Descending two hundred and forty-five steep and poorly-built steps to catch a glimpse of a waterfall is no task for the faint-hearted. But the exhilaration that comes from seeing the splendour of this waterfall tucked, more or less, beneath the earth’s bowel pales the initial fright and numbing ascent. Welcome to the rustic Ayinkunnugba Waterfall in Oke-Ila, OsunState…
Long, Winding Road
The serpentine and undulating narrow highway that runs from Osogbo, the Osun State capital, to Oke-Ila gave hint of the challenge that lay ahead. But the anticipation of the aesthetic promise in our quest banished all disagreeable thoughts to the background. We were, afterall, going to the Ayinkunnugba Waterfall spoken of so enthusiastically by Oba Dokun Abolarin, the monarch of Oke Ila, an agrarian community perched on the Osun highlands that border Ekiti State.
The monarch could still not contain his enthusiasm as he welcomed the reporters to his palace and his mood must have been infectious because we had barely settled down before setting out to see the waterfall in the most unlikely attire – kaftan-style outfits! We realized our folly only after we had driven onto a one-lane road that may well have been a footpath to farmlands. Hemmed between shrubs that lashed the sides of the vehicle and would have grazed our heads if the windscreen were not wound up, we drove along the narrow path and hoped we don’t encounter any oncoming vehicle.
Hearts in the Mouth
We soon encountered our worst fears but the driver thankfully reversed to a slightly wider portion of the road and was even graciously moved off the road a bit so we could drive on. Twenty minutes later we were at the waterfall where a few bleary-eyed youths milled around at an incomplete building we later learnt would serve as a shelter for tour guides.
There was no waterfall in view and seeing the puzzled looks on our faces, the young guide the monarch had assigned to us explained: “We can’t see the waterfall from here; it is in a valley.” To access the valley, we had to descend some two hundred and forty-five unevenly cut steps and you could get a dizzying spell peering into the distant valley below if you have a phobia for heights. The gushing sound of cascading water was clearly discernible midway through the descent, an encouraging sign that enabled us to trudge on despite the enormous physical strain. Tenacity has its reward and, so, several minutes later we were only a few metres away from the waterfall. It had been worth the effort.
An Interesting Legend
As it emerged, the waterfall has a story as legendary as the challenging terrain through which the intrepid adventure seeker has to travel. “It was discovered by a hunter,” explained one of young men with glazed eyes we had seen before we descended the valley. He had made his descent some 10 minutes after we did with an accustomed ease. “He shot a large animal, which fell into the valley where the waterfall empties,” he told us in Yoruba. The search for the animal led to a new discovery – a waterfall. It was a futile search but the joy of his new find, which he named ‘Ayinkunnugba,’ compensated for the loss. The hunter named Alaba in whose honour a sculpture stands now returned to the town in excitement to recount his interesting discovery. Our tour historian added that there have been a few accounts ascribing supernatural powers to the waterfall like a man whom he said claimed his illness was healed after bathing in the cold stream into
which the waterfall empties. But he was modest enough to admit he cannot say if indeed the waterfall has such powers. However, he kept dipping his head and torso into the stream in a pattern that seemed ritualistic.
But, what really is the fuss going through that effort to see a waterfall anyway? “You can simply appreciate the welcoming ambience of the waterfall,” Oba Abolarin said. “Apart from the waterfall itself, the environment offers a scenic view. We should appreciate the works of nature in a way you can only find in the rural setting. A lot of our children don’t know what a plantation looks like, but here they can see the cocoa plantation and how palm oil is extracted from palm fruit.”
In Need of Some Makeover
Besides the fact that the access to the waterfall needs to be made a lot more visitor-friendly, the force of the water cascade has been reduced by algae that have formed around the outlets over the years. “It’s important to clear the outlets of all encumbrance to make it appealing,” the young man who said he owns a farm explained. But even in that poor state and the many obstacles that has kept it on the fringe, it still holds much attraction for the public especially students on excursion and to some degree, movie producers. “They have shot a couple of movies here,” the young guide from the palace pointed out. “The waterfall is obviously a preferred backdrop for romantic scenes because that is what they seem to shoot here more often,” he added with a shy smile.
But the monarch noted that the unflattering condition of waterfall is not a sufficient reason to conclude it’s been neglected by the government. “It’s unbelievable the response the government has shown. Almost on a weekly basis various teams visit the site to ascertain how best to reposition the waterfall as a tourist spot. This is in line with the vision of the administration to promote tourism in the state by making the various tourist attractions in the state visitor-friendly. So it’s wrong to say it’s been abandoned. We get a lot of visits, even today. This waterfall is a major tourist site in Osun State,” he said.
Indeed, as scary as the steps may be, the thought that it was built just a few years ago by the Olagunsoye Oyinlola administration only makes one cringe. How then were locals and visitors alike able to access the waterfall? It was a dare-devil quest, our bleary-eyed friend explained in Yoruba. “Oyinlola has made it easier for us. People can now see the waterfall as often as they wish without fear of falling into the valley.” Of course they can, but it certainly would help if visitors did not have to possibly tear a muscle doing so for by the time we had made the climb back to the hilly outpost it was a total exhaustion for the party.
But the town’s monarch is thinking really big. He is optimistic that the stream of tourists, which the waterfall can inspire, is an incentive for investors. For him, the long term plan may include building a few activities around the waterfall to increase its visibility just like the annual mountain race is doing for the Obudu Mountail Resort in Cross River State. A forward-looking investor apparently shares that optimism as seen in an ongoing hotel project about five hundred meters from the waterfall. “It’s a private initiative and that tells you how much people are striving to develop the community. I know that in the next five or 10 years, things will be a lot different here.” There is, however, a project that the monarch is particularly passionate about: “I would love to build an international golf resort in Oke-Ila. But all these would require money. I’m trying to see if I could rally old friends to come and invest in the community because of its potential to create job opportunities.”
You would imagine that the painstaking effort required to view the waterfall will be considered a disincentive for a further visit. But that is not always the case; there is an inexplicable allure in conquering nature and reveling in its splendor. So, when the monarch asks jocularly if we would repeat the visit, the reply was not just a perfunctory “yes”. It really would be nice to be back!