‘Unbelievably hot’. Those are the first words I usually use to describe Bauchi to almost everyone who asks what my first impression of the Northern city was. That’s usually followed by charming and historic.
In 2017 I spent 5 glorious days in the Northen state and I’ve counted the hours till I get to make a trip back since then. If you ever get to stop by, here’s how to spend your first 48 hours.
7:00 – 8:00 am
You wake up to soft knocks on your hotel room door. You are freezing even though you slept with the air conditioner off. The origin of the knocks is an old man you assume works for the hotel. You can’t be sure because no one wears uniforms. He asks if you’ll be needing hot water. There’s no heater in your room. There’s also no electricity until 9:00 am as per ‘management’s’ instructions.
8:00 am – 9:00 am
You go in search of breakfast but there is no sign of activity in the hotel’s restaurant. After waiting for 30 minutes a passer-by informs you that the cook has gone to the market and won’t be back for another hour. So you grab some leftover snacks from your road trip the day before and head out.
9:00 am – 9:30 am
You spend 30 minutes trying to get a keke to take you to the tomb of Nigeria’s first Prime Minister – Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. It should have taken you 5 minutes but the language barrier is making it difficult to describe where you are headed. Even your fluent pidgin can’t help. According to Google Maps, your destination is a 5-minute drive away. You contemplate just walking at the same moment you finally get a keke driver who recognises the photo of the tomb you’ve been jutting in peoples faces for the last thirty minutes.
9:40 – 12:00 pm
You arrive at the tomb and are welcomed warmly by two men sitting under a tree. One of the two men goes eagerly to fetch a tour guide while the other makes small talk with you. He’s pleasantly surprised you’ve made a trip up to Bauchi from Lagos despite what he calls the media’s unfair portrayal of the North.
Your tour guide is a tall well-spoken man with a deep Hausa accent who doesn’t seem half as excited to see you, as the two men who welcomed you were. But he politely begins your tour. As you walk into the mausoleum, you are thrown into a pitch dark hallway with towering stone walls and absolutely no windows. The floor ascends as you walk. Your guide explains that every bit of the architecture was built purposefully to tell a story.
The pitch dark hallway symbolises the struggle of Nigerians during all the years of slavery and colonialism. As you continue to ascend you begin to see small window openings casting beams of sunlight into the halls, this he describes as signifying the first sign of hope as we drew near to the end of colonialism.
A right turning comes out of nowhere as you continue down the hallway and you are suddenly thrown into a well-lit chamber, where the tomb is located. The chamber is bright and beautiful. The walls are made of a colourful mosaic which he describes represents the various Nigerian ethnicities.
Your guide gives you exactly 5 minutes to gape in awe and take a dozen photos before guiding you out of the tomb. He then leads you to a small museum away from the main building.
He goes through the museum artifices in the manner of someone who had had the same job for several years. He speaks in a slow and dismal tone as if he is trying to inflict you with a sense of somberness. The museum is small and walking through it takes no more than 30 minutes.
12:00 – 13:00
Once you are out of the mausoleum, you flag down another keke and ask to be taken to Gubi Lake. This time you are prepared for the look of confusion that will register on the driver’s face. You show him a picture of the lake and he grins and signals for you to get in. 600 naira he says. You don’t try to bargain. The lake is about an hour away from your location. 600 seems fair
The path leading to the lake is strewn with small village settlements and acres of deserted land and even more acres of land spotting signs with promises of development to come, but no sign of actual development.
As you approach the lake you realize that you’ll have no means to return if you don’t ask your keke driver to wait. So you ask, promising extra compensation. He agrees, even though you don’t give a figure.
13:00 – 15:00
You go up about two dozen steps carved out of the hills surrounding the lake before you get a good look at the lake, and it’s breathtaking. You take a thousand and one photos but no single one does the view justice. You get so lost in it, you don’t notice that your driver had come with you. He’s also mesmerized. You can tell he has never been here, even though he’s a native.
For some reason, although the lake is a recognised tourist stop there are no signs or a guide to give you a little history. There’s a pier built for what you assume are tourists but there is a gate stopping you from getting to end.
Your driver climbs down the rocks to converse with a fisherman waiting for his clothes to dry you insist on following so you can stick your toes in the water. Both your driver and the fisherman speak very little English so your hopes for getting some background about the lake from them are dashed.
You climb back to the top when you realize your driver must want to head back by now. You can’t help taking more pictures. You are already heading down the stairs when you notice your driver taking pictures too.
18:00 – 19:00
You head back to your hotel and make a beeline for the restaurant. This time thankfully the cook is in. No one hands you a menu, your options are rice and stew or rice and stew. So you go for rice and stew. It might be your hunger talking but the stew is the tastiest you’ve ever had.
10:00 – 12:00
You wake up late because you’d really like to have breakfast before you head out. You have only one stop – Yankari Game Reserve.
Since Bauchi has no private taxis and Yankari is two hours away from town, you have no idea how you’ll get there. Luckily, there is a motor park right outside your hotel with vehicles lined up, waiting their turn to make the Bauchi- Kano transit and that is where you meet Bashiru.
While haggling the fare with the other drivers who are insistent on carrying you for nothing less than 10,000 naira, Bashiru agrees to take you for 5. When you get to Yankari you realize that Bashiru’s fare wasn’t just a bargain he has done you a favour.
12:00 – 14:00
You chat with Bashiru throughout the two-hour drive. He too is pleasantly surprised you’ve made the trip up North. ‘They say we are bombing everywhere, but there are no bombs here’ he says. His English is fluent and he tells you a little bit about every town you pass through.
14:00 – 15:00
Moving around the game reserve’s grounds without a car is a little bit of a hassle. The reception is quite a distance from your chalet, which in turn is quite a distance from the Safari’s information centre. Bashiru, bless his kind heart refuses to leave until you are all settled in and about to go on your tour.
15:00 – 16:00
You set your expectations low for the tour, you’ve come in the dry season and most of the animals you really want to see like the hippos and elephants have retreated deep into the forest. You still hold out hope to come across at least an elephant. There are supposed to be least a hundred scattered across the campgrounds in small herds.
The tour takes about an hour in total and you only came across 4 different species of antelopes and no elephants. Seeing the antelopes gets you surprisingly pumped. Probably because you’ve driven through nothing but green grass and trees for 20 minutes. At some point during the tour, the truck stops for you and other tourists to get off and check out a couple of caves.
The caves are a huge expanse of interconnecting caverns carved into a large hill smack in the middle of the forest. Your guide tells you how people hid in them at the peak of slave trade.
17:00 – 19:00
After the tour, you can get back to campgrounds fast enough. You are itching to see the warm springs. You’ve seen a couple of pictures and you are sure there’s no way the water is that crystal blue. But it’s even more stunning than the pictures. The water is clear as day and you can see straight to the bottom of the spring, where there’s a bed of the whitest beach sand. Rays from the sun hit the surface of the water causing it to sparkle and glisten.
You dip a toe in and then immerse your whole body. The water is warm. The perfect temperature for a bath. You stay in it until your body starts to wrinkle and the sun sets.