I caught the travel bug while chilling on my bed in the middle of a global pandemic in 2020. Because of the national lockdown at the time, there weren’t many places I could visit.
As the lockdown eased toward June, I decided it was the ideal time to visit some of the cool places nearby. The Azumini Blue River, about 40 minutes away, was first on my list.
Azumini is a town in Ukwa East LGA of Abia State. Because of its proximity to my town, Aba, I thought this location would be an excellent starting point for my quest.
I’d only heard of Azumini once, and it was in an entirely unrelated context. I looked online for something to work with but all I found were articles describing the river as the bluest river in Nigeria and nothing else; no information on how to get there, and no recent images showing what to expect. Every website on the internet used the same images. After visiting the Blue River and seeing it with my own eyes, I began to doubt the veracity of those photos.
I had a couple of friends who had expressed interest in traveling with me whenever I was ready, so I reached out and invited them on this trip. Luckily for me, they agreed to join in. Uchenna was a documentary photographer, and Nonye was a travel enthusiast.
Finding someone to go with us
It was my first time traveling to explore, so I wasn’t exactly daring. I was still afraid of a lot of things and saw the need to go with people who knew their way around Azumini town. It was for this reason that I went online to look for someone. Getting someone was a hassle but I eventually found a representative of a media house who had visited around that time. He agreed to be our escort. There were two of them who showed up that day, and we had to collectively sort out their bills, which was never in our original agreement because I booked only one person.
Prior to that, one of my leads gave me the palace chief’s contact information, which I called and informed of our impending arrival. This later became a problem because the chief informed me that we needed to meet the ruling council first before we could access the river. As a novice, I assumed they were attempting to extort us, so I and the others avoided that route and went on our own.
Getting to Azumini Blue River from Aba
There are two major routes to Azumini from Aba depending on one’s location: through Ogborhill and through Enugu-Port-Harcourt Expressway by Akwete. Because our meeting point was Bata Junction, the most direct route was Ogborhill. We boarded a tricycle from Bata to Ogborhill, stopping along the way at Opobo Junction. We boarded one of several taxis heading to Azumini through Opobo road.
Nothing had prepared us for the road’s nature. The potholes were deep enough to swallow our taxi whole, and it had rained the day before. We had to take a pedestrian path just to avoid the flood.
We knew we had arrived in Azumini when we entered a smoothly tarred road, because rumor had it that Azumini had really good roads, but the connecting roads were its major flaw.
We alighted at the Azumini roundabout after our taxi screeched to a halt, and I noticed a signpost indicating that one could get to Akwa Ibom and Rivers State from this particular junction. I also noticed that most of the bikers who approached us for rides were headed to Akwa Ibom.
The Azumini Blue River was a short walk from the roundabout, so we took a stroll down to the bridge. Patience, a fellow passenger from the taxi had joined us; I connived with my friends and got her to show us the way after I discovered that our escorts were JJCs like us.
Patience was not Igbo; she was from Benue State. When I asked what brought her to Azumini, she explained that her father’s job as a police officer required them to move frequently. The length of their stay in Azumini was also uncertain at the time.
Patience was more confident. She led us to the bridge, from which we had a bird’s-eye view of the river. The teeming landscape was enhanced by the lush green bushes that flanked the not-blue river. We had an awkward moment of what I saw online versus what I saw in real life, but none of us cared enough to voice it out first because we had been through hell just to get there, and we weren’t prepared for the conversation that would follow. Instead, we decided to give the river another chance by exploring it more.
From our vantage point, we saw sand extractors loading their canoes and paddling down the river to extract sands from the river’s bottom. I had seen a video on YouTube where a certain traveler shared that experience and I had wanted it for myself, too.
Patience said we could go on a canoe ride if we wanted; all we had to do was talk to the boatmen and negotiate prices with them. We put the adventure on hold and followed Patience’s lead to a path that connected to one of the beaches. She drew the curtains on us at this point and we had to find our own way. We thanked her for her assistance and ventured out.
