[By Richard Ali]
I first heard about Fifth Chukker Polo Resort as a place of interest from a friend. So when in November my firm decided that we needed to go on a weekend retreat, it was a natural choice and I suggested it. As it happened, almost everyone had heard about it but no one had actually been there. We made the necessary enquiries and finalised on the date.
So to Fifth Chukker we went to deal with a pending knotty corporate law brief given by a client it was in our best interest to keep happy. The Resort sits on 3,000 hectares of land and is just off the road to Zaria (Kaduna State) where I attended university and still have family.
I had a bag packed by the early hours of the morning I was due to leave Abuja and by 8:30 I drove out, stopping over at a filling station along Arab Road to top up my tank. I headed to Dutse Junction, took the road to Bwari, where I attended Law School some years back.
On my trips to Kaduna, I prefer driving through the Abuja—Jere route to the Abuja—Suleja—Kaduna expressway. For me, the beauty of travel is in seeing people, and there isn’t much to see on the latter. The Jere Road is also marginally better: fewer potholes and generally no trailers parked by the sides of the road.
With growing aspirations, I turned into the main Kaduna expressway; an hour later, I passed the toll gate and soon after, veered off the highway into the “City of Crocodiles”.
Turning off the highway to Zaria, I thought immediately of Jos. Sometime before our family moved to the “Rock City”, we travelled down from Kano to see the Wildlife Park (it had a hippopotami pool in its heyday in the 1980’s) and to shop at the Terminus Main Market.
I think the root of my nomadic self lies in the 1990’s when father would pack us into his Volvo 244DL and he would set out on a road trip to Jos, southern Kaduna, Kano, Zaria, Shendam and places even farther afield. Perhaps, those early trips as a teenager feed my travel itch and are possibly responsible for my never being keen to hold a 9-to-5.
Many years later, as a grown man, I have journeyed to Nigeria, from Kampala via Addis Ababa with just $10 dollars to my name and a story you wouldn’t believe the half of if I were to tell you.
At fifth Chukker, I met up with some of my colleagues. We registered vehicle details at the gate and drove into the dream that is our weekend retreat. Clear cut, dusty roads passed by mock-adobe architecture in the traditional styles of northern Nigeria, decorated with motifs from the same geography. We located the Club House-cum-reception area where we met Geraldine who, together with Fatima, runs the entire estate. You heard that right—Fifth Chukker is overseen by two young women in their twenties and thirties.
We checked into our chalets, perfectly round with soft beds, cotton sheets, duvets and bathrooms plastered with marbles. An author in my other life, I instantly imagined holing up here for days to write (believe me, it is the perfect creative space).
Suleiman and I upgraded to a villa when the other partners arrived. The stone-fronted villa, comprising two bedrooms and a generous living area, have three large screen TVs, a BOSE audio entertainment systems and other conveniences. There is also a kitchenette demarcated from the central living area, at the heart of which was, of course, a large refrigerator.
Kaduna is home of at least two famous Polo sides—Kaduna Kakuri and Elamin—and followers of Nigerian sports news would have heard of the wins of either of these sides. I’ve resolved to get to know more about Polo and maybe it’s not too late to learn to ride a horse though I am more trusting of my ponies being under the bonnet.
I didn’t confirm if there was a Fifth Chukker Polo team. After the retreat, and as I made my way back to the soulless confines of Abuja, I said a silent thank you to the people who brought that vision to life and allowed me access.
End note: By the way, a chukker is one of the six periods of about seven minutes into which a polo match is divided and I imagine a fifth chukker would be the decisive one. Now you know.
Richard Ali is a lawyer and novelist and the COO of Parrésia Publishers Ltd. He tweets @richardalijos