[By Funmilayo Ajala]
My last road trip took me to the top of Olumo Rock in Abeokuta, Ogun State in South West Nigeria. Few weeks after that experience, I went on yet another rock climbing adventure, this time to the Oke Ado, a mountain in Ado Awaye situated not too far from the famed town on Iseyin (Oyo State).
The ride (through Abeokuta) was pockmarked with farm settlements and the typical village settings. A landscape of mountains, which felt like a natural fence enclosing the town and guiding the indigenes, welcomed us to the Ado-Awaye community. Like Olumo and Abeokuta, the ancestors of the Ado Awaye people are said to have sought refuge at the top of the mountain during the Dahomey War (18-18).
Locals advised that we (I was travelling in a group) made sure to get someone to take us up the mountain. “And don’t dip your feet in the lake,” they said.
It became clear to us later that the community is used to visitors pouring in solely to climb the Oke Ado Mountain. A signpost by the junction of the street that leads to the foot of the mountain reads: ‘Way to Agelu Jerusalem’ and on turning into the path that leads to the mountain stand a less conspicuous signboard by the Oyo State Tourism Board with the words: “Ado Awaye Hanging/Suspended Lake.”
Face to face with the Mysterious Rock
We later met Pa Adediran Adesegun, the custodian of the mountain, who could not take us up the trail due to age; but he arranged for young Victoria to be our guide. We were given hiking sticks—these unfortunately did not go round—to aid our ascent. The flight of stairs before us was quite wide and easy to climb, but the higher we went the narrower and rougher the steps became.
There are 369 steps to the first stop on the mountain, the Ishagi Rock, arguably the most exciting and intriguing spot of the mountain. It is said that if one prayed here or made supplications, those wishes would be granted. Ishagi an upright boulder, rising up with no form of support. It has been standing like that for hundreds of years. There is a piece of white cloth at the feet of Ishagi, wrapped around the rock by the chief priest whenever there is severe drought in the land. This ritual brings a heavy downpour and when this happens the cloth is washed down to the feet of the boulder.
Footprint of the Elders
We continued the climb to the top of the mountain. The terrain at this point is almost flat, so the journey was quite smooth from here. On the way, I noticed a set of huge depression on the rocks, which instantly reminded me of similar features I saw inside the Egba War hideout (at the Olumo Rock). The patterns are similar but these ones were shaped like the toes on a foot; they clustered together in fours with a little gap between the first one and the remaining three. Story has it that they are either referred to as Elephant foot prints (Not sure if we have elephants in this part of the country) or the footprints of the elders.
Some 20 minutes later we got to the Iyake suspended lake, our main interest, believed to be a body of water with nothing beneath it but a wide open space that leads straight to the bottom of the mountain. Some believe that it is the pathway to heaven while some say there is another world beneath the mountain. The water is greenish and at first sight looks like a swimming pool with thick shrubs growing on one end of it. The lake has spiritual significance, believed to be the god of fertility.
We remember the warning earlier about not dipping our feet into the lake. It is also a taboo to swim or bath in it. Anyone who defied this rules got sucked into the water’s depths and their bodies were never found, we were told. There are stories of people who swam in the lake or put their feet in it. They disappeared and were never found. People are allowed to fetch the water, though, because of the supposedly healing attributes. Victoria filled a small bottle with water from the lake, sipped from it and then covered the rest for the journey back home.
We then went further up a bit from the lake to see the fallen Elephant tree, roots included. Somehow the roots got mangled together and formed an elephant like shaped. This sight calls for testing of the inner artists in us. It is what you want to see that you will get with the Elephant tree; one side appears like the trunk on an Elephant between its tusks, while another view shows you something else.
Sadly, the Oyo State Tourism Board has done nothing to make this asset attractive to more people outside of the immediate vicinity. This is a potential revenue generating source as nature lovers will always want to see the view apart from the suspended lake and other interesting sites that is at the top of the mountain. First off, the path needs to be cleared of bush. A better constructed flight of stairs and side railings won’t be out of place.
Finally, a Tip: The path up the mountain top is quite rough and steep. To climb with less discomfort, be sure to wear comfortable sole sandals or sneakers, apply insect-repellant cream, wear a good hat and if possible come with your own hiking stick and carry along at least a bottle of water.