Ghana, not good but great!

I’m sorry about the title. I know I shouldn’t be subjecting you to that kind of unnecessary cheesiness but I just couldn’t help myself. I should probably warn you that sometime in June chances are that I will be unable to restrain myself from a similar title along the lines of “Kenya Dig It?”. Just a heads up.

Thanks to troubles of an undisclosed nature that trickled down to us at the Ghana embassy in Ouagadougou, our entry and stay in this beautiful country looked as if it would become an unpleasant mission. Going by the unjustified difficulty they gave us at the embassy and the rip-off of a visa they ended up giving us, things weren’t looking too good for Ghana. Fortunately, the place redeemed itself on its own merits.

Our first stop in Ghana was Mole National Park. Mole is a savannah grassland inhabited by monkeys, baboons, warthogs, several species of antelope, avifauna, and elephants. While not as densely populated as some of the parks we’ll see further on in the trip, the walking safari proved to be a fine introduction to Africa’s wildlife. The troops got to see, among other things, their first elephant… very close up. Seeing as how they did so while on foot, it was especially intense.

Even just at park headquarters, Phil, Dan, and Sarah had an exciting and much-too-up-close-and-personal encounter with a troop of baboons who were making a banquet out of the contents of the trash can. Phil and Dan pushed the proximity envelope a little too far and when two big, angry looking males barked loudly and lunged for them, Dan took off, Phil did the same but first managed to push Sarah to the ground. Whether, possibly in some obscure Kiwi logic, he thought this would protect her somehow or if he was trying to leave the irate primates with an alternative target has not been established. And they say chivalry is dead.

Further down the road, a couple of us decided that certain (and I wish I didn’t have to bring this up again, but…) bowel related illnesses had either stuck around too long or progressed to a critical stage. We decided to visit the doctor at the local hospital.

The truck pulled up to the rural complex. Startled goats burst out of the outpatient building. The chickens loitering outside the waiting area looked momentarily flustered by the behemoth, then appeared to forgot what it was they were looking at and resumed their scratching and pecking with great ceremony. Only two of us needed the consult but in all, Sarah, Katey, Spots, myself and Gavin were in attendance.

Unlike any hospital you’d see in Canada or the UK, the place looked more like a country school from, say Missouri, circa 1915… after it had been abandoned for half a decade. Wooden buildings with chicken wire for windows were marked “Female Ward” or “Chest Ward”. The little place out the back that looks like a neglected tool shed was marked “Mortuary / Laundry”.

The treatment and exams were all very straight forward and professional and I have every confidence in the doctor. The sickies were given antibiotics and vitamins and lectured about the importance of hydration. So that was all very boring. The best part of the visit, other than perhaps the lippy little nun who amused us all, was the snakebite victim.

This dude had no idea how lucky he was. A younger guy, maybe 16 or so walked up to the waiting area, the benches outside the exam hall, and sat down cross-legged on the concrete floor holding a crumpled up, once-white plastic rice sack. It was tied up in a tight little bundle with twine and it looked like there was something inside.

“What’s in the bag?” (I think it was) Spots asked.
The boy calmly, almost with an air of pride, opened up the bundle to reveal an enormous, thick, gun-metal grey, and slightly mangled snake. Unmistakably a cobra. The viper looked no less menacing with its head crushed in.
“It bit you?!” The boy nodded and showed us a rather puny scratch on his finger.
“You killed it?” Sarah asked “Just now?” He nodded again.

Obviously the kid had just been given a warning bite. Venom is an expensive commodity for poisonous snakes. If they can avoid using it, they will. Often the first bite a victim receives is a warning bite, without envenomation. If it hadn’t been a warning bite, the cytotoxins and the neurotoxins would have already been going to work and we wouldn’t had had the pleasure of meeting this very lucky lad…at least not while he was conscious. From the snake’s point of view though, well, guess going for the warning bite was a gamble he lost.

While all this infirmary fun was going on, the rest of the group was back in town. Far from bored, they took in a football game with some of the locals. The venue was a wooden shack, the beer was cold, the teams were both English, and the energy, so I’ve heard tell, was great. Plus they had FanMilk in town. No one can be unhappy when the milky, icy sweetness that is FanMilk is available.

The next day brought us to Kintampo and its nearby waterfalls. By this time, we were excruciatingly hot, sticky, and greasy with dirt and grime in a lot of places dirt and grime should just not be. Very much in need of a wash, most of us gave the first two waterfalls, that is the two waterfalls that had the “No Bathing” signs, a polite and obligatory but brief glance then made a mad dash down to the one you could bathe in. It was fantastic.

Further down the track, we turned off the main road onto a rural, unpaved road. Gav negotiated the tricky surface of the “road” while the rest of us took in the passing sights. We passed villages where we got our usual welcome, the kind usually reserved celebrities. Children would rush out of their houses. Their eyes bulging out of their heads, hands waving spastically as they appeared to suffer from some kind of apoplectic fit of happiness caused these physical symptoms as well as uncontrollable yells of excitement. How exciting was this giant truck full of strange looking people waving and smiling at them! The tykes would be whipped up into an even bigger frenzy when the guys in the back started throwing them our empty plastic water bottles, a highly prized gift. Yells of approval would issue from the younger men. We received respectful nods and waves from the elders. The women usually just pointed and laughed at us. Hysterically. I don’t know why. …

This “road” was taking us to the Boebeng Fiema Monkey Sanctuary. This was a fun experience. We got the chance to see some of the first forest in the trip and take a nice walk through it, as well. In the neighboring village, the residents treat the inhabitants of the forest, the Mona and Colobus monkeys, with great respect. It is a reverence that stems from their faith in fetishes and animism. The monkeys are such an important part of the spiritual community of the area that the primates even have their own cemetery. The monkeys’ behavior is said to predict fortunes and events within the village. Anyone who kills a monkey “will die” (whether this is a curse that will come about in time or a sentence to be carried out by the local executioner wasn’t clear).

Because of this respect from the local people, the Mona monkeys especially have become habituated and have no qualms about taking bananas off of enthralled tourists. Within the forest, it happened once or twice that I was watching Kev or Carolina or someone feeding a monkey a couple meters in front of me only to look to my side to see a little guy sitting on a branch at eye level about a half meter away. Both times I got a look from the creature that seemed to say “Dude. Where’s my banana?”

The monkeys were great. Pete and German also challenged a couple of the local boys to an impromptu game of soccer and several of us did a little shopping at the crafts shop.

That was only the first half of Ghana. After seeing the colossal market in Kumasi, stopping in Accra for our Benin visas and a trip to the cinema, we explored the area around Cape Coast. There, we visited Kakum National Park and the fantastic rainforest canopy walkway. The soccer fans watched Ghana and Ivory Coast battle it out in the African cup of nations during a massive storm in a bar that was stilted over a crocodile pond and which had a fickle supply of electricity. Made for an interesting game.

In Cape Coast and Elmina we took the sobering tours at the castles that served as ports for the slaves being shipped off to the Caribbean, America, and England. We wrapped up our stay in Ghana on the palm dotted sands of Brenu Beach.

We leave Ghana now and carry on to get a taste of Voodoo in Benin and Togo. We’ll cross into Nigeria shortly and begin what has the potential to be one of the bigger challenges of the trip: obtaining our Angolan visas.

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