Thursday, April 17, 2008

Wli Falls

Traveling alone definitely has its pros and cons. The cons are obvious – it is cheaper to split things between several travelers, you get to share the experience with people other than guides who are paid to take you places, you get photos with more than the same person in them over and over again. The pros, at least the ones I experienced this weekend, mainly centered on Ghanaians’ invested interest that I arrive safely at my destinations. The STC bus arrived an hour late in Hohoe, which is probably the second largest city in the Volta Region and very close to the Togo border. A nice guy about my age overheard me talking to the woman next to me about where I should stay and said that he was going in the same direction. We walked about 10 minutes to the first lodge whose five rooms were all booked for the weekend. I had tried to call them to reserve a room, but no one answered the phone throughout the day. We walked to the next motel recommended in the guide which was another 10 minutes away. I was definitely feeling guilty about making this guy walk around the city with me. The Pacific Guesthouse said that they had only “chalets” left which were $32 a night compared to the $12 rates given in the guide. It seemed expensive compared to what I had been paying throughout my stay, but ultimately was worth it not to have to walk around anymore that night.

The chalet consisted of a living room, a bedroom and a bathroom. It even had a new bar of soap which was pretty exciting. I did have to ask for toilet paper though. I found out that the A/C didn’t work, neither did the TV, and the drain was clogged in the shower. It seemed like I had a case to bargain the price down. Instead the manager moved me to another “chalet” with a working drain and TV, but still no A/C. The fan would have to suffice. The manager had turned the TV on to show me that it worked and left the room. I thought I would flip through the channels to see if there was something nice to have on in the background while I was reading. Only one channel seemed to be working and it alternated back and forth between black and white and color. The program was sort of like a Ghanaian version of MTV. Musicians were singing near the ocean as the camera panned around them. It did the trick as background noise, while I was reading.

Saturday was to be a big day, so I woke up early to get breakfast. The Taste Lodge, which had rejected me the night before for a room, welcomed me to breakfast. The served scrambled eggs, toast and Milo (my favorite). I definitely ate more shell than I am used to in the eggs. There were a few bites that were unusually crunchy. From the lodge, I ventured out to find a tro-tro to the falls. The tro-tros are staffed by a driver and another person who manages the door and the money and calls out the destination to passersby to attract more customers. One spotted me and asked if I was going to the falls. Typically, everyone in the tro-tro needs to wait until it is full, but luckily I was one of the last to enter. We left soon after. After a few people alighted for a funeral at one stop, a man offered to share the front seat with me so I could see out the window. At first I thought this was great, but after a few close calls with some lucky goats I realized that it is probably better to not know what is going on up front. The man sharing the front seat with me offered to point out the reception office of Wli Falls. It was rather obvious with its large sign and bright red arrow, but he insisted on accompanying me to “make sure that I found it.” Of course, after we arrived he asked for some money. I felt a little put on the spot with the Wli Falls staff watching my every move, so caved and gave him a cedi. When the pesky man finally left, I paid for my tour of the falls. This is another eco-tourism project run by locals to benefit both the community’s environment and its inhabitants. The falls are staffed by people of the Wli village and tour guides are drawn from the town and paid monthly. It is not necessary to use a guide to get to the lower falls, but because my own silly determination I opted to hike to the upper falls which required a guide. The beginning of the hike to both sets of falls was mostly flat and well-maintained. There were seven bridges that had all been built by Wli’s inhabitants that crossed small rivers created by the falls.

The turn off to the upper falls suddenly narrowed and looked more like a jungle. It was clear that this was not a well-traveled path. The guide was a few steps in front of my and let out a loud “eeyee!!!” like exclamation. I asked him what was wrong. He looked at me wide-eyed and said, “Big snake, very big snake!” In general everything is bigger in Africa, especially when it comes to bugs and reptiles. When an African guide says ‘big snake’ I can only imagine what it must have looked like. He then said, “cobra.” I responded with a loud “oh, wow!” He could see the look of bewilderment on my face and assured me that the snake had gone off into the woods. What had started out as an adventurous little hike, now seemed like much more than I had bargained for. In no way was I interested in a Crocodile Hunter encounter. We ventured on, but I was sure to stay quite close to the guide and keep my wits about me.

Most difficult hikes I have done in the US, include at least some switchbacks so that hikers gradually ascend the mountain. This hike was practically straight up. It reminded me of climbing a ladder in parts and then eased up a bit to be more like climbing a steep staircase. The guide looked completely unfazed by the trek, forcing me to announce each of my needed breaks so that he would stop running up the mountain. The views were incredible as we advanced. Most of the mountains around were covered by trees and the little villages in the area stood in sharp contrast to their hunter green surroundings. The village of Wli looked very far away. At some point though, I realized that I was no longer enjoying the hike and was more focused on what would happen if I did finally make it to the top and then didn’t have the energy to come back down. I was sweating profusely and breathing heavily (I told the guide that I do far too much sitting in Accra) and thought that maybe I could make it if the guide said that we had gone further than half way. He responded that no, we were not at the half way point. Hmmm. We finally arrived at a spot where the upper falls were visible. They seemed pretty, but not enough for me to strain myself to get there. The falls were a narrow band of water from a high point on the mountain. I didn’t get to see the source, but figured this distant glance was good enough. I also wanted to climb Mt. Afadjato, so thought I would concentrate my energies on that next hike because it was supposed to provide better views of the valley including Lake Volta. Once the guide told me that many people get to this point (and, no, it is still not half way) view the falls and then opt to turn back, I opted for that plan. While it took 45 minutes to climb up to that point, it only took 20 to get back down. We safely crossed over the cobra’s path and emerged onto a flat path that leads to the lower falls.

Wli’s lower falls are actually the more spectacular of the two sets of waterfalls. They are longer and fuller and end in a wider pond. Spray hits viewers on all sides of the lake. Thousands of fruit bats hang upside down from at the midpoint and compete with the crashing of the water for noisiest element in that particular spot of Ghana. The bats fly around the falls which looks especially creepy. The butterflies on the trails were more pleasant to watch.

A group retired Americans from the west and Midwest stopped at the falls. We all took some photos and then headed back to the reception. As impressive as waterfalls are, once you see it there isn’t much more to do. I remember thinking this same thing at Niagara Falls. People drive great distances to see it, but can you really enjoy it for much longer than five minutes? I did sit down on the bench for a few minutes to try to dry off and enjoy the bits of water hitting my face. The guide was ready to start heading back and since the other Americans were going I agreed. After a few minutes of talking with the group, my guide came over to me and said, “Please continue walking with you group, because I have to go make my poo poo and I will come back to you.” He rendered me momentarily speechless with these words. Although, a few thoughts went through my mind at this proclamation. First and foremost was that this was entirely too much information for me and my prudish ears. Secondly, we were in the middle of the woods and he wasn’t carrying toilet paper. I was also wondering if he was going to want to shake my hand at the end of our tour. I also felt the kind of sympathy you feel for someone who has been completely honest about themselves and their situation in a way that you might never be with anyone. So, despite all of my issues, I hid them all and told him to take his time and that I would be fine.

This American group was quite fascinating. They had just returned from touring Benin and Togo and told me how happy they were to be back in Ghana which has far more developed facilities than either of the other two countries. The group had traveled the world together and some of the members had been to more than one hundred countries. You would never know that they were such adventurous travelers by looking at them. Many were from Wisconsin and Minnesota and looked exactly like someone you might meet there – pale, slightly chubby, big smile, high-waisted pants. They did not look like the kind of people who could wax poetically about their time in Cameroon or Laos. One woman told me that she tries to travel with this group at least four times a year and her favorite places so far are Kenya and Cambodia. The group leader had just returned from Nicaragua and also told me a bit about his time in Burkina Faso, of which he said that Ouagadougou might be the worst city that he has ever been to. Not that there is any need to further prove how small the world is and that we truly are connected to everyone by about 7 degrees of separation, one of the women knew a shaggy member of Sig Tau who is the son of a colleague. For those of you reading this not from Pomona, Sig Tau is the pseudo-fraternity that Mike was in at Pomona. The group waved goodbye as I went to find a way to get to Mt. Afadjato from Wli. I was determined to climb the next mountain.

The guide told me he was going to get me a motorbike and I told him, “No, thanks.” He insisted saying that it was only 8km and would not take long on the bike and that it was very safe. After drinking a coke and waiting for about 15 minutes, the bike showed up and asked for $8 to take me there. Insulted by the degree to which this guy wanted to rob me, I refused and told him I would pay no more than $5. He said that was no good for him. I looked around and saw no other tourists anywhere in the vicinity. In fact, I had been the first all day and the day was more than half over. I understand the need to set a fair price considering the expense of fuel in this country, but he was willing to lose potentially his only customer of the day. Finally, he asked me if expected him to wait for me as I climbed the mountain. I told him that that was not necessary, so he then said he would take me for $5. Even though I had used that number a few minutes before, it still felt higher than I needed to pay considering a tro-tro was $1. Perhaps this starts seeming a little silly, but when you know what the locals pay (I found out later that it should have been the equivalent of 60 cents) it is easy to get stubborn about not getting ripped off. While this negotiation was taking place, a taxi with several people waited for me to decide whether I was going back to Hohoe with them or take the motorbike. One of the passengers finally said to me, “Obruni, let us go.” I took that as my cue to hop in the cab and take my chances with finding a tro-tro to the mountain. It was early in the day and I had nothing else to do.

