She’s climbed Mount Cameroon, bungee-jumped over the Nile River and has gone water-rafting and snowboarding. Now Funmi Oyatogun takes on Chappal Waddi. Interview by Pelu Awofeso
PA: You know, I’m quite impressed that you’re planning to take on Chappal Waddi on the Mambilla Plateau. To see you come out of the blue to say, “We are doing Chappal Waddi this year”: what is or was the motivation?
FO: Chappal Waddi is Nigeria’s highest point and is one of the most difficult places to get to in Nigeria. So, this climb is symbolic for me. Obviously, I love adventures: I love to climb, to push my body beyond its limits, but this is also symbolic of the heights we can reach when it comes to breaking through barriers in Nigerian tourism.
As a geographer and someone who is passionate about the environment, I appreciate the fact that Chappal Waddi is unspoiled. It is a mountain located inside Gashaka Gumti National Park – the largest national park in Nigeria in Taraba State. So, I am not just going for the mountain adventure or travel experience, I am going for the wildlife, the forestry, the landscape and the amazing views from the top. We are not just going to discover what Nigeria can do in terms of conservation and protection of natural spaces, we are going to challenge our bodies and see how far we can go.
I have climbed Mount Cameroon – a mountain that is higher than Chappal Waddi but I haven’t climbed a mountain that is as underdeveloped in terms of hiking trails and camping spots. We are going to have to figure it out. We are not the first to climb this mountain but our climb will make it difference in making Chappal Waddi accessible to travelers.
PA: You are more or less embarking on an expedition.
PA: I hear you say “we”. Who are “we”? How many people are going on this adventure?
FO: Right now, there are six of us in the hiking group and we could expand this number to eight. We are trying to keep it as small and intimate as possible because we want it to be a successful expedition.
PA: When will it be?
FO: The climb will take place in April, realistically. We are a small group of people passionate about tourism and adventure. We are also physically trained to take on the challenge of this mountain. It will be a difficult climb and can take anywhere from four to eight days to complete, so we are taking people who understand that this is not a climb up Olumo Rock; we need to be aware of what we are getting into.
PA: So what is this logistics arrangement like?
FO: The main reason we have not climbed till now is the logistical hurdle. We have it sorted out now, though. Those of us in Lagos will fly to Abuja or Yola and meet with those coming in from Abuja. Then, we will converge and drive together through very poor roads to get to the national park. This is where we will begin the climb.
PA: I was privileged to see a breakdown of what is required. One part particularly caught my attention and that is physical fitness and preparedness. What would every member of the team have to do to be prepared? I don’t think I’m fit to climb although I’d love to go.
FO: May I ask you, Pelu, what’s the most physically challenging activity you’ve ever done?
PA: That is walking for two hours.
PA: Just walking. I haven’t done anything too exerting.
FO: Well, Chappal Waddi is not the most difficult mountain in the world but it is challenging because of the terrain. We are currently preparing by building up cardiovascular strength, since climbing is a cardiovascular activity. When you walk, you’re fine but when you run, all of a sudden, your heart is more involved. This is similar to climbing so we have to prepare our bodies. As you ascend, the air thins out and you have to have prepared your lung capacity to increase. Your lungs and heart work a little bit more.
I work out some mornings and run some evenings. As at yesterday, I was running four kilometers at a stretch; I’m building my upper body and lower body strength becausewhile your legs do most of the work, your upper body carries much weight.
PA: Do you already have a local guide or host in Jalingo?
PA: You talked about being an adventurous person. What are thedaring things you’ve done in the past?
FO: I have done some bucket-list activities but I think the most important adventures are the simple things I do when I live my daily life. For general adventures, I have bungee-jumped from 45m above the Nile River in Uganda, zip-lined through Mabira Forest also in Uganda, climbed Mount Cameroon, white-water rafted along the River Nile, climbed in Colorado and gone snowboarding. I have so many more things to do.
PA: You are a fast rising player in the domestic tourism scene.
FO: Thank you. That’s a very sweet thing to say.
PA: What was the attraction into the domestic tourism space? Why the name TVP dventures?
FO: I think the attraction was that there was a serious loophole; there was a lack of things to do, not because these resources didn’t exist but because the packages didn’t exist. I realised that I wanted to explore my country and I wanted people to explore my country but I didn’t see ready-made packages, so I decided to organise tours. I love to travel; I love to show people around. When people started asking me for packages, TVP Adventures was born.
PA: What’s your take on the way the industry is at the moment, your assessment of the industry, so to speak?
FO: I think there is – and this is the case for all of Nigeria – there is a lot of potential ahead. It’s a good thing but I don’t say that with pride. For such a large country with so much heritage, history and resource, we are doing so little with what we have because we don’t prioritize tourism. I see that there is a market; the sheer size of the population alone is enough to sell tourism. I always tell people that there is no competition; there aren’t even enough tour operators in the market right now—250 million people to serve at least, including those coming into the country.
I’m so thankful to be participating in this industry while it is so small. It’s such an intimate group and it’s a group of people trying to figure out how to swim and holding each other, making sure that nobody drowns along the way. I’m so thankful for it; I do not take these relationships with other people in the space for granted because I know that in a larger industry, it would have been more aggressive. In 10 years, maybe it will be a little more aggressive but I thank God that I’m entering at a time where we are all just trying to figure it out; it is such an intimate space.
I also think that the biggest challenge we have is being our own voice. Sometimes, Nigerians sell Nigeria based on what other people have told us about our own country, which is a shame because as a Nigerian, I am the one who is best equipped to tell people about my own country. I want to tell the story of Chappal Waddi as a Nigerian woman, who is the least expected person to climb this mountain.
PA: Thank you for talking with me.
FO: You are welcome