Or Osogbo, as it is spelt in Yoruba but with a little dot under the s signifying a ‘sh’ sound (lesson over).
Our bus driver to Osogbo (I would spell it the English way but I'm trying to cut down on the paper work!) drove like somebody possessed. He kept his hand on the horn for most of the three hour trip and it burbled rather cutely as we flew past most other road users, slowing down only where road conditions absolutely demanded it and where highwaymen - sorry - road police - also demanded it. Crossing from Kwara State to Osun State, you detect a slightly less poverty-stricken situation and the roads improve greatly. More hilly, more forested, more banana and the vegetation generally more lush.
It was looking doubtful that we would actually get to see much of the Sacred Forest as we clambered out of the bus after a three hour, bum-numbing, knee-knocking, white knuckle ride from Ilorin. It was just starting to rain. The sky was literally black – well deep purple and we hurriedly and rashly grabbed a taxi just as the entire contents of huge bulbous clouds tipped onto us as if they had been ripped apart. We were charged well over the odds for a 20 minute taxi ride through rivers of water to our hotel on the far side of town. The driver’s wipers were not working, needless to say, so as well as not being able to see the road clearly, he was continually wiping his misted up windscreen with every chance he would press it out completely, so crazed was it. The window on my side of the back seat wouldn’t shut properly and rain sprayed in on me for the entire trip. By the time we got to the Leisure Springs Hotel my right side was completely soaked and my left completely dry.
We had arranged for Daniel , an artist living in Osogbo, to show us the sights and he turned up with his friend and sculptor Baba, one the rain had eased a little. Both guys are based at a workshop and gallery down the road from the hotel which we walked to - just to absorb a bit more moisture.
The workshop was very interesting and we got to speak with the batik workers who willingly discussed their techniques and designs; two of them were Liverpool supporters which always engenders comradely feelings.
Baba sculpts in various media and is responsible for the monstrous two-fingered gesture in cement that adorns one of the roundabouts in Offa – see picture; I think this is hideous but he is very proud of it . There is another roundabout in Offa with a cement peacock on it; I asked if this was his work also and he innocently said no – the commission was given to somebody else! I’m not surprised! His work in wood, however is superb and has attracted interest from British, Dutch and Swiss visitors .
We hopped another taxi and were soon dropped outside the gates to the Sacred Forest of Osogbo, a ‘tourist’ spot mentioned in all the guide books, We were guided round the forest by a ……guide! This is a UNESCO world heritage site and had enormous steel gates to keep the goats out to prove it. This is a place of deep meaning and reverence for those who still adhere to the traditional Yoruba religion – apparently, quite a sizeable proportion of the Yoruba population, though they keep their options open, mixing it with Christianity and Islam where convenient.
The rain had abated by now and the humid forest with its quirky Tolkienesque 14th century figures and shrines was wreathed in a light mist. Droplets fell on us from the high canopy and the mosses and lower leaves oozed water. Monkeys scampered up the tree trunks to get a better look at us as we walked down the path towards the sacred river where on festival day you might catch a glimpse of the River Goddess if you are lucky – and just in case you are not lucky or its not festival day, there is a stone statue of her midstream as the brown waters swirled round her knees – appearing much like something Anthony Gormley would have produced. There was a spiritual feel to the place, the prayers and offerings of two women echoed into the mist. For a small donation from us they offered up prayers on our behalf to the gods of river and forest – possibly asking for their protection of us in the bus going home – well, it seems to have worked!