Several people directed me to the makeshift tro-tro station in the small city. A man called me over to ask where I was going. He was selling tickets for the tro-tros which were small scraps of paper that he scribbled numbers on. He pointed to a rather broken down taxi and told me that that was my tro-tro. I think it was a Honda from the 1970s, perhaps one of the originals. They told me that I was the first to arrive to go that direction but that I was welcome to pay to cover the remaining passengers. Knowing that this would have brought me back to the $5 that I had refused to pay the motorcyclist, I said that I was fine with waiting. I got out the Sudoku book that is starting to get a little tired looking and wrote the little numbers in while the tro-tro team watched with curiosity. People came and went and I couldn’t quite tell whether they were joining my cab or not. After 45 minutes of sitting there, I was starting to question my stubbornness in refusing to pay the $5. I so did not want to be wrong in this situation. I passed more time by taking pictures of the people who worked in the area. If I ventured too far from the taxi, the tro-tro ticket person would call me back and tell me to sit back down. Nearly two hours passed by the time we were one person shy of a full cab. The ticket man turned to me and asked if I wanted to pay to cover the one remaining seat. I asked him why he only asked me, seeing as there were 4 other passengers currently signed up. When I suggested that we all split it, he laughed. I did not see what was funny, but was again starting to question my tyrannical stubbornness at refusing to pay an extra few dollars to get going. Luckily for my sanity, another man showed up and we were off – 4 in the back and 2 in the front, not including the driver. At some point on the road, we picked up someone else who managed to share the driver’s seat. It was a packed car on a hot day. It was a hot day, but dark clouds were fast approaching. I again started hoping to not have to regret my decision not to pay the $5 because of weather I would have missed had I just paid.

The driver dropped me off and called over a friend to be my guide to the reception office. He seemed nice, but I was wary of being asked for any more money to walk my towards a well marked landmark. Mt. Afadjato is another eco-tourism, community-building project. This particular one was started by the Netherlands, but is now completely run by the townspeople of Afadjato. A few of the employees were sleeping when the guide and I arrived and were happy to wake up, take my money, and allow the guide to take me up the mountain. He promised me that he climbs the mountain nearly everyday and leads groups to the top often. We began the ascent and I was soon breathing quite heavily. He had assured me that this was much easier than the Wli Falls hike, but perhaps that was an exaggeration. It was not as steep, but it still did not have many switchbacks. Every once in a while, the guide would look back and me and tell me what a great job I was doing. It was nice to hear, but also made me feel old and fat. I wondered if he really meant that or was just hoping it would speed me up so we could get this hike over and done with. I took a few breathers and snapped some photos. There were many butterflies fluttering around us, which were certainly worth taking a moment to look at. I assured the guide that I would take less time descending and he replied with more reassuring comments such as, “You are doing a great job. You are climbing a mountain which is not easy.” It could have been considered pandering if it had been an American, but this Ghanaian seemed genuine in his encouragement.

It felt like we were in the middle of a dense tropical forest. There were cocoa and mango trees and the pathway was only wide enough for one of us to pass. I grabbed onto trees and strategically placed wooden stakes, but not before looking to make sure there were no insects crawling on them. I had made the mistake earlier in the hike and let out a slight scream in an otherwise completely silent space. The area was quiet enough that an antelope came close enough for us to hear it walking around. I kept looking up to see whether I could tell if we were near the top. The coverage was so thick that it was impossible to tell. I vacillated between telling myself that it was probably just a little bit further and that I should just relax because I am probably only half way. The top finally came though. I had made it to the highest peak in West Africa. In theory, one can see all the way to Lake Volta, but the evening fog had rolled in blocking the distant views. The town of Afadjato looked very small and very far away. The surrounding area was predominantly covered in green leafy trees interspersed with small clusters of brown houses. It was worth all of the fuss it had taken to get there.

As predicted, the trip back down took far less time and was much more fun. It was easier to enjoy the fresh, clean air and the interesting flying insects. Cicadas broke the silence in several parts of the trail. We emerged from the thicket and found the trail employees still resting where we had left them. One asked me to sign the guest book before leaving. The guide walked me back to his town where he assured me that I would get a tro-tro back to Hohoe for the night. The town was pretty well consumed in funeral related activities. Music was playing and people were dancing. I was offered some palm wine, but the intense smell was enough to get an idea of the taste. A taxi apparently passed while we had veered off the road to take a closer look at the people dancing. Many wore red and were dancing in a spiraling conga line. There were some adding hand and hip gestures which made it more of a Ghanaian conga line. We returned to the road and watched and waited as no cars passed.

No cars passed for well over an hour. Not one. I was still told, “Oh, a tro-tro will come” and “Don’t worry, you will get a ride tonight.” There were many people there for the funeral, so I just assumed that cars would be arriving rather frequently to shuttle people back to the town. The low point came when the guide told me that although many of the other people waiting for a taxi were probably just going to sleep in the village that night and that I was the only one who needed to get back to the city. I figured that I wouldn’t get worried until it got dark, which it did about 15 minutes after I had decided on this. There was no electricity in the town, so it got very dark. Torches and generators kept visibility a bit higher. I was starting to regret not paying the $8 to get the motorbike to take me in and shuttle me out. The situation was looking a little bleak. Adding to the stress was the fact that my things were left in the expensive $32 a night chalet. I did not want to have to pay for my luggage to stay in the chalet, while I slept in a small village on the side of a mountain with no electricity and no transportation. The young guy who had been my guide had stuck with me the whole time. He only ventured off occasionally to see if he could find anyone who was driving to a more populous town. This is where the benefit of traveling alone comes in. It really becomes everyone’s mission to make sure that you are safe and secure. The little town had quite a few people who were working hard to find a way for me to get to Hohoe. I was so tired from the day of hikes and the lack of food that I couldn’t do much more than sit and watch. At one point the guide told me that this is actually a rather common problem. He said that transportation is one of the town’s greatest challenges and, as a result, everything takes longer to get done and sometimes things do not get done on the day they are supposed to because people are waiting so long for a car that never arrives. I couldn’t imagine, although I sort of could since I was now temporarily in the situation. It must make working outside of the city nearly impossible and college age students could not live with their families.

At long last a private tro-tro shaped vehicle arrived. The driver said that he would not take any other passengers than the ones who had paid earlier in the day for transportation. The guide pleaded and negotiated to get me on board. He asked me to wait a ways away and then called me to quickly board the bus. The bus moved a bit and then stopped. The guide told me to get off. I didn’t understand and really didn’t want to get off the one vehicle I had seen in four hours. He was pretty insistent though. Apparently, there were enough people for a second bus to Hohoe. The current passenger group was not going that far and the driver planned to drop off this group and then return for all of the Hohoe bound passengers. It took a lot of trust and faith, but I got off the bus. It left, but returned about thirty minutes later. It was a happy site and I was one of the first to get back on. The driver asked each of us for $2.00, which seemed entirely reasonable to me. People started getting off of the bus though, saying that it should be no more than $1.80. They were jeopardizing our one potential escape for 20 cents. I tried to be understanding and social worky, but really had a hard time with it in my tired and exasperated state. The driver started saying that he would not drive us if there were not enough passengers willing to pay the $2. The guide stood by the window reassuring me that he was going to go eventually; they were just all working out the payment. I don’t know what was said but everyone got back on the bus and we left the nice little town that I ended spending more time than anticipated.

The tro-tro was quite the party bus because of all of the funeral attendants. Several had beer and wine and were passing it around the bus for everyone to enjoy. I abstained, but joined in the fun when they asked what my name is. I said it once and then decided to switch to the Ghanaian name. This threw them all into hysterics. For some reason, it is incredibly easy for me to be entertaining here. The windows were all open, which was nice except for the fact that my cotton shirt had not quite dried. The cool air was chilly. The large Ghanaian woman next to me was squeezed in next to me so that we could fit 4 people in a seat built for 3. I moved closer to her hoping that her soft rolls could keep me warm. She didn’t seem to notice and even accidentally put her wrap over my goose bump covered knee a few times. I asked her if she thought the tro-tro could drop me off near the hotel. She asked the driver and he gave a wave that he would. Someone turned around and asked me how I would know my way there. I said that I would just look for the sign. He said that we were on a side without a sign, but that he would be able to point me in the right direction. That seemed helpful. I hadn’t anticipated not being able to find my way.

The tro-tro stopped, the man pointed, and the bus gave a collective wave with a honk and shouts of “bye-bye.” I was a stranger in a strange land, but the hospitality of Ghanaians always made me feel like I was amongst friends. It was so late and I was so famished that I put off showering for a little while longer to get dinner. I ate an unusual variation of mac and cheese with mud covered ankles and calves. I think a few dead bugs were encased in salt on my legs. Dinner was actually perfect. I had macaroni with a cheese that was a cross between parmesan and Swiss. It tasted heavenly and was so relaxing. The only odd thing about dinner, besides for the fact that I was alone in the restaurant, was that they appeared to be playing the same song over and over. The music here tends to be a bit repetitive. I must have listened to the song ten times over the course of dinner and it was still playing in my head the next day.

At the hotel, I asked if the light could be fixed in my bathroom so I wouldn’t have to shower in the dark. The hotel employee told me there was a problem with the light in this one bathroom and shrugged his shoulders at me. Despite the darkness, the shower experience overall was very nice. The water was above room temperature and I did not have to hold the shower handle. I think I got most of the dirt off. After reading for a while, I fell asleep with the light on only to be woken up when I felt something land in my hand. Hmmm, that is odd. I opened my eyes and realized that the light was on and that bugs had come through the window to get close to the light source. They were all over my pillow and sheets. I didn’t have my contacts in so I couldn’t tell how many were on the ceiling, which was probably a good thing. I made some erratic sweeping motions and turned the light off and willed them all away. By morning they had gone, but that feeling of the bug landing in my hand was permanently etched into my memory. I went back to the Taste Lodge for my last meal in Hohoe, an omelet and Milo. Both were delicious. It walked to the main tro-tro station with transportation to Accra. I ended up walking more than twice as far as I needed to, but managed to find a tro-tro nearly half filled. It wouldn’t be too long of a wait. We left forty five minutes later and the tro-tro shaved two hours off of the trip back to the capital. A short cab ride later and I was back at home sweet hostel.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Hippopotamuses

The bus to Wa hit the same bumpy roads as the taxi, but seemed to be able to navigate them better. Although the bus shook furiously, it was tempered somewhat compared with the car. My legs at least didn’t fall asleep and I wasn’t as worried that the bumpiness was going to cause my computer to malfunction. The young guy that I sat next to was incredibly polite and told me a bit about his neighborhood. He had been traveling to attend school, but tried to return most weekends to visit his family. He got out at a village that looked like it had limited, if any, electricity. All of the houses were expertly made of mud meaning that, despite their building material, they appear similar in shape and size to small homes in the US. They are the ultimate “green” houses. The religious leader got off a few stops after the boy, leaving me with three seats to myself.

