city vibes. The 5 hour drive from Lagos through Ogun, Oyo and Osun makes clear the reasons the Nigerian flag is framed in green to reflect their rich and varied trees and plant life. Most of the journey felt like a road had been carved through untouched forest and jungle with a different equally pleasurable view at each bend in the road. As a lover of drastic landscape, I was thrilled when we passed our first mountain and even more excited when we learned that a place called “Oke Idanre” (Idanre hill) which has just been classified a UNESCO World Heritage site was located just outside Akure, where we were heading. While I have mixed feelings on the political action of the UN with regards to their role in maintaining peace and helping to positively shape the world we live in, I also know that UNESCO rarely gets these sites wrong.
True to the way of the season, we crammed in an abundance of good food and made great memories with family, best of all young children. Ondo State is a world apart from Lagos while maintaining a consistent Nigerian thread. Reasons to move to Ondo with your family are clear (cheaper cost of living, calmer pace of life, milder climate, mosquito free) though unemployment is still as much of an issue as in any other Nigerian state.
We spent an afternoon in a village in Akure where we enjoyed freshly tapped palm wine, a national favourite, and a bowl of catfish pepper soup which was literally swimming-to-the-cooking-pot-fresh. A hidden gem not far from the state’s capital, the meal came at a bargain price given the freshness and quality of all we consumed.
On our second and final day we got blissfully lost in the hills of Idanre. We climbed to great heights up 640 steps and rock faces to take in views of magnificent hills, village filled valleys and luscious foliage. A range of charcoal coloured curvaceous rocks surrounded us like giant scoops of ice-cream, sleeping hippos and elephants. Here, an ancient village atop the hill has been preserved so that we could have a peek into what life may have been like for the Yoruba clan living 3000 feet above sea level for almost a millennium. According to UNESCO, “Since emigration down hill in 1923, the topography, vegetation as well as the fauna and floral life have remained undisturbed.”
In addition there are rare species of wildlife, a giant “Agbooogun” foot print, thunder water (Omi Aopara) and burial mounds and grounds caves, as well as Amen Olofin (a rock with unreadable lettering), and Odan, the ‘tree of life and beauty.’ The village mud walled school, prison, old court, market and my personal favourite, the ancient palace, collectively revealing a very comprehensive way of life in idyllic settings. Various statues (unfortunately largely defaced) form the pillars of the palace, each representing a type of local person in town such as security men, women, slaves and nobles. Beside the throne sits a stack of cow skull carcasses – each representing a successful year for the Owa on the throne. Modern day Yoruba festivals are still celebrated in the hills such as Ogun festival in October and the week long Ije festival in December breathing life into age old traditions at this ancient site.
The combined effect of being lost in nature and connecting with an ancient way of life was truly calming after a very busy couple of months in Lagos. Neither of us wanting to leave the hills, we were coaxed home by promise of Ondo state’s “best food”, pounded yam. This was my first taste of homemade pounded yam done properly – and I was not disappointed. Using a large pestle and mortar with great precision, timing and strength, Brother D (head chef of the family) pounded boiled yam with nothing other than water. The result was creamy, delicious goodness and with one mouthful I could see why this is one of the nation’s favourite foods. With noticeably tighter fitting clothes and refreshed souls, we left Ondo the best way to leave anywhere… wanting more of everything we had experienced – not least our company.