Day two started slowly. We were leaving Majesty Realm Hotel for Kiniz Lodge. A couple of arrivals were still expected to join the team and after some delay, we drove down to Kiniz Lodge.
Our bus was deemed not suitable to embark on the long journey, apparently needing some servicing, so we had to wait a bit for a new bus and driver to arrive.
Meanwhile, the team had swelled with the arrival of Chairman of the Board of Trustees of NATOP, Mr. Nkereuwem Onung, as well as Chuks Nwanne of The Guardian and Olaniyi Balqees of Olabaf Travel & Tours and Geraldine Itoe of NovaRosta, while Mr. Jerry Ekanem, Director of Tourism with the state replaced the Commissioner on the trip.
We eventually set off for Itam at noon, or thereabouts, in search of “Adiaha Awa-Itam” – the first daughter of Itam – the critically endangered Sclater’s guenon.
Also known as Sclater’s monkey or the Nigerian monkey, Sclater’s guenon is an old world monkey first described by Reginald Innes Pocock in 1904 and named after Philip Sclater.
It is an arboreal and diurnal primate that lives in the forests of southern Nigeria, with their greatest number found in Ikot Uso Akpan-Itam village in East Itam District, Itu LGA.
We were joined by Prof.
Eniang in the company of professor of botany, Margaret Bassey and a team from BPC as we set off on our way. Having two professors on board meant we had to do a lot of listening, but the conversation was spiced with a lot of lighthearted humour all the way.
Our feet were definitely ordered, because we arrived to meet the Ikot Uso Akpan-Itam council of chiefs in session.
Having our dear Prof. Eniang, a son of Itam certainly made things easy for us, although it is doubtful that these genial folks would have turned us down or refused to grant us audience.
The chief expressed the people’s eagerness to work with both local and international bodies on the preservation of the endangered monkeys in the sacred Ikwat rainforest, and the development of ecotourism in their community.
In Itam, it is forbidden to eat or kill monkeys, even though a lot of times the monkeys revert to their mischievous nature by swinging from nearby trees to pinch food crops from a bundle carried by people on their heads.
They can be a real nuisance, especially when they invade farmlands and destroy crops which sometimes leaves the people with with little eat.
However, the people have grown used to them and have come to love them, recognizing their importance in the greater scheme of things.
According to them, “It is always a pleasant and wonderful spectacle to see a monkey sit on the branch of a tree, pluck leaves and place it on its thigh and weave it in the manner that women in the village weave rope in response to definite instruction.
In the village spring and farmlands, one could talk to monkeys and they respond to your directive.”
Meanwhile, Prof. Eniang explained, “Ikot Uso Akpan Itam village is blessed with a waterfall that empties into a stream (Idim Afia).
In this stream, you could still find trees that provide shed to the water bodies and serve as habitat for the monkeys.”
Speaking afterwards , Ambassador Ikechi Uko thanked the Chief and the community for their hospitality and commended them on their conservation efforts.
He remarked that the monkeys were a blessing from God and that God only gives blessing to those who can nurture them. Thus the people of Ikot Uso Akpan-Itam should see themselves as special in the eyes of God. Ambassador Uko suggested that the community should set up a palm wine spot nearby for tourists to have a unique experience.
This, he stated will help the community to generate income.
Afterwards, there was a photo session with the council of chiefs, before we were led into the Ikwat rainforest to find the first daughter of Itam. We ploughed through for about twenty minutes before we came to a stream.
The monkeys, we learnt were across the stream and with many of us reluctant to dip our feet in water, we stood a while trying to decide, while hoping the monkeys would be kind enough to show their faces.
With time fast creeping away, we were led away and ploughed through the forest until we arrived at a brook. This time, we had no option than to take off our shoes, roll up our trousers and wade through. After about ten minutes, we arrived at a Vauclusian Spring.
According to Wikipedia, a Vauclusian spring is a spring that originates from a shaft or a cave system, with the water surging upwards under relatively high pressure. It is named after the Fontaine de Vaucluse in southern France.
We took some time to enjoy our ‘discovery’ as we waded in the natural pool of water which was very clean, even though the locals come there to swim and do some washing. Loads of pictures were taken and no doubt social media must have been abuzz with the great discovery by the Naija7Wonders team to Akwa Ibom.
Shortly afterwards, we made our way back to the bus and set off for Obot Itu…