I had noticed several foreigners get on the bus and I thought I heard them say they were going to the Wechiau Hippo Sanctuary. When the bus stopped in Wa, I went over to the lone female of the group and asked if they would want to share a can or coordinate travel together. Really, I just didn’t want to be alone in the tro-tro station surrounded by aggressive taxi drivers trying to get my money. They were all British university students and were more than willing to let me tag alone with them. There was Daisy, two Peters and a Paul. I never quite figured out who was who amongst the guys, but usually assumed I was talking to Peter. We negotiated a fee for a taxi to get us the 50km to Wechaiu and the additional 17km to the hippo sanctuary. I felt a little guilty because, although I was helping them out a bit monetarily, I also became the fourth person to squeeze into the back of the taxi. They didn’t seem to mind too much.

Although we were now entering a very remote area of Ghana near the Burkina Faso border, the roads smoothed out. They were still dirt and we had to veer off in parts to avoid road construction, but they didn’t have the jolting bumps of the earlier roads. We drove past small villages that had to be populated by no more than 30 or 40 people. Children ran out to wave at us and everyone in the car excitedly waved back. At one point, a child who had been standing with his friends on a bridge crossed in front of the car. The driver honked and then stopped his vehicle to get out of the car and slap the child. He hit him about five times before a woman from the village came over to tell him to stop. It was pretty horrifying to imagine a stranger beating a child who had let his own excitement get the better of him. It seems like the system in the US of slowing down when you are driving by children is a pretty good general rule. I don’t quite understand why some people here feel that children should inherently understand the danger of cars. I wondered if we could tell him that we were going to pay him less because of his violent outburst.

We arrived at the reception area of the hippo sanctuary. The beauty of this project is that, like the Kakum canopy walk, it was started by outsiders but now runs by locals. The profits are all reinvested into the community. Also like Kakum, it had an environmental motive. Hippos were discovered by a fisherman whose fishing net had been destroyed by a hippo. He had used a microloan to buy the net and now would not be able to pay it back. He wanted the town to help him. This was the first they had heard of hippos being in their neighborhood, although it seems that poaching and hunting of hippos had occurred in the area for some time. Once the town verified that hippos existed there was a lot of debate about what should be done about them. Eventually, someone proposed a community supported sanctuary and a Peace Corps volunteer came in to get all of the neighboring villages to agree to the various rules of the sanctuary, including harsh penalties for anyone responsible for killing a hippo. The volunteer helped to construct the motel and from then on the sanctuary has expanded and hired more people to support it.

The little reception building was like a hippo shrine. The community is very proud of the presence of hippos there. The reception employee greeted us and robotically detailed all of the important information for our stay at the sanctuary. He reminded us that hippos were wild animals and he could not predict whether we would see them in the morning or afternoon or at all. I am not sure why so many people in this field feel the need to tell people that elephants or hippos are “wild animals.” I wonder if many foreigners come to these sites not understanding that fact. We were told that all of the hippo hideouts (where you could sleep elevated above hippo feeding grounds) were taken, so we opted to sleep on the tree platform.

Children confronted us outside the hippo reception site asking for my plastic bottle of water. I told them that I hadn’t finished it yet, but would give it to them when I returned the next day. I am not sure what people use the plastic bottles for but all of them disappear when I leave them near the dumpster at my hostel. It makes me feel a little less guilty about consuming so much plastic. The taxi driver shooed the children away from us and reluctantly drove us the rest of the way for which we had bargained. A hippo guide joined us for our stay at the sanctuary. He was also responsible for helping us to start a fire to cook our food. The taxi driver dropped us outside of a stone and stick structure. There wasn’t much to it and certainly not a lot of electricity. I had been told that only bucket showers were available, not a problem after my months of bucket showering, and there was no food for sale, so we had to bring our own food. Although I had lots of Luna bars and peanut butter crackers with me, I hadn’t thought to bring a flashlight. The group of British university students got their flashlights and headlamps out in preparation. They also brought Ramen noodles for dinner. I was impressed. After a quick walk down to the banks of the Black Volta River, we went back to camp for dinner.

Although somewhat self conscious, I got the crackers out and ate my second Luna bar of the day while my companions feasted on undercooked noodles. During our walk, the guide set up mats on the tree platform and fastened mosquito nets around them. We chatted for a bit, but as night descended and we all needed to be up early the group staggered to bed. I discovered my little key-ring flashlight and brought that to bed with me in case I needed to find a bathroom in the middle of the night. I desperately hoped that that would not be necessary. Daisy, the lone female of the Brits, and I had attempted to use the bathroom facility. It was a wooden outhouse structure with a large wooden box to potentially sit on. The set-up was incredible awkward and there seem to be noises of bugs or geckos falling from the ceiling. I told Daisy she could go for it, but I was going to find a bush. As we sat up in our tree platform, fires from the little villages dotted the landscape. There was no noise. It reminded me of an evening in Joshua Tree when I first discovered what real noiselessness sounded like. It didn’t quite remain that silent through the night, however. I was awoken by an owl that made noises like an alarm clock. A few hours later I realized how cold I was, a first during my time here. I willed the cold away not wanting to venture into our dark luggage storage room. Around 4:30am, the local soccer team began the daily workouts and chanted songs. At that hour, I imagined it was a band of rogue Burkinabe coming to cause a ruckus in its neighbor. I hoped they wouldn’t find us in the tree.

We woke up at 6am to head out on the water and see what the hippos were up to. The guide couldn’t tell us which time of day was better for hippo sightings, but since the elephants were more active in the morning, it stood to reason that it would be the same for hippos. We walked down to the river and watched two other guides struggle to get a motorbike started so they wouldn’t have to walk to the river. I put on my well worn and smelly lifejacket and entered the wooden dugout canoe. There was quite a bit of water in the canoe, but it seemed to float without a problem. We pushed off from the shore with someone on each of the canoe seats. The motor cycles guides were in their own canoe off to get the people who stayed in the hippo hideouts. Several fishermen were out on the water and the guide asked if they had seen any hippos that day. I was so happy to hear that they were around. Despite the risk or imagined risk of the boat ride, I didn’t want to come to such a remote area of the world and not see this fascinating creature. I had come too far.

The guide sat behind me and an oarsmen stood behind him. The guide was incredibly soft-spoken and I felt a little guilty joining the Brits and then being the only one to benefit from this guide. The oarsmen switched between a rounded paddle and a long stick to move us along. After about 45 minutes, I could see them in the distance. Their ears were just peaking above the water. It was clear though that there were enough ear-shapes that it couldn’t be a collection of rocks. I pointed toward the ears and asked the guide if those were the hippos. When he nodded, I felt like a kid at the circus for the first time. We were going to get to see them! After a bit more paddling, we stopped about 100 feet from them.

The hippos were quite relaxed, which was a good thing. They bobbed up and down and in and out of the water. When they came up for air, they would snort out the water from their noses and wiggle their ears to shake the water out. There were about ten hippos in all. There was one male who kept an eye on us the whole time. He seemed to go under the water and then come up again hoping we had disappeared. He was surrounded by a group of female hippos who also went under the water a lot, but seemed to be less concerned with us. There were also several baby hippos. Baby hippos have to be one of the cutest babies of the animal kingdom, maybe even cuter than puppies. The little ones went up and down a little more frequently and shook their eyes out a little more vigorously than the adults. For about an hour, we started at the hippos and they stared back at us. It was pretty fun with nothing else to do but float on the river and look at the hippos.

The guide told us to signal to him when we wanted to paddle back. Comments like this usually end up resulting in a change of action, so the Brits agreed that they were ready to head back. Before finishing up our journey, we paddled over to the Burkina Faso side of the river and entered the country illegally and just long enough to take a photo. Amazingly, considering the proximity of the hippos, children had been swimming from the banks of this part of the river. The water was a pretty muddy brown. Even without hippos, I don’t think I would want to go in there. I nearly had the opportunity to try it though because, as I got out of the canoe, I stepped on some slick mud and flailed around a bit before finally falling back into the canoe. The guide had even said not to step where I was stepping and I just don’t know if I was overconfident in my own abilities or in the mud’s to hold me. Regardless, it was a poor calculation on my part and I just hoped to not turn too red from my mortification. The memory of the little hippos helped me to forget my clumsiness as we returned to the camp.

A driver picked us up a few hours later and returned us to the sanctuary reception site. I handed over my plastic bottle to one lucky child. The “tro-tro” was just a few paces ahead and we were told to rush over before it left. I am putting tro-tro in quotes here, because, while I am comfortable with old VW vans serving as an informal bus system, it does seem to be appropriate to fashion a few wooden benches to the back of a truck and charge money for this service. I felt better when the Brits told me that had ridden in something similar in an earlier part of the trip. If I survived the trip from Dalamango to Mole National Park at dawn, I could make it the 50km in the back of this truck. It did seem far though. There were about 14 of us in the back and another three in the cab of the truck. I don’t understand what happened, but at the first village we passed, several irate women were yelling at the driver. They wanted to add another four in the back along with three children. The 6’3 Peter/Paul of the Brits was asked to move down and when he said he physically couldn’t move, they bumped him to the cab and someone else joined us in back. Several people got on top of the structure covering the truck that also contained most of the luggage.

