#18 – Spotting wild animals in Ghana
“Come closer” one of my new friends said to me. “Or are you afraid?” he added as he read the reaction on my face. “I’m ok right here” I replied to him. “You know crocodiles better than I do, so it’s safer for me to stay here” I explained to him, as we were watching a wild crocodile from about 10 meters.
After feeding a chicken to the crocodile we had lunch for ourselves. The new friends I made were teachers from a school and they provided me a sleeping place for last night. They made my first 24 hours in Ghana absolutely amazing. After noon I said goodbye to them and followed a splendid gravel path, surrounded by small mountains, the first ones I’ve seen since Morocco.
The mountains act as walls for a giant reservoir. They led me to a medical clinic in a small village where I could put up my tent.
Out of nowhere a different looking building stands inside a village. For once there are no crappy building materials of which most houses and little shops are made. Beautifully white, with wooden sticks pointing out of the adorable looking building. The speaker and the moon reveal that it’s a mosque, as I was told in Sudanese style.
In front of the mosque sits a man. His good looking clothes are in big contrast with his position on the ground and the aluminium plate. He doesn’t make eye contact and doesn’t say much words. I drop a few coins on the plate after which he looks up and sais something in his own language.
Even though the head of a school offered me a room with a bed that night, I put up my tent. The tent is my 1×2 m comfort zone, which protects me from mosquitos, small flies and other insects. It makes sure I sleep well in every place.
I step outside of my room and nobody is around, except for a few goats that lay on the ground and that make a noise every now and then. I call for goodmorning, hoping to see one of the hosts, but no response. I set off to continue my trip, without being able to thank anybody.
On the road there is plenty of food and water to be found. One of my favourite local foods is fresh fried plantain. A small selling station and a wok on a charcoal fire is all they use to serve hungry customers like me.
While a huge rainstorm was blasting water down to earth, I passed a small village with a school. After asking the chief, I put up my tent in one of three empty classrooms, where only a few goats were hiding from the rain. Suddenly two men enter the room and ask me to stay at their place, just next to the school. They appeared to be rangers from Mole National Park, the one place I’m heading to since I left Abidjan and where I will arrive tomorrow.
There was no doubt that today was going to be a beautiful day. I left the ranger’s post when dawn was still fresh. A short ride of 40 km brought me to a destination I’ve been heading to since I left Abidjan: Mole National Park.
“Ah so you’re Dutch” the man at the entrance of the park notices when I write down my details. “Look to this description in the stone, the park is partially funded by the Dutch government” he explains to me. “You are very welcome sir” he finally added.
“This is Charlie, he is covering himself with mud” our tourguide explains. From just 10 m we were watching this elephant enjoying his time. Thick as pancake, his oversized ears were waving around. One tusk was missing, probably due to a fight or breaking of trees, the guide explains. We continued our tour and saw a group of six elephants a few minutes later. Seeing these impressive creatures strolling around through the bushes was extraordinary. Later we also saw kobs, warthogs, gazelles and a waterbuck.
While having a cheese omelette with coffee, I was watching the amazing lower situated park in front of me. I noticed a smaller road on the map, which would lead me to the same destination as the big road, so I decided to go for it.
The small road appeared to be a gravel road, some parts better than the other. One river was flowing high, even higher than the surface of the brigde. After passing the first two villages I couldn’t notice a small shop, while I was running low on food. A motor passed me and I asked him if there were shops on the road, “no, but I have half a bread for you if you want” he said. Happy as I was, I bought it from him. Later I found a small shop anyway to buy some more.
The last part of the ride, the road turned into a sandy one, and it felt like I was cycling on a beach. Very frequently my wheels were cutting into the sand, forcing me to get off the bike to walk. Thirsty, hungry and tired I arrived in a larger village and soon the same motor driver came towards me. He offered me his place to sleep and provided me food and a shower as well, leaving me flabbergasted.
“What if you get problems with your bike?” My host asked me in the morning. I told him I can repair some basic faults, and if there are major problems I can always visit a bike mechanic somewhere. Some hours later I was back on the road and noticed something was not quit well.
