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Unraveling Deep Treasure in Calabar – Maria Unawu goes on a memorable journey to a frequently-visited part of Calabar, which is encased in beauty and history
As the taxi stops at the Stadium/11-11 axis of Calabar in the city centre, I alighted from the vehicle to stand opposite the Millennium Park, which is more or less an extension of the main stadium.
I stood opposite the tallest flag-pole I have ever seen. Sitting at its peak with the prestige of a peacock was the Nigerian flag like an icing on cake. It was waving at everyone in view as a gentle breeze caressed its light thread.

The bottom of the pole was surrounded by beautiful and tamed natural beauty, typified by the gallant, fancy Christmas-like trees and carpet-like green grass. Also in the middle of this get-up stands the Cenothaph, a memorial to fallen heroes who passed on during the World Wars and the famous Nigerian Civil War.

The entire millennium Park is pregnant with history and is a stark reminder and representation of one of the important days of the country back in the day when Nigerian was part of the British Empire.

The 11th of November (11/11) used to be known as Empire Day. That bit of history took a back seat when the collection of former British colonies transformed into the Commonwealth countries. Today, only a few people know this famous public space in Calabar as ‘11/11’.
The park assumed its new name during the administration of former Governor Donald Duke. Through the years, however, it has retained its primary role of a prime public space, particularly, for premium state events.

A lot of activities go on at the Millennium Park especially by youths who enjoy the quiet place to spend their lazy time or families having picnics with their children running around on the grass on an easy Saturday afternoon.
Close to the Millennium Park lies an entwined set of roads, all tar-black, shiny and smooth; leading to different destinations. Taking the one close to the eye-catching sculpture of Standing Hands, I decided to take a walk to avoid missing the plethora of attractions on the road.
A police mesh just sat at the bend of the road with a lawn tennis court encased in a metal fence and barb wires. Down the second bend, you notice little kiosks and petty traders selling all kinds of goods to passers-by who might need a snack or water, especially, to refresh under the scorching sun.

Standing strong on the way to the ‘end’ of the road stood, are two remarkable old houses of the 1940s and 1960s, still carrying an aura that suggest sturdiness and ‘old’ beauty. Finally, getting close to the ‘end’ of the road, I’m greeted with an iron gate and a banner with girls in Carnival costumes smiling like Cheshire cats and in clear letters spelling out Marina Resort.
For a long time, what is now the Marina Resort was a dry and desolate land, until Donald Duke became Governor of Cross River State and decided to use a tourism as an economic and development factor to turn around the fortune of the state for good. The Marina Resort has since been privatised, becoming one of the many tourist attractions in Cross Rivers State.
But the Marina Resort was not always a dry and desolate land. Its heritage includes serving as a port of departure for slaves. It was also the major quay for boats ferrying passengers from Calabar to Oron in today’s Akwa Ibom State and back before the Calabar-Itu Highway was constructed.

The descent into the Marina after security check shows a hill with lots of trees, green trees, on your right, all standing tall and moving in perfect synchronisation with the cool breeze. These trees run right down till to end of the Resort, but just right ahead you can see a very large anchor sitting in the middle of the road.

It is a kind of attention grabbing device to alert private cars and taxis alike. The large anchor fills the curve of the road curve, staring at every individual and pointing out to every one of them that they stand on sacred grounds, grounds that carry history that have transcended generations into the present day. This same anchor points to the famous Tortugal Island with its name engraved in a stone – (the popular sit-out for visitors to the Resort).

It is a garden with sitting spaces and raffia palm covering the chairs and tables from the sun. A couple of customers were engrossed with moving images on television screens hanging in each sitting spot. Apart from the cocktail bar, there is a fresh fruits drink bar. A frequently visited spot is the fish grill popularly referred to as ‘Point and Kill’.
Tortugal Island offers a lot of variety for a cool night out with the family or friends. The amazing thing about the Tortugal Island is its closeness to the river-the cool, wavy river that covers the other side of the resort, From one of the mini huts you can still be in touch with one of nature’s finest gifts. The river though touching and sitting close to the resort goes as far as Oron.

Present also in the resort is the Game Arcade, The Carousel for children, a restaurant with ridiculously high price tags and a night club. There is also the hotel which is being renovated at the moment.
Another interesting part of the Marina Resort is the Slave Museum. This museum is detailed to perfection in pictures, molded representation of human beings and supported with sound effects to give a good background story of slave trade in Nigeria, which is said to have started from the shores of Calabar.

One is taken through a lifetime experience of the brutality meted out to slaves, the medium of exchange between slave hunters and slave masters and the fight to abolish slave among other re-enactments.
I quickly moved away from the Slave Museum. I could not trust my emotion. I fought the urge to open up and cry out loud. One of the newest attractions in the resort – The Film House Cinema – beckoned. Picking just the right spot close to river, one could witness the sun go down as it pours its rays on the shiny and lustrous waves of the river, kissing it goodnight every night.
Sunset is still one of the most beautiful enigmas known to man till date. I dare anyone to tell me there is a better view of sunset anywhere in the world, compared to the picture of the dying sun that can be seen when you walk into to the cinema in the evening.
The Film House is a standard box office showing all kinds of enticing entertainment, starting from blockbuster movies to musicals, comedy and the whole gamut. Children aren’t left out as they also presented with their favorites cartoons and animated movies. From the reception down to the screening rooms, there is an attempt at perfection.

The service staff members are also eager to please. There are three screening halls and each cinema has a standard screen, comfortable elevated seats with Dolby 7.1 surround sound which turns every viewing experience to gold. A large number of people pour in to watch just released Nollywood movies. All in a day’s work, we were able to discover the beauty and history encased in a frequently visited part of Calabar. And all it took was one journey.
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