The natural world is a treasure trove of sights and wonders and something quite special can be found in western region of Oyo State, Nigeria. Suspended lakes are amongst the most special wonders of nature because they are large bodies of water that have pooled on a mountain or hill. They are rare because of how difficult to reach most of them are, so there are officially two accessible ones on the planet - here and in Colorado, US.
The legend of the town's origins
The lake is suspended on Oke Ado, a large hill in the mysterious town of Ado Awaiye. The town's origins stretch back to the 1500's and the tales are full of interesting twist and turns.
Ado Awaye was was founded when a prince of the Oyo kingdom was denied his right to the throne because of his "impure" blood. His mother was from Ota, and his brother was crowned in his stead. He left in annoyance for his mother's hometown and on the way he encountered people in the Ado community. They were escapees from the Dahomey war and they made him their king after learning of his heritage.
They would later amalgamate with the neighboring town of Awaiye, and that's how we have Ado-Awaiye today. This hill we would be climbing was a refuge that an entire civilization grew from, and we were excited to see and hear the whispers from those that inhabited these lands centuries ago.
It's a short and steep climb, and after having spent the previous days on similar hikes, we were quite burnt out. It took us about 25 minutes to climb 365 ancient stairs, but you get a hiking stick that makes it easier. We visited during the wet season so the vegetation had grown thick - making it difficult to navigate, but we hacked through with the sticks. The site could definitely use some maintenance to keep the trail in good shape and make the climb safer.
The forest canopy was thick as well, a fantastic habitat for the population of monkeys that reside on the hill. They had dropped hundreds of fruit seeds around us we were informed that these were a prime target for hunters in the area - we have an unhealthy obsession with bushmeat.
About halfway up, we came across the first attraction - the Ishage Rock, a large boulder delicately balanced on the hill face in the most mystical manner. The people believe the rock to contain great power and many people come here to make wishes. When these are granted, they return to the rock and tie a white cloth around it in thanks. The rock is also a rain maker, and during times of drought, priestesses pray to Oke Ishage for rainfall for their farms and families. We took a short break and I said a little prayer before we trudged along.
Ese Awon Agba
As we reached the end of the climb, the mountain trail opens up to a plateau where you are treated to spectacular views of the town and the surrounding landscape. This point marked a checkpoint for us to catch our breath and soak in the views. Not too far off, we noticed a clusters of holes which the locals believe to be to have been left behind by ancestors (now deified as gods) who dwelt on the mountain top.
"Ese awon agba" literally translates to "footprints of the elders" but they were most likely used for grinding ingredients or as tie-dye pits. Legend has it that there was a woman who lived amongst the Ado Awaye people known as "Iya Alaro", which loosely translates to "Tie and Dye woman". She was an expert in this trade and there is a pool of water that was used to rinse her work, which has now been named Iya Alaro Lake.
The Elephant tree
The Elephant tree is another site of interest on this mountain. The roots of a fallen baobab tree eerily resemble the head and trunk of an elephant.
Many people make sure to visit this location for photo opportunities and we were no different. Parts of the tree have started to grow again which I thought was interesting, what is dead may never die.
Shortly after, we got to the jewel of Ado hill - the famous Iyake lake. Every description of the beauty of this lake pales in comparison to seeing it in actuality. It has a deep green, almost jade-like color that glistens under the sun's rays. It felt like a dream to be standing in this magical place and I was filled with a strong sense of gratitude that such a wonder lay here within my home state.
There are many stories surrounding Iyake lake and our guide did a good job in telling us about it. It is believed that the depths of the lake house many spirits and people believe that bathing with the water from the lake helps cure all kinds of ailments.
It is believed that a woman from Ota, Ogun State had migrated here from the Oyo empire. She was a kind soul and was loved by many, her only source of sadness being that she could not have children. She was mocked by some because of this fact and being unable to bear the 'embarrassment', drowned herself in the lake and this explains its name Iyake Lake, translated to 'woman cry'. It is believed that drinking water from this lake cures childlessness and other ailments, so many make sure to collect some of the water on their visits.
Nobody knows how deep the lake is and it is strongly emphasized that people should not enter it. The myth is that the lake is a portal to another world and people will be sucked to it's depth should they attempt to swim in it. There is also a story of some foreign engineers who wanted to determine it's depth but only 1 out of 3 lived to tell the tale. Myth or not, these lakes can be deceptively dangerous so make sure to ignore the enticing water.
I wasn't curious to know how deep the lake goes, I was perfectly happy watching the aquatic turtles that live in the lake have all the fun. The entire hill really supports a vibrant ecosystem but sadly there are little to no regulations to protect the life here. Our guide informed us that hunters burn the vegetation in the area to flush out small animals, destroying the area in the process and upsetting the delicate balance of life here.
It felt amazing to have ticked off one of the more epic items on my bucket list. The sense of accomplishment reverberated through the car on the drive out of the Ado community. Like many other natural resources we have in Nigeria, the potential for this one is immeasurable. It would be amazing to see what can be achieved with a little intentionality and management because it truly is a world class tourist attraction.
Click here to see what the journey is like in video, it's nothing short of a spectacle!
For enquiries, you can reach out through these numbers - 09073880948 (WhatsApp) and 09162247624 (For calls).