One thing I really loved about the north of the country was the population’s use of bicycles. There were more bikes than cars and you would see people of all ages riding bikes around. It was great. This trend needs to catch on in Accra. We stopped outside of a market for a bit. There were bicycle repairmen working on about 10 bikes. Several others were selling bikes. A group of children gathered around the truck to look at us. They waved and then we waved back and then they waved again. Daisy couldn’t believe that they could just stare at us like that and enjoy watching us do nothing. I realized this was sort of what we were doing in the canoe that morning and said to her, “Do you think it is kind of like we are the hippos and the children are us staring at the hippos sitting in the water?”

We arrived in Wa and I continued to follow the nice group around. I booked a room in the same motel they wanted to stay in. My room left a lot to be desired. I had turned down the first room because the mattress sat directly on the floor. The second one was better but I didn’t understand why the walls were so dirty. I imagined that it was similar to a room in a white collar prison. I also paid only for a shared bathroom. The toilet and shower were in separate rooms. The best part was that the toilet had no seat. It seemed that any hotel, even a budget one, would opt for seatless toilets. It was only for one night though. It was kind of ironic though when I yearned for the freedom of being able to just go outside in Wechaiu. Outdoors seemed much cleaner than this toilet. The shower was also interesting and I definitely kept my flip flops on. The group decided to splurge a bit and go to the nicest hotel in Wa and get dinner there. I was up for it, especially since I didn’t really want to eat alone. The tables of the restaurant at the Upland Hotel sat beneath a gazebo. It seemed to be a popular hangout for Peace Corps volunteers. I ordered the “authentic” Caesar salad. Nearly an hour after ordering, the food finally arrived. I was confused by the hotel’s need to include “authentic” since it was anything but. Heinz sells a product here called salad cream. I think it might be a form of mayonnaise. This was the dressing for my Caesar salad. I had assumed that parmesan was just a typo for parmesan, but no cheese was found on the salad. My hopes had been high because I had recently had an incredible Caesar salad at Monsoon, an upscale Accra restaurant that served Ghana’s only decent sushi. Upland’s Caesar was not as good as Monsoon’s, but it was pretty nice after eating Luna bars and crackers for the last day and a half. I also ordered penne all’arrabiatta. It was really nice. I hadn’t eaten pasta in so long I forgot how pleasurable the texture is to bite into.

The next day, the Brits came to get me to join them for breakfast. I thought our egg breakfasts were pretty nice, but they all seemed ready to go back to English food. It seemed ironic since I had struggled to find good food in England and found Ghanaian food to be much better. We walked around a bit and then headed to the bus station to board one of three buses during the week to departs for Accra. It left a little late, but I was fine with that since I was told the bus would arrive at the capital sometime between 2 and 3am. It didn’t seem like a favorable time to arrive a city alone. The tall Brit sat next to me. I lucked out and got the window seat and was a little sad to say goodbye to the interesting landscape of Ghana’s north. It had been so nice to sleep outside and be in nature for a few days. Timing was everything on the trip too. If Fanny, Graham and I hadn’t taken the taxi, I might not have seen the elephants. If I hadn’t seen the elephants, then I might have stayed longer and not seen the hippos. Maybe it was a fortuitous that the bus broke down because if that hadn’t happened, the weekend might have turned out quite differently and not nearly as interesting. Just like the bus earlier in the weekend, the Wa-Accra bus arrived a few hours late. I pulled into Accra at 5:00am and caught a taxi to get home and try to get a few hours of sleep so as not to pull my second all-nighter in four nights. Not that my bed here is anything special, but being away and sleeping in some funny places made it seem like a temper-pedic. If it felt like good to return to my modest hostel room, I can only imagine what returning to Boston is going to feel like.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Mole National Park

We officially arrived at Mole Park at 7:20, just before the first guided safari. After the journey there, it seemed kind of crazy to continue on without sleep and a shower, but the hotel told us that they had way overbooked and we were unlikely to get a room. I was skeptical, but didn’t have much of a choice to leave our bags behind the desk and head out on the tour. This actually ended up being quite fortuitous, because as we walked out of the reception room and toward the beginning of the tour we came across an adult elephant. He was right there, in between the lodges and on the main dirt road. A Land Rover had to come to a stop to let the elephant pass. I was close enough that I could have walked over and touched him, but I figured he probably preferred that I stay back. Everyone around was quite taken with the elephant. He was fascinating to watch as he slowly meandered around eating leaves and swinging his trunk. We joined up with a group that had just started. Immediately I got a sense that the group might be trouble. There always seems to be one odd person in a tour group that dominates questions and comments. I think we had about four of these people, but it started with the question of whether the park named the elephants. The park ranger responded that the park named them initially but then opted against it because “they are wild animals, not people.” Maybe that question wouldn’t have been so bad if it hadn’t been followed with a persistent line of questions related to the elephants’ names including “will we see the elephants with names?” and “do they like their names?” We spent altogether too much time on this inane subject, but the good part was that we were in fact seeing elephants or at least the one who was walking around near us.

The big guy ended up deciding to head toward the waterhole so we all made a quick motion to get out of his way. He had no difficulty getting down the steep, muddy path we were descending. In the distance you could see other elephants relaxing in the water. There were about eight full size elephants in the water up to their trunks. Once we arrived at the small lake, the guide pointed out a crocodile who was sitting on the shore with his mouth open. He was not near us, but his wide mouth and sharp teeth were apparent even from a distance. We watched the elephant from the beginning of the tour enter the lake. He made giant, muddy footprints as he walked into the lake and sucked up water into his trunks before spraying it into his mouth. The elephants seemed pretty content to cool off in the water. Several groups were dotted around the lake watching them. Although they weren’t very active, it was still amazing to be so close to a large animal in its natural habitat. They were free to move around and could come over to us at any point. The guide did carry a rifle on the tour. There are lions in parts of the park, so he has to be prepared. He said though, that he would never have to shoot an animal. Firing the gun in the air is enough to scare the animals to run away. The park houses nearly 600 elephants and they have been growing in numbers since the park started taking conservation seriously. Poaching still exists in northern parts of the park that are rarely traveled by park rangers or tourists.

The group walked over to a waterhole lookout platform. One of the guys with the elephant-name woman made clever jokes about seeing obrunis in the park. It probably wouldn’t have seemed so irritating at the time, but since I had been on a bus, a taxi, and a truck for the past 25 hours I didn’t have a tremendous amount of patience. The other problem with this fellow is that as soon as we saw a monkey, he decided to make monkey noises at it. The poor animal was terrified and sprinted away from us. It might have been a good time for the ranger to use his rifle. The platform elevated our perspective of the lake by about 15 feet and was a great way to look out at the African landscape. It felt like I was in the Serengeti spying on all of this wild activity. We definitely lucked out on the tour and saw several types of monkeys, antelope and deer. The guide pointed out plants that are used for traditional medicine. The flowers on one small tree apparently are the plant world’s Viagra. The monkey noise man had a field day with that one. Interestingly, the Viagra tree has a symbiotic relationship with another flowering tree that is said to cure female issues. Speaking of symbiotic relationships, because I find them generally quite fascinating, there is a small white bird that follows the elephants around. It likes to eat ticks off of the elephants’ backs. We saw quite a few little birds waddling slowly behind the elephants. They waited on the side of the lake for the elephants to emerge.

The tour ended after about an hour when the ranger got a call on his cell phone that he needed to go somewhere for another job. We walked back up to the lodge on a different path and could see quite a way across the park. The elephants hadn’t moved much during the hour of our tour. It seemed very lucky that we were able to catch the one on his way to the lake. In other lucky news, the Mole Motel managed to find a room for me, Graham and Fanny (and they were willing to share the room with me). We dropped our things in the room and headed to the restaurant for some much needed breakfast. After eating and showering, we opted to return to Larabanga, the little town that we had driven through around 6:00 that morning. Larabanga is known for one of the best examples of the Sahel-style mud and pole mosques.

We negotiated with a driver of an SUV who takes guests from the motel to Larabanga. Northern Ghanaians who work in tourist related jobs are the most aggressive negotiators I have seen in the country. I had assumed that these people worked for the motel and provided the service for a fee. It seems that there are independent and are in competition with the Land Rovers owned by the motel. It was sort of confusing and frustrating to deal with these people who were clearly trying to rip us off – they kept saying how far it is and how much time it would take in a whiny voice for us to feel sorry for them because they had to cart us around even though we were paying. They wanted to know exactly how long we would be in the city and finally we agreed on a fare and an amount of time. It made for a rather unpleasant and seemingly unnecessary experience, since this was clearly a great opportunity for the motel to make more money and provide a less stressful way for tourists to see the neighboring towns. We arrived in Larabanga and the driver showed us to the “tourist office.” I walked into the one room structure and was confronted by a completely empty room. There wasn’t a desk or any pamphlets. In walked a man saying he worked for the tourist office and could connect us with a guide to the town. It is quite a small town without a lot of attractions so we figured that we could probably find our way on our own. Plus, people of all ages had been persistently asking to be our tour guides to the town. This, combined with people asking us for money, made me just want to walk around on my own. I had had enough of people asking me for more money on this trip. We walked in between mudbrick homes to get to the mosque. A few had fences with interesting designs that I learned was a calendar.

