As the car accelerates further on the asphalted road across the thick vegetation like the wild wind piercing through nature’s nest, the breathtaking landscape it exposes, the undulating hills, the rivers, the hamlets dotted with farming population combine to arouse your curiosity on the beauties that await you on arrival.
The neatness of the city in view becomes obvious a few metres after the ‘welcome’ accolades on many signposts on the dual carriageway. From the city gate, colour speaks, orderliness takes over, while tranquillity rules the air.
As you wind down the glass, fresh air and shouts of “amedi” (meaning welcome in Efik) filter into the car. It signals the good hearts of the inhabitants who cherish visitors a lot. No matter the time of the day you arrive or the means (through the airport, the sea or by road), there is always a warm welcome awaiting you. Truly, like Canaan land of the old, Calabar spills milk and honey. The smiles of the inhabitants shine like the stars while the visitors experience the difference.
If Canaan land is truly the land that flows with milk and honey, then Calabar is more than Canaan land because of the tranquillity, excitement and orderliness that it ceaselessly exudes from its rich bowels. The city’s breathtaking landscape, the unspoilt tropical vegetation, the wildlife, the people, their culture and, of course, special delicacies make Calabar the adventure that awaits you.
When you encounter an average hawker on the streets, they are a different breed. Rather than cheat, ‘sosong’ (thank you) freely flows from their mouth in appreciation of the change their customers intentionally leave behind. “We are not just hospitable but contented with what we have,” Ebong Effiong, a resident, says. “That is why crime rate is zero here.”
Yet, the special delicacies are another reason visitors throng to the coastal city. From Edikaikong, Afang, to other local menus garnished with rare spices sourced from the rich tropics of Calabar forests, the city is a diners’ delight.
But beyond the food, James Omini, a civil engineer, says, “Calabar women are fantastic. Oh! They are good.” Kola Onanuga, a business executive, confirms that, but notes that ‘good’ in this case is a matter of personal definition. For him, the women are beautiful, humble and, most importantly, not money-conscious.
But for Andrew Ansah, a Ghanaian tour operator, who always visits with his family during Christmas, the annual Calabar Carnival is the reason Calabar is tick. There are many other revilers who also come to savour the rich culture of the people during festive periods.
As well, the relics of the slave trade, the routes of the early missionaries, the relics of colonial rule, the national parks, the rivers and creeks and even the people are among reasons tourists troop to the city.
While the city is alive to adventure, fun and excitement, it also had its own affair with history. Around 1698 when John Barbot arrived in Calabar to trade alongside other British merchants, he was impressed by the unique setting and organisation of the then small coastal town. He described Calabar as “well-furnished with villages and hamlets all about”.
Centuries down the line, the ancient town looks even more organised, inviting and serene than any other town in Nigeria. While you may attribute the city’s orderliness to its status as a onetime Nigerian capital (headquarters of the Niger Coast Protectorate from 1884 until 1906), the secret is the hospitable nature of the people that makes them obey laws without compulsion, something rare among many Nigerians.
The first president of independent Nigeria, Nnamdi Azikiwe, was among the first set of Nigerians who sought after Calabar because it had some of the best institutions in the country then, particularly Hope Waddell Training Institution founded in 1895.
Even the Catholic faithful call the city their home for hosting the first Roman Catholic Mass at 19 Bocco Street, Calabar in 1903.
The magic is despite the influx of other Nigerians into the city, especially on weekends, Calabar does its things at its own pace. It is never in a rush, while the people remain unchanged from their very hospitable and clean nature.
“We are truly Canaan land,” says Effiong Bassey, a resident. “If Canaan land truly flows in milk and honey, what milk or honey is more than the peace of mind, tranquillity, cleanliness and security Calabar offers to visitors and residents alike?”
You are truly welcome to Canaan land, a land that leaves very positive impression on every visitor. To Nigerians, the city is in Nigeria but does its things contrary to the Nigerian way, while an average foreigner sees Calabar as something worth commending Nigeria for, especially the neatness and orderliness of the people, traffic and business activities.
Peace, serenity, hospitable people and, lately, facilities speak volumes of fun that awaits you on a visit. So, dare a visit to Nigeria’s most enchanting city tomorrow!