Always Go on the Mid‑Traffic Jam Wine Run
Palm wine in Nigeria
Under normal circumstances, alcohol on a wellness getaway would be a no-no, or counterproductive—the odd glass of wine with dinner is perhaps the exception. However, palm wine, or palmy, as locals affectionately call it, is a staple and a healthy part of life at Agbokim—Nigeria’s renowned seven-cascade waterfalls.
We landed in Margaret Ekpo Airport, Calabar, a little later than scheduled, but nevertheless in high spirits. While waiting for luggage, clusters of passengers in yoga poses adorned the carousel area as they attempted to rid their bodies of plane fatigue. Bags in hand, we finally set off for Agbokim waterfalls for a few days to relax in the People’s Paradise, as they call Nigeria’s Cross River State.
But the road to paradise, they say, is rarely smooth: a gravel truck had fallen ahead, spilling its all its contents and creating a gridlock. Humidity-induced restlessness soon spread throughout our bus. Layers of sweat-soaked clothing were peeled off bodies seeking respite.
The driver, Mr. G, suggested some palmy. “Not the adulterated version full of saccharine, bottled and sold in the big cites,” he scoffed. I opted to go with him—anything to get blood flowing through my legs again. Our search led us through muddy paths to a beer joint, housed in a thatched open hut with bamboo tables, where the palm wine sat proudly in a calabash. Mr. G and I were served the palm wine in a wooden gourd. He took the first sip, because he is older, then passed it on to me, eagerly watching, awaiting my approval. It had a sweet taste, accompanied by a sour one, replacing my nerves with a buzz. Smiling at Mr. G in approval, I eyed the cloudy whitish liquid settled at the bottom of the gourd.
“This one is freshly tapped,” the matron boasted in Efik, the local language. Tapping is done by skilled men who climb up palm trees, sometimes 50 feet high, multiple times a day. They use a machete to cut divots up the trunk, which serve as slots for both feet. The wine is extracted in sap form from a hole drilled into the trunk of the tree. No two batches are the same; the tapped liquid continually changes over the course of the day.
The group on the hot bus was more excited about the palm wine than about my safe return. Shortly after the bottles were passed around, the restless sighs faded. I slowly dozed off myself, dreaming of the weekend to come as the palm wine settled in my stomach.
We heard the waterfalls before we saw them. The thunderous voice of each cascade tumbling off the cliff began to wake us from our peaceful slumber. Even the air was different—fresh and clean, draped by mist rising from the torrent below. We were here at last, barely realizing six hours had gone by.