The Larabanga mosque was different from any building I had ever seen. White conical shapes create much of the building structure and they seem to be supported by substantial wooden poles. The door into the mosque is very low and those looking to pray needed to bend low at the waist to enter. We were not welcome in the mosque, but we could peek in to see everyone praying on their mats. Kids surrounded us excited to tell us more about their mosque and to walk with us around the town. We wondered around a bit looking at the tranquil town with its myriad mud homes and then went back to the designated meeting spot so as not to be late for the testy SUV driver. We waited there along with many of the town’s children. They really enjoyed watching us and holding our hands. At one point I had two children hanging onto my right arm and one on my left. Fanny was similarly surrounded. They were all very sweet and didn’t ask for money. They seemed rather starved for attention and stimulation. We provided some entertainment just by standing around. After the driver finished all of his errands, he came over to pick us up and we enthusiastically waved goodbye to the children.

Back at Mole, Fanny opted to take a nap and Graham and I went on the second and final tour of the day. Despite our lethargy, it was definitely a good thing that we went in the morning. By the afternoon, the elephants had all moved away from the lake and we nowhere to be found. We did however see some fun other wildlife. 3pm seems to be the time that warthogs like to come out and feed. One had been grazing by a tree outside of our motel room. Throughout the tour we saw warthogs with the babies walking around and eating. They get down on their knees and scooch around to eat. I guess their necks don’t allow them to bend far enough down to eat on their feet. The little ones were very jumpy and skittish around the tour group, but the mothers didn’t seem phased by us. We also saw more species of deer, but only in the distance. Kop, a smaller deer species is prevalent in the park. After unsuccessfully finding elephants after about an hour, the tour guide thought we should head back.

Graham and Fanny headed back to the restaurant and I showered again. As I was emerging from the room to meet them, Fanny yelled to me that a baboon was headed my way. I peaked around the corner right as a baboon looked at me and crossed my path nearly 4 feet in front of me. I let him get a good head start and saw that he was walking over to join a few other baboons who were hanging out near the front of the reception area. There were a few in a tree looking out at the sunset. I realized how crazy it is that this motel is literally in the middle of the park. As the hotel guests are doing their own thing, the animals do their own thing near the guests. We went for a quick swim before dinner, ate our palatable food and then headed to bed early. I was awoken in the middle of the night by constant thunder and lightning. The thunder was so loud I thought the glass was going to break. The lightning too was so close and so constant that in my sleep deliriousness I was nervous about sleeping so close to the window.

Fanny and Graham had the fun task of waking up at 4am to catch the bus back to Tamale. They wanted to head back early and opted not to continue with me to the hippo sanctuary. I had to be up at 6:00am and get the only vehicle available to me as a single traveler, a motorbike. I had mentioned to the driver the day before that I had luggage and wanted a helmet. He showed up late with no helmet for me and threw my bag with War and Peace over his neck. I had my backpack on and then hopped aboard the bike. One of the rules of this internship is “Do not ride on motorcycles.” I tried! The hotel refused to take me alone to Larabanga to catch the bus to Wa. So, there I was on a bumpy dirt road riding a motorbike trying to stay both as close and as far away from him as possible. The air felt fresh though and it was pretty fun and felt very adventurous to be on the motorbike breaking the rules. The park was quiet and serene for 6 in the morning and I hoped to see a few more animals as a reward for being up that early. No luck though.

The driver dropped me off at a breakfast place that was inundated with flies. It took a lot of willpower not to freak about flies landing on my legs and buzzing around my face. I got out the Sudoku, but was quickly involved in conversation with a very articulate local. I commented on his excellent English and he told me that schools in the north have to use English as their teaching language because there are so many local dialects. Children in the north, thus receive far greater exposure to English than do children in other parts of the country. This is especially true in areas where Twi is spoken because, with its dominance as a local language, most teachers do not teach in English. Another young man was very curious about what I was doing in Larabanga and wanted to know if I had seen many of the animals. Apparently, elephants sometimes wander into the town. He offered to help me get on the bus and I was delightedly surprised that he was willing to help me for free. After meeting so many people asking for money in the town the day before, it was a nice contrast to meet locals who were polite and interesting and not interested in me for my money. I was pretty lucky that the young guy was willing to help me because as soon as the bus arrived, people swarmed around the doors. This is the only bus out of Laranbanga toward Wa each day, so if I didn’t make it I would going to have to head back to the park. Not that that was a terrible option, but when you are ready to leave a destination, you want it to happen as quickly and easily as possible. He helped me navigate my way through the crowd and pay my fee. A religious man and another young boy moved over so that I could sit with them. I was alone again, heading to a new place.

Buses, Taxis and Flat-bed Trucks

It all started so innocently. I arrived at 6:30am for my 7:00am bus departure time at the STC bus station. The bus left at 7:40 for Tamale, which was not a terribly delayed departure time. The trip was supposed to take 12 hours, but I decided to assume that I would be likely to arrive at 10pm. Fifteen hours on a bus sounded like an insane undertaking. It was all in an effort to see elephants and hippos and since it was Easter weekend and everything would be closed in the Christian south of the country, what else did I have to do that day. As the departure delay seemed imminent and I had awoken at dawn, I sat next to two other white girls who seemed to be traveling independently. The STC staff began calling passengers over to weigh their bags. Passengers pay by the weight of their luggage, excluding carry-ons. I was carrying War and Peace and my computer, so although my bags were ridiculously heavy for a weekend, it wasn’t due to bulk so I could just put them under my feet.

We loaded up the bus and sadly I was in seat 44, the second to the last row. I sat next to a Japanese medical student who was coming to Ghana to study how the Asian Development Bank is helping to eradicate Guinea worm in northern Ghana. We were off on our long journey and the first stop was to be Kumasi. Surprisingly, the bus driver stopped right outside of the city at a roadside market. I’m guessing the bus driver has some sort of relationship to the market people, because people loaded up on yams, plantains, and jugs of palm oil which were able to avoid the luggage weight fees. The passengers loaded up the aisle of bus with all of these goods. Interspersed between the fruits, tomatoes and oil were large bags that would not fit under the seat. This made for quite the obstacle course getting in and out of the bus. Under normal circumstances, a bus would only stop every two to three hours. However, this bus ride was to stop far more often.

Once we arrived in Kumasi, the bus drove off for a mechanic inspection. It was somewhat reassuring to know that the bus would be checked to verify that everything was working properly before entering the more remote areas of the country. As I stood there with my coke, bananas and groundnuts, a few of the other young foreigners gathered around. It was the first time I had been in a group of foreigners since arriving. Although it was nice to be able to share similar frustrations about cultural differences, it was also rather discomfiting. Ghanaians were all around us and I would imagine wouldn’t appreciate the commentary on their daily lives. Throughout the weekend I realized how beneficial it is that I am doing this experience as a solo undertaking. Group dynamics seem to elicit a focus on complaining. I don’t have anyone to complain to here, so I have no choice but to move on and not think about the problem for more than five minutes. There is of course the other side to this in that when I see or taste wonderful things that experience is usually heightened by sharing it with others who are also experiencing it for the first time.

The bus returned after about thirty minutes and we were off again. I noticed a peculiar noise coming from the engine and asked my Japanese neighbor what he thought of the sound. He didn’t seem too concerned, so I put my headphones on and figured that it would be just too clich√© to break down on a bus. Most of the blogs and travel books talk about buses breaking down rather regularly, but I assumed that was all an exaggeration. Well, I was wrong. It started with a high pitched beep. My #44 seat didn’t seem so bad at this point because the beep was very loud in the front but only mildly loud in the back. We pulled over. I had assumed the driver couldn’t take the noise anymore and needed a respite. Since it is still very hot here and you need the engine at least partially on to power the A/C, most exited the rapidly warming bus. I found a few of the foreigners who were sitting near the front to ask what had happened. They complained about the beep and said that at some point the dashboard controls all switched off. The driver was apparently forced over, but not because of the noise. This sounded a little more serious than just an annoying beep. One Ghana blogger I read talked about his bus breaking down just north of Kumasi and, despite the fact that it is a large STC hub, they refused to send a bus to rescue the passengers. This knowledge was a bit worrying considering my current situation.

I forgot to mention that when I first got on the bus I noticed a swarm of mosquitoes in the back. I sprayed on the DEET, but the mosquitoes gained in strength and numbers as the food began to spill and night descended on our stopped and well-let bus. I’m not sure at what point the belt came out, but after a series of starts and stops, the bus driver asked if anyone had a spare belt. I didn’t want to even see how he was about to fix the engine with this accessory. Eventually after the third, fourth or fifth stop though curiosity overcame me. The driver and few other mechanically inclined passengers had wrapped the belt around one part of the engine. Apparently we kept stopping because the belt would come lose and they would have to tie it up again. There was also a towel used for some purpose, but I couldn’t quite see. The belt seemed to hold for about fifteen minutes before giving way. The low point on the journey came when the 2nd Tamale bus passed us. It had been delayed in Accra until 12pm, which at first made me delighted to be on the 1st bus. So, this bus that left four hours after we did was now going to get to the destination considerably faster. Building off of this low moment, at the point when the driver finally realized that the bus was inoperable, he called to the 2nd Tamale bus to pick us all up. The bus was full, so it was going to have to drive the remaining two hours to Tamale and then turn around and drive two hours back to pick us up. We waited by the side of the road in the dark. We had broken down in the middle of nowhere, but the middle of nowhere contained a radio playing hip-life and a prostitute lying on the side of the road waving a white flag as cars drove by. Eventually, as more and more passengers exited the bus and rested on the side of the road, the prostitute moved away from the crowd. Thus, for a few hours we sat or lied down on the warm pavement of the road and looked out into the darkness of the African countryside.

