So because of the Covik, West-Africa’s biggest and most looked forward to carnival was cancelled, frankly speaking, I think the carnival might have gone with the winds like all our hopes and aspirations for the Country. The Cobid has mad audacity tho, moving like a proper married Yoruba man. A typical year would have seen millions of people flock into Calabar the first capital of Nigeria; home of Duke and Henshaw, Afang and Edikaikong and all the other goodies this city offers.
Alas, we are creatures blessed with the gift of memory and we collectively find ourselves reminiscing on better times in light of the worlds current Pandemic. I’m one of those who don’t remember intrinsic details (S/o to Nehemiah and Princess) about experiences but it feels fresh in my memory this time and I’m going to take you on a brief ride like I do so well; so keep your seatbelts fastened…
GETTING TO CALABAR
..that was one of the last things the pilot said as we approached Victor Attah International Airport, Uyo.
I landed first in Akwa-Ibom before boarding a vehicle at Itiam Bus Stop heading to Calabar because the prices of direct flights were already off-the-roofs. I had been pitching the idea for some months to my friends but none of them seemed keen enough and so Hobo was going solo.
My fellow solo travellers, get in here, don’t you just love the freedom travelling solo gives you As a budding Hobo, I welcome solo trips with open arms because it gives me the leeway to exercise my freedom and to do what I want when I want.
Anyway, you can get to Calabar from Uyo either by road or sea but word on the street was that the roads were an eyesore and you’ll have to pass a shaking bridge that could give way at any point. I made peace with the road condition in my mind because the road network around Nigeria is crap anyways and the distance from google maps was 2 hours so bad as e bad, I’ll have to spend 10 hours on the road.
OMMOOOx1000 that road was something else. There was no way I was going through that route again!
On getting to Calabar, My friend Rex who was meant to play host had to leave Calabar a week before, I was privy to this information before leaving my base. To be honest, this scared me a bit but as you know, fear is always welcome on the ride.
Rex was kind enough to leave the keys to his apartment and also, a detailed breakdown on how to get there which I took as a Bible. My inferior accent ousted me as a stranger in the Land very quickly, cracking up fellow passengers with my pronunciations. It was Ironic because their accent cracked me up as well. Just like the Bible is reliable, Rex’s description led me right to the door of his Apartment in satellite town. I dropped my bags and went straight right out to begin the Carnival Festivities.
FIRST NIGHT WITH THE MARLIANS
Quick Story, In the earlier days of Detty December, I met David at a pool party in Abuja who happened to be going for an activation campaign at the Carnival. This was a divinely orchestrated meeting, although we were like two lost puppies trying to navigate the city.
Back to Calabar, Naira Marley at this time was reigning supreme courtesy of “the Marlians” and was scheduled to perform live at a concert in the National Stadium (U.J Esuene Stadium) on the night of my arrival.
Like any typical Nigerian artiste, he came out by like 2am when the posters said 8pm but we the adoring Marlians were just so excited to see our president.
The funniest thing happened at the entrance gate, apparently, belts were banned asper “No Belt Gang” and next thing I saw David taking his belt off and pocketing it. It was at that moment I realized I was not a true marlian and couldn’t continue flying the ship of that movement.
When he came out the reaction I saw was like nothing I had ever seen in my life, particularly when he said his famous “Marlians come forward, the rest f**k off”. Marlians went crazy!
The concert ended with Naira Marley jumping off stage and running away in the middle of a song very on character.
THE STREET PARTY
The next day was the street parade aka “Battle of the Bands”.
There are five bands that knock it off yearly; Masta Blasta, Seagulls, Bayside, Freedom and Passion 4 band.
Each band has over 1000 members and they are usually tasked to dress up and interpret the theme of each years carnival in front of 3 different panels scattered around the city.
The theme of this carnival was “Humanity“. The level of details with their fashion and the storyline was really amazing. The bands move around the whole city beginning at Mary Slessor’s roundabout and ending at the Stadium were the winning band will be announced the next morning.
They leave behind a trail of heavy partying, partying like you’ve never seen before.
The whole city turns into one big club, the street party pays credence to Calabar girls because of the stamina and consistency the women have, the party keeps going for the whole day non-stop. It’s either you tap-out or you tap-out.
EXPLORING THE CITY OF CALABAR
Next day was the International Carnival; delegates from ‘festivals-que’ countries flock in to show off their culture.
With over 25 countries in attendance, the range of performances was it for me.
Before watching the performances, I had to link up again with My friend Baba Seye who got into Calabar from Lagos a day before, we had linked up earlier at the street carnival with Dr Kiki and David.
He was literally a lifesaver at this point because he knew the city like the palm of his hands and was kind enough to show me around.
We visited Marina Resort one of the top attraction spots in Calabar; it has the Slave Museum and boat rides that lead to Twins Island (IYATA) where Mary Slessor took the twins before finally stopping the killings amongst other things that weren’t as exciting to me. Entry into Marina Resort cost N200 ($0.49).
About boat rides, I am an unofficial sailor now or whatever boat drivers are called. Interesting story, so our boat got stranded on the way to the island and to restart it, the real driver had to surrender the steering to Sailor Hobo because everyone else was freaking out and I had boasted about my boat driving prowess prior to the boat stopping.
Tbh, after my sailoring experience, I might need some practice, driving a boat is not as straightforward as driving a car, but trust Sailor Hobo to keep things steady while the real driver got the boat working again.
I’ll have to stop here so that this article does not turn into a book. I’ll tell you guys about Mary Slessors Island (Twins Island), The Ruins of Tinapa Resort, meeting a Loml who took me to the best Afang Spot in town and the International Carnival in part two of this article.
Thanks for reading this half. The Calabar Carnival is the biggest, best and longest tourism event in West Africa. It attracts over two million revellers and features participants from over 25 different countries. And although people say its best days are behind it, i strongly believe it has the potential to become a rallying point for people all around the globe to express themselves and put their cultures on display (of course if they can successfully make a come back after Covid like AfroNation).
Have you been to a carnival before? Tell me what your experience was like?