The beach was, predictably, small, but I gave it to it because it had fine sands and sparkling stones, a subtle equivalent to the stretch of land everyone was used to, with smooth sands and sea shells. A closer look into the shallow section of the river revealed tiny fish swimming happily on their way. We waded into the water as far as the hems of our clothes could allow.
The Azumini Blue River may not be as blue as its name implies, but the water is so clear that one can easily spot fish swimming beneath the surface. This was an exciting experience for me because I had never seen fish in their natural habitat.
A notice board nestled in the bush warned group users of the beach to obtain permission from the ruling council, just as the Chief had told me earlier. Seeing the punishment for breaking this rule terrified me to death. My countenance shifted at this point, signaling the start of a downward spiral.
It had been a sunny day up to this point. The weather quickly changed, and before we could gather our belongings, it began to rain. We dashed to the nearest shelter. Soon after, the house owner, an elderly woman, found us cuddled up on her balcony and summoned us to the backyard, where she offered us seats and let us play with her adorable kittens.
Her husband soon joined us, and he was accompanied by a visitor, whom I would later identify as the palace chief after pointing out the striking resemblance between the face in front of me and the display picture of the man I had texted on WhatsApp to let him know I was coming.
Seeing as I had been informed of the rules beforehand, I felt like a major violator because I didn’t just show up; I came with a group, and we brought a digital camera, which we allowed to shimmer in front of his eyes in such a moment. It didn’t help that our escorts were dressed in their company t-shirt, implying that we were reporters on media coverage; such people are supposed to obtain permission from the ruling council because reporters are no snoops. That was something we failed to do. The rainfall chased us right into the lion’s mouth.
The old woman’s husband was cool with our visit. We introduced ourselves and told him why we had come. The chief frowned, drew a chair, and sat. I was watching his every move to figure out when to flee. He took out his phone and began scrolling. I reached for my own phone and put it on airplane mode, anticipating that he would try to call me. I tried to relax, but my heart pounded against my chest. All of the scenarios I considered for this situation resulted in our arrest.
The chief dialed and dialed, getting on and off calls, while I waited for the police to arrive. My friends had no idea what I was going through because they had not received the instruction firsthand, so they went asking questions about the river. Knowing how much I wanted to tell this story someday despite my current situation, I turned on my phone recorder and started recording what the old man was saying. I was so sure I had the lecture on tape that I didn’t pay attention to what he was saying; instead, I kept busy observing the chief in my peripheral vision.
As I accepted my fate and waited in defeat for handcuffs to kiss my tiny wrists, I began to relax and became less aware of the chief. It was only then that I was able to participate in the discussion.
I asked the question that had been itching my mouth. Why was the blue river so green? The old man answered that it used to be blue. That, it was in fact blue. We found it in this state because it was raining and the constant rain had washed up mud and green residues from the surrounding bushes, which mixed with the water and changed its color. He lectured us on how a body of water’s blueness was simply a reflection of the blue sky above. He added that if we came during the dry season, we would be graced with the river’s natural aquamarine color. We were so eager to see the river in this form that we agreed to return at the beginning of the year. This was also due to the fact that the roads would be manageable then.
As soon as the rain eased off, we hurried away after thanking the old man wholeheartedly for his insightful and entertaining lecture.
Back on the bridge, we called on the divers to discuss a canoe ride. We weren’t interested in getting on one then, but we wanted to know what their prices were so we knew how much to budget for the next time we would visit.
At first, they said we’d have to pay N10,000 per person for the trip, but after long minutes of explaining how we came from such a far place, and they mentioning that they’d be paddling against the tides to get us to the best beach, which was no easy feat, they settled on N3000 per person and wouldn’t go any lower. We kept going, and when they didn’t listen to any of our pleas to lower the price a notch, we lingered for a while before turning our backs on them and strolling along the empty road toward the motor park.