The bus arrived a few hours later and we all boarded sleepy and excited to get to our next destination. So much for arriving in Tamale by my “I woke freak out if we don’t arrive before...” time of 10pm. It was 1:30am when the bus stopped at the station. A few other foreigners reserved a room in the same hostel as I did and an American guy and a German girl who were traveling together followed me there. The taxi brought the group of us there and dropped us off in front of a completely dark hotel. I had been calling through the bus debacle to assure them that I would be coming and to not give my hotel room away. The hotel told me that everything would be fine if I arrived before midnight. I explained that I was on a bus and did not have much control over when I arrived in their city. Well, apparently they decided not to wait up for me. One of the guys in the group of us standing outside the gate jumped over the fence to locate an employee. After walking around for a bit, he managed to wake someone up who came over to the gate and let us in. He asked how many of us reserved a room and two parties out of the three said that we had. He said that they only had two rooms left. It was sort of an odd coincidence and it definitely seemed that had we said all three of us reserved everyone would have gotten a room. I invited Fanny and Graham, the German girl and American guy respectively, to come to my room so they could call a few hotels to get a room. The hotel room was quite grim and I was not looking forward to sleeping for three hours before getting to the tro-tro yard at 4:30am to catch the first bus to Mole. They called around to no avail. I offered to let them stay in my small room. Eventually, we decided that we should just ditch the hotel room and ditch Tamale altogether and get in a taxi that night to take us to Mole park. The guidebooks said that it would cost about $60 a piece, which, when divided by three, was about what I was paying for the icky hotel room. It was now about 2:30 and we quietly left the key in the door and hopped over the fence to find a taxi.

It was very quiet out and there were only a few cars on the road. Eventually, a taxi pulled over and said that he would be happy to take us to the park for $60 and, yes, he has made the journey several times in his car so his car can definitely navigate the rough roads. Fanny and Graham hopped in the back and I got in the front and looked out the cracked windshield at the road in front of us. I was kind of hoping the journey would take us enough time so that we wouldn’t be arriving at the park at 4am – there are lions there that come out at night. Fanny went to sleep and Graham and I stayed a wake listening to the hip-life music the driver was blasting through his radio. The windows were also rolled down all of the way too, so my hair was all over the place. I was sure to have dreadlocks by the time we got to the park. Despite the cracked windshield and intense wind, the drive was amazing. The countryside was so picturesque. The north is known for having Sahel-style mud and stick mosques and perfectly circular mudbrick homes with palm frond roofs. The latter dotted the landscape and made me feel like I was back in time. The sky was very clear too and since there were no lights on, it was completely unobstructed by light pollution. It felt pretty magical to be driving along the African countryside in the middle of the night. It was sort of like a rougher version of that VW commercial with the kids in the convertible and Pink Moon playing in the background.

Despite the lush landscape and bright stars, the magic didn’t last more than an hour. At one point the driver stopped to run into one of the mudbrick homes that was lit to ask about the conditions of the road in front of us. I had been told that the road was “rough by Ghanaian standards.” I didn’t quite know what that meant since all of the roads I had been on here were quite smooth. I had a feeling though that I was in for something interesting. The driver returned and said that the road was clear enough for us to pass, but was very rough. I kind of imagined large boulders and big potholes. Instead it was small grooves that gave the sense of driving over rumble strips. The driver wanted to get through the rough section quickly, and even though I told him that we weren’t in a rush, he insisted on driving fast. The car shook furiously. I couldn’t keep my feet on the floor because they kept going numb from the vibrations. After about 45 minutes of this, I started being able to nod off, but it wasn’t easy. A particularly large rumble would shake me away. I couldn’t believe the taxi driver was willing to put his car through this for $60. It felt like the car would not survive and would certainly not survive the trip back to Tamale. One funny thing we saw repeated on the road over the course of the night were gangs of lambs and goats in the middle of the road. They very slowly moved to get out of the way of the car and I thought for sure we would drive over some. There was a rather big lump in one area but Graham assured me that he looked back and didn’t see a dead lamb on the road so it must have made it. An African jumping mouse passed in front of the car and Graham and I both swear that we saw a black rhinoceros, although I was told in Wechiau that rhinos don’t exist in Ghana and I probably saw a large warthog. The jury is still out as far as I am concerned. At some point. when it was starting to get light, something fell off the car. The driver told me that a few of his shocks broke. Yeah, no kidding. Thirty minutes later some part of the front brakes let go. The driver got out to look around and came back in to say that he thought we could make it but he wanted more money because it was rougher than he anticipated. We were pretty beholden to him, so we agreed to $20 more. It seemed pretty fair to me considering what we had gone through. Just outside of the town Damango, something happened to the steering. I think his front axel broke or was at least compromised. The left front wheel was no longer responding to the steering wheel. This brought our trip to a halt. We were about 20 miles away. So close, but still so far. Someone stopped to help direct us back to Damango to find a mechanic. It was 6:30am and I couldn’t imagine any mechanic working or interested in helping us that early in the morning, especially since it was a Saturday.

The taxi driver assured us that it would be a quick fix and that it would maybe take 30 minutes. I knew that if all of the fates in the universe conspired to help us, there was no way that a problem this serious would be fixed in 30 minutes. I felt the overwhelming sense that we had to get out of there otherwise we would be stuck in Damango with a broken down taxi and its driver who would undoubtedly ask us to pay for the repairs. The taxi driver walked off to find the mechanic. When a truck drove by, Fanny flagged him down and just said “Larabanga.” The driver nodded and motioned us to the rear of his truck and then headed for the town about a mile and a half outside of Mole. We tucked $60 in the side of the taxi door and I hoped that he would not chase us down for the remaining $20 since he technically did not get us to our destination. There we were though, sitting on a wooden platform looking out at the dirt road, getting blown around again and so, so close to the elephants. The first tour of the day started at 7:30am and I was thinking that we were just going to make it. Having left 24 hours before, we were so close. The driver brought us to Larabanga, which is about a mile and half from the park, and then said that he would be willing to take us all the way to the park. I naively looked at Graham and said, “Wow, we should really give him something to thank him.” Little did I know that our gift of $15 would be completely scoffed at. He told us that it meant nothing to him and we should give him $40. $40 for a half an hour of driving seemed a bit extreme and having been up all night, I was in no mood to be ripped off. I said that we were being more than generous and that I would give him $10 more but that was it.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Less than 30 days to go...

For the last week or so, I have been attempting to document my big Easter weekend trip to the North to see elephants and hippos. Fate has been conspiring to not allow me to type either due to logistical challenges or emotional. I like to write all of my posts in the right frame of mind. When I am sweaty and irritated, I would imagine the posts would come across much more negative than when I am freshly bucket-showered and sitting in front of a fan. Over the last few days while reflecting on the fact that I have less than a month to go, I am finding myself following various experiences with either “ready to go home” or “wish I could stay longer.” Tonight, just as I was about to sit down and get some typing done detailing my 25 hour long drive to see the elephants and sleeping outside on a tree platform, I was about to eat some Wheat Thins when I discovered thousands of ants inside the box. OK, ready to go home. This was also after watching an episode of CSI, so I was particularly bug sensitive. Soon after I discovered two small piles of what looks like dirt on the floor outside of my bureau. I was never able to open the bottom drawer to this bureau and as I see some mysterious substance emerging from the cracks, I am quite fearful of what it inside or what will soon emerge from the drawer. OK, ready to go home.

One other challenge of my living situation is that I have no weapons with which to attack these bugs. In Boston, I would quickly whip out the Windex and paper towels. Here I have the choice between dish soap and Raid. I tried the dish soap and it seems to have had little effect. I really can’t stomach the idea of spraying Raid next to the chair I am sitting on. The fan sits between me and the ant chair, so essentially I would be downwind of the Raid. Although I have succumbed to spraying 30% DEET on my body in order to protect myself from malaria, I can’t justify breathing in the toxic fumes of Raid just so that I don’t have to sit next to some ants. If it is not already obvious, I did remove the box of Wheat Thins to the outside garbage, but quite a few who didn’t make it into the box yet remain. So, as I am typing, ants are hanging out on the arm rest of the chair next to me. They seem quite busy. Perhaps they are still looking for some wheaty morsels left behind.

One reason that the ants congregated in such high numbers in my Wheat Thins is that I have been away all weekend. It was planned trip to Cape Coast, but the timing worked out perfectly because the power went out at the hostel the night before I left. This was supposed to be my big night of typing, but Mother Nature or the power company had other plans. When the power goes off here, it gets very dark and very hot. It has been in the low 90s most days and only cools down a few degrees at night. My room is typically 86 degrees, so the fan is pretty essential for sleeping. OK, ready to go home. The good news though is that the hostel provided me with a flashlight and my mini DVD player lasts six hours, so I was able to entertain myself enough in the dark until I was tired enough to sleep in the heat soaked room.

My weekend in Cape Coast was great. It had a mix of OK ready to go home moments as well as plenty of I wish I could stay longer moments. Cape Coast lies about 2 hours west of Accra. It is the usual first trip out of Accra that most people take, but I guess I never got around to it and the times that I planned to go got postponed for one reason or another. I got on the 4pm bus to Cape Coast around 6pm – OK, ready to go home – and arrived in the midst of a bunch of taxis awaiting my arrival at about 8:45. One graciously offered to drive me to my motel and only ripped me off by about twice what a local would pay. I get to the hotel and, even though I called that day and spoke with the manager to reserve a room, I am told that there was no information left by anyone about my reservation. I repeat that I spoke to the manager and he reserved a room for me for two nights. For some reason, the hotel employee seemed to take everything personally and started raising his voice at me saying that what did I want him to do, no one left any information about a reservation in my name and all of the rooms for $11 a night were full. At this point, I had really had it after sitting at a bus station for two hours and then sitting in traffic on a bus next to a smelly baby, then getting overcharged for a 5 minute cab ride; I didn’t need this clown yelling at me for no reason. Normally, I have really tried to be sensitive, but I am starting to see a strange pattern that these hotels employ. Actually there are two patterns 1) they all overbook and 2) they often say they are full even when they are not and are magically able to find rooms if you are willing to wait an hour or so. #1 I understand because credit cards are not used here so there is no way to guarantee that anyone will show up for the room that is reserved. However, this happens so often that there must be a better system or perhaps they should start measuring the attrition rate and then overbooking only by the average attrition rate just like airlines. #2 though is completely baffling to me. I asked another foreigner who had seen this before and she said that the hotels like to have the appearance of being full to customers. I guess it is like the trendy club theory in Los Angeles with the long lines out the door when in reality the bar is pretty empty. This seems like a strange business model for a crummy youth hostel though. All of this went through my head as this joker is yelling at me about his problems as a hotel employee. I held up my hand in a “talk to the hand” kind of fashion to get him to quiet down and calmly stated that I did not understand why he was yelling at me and that he should stop this instant and figure out what he is going to do for me since I had already spoken to his boss earlier in the day. He said that the manager went home a short time ago and how could he know for sure that I really spoke to the manager (what a bizarre thing to say to a customer, as if this was the Four Seasons I was trying to sneak into). I said that we should call him then and that I knew he would remember me… because we had to whole conversation about my last name being Wind or enframa in Twi. At some point in this crazy exchange, and really I was just fighting because I desperately needed a room, he again states that all of the $11 rooms are taken. I said well what other rooms do have then. He said I have a $14 room that has its own bathroom (the $11 one I reserved only had a shared bathroom). Immediately I responded with, “I’ll take it.” $3 more and I get my own bathroom, the choice was obvious. It was also in the “new wing” of the hotel. The room was totally fine, especially for $14. The toilet was unusually high because it was on some sort of concrete platform and when I leaned on the sink briefly it pulled away from the wall. It was pretty clean though and seemed safe, my two priorities at that point in the evening. I had not eaten yet, so when I asked about the hotel’s restaurant, the hotel man told me that I better rush up there because they stop serving some time between 9 and 10.

I dropped my things and ran up the five flight of steep stairs to find the waitstaff with theirs heads resting on a table and watching TV. I walked over to them and asked if there were still serving dinner and they nodded yes. I then asked for a menu and one of the staff slowly produced one from under her head. I walked myself over to one of the open tables and looked through the menu. I had heard that Cape Coast is known for its shrimp so I anticipatorily decided on the shrimp and fried yam and walked myself back to the TV watching servers and narrated my order. It was met with a shake of the head and the words “no yams, no shrimp.” Hmmm, fantastic. I begrudgingly settled on the French fries and fried fish. Despite the various frustrations of the day, when I sat down to read my book (Guns, Germs and Steel which, by the way. is a fabulous read and quite timely considering my current living situation) in the breezy, warm air of the coast a lot of those negative experiences kind of melted away or at least felt less bothersome. It was a little bothersome though to watch this waitress slowly saunter back and forth. I don’t think I have ever seen anyone move as slowly as this waitress. I ordered a straw just to make her apathetic body have to make the trip to the kitchen and back one extra time. My food would be cold by the time she picked it up off of the oven and brought it to my table. The food was fine though. Despite ketchup from China and fish with bones in it, everything tasted fine for 10 o’clock at night.

On Saturday, I woke up fresh and excited for the busy day ahead. I ate a Luna bar instead of going to the restaurant for breakfast in an attempt not let a lazy waitress delay the start of my day. Off I went to Kakum National Park. I was told that the best time to see animals at the park is first thing in the morning, although most of the guidebooks warn you not to get too excited about seeing animals because they no longer linger around areas where people tend to go. It didn’t really matter to me because the big attraction of the park is the canopy walk. Kakum has Africa’s only canopy walk and it hangs 40 meters above ground. It was constructed in 1995 by a Canadian and several Ghanaians and was clearly an attempt to protect the park and its inhabitants using an economic strategy. The canopy walk is a huge draw of both tourists and locals and has succeeded in reducing deforestation and poaching. It’s considered an economic success and has provided considerable financial resources to the surrounding communities. Since I was traveling alone, just getting to the canopy walk was a bit of an adventure. I took a cab to the tro-tro station and even though he charged me $1.50 when he would only have charged and Ghanaian $.30, he helped me find the right tro-tro to take to the park. I hopped aboard and crammed in with the locals and off we went in the rickety bus. People hopped on and off the bus and somehow the door operator was always able to remember who paid and how far each person had ridden. At a few points there were so many people in the bus that his rear end was sticking out the door and he clung to the front passenger seat to stay in the bus. They dropped me off in front of the park entrance and I paid my $.20 entrance fee to walk in on foot. I walked up a steep hill to finally get to the reception area of the park. It was quite stunning. They really did a great job with the design and construction of the building. There was a small museum to the left of the reception area and a Rainforest Caf√©, sans animatronic animals like the restaurant chain, to the right. A tour was about to start so I quickly paid my student rate and walked over to the sign that said “Wait here for your guide.” I waited there. A few minutes later a group of Ghanaians arrived and a smaller group of Germans who were attacked by the large ants they were standing above.

We started our ascent up to the canopies. I usually like to be near the front of guided hikes to hear the information from the tour guide. My experiences at Mole National Park the previous weekend made me realize that local guides tend to be soft-spoken and don’t always wait for the entire group to arrive before talking. Somehow I was relegated to the back of the Ghanaian group, however, but it allowed for interesting observations. One thing I noticed was that while I was in my sporty American clothing, several of the women were wearing their traditional African dresses on the tour. The ascent was steep and rocky and must have been incredibly difficult for them to navigate in their tight long skirts. Some of them had heels on too. I was impressed with their dedication to fashion, but assumed I was much more comfortable in shorts and sneakers. Another cultural divide became apparent at our first stop. Ghanaians seem to like soundtracks to accompany their lives. As I have mentioned before, radios or TVs are often on during meetings and often at volumes that strain normal conversation levels. One hiker decided to play the BBC radio on his cell phone as we were walking through the forest. At some point he must have noticed the snide glances from me or the Germans or the sign that stated “Do not make unnecessary noise in the forest” which was posted at our first stop because the BBC was at last turned off. Although, I think he may have switched to just listening to it over headphones. Who needs the news that badly? We were only out there for an hour. Regardless, it was a small initial annoyance in what was otherwise a truly incredible experience. The forest smelled wonderful and had lots of interesting plant life. The guidebooks were right in that we didn’t see any animals, but there were many interesting butterfly species and a huge millipede. The butterfly species that I saw included one that looked like it was flying with thin, white feathers and another landed on my hand that had eye-like dots on the tips of its wings. The dots are used to confuse predators into thinking that side is the head of the butterfly. The millipede was probably about 6 inches long and had a dramatic red stripe across its head. I guess one of the patterns of the Ashanti kente cloth was inspired by this marking.

The canopies are tethered from one very tall tree to the next using just ropes and cables. There is a narrow wooden platform that you walk on as you cross from one tree to the next. The guide had us go 4 at a time across the platform and again somehow I got stuck at the back. This time though the guide was also back with me so I could ask him questions about the canopy and the forest. Apparently, night is the best time to see animals such as the forest elephant and, while at first not all local tribes were in favor of the canopy walk, all of them wholeheartedly support it now and work collectively to ensure its success. I walked across the first canopy and as I do with any situation where I am quite fearful, smiled the whole way. The rope handles are at about eye level and the walk area gets pretty narrow as you step into it, so it makes for more of an awkward walking experience than a scary one. It does sway and bob up and down as people get on and off the canopy. The ropes seemed so secure though that at no point could I even imagine them breaking or slipping. The view from the bridge, if you could stomach it, was spectacular. It is a pretty odd sensation to be above the tree tops and looking down at a forest. There were so many different greens and you could see mist hanging over one part of the forest. Little platforms existed at the end of each canopy that about 6 people could rest on. Looking at the cables connected to the trees and the ropes hanging from the cables, I was thinking that the canopy architect may have used to same physics that go into suspension bridges. Regardless it was still high enough to be scary, but secure enough to make me exited to get on the next canopy. It took about 20 minutes to walk through all of the canopies and then we were all back safe and sound at the museum. The museum was a nice little museum that included information about the park as well as biodiversity and the importance of protecting the rain forests. It also housed the skull of a forest elephant, which is considerably smaller than the elephants I had seen at Mole. I guess they are quite rare to see in the park and only a few photographs exist of these small elephants.

Outside the park, I attempted to be quite travel savvy and wave a tro-tro down to take me back to Cape Coast. After 15 minutes of waiting and swatting away flies, a local girl and a few local guys said that I should walk with them to try to find a tro-tro because none were stopping there. After the usual questions of where am I from and am I married, (actually, this was the first time that, after I responded “yes,” a guy said to me “your husband let you come all the way to Ghana?” I said “well, I don’t need his permission and he didn’t have a choice.” I don’t think they quite understood though.) then we got into what has now become a tedious conversation to have with complete strangers and that is about my name. Heather is just not a common name here and even when I say that it is like “weather” but without the w, it takes people multiple tries and they keep trying even though I say, “sure, that’s pretty close.” Since they were helping me to get a tro-tro, I thought I would throw them a bone so that they could stop trying to pronounce my name correctly and tell them that my last name is Wind like enframa in the local language. This caused outbursts of delight from everyone. It was nice to find some common ground for a bit. At that point, conversation topics had pretty much been exhausted so we continued on in silence until they waved down a tro-tro that let me on board. So, it seems that being travel savvy is really a matter of finding nice locals to help you out. While the marriage and name conversations are kind of annoying, for the most part everything is very innocent and in the end they are just as likely to help you get to where you are going even if it is clear there is no chance of a future between the two of you. They all waved me on and wished me safe travels.

I had planned on going back to the hotel to shower, but, again in attempt to be travel savvy and find my way around the small city, got lost and ended up at Cape Coast Castle. It is one of the main sites of the city, so I figured that since I was already there I might as well just go in for a tour. The castle is a former slave prison, although it had first been used as a storage site for goods other than people at one point. It seems that trade in humans became more lucrative than trade in pepper and tea and so slaves from all over Africa, as far as the Congo, were brought to this site and held for three months before being shipped to the Americas. Looking at the castle, one has the dual feelings of awe and horror. The building itself is quite beautiful, especially since it is a stark white color and overlooks a Caribbean blue ocean. The rooms that held the slaves were quite horrifying. There were small and dank and only had a few small windows that let in air and oxygen. Right above the dungeon for the men was the castle church. Women were held in another section of the castle and apparently rape was quite common at the castle. The guide said that this is why there are Van Dycks, Johnsons and Jacksons now living in Cape Coast. Because so many children were born at the castle, the British officers opened a small classroom which actually became Ghana’s first classroom. We also got to see the spacious accommodations of the general in charge of the castle. His rooms were quite large and airy compared to the tight, airless quarters of his prisoners. The castle also contains a nice museum with the history of the area from ancient times to modern traditions and gives some explanation to cultural traditions of Ghana, with a particular focus on the Ashanti traditions.

I was joined on the tour by a young fellow that Bernard knew. He had been concerned about my traveling alone and wanted to connect me with a friend to help take me around to all of the sites. He was a darling 19 year old kid who was a definite low-talker. When you combine his low audibility with his accent and typical teen inarticulateness, it was pretty much impossible for me to understand anything he was saying. I had to tell him several times that I simply could not hear or understand what he was saying. I also asked him to try saying things a different way if possible in an attempt to understand him. Finally, I would occasionally end our conversations with, “I’m sorry, but I just cannot understand what you are saying.” This was the beginning and it did seem to get easier to converse as the day went on, but I never quite understood why he was so terribly soft-spoken. I am not sure if he dressed up because he always wears formal clothes or if he wanted to look nice for meeting me, but the two of us were quite the odd pair. 30-year old me with my sweaty tank top and adidas shorts and 19-year old him with his black dress pants, black shoes and button down shirt. We were quite the odd couple, but luckily he seemed pretty up for doing anything I wanted to do. I didn’t make him walk to the top of a nearby hill to see Fort St. Jago, but it was quite steep and with the heat I felt a little bad for him in his nice clothes. The views of the ocean and city were great though. The water is a gorgeous tropical green and gondola-like fishing boats dot the coastline. Larger fishing boats fill a small canal that bisects the city. We couldn’t do anything more at the Fort since it isn’t open to the public, so little Bernard (his name was also Bernard) suggest we head to Elmina while it was still light out.

Elmina is a small fishing village just a bit west of Cape Coast. It houses the country’s largest slave castle and has a thriving fishing economy. Somehow the city has maintained a lot of charm compared with its busier neighbor. We went straight to the Elmina castle. This slave dungeon was built by the Dutch, but in many ways was quite similar to Cape Coast castle. It did have a moat and a drawbridge and a large chapel in the middle of the castle. Oddly enough, although I can’t recall ever being at a slave prison, I felt like I had seen one before. Perhaps all the years of learning about what happened during those horrendous centuries of the slave trade created a rather vivid picture of what it might have been like, although it would be difficult to imagine the actual size of the space that would fit 200 men for three months. The tour included a look at two prison cells, one that would hold misbehaving Dutch soldiers and one for resistant slaves who were termed “Freedom Fighters.” The cell for the Dutch had a nice large window, while the cell for the slaves was nothing but a small dark closet. Gifts have been sent to the castle from African Americans and a plaque was issued that promises that Africans around the world are committed to ensuring that this type of injustice perpetrated on so many will never happen again. One thing that was quite puzzling for me is how the local leaders agreed to participate or facilitate the slave trade. It is not clear whether they were duped or were complicit in the trade, but the local leaders were involved in allowing it all to happen. Local resistance against the British especially happened after the Ashanti king, Prempeh I, was captured and imprisoned at Cape Coast Castle. The uprising against the British became so great that they eventually exiled Prempeh I to the Seychelles along with the Queen Mother of the Ashanti kingdom. After the tour of this impressive structure, Bernard and I walked over a bridge to get a little lunch at a place that Lonely Planet described as “the best place in Elmina to watch the activities of the fishing boats.” I was all excited to have some seafood, but was again heartbroken by the statement that they had no calamari and no shrimp. I was starting to wonder if the local shrimp were suffering the same fate as salmon in California. I decided on the Red Red with fish and fresh pineapple juice. The pineapple juice is heavenly here and will be sorely missed when I have to leave. Bernard ordered a Smirnoff Ice and fried rice with chicken. The food was excellent and it was fun to watch the boats sail back and forth through the canal. After a delicious lunch, we walked over to look at the boats a little more closely but dried fish stench shortened that walk considerably. We walked a bit through town as well and I noticed a lot of old buildings with big windows and antique black shutters. The details on the buildings were striking but were just slightly dilapidated looking. There is a great opportunity to preserve these buildings and I am sure little Elmina would attract even more tourists.

Little Bernard and I took a tro-tro to his university where we caught a shared taxi to Cape Coast. Traveling by taxi is dramatically cheaper when you are with a local. The University of Cape Coast looks really beautiful with palm tree lined roads and lots of green open spaces. Forty thousand students attend the university and most of the classes are taught in English. One unusual aspect of the education here though is that students are tested on how well they know the professor’s opinion about a subject. Students are required to purchase the professor’s book(s) for each class and are instructed to memorize his opinions. Students are not tested on how their opinions, but on how well they can regurgitate the professor’s opinions. Little Bernard assured me that while they must know what the lecturer thinks because he has been studying the field much longer, the lecturers do encourage the expression of individual opinions.

At night, after a long overdue shower, I went up to the restaurant again and watched the same waitress slowly walk back and forth to get me an orange Fanta. No dinner was necessary after the big lunch. I read a bit more of Guns and then went back down to wrap myself in the sheet that I had brought. The next morning I went back up to the restaurant for a little Sunday brunch and had eggs, toast and Milo. The eggs were great but the toast tasted like bland croutons. It was so over toasted that it was pretty inedible. The Milo was nice and they gave me two packets of Milo so I had two cups! I walked over to Cape Coast castle hoping to buy a few knick knacks, but after some unsuccessful bargaining, left empty-handed. The stores were mostly closed anyways. I sat for a bit at the entrance waiting for little Bernard to meet me again. I closed my eyes and listened to the waves lapping against the rocky shore. It was so nice with the breeze blowing through and drying off my sweaty limbs. I wish I didn’t have to go home so soon.

After waiting for quite some time, I called Bernard to find out what was keeping him. With the language challenges, I finally said, “How many minutes?” He replied, “18.” Although unusual, I figured 18 minutes would give me enough time to walk back to my hotel and check out. The hotel seemed pretty adamant about the 12pm check out time and even posted a sign that said that room needed to be inspected before check out was possible. I thought that I ought to get the inspection over as soon as possible and get my things. No one needed to check the room and since I had already paid, I just gave my key to a cleaning woman. It seemed a little sketchy, but I didn’t want to wait around just to turn my key over.

Little Bernard was very excited to see an ostrich farm that was located just outside of Cape Coast and near the Hans Cottage Botel. I had asked a few people if they had been and none had, so I was a little leery about where we were headed. We took a tro-tro to a small town and Bernard asked around for the ostrich farm. There seemed to be a lot of debate about the exact location and finally a taxi driver told us that we had passed it but that he could take us there. I agreed to $2 and off we went to see the big birds. We turned off the road and wound around a small dirty road that was very muddy in parts. I had two fears. The first was that the cab driver was taking me into the middle of nowhere to rob me and then leave me there and the second was that if he didn’t end up robbing, then we would surely get stuck in the mud en route to see the ostriches. Miraculously, the car made it though and we arrived at the edge of the ostrich farm where about eight birds were standing around doing ostrich-like things. They really are quite big. The wings are basically the size of a large human arm with lots of feathers coming off of them. One sat down while we were there, but other than that there wasn’t a lot of movement or activity. I guess ostrich meat is rare here as in the US, but this farmer has done well enough to have expanded his farm in the last few years.

The taxi driver then took us to the Hans Cottage Botel, a place I had considered staying for its unique set-up but ultimately decided against it because of it distance from the city center. Hans has built a little hotel over several man-made lakes, hence the botel distinction. The lakes contain quite a few crocodiles. Apparently, monkeys and other wildlife live around the botel. While Bernard and I drank our cokes, a crocodiles wandered near a few of the other tourists who were sitting in the garden area of the restaurant. They quickly rushed out and the hotel staff gated off the area around the crocodile. He wandered all around and was about 8 feet away from me at one point. It was easy to see the interesting patterns on his back and his sharp teeth. He eventually grew tired of us all staring at him and taking photographs so he plunged back into the water and swam under the restaurant. That was about all the excitement I could handle, so I told Bernard that we should get going to try to find a tro-tro for me to take back to Accra. All of the STC buses were full, so I had to brave the bush bus. A shared taxi brought me to a tro-tro station. I unfortunately got the fold-out seat over the wheel. Luckily another young woman offered to hold one of my bags. Despite the bumpiness and swerving to pass slower vehicles, most of the passengers slept. I spent much of the trip trying to keep my toes and legs from falling asleep. A short taxi ride to Bonjour to get a pizza, and I was feeling back home again pretty quickly. Sitting by the A/C was quite soothing and I walked the 25 minutes to the office. Sadly the electricity was out there as I guess the power companies have been doing rolling blackouts recently. Fortunately for me, when I returned to the hostel with bated breath I was ecstatic to see that the power was back on. The manager told me that the power had just come on yesterday afternoon, so it seems that it was a perfect weekend to make the short trip to Cape Coast.