My bottom racked was making a squeaky noise and I feared the worst. A few moments later the pedals were not turning fully symetric anymore, and another few moments later my chain could not fit on the slowly outgoing gear wheel anymore. I had to walk to the next big city 60 km further away. The sun was burning and a man advised me to wait for the 3 pm bus, and so I did.
Suddenly a black smoke invaded the bus, with my bike on the back seat. Everyone gets out, and I decide to do the same, including the bike. We sat in the bus for just 10 minutes till it broke down, and I decided to continue by foot. The heat was turning down and the scenery looked stunning, enough reason to avoid the bus after all. Almost halfway I found a traditional hut to sleep at.
At 5 a.m. I started packing my stuff together in order to leave while the temperature was still bearable. Although I thought this was very early, most people of the family I was staying at were awoke already, sitting at a campfire or cleaning the courtyard. I still had to walk 35 km to the next city, where I hoped to repair my bike.
Walking this distance felt as much, but I was excited to do it anyway. It goes with almost the same effort as cycling and it’s even more intense. After almost 9 hours I made it to the big city Tamale, with its colourful dressed people.
My host brought me to a bike shop where I hoped they could replace the broken axis of the pedals. With agony I watched the bike mechanic hammering my bike and smashing parts of it, all in order to make room for the new axis. But for me it didn’t matter how it was done, as long as it would work. And the mechanic managed to do so, turning me very satisfied!
A strange smell enters the room while I’m still drowsy. In first instance I can’t place the smell, but a few moments later I recognize it. It’s burning plastic and it comes from outside. Together with throwing it on the street or in a river, it’s the accepted way of getting rid of it. I feel sad and helpless at the same time, and I would like to scream to stop this.
Two lines are formed with benches. About 20 adult men sit on them, all focused on one thing. They all play drafts and move the pieces with extreme enthusiasm. It’s one of the few activities me and my host went to visit on my restday.
“You don’t eat the bones?” my host asked me with a flare of astonishment. “No, is that even possible?” I asked in return, while the creaky sound coming from his side started to make sense. “The bones are very healthy everyone here eats them”, he learned me. “You see…” I replied “…in the Western world many people don’t even like to pick the meat from bones. We are getting too far away from reality”.
We walked to a foodstand to buy porridge and fried dough for our breakfast. Almost effortlesslya, a woman poured porridge from a big pan into small plastic bags. Then, with the same amount of effort she adds four teaspoons of sugar, after which she ties a knot in the bag. With amazement I watched her doing this job, which she seemed to practice for all of her life.
After two days of walking and one day of rest, I put my feet on the pedals again. I always enjoy these first moments very much.
As soon as I found a new host, received a shower and stored my bike, an epic set of dark clouds were coming closer. A huge ring of low and disturbed clouds were leading the advance, while the rain and thunder was hidden in the higer and egal formation behind it.
Most houses are still partially or fully made the traditional way, with clay walls amd stray roofs. Some newer models have steel roofplates. And the inside is pretty modern here in Ghana, compared to other West African countries. They contain sockets and mostly a fan.
The landscape of today changed several times. I’m heading to a huge reservoir in a few days, but the many rivers leading to it already start to appear. Entire pieces of land are filled with water, where vegetation grows untill the air from the shallowness. And the one hour there is jungle, while the other hour there is grassland.
On Sundays you go to church and wear your best clothes, that’s the steady habit of all Christians here. As so for my host family and many other locals in the village I stayed at. Often they wonder if I attend church, or pray. It can be a tricky subject to talk about. Depending on the situation I say I don’t do that, but that I come from a Catholic environment. If they are up to it, I sometimes even tell them I’m an atheists and believe in the evolution theory.
In the middle of the day I had to pass a 2 km wide river by ferry. After waiting for almost an hour for the ferry to arrive, all passengers, motors, bicycles, tricyclicles, cars, trucks and animals were loaded on board. It took another hour to complete the puzzle of placing everything in such a way that all could enter.
Today I entered the Volta Region, a beautiful area known best for its mountains by Ghanaians. The last time I conquered mountains was in Morocco, which seems like a long time ago already, so I was eager to enter this region. And even though the steep climbs are difficult, the reward of receiving an overview of the surrounding is worth every drop of sweat.
On the road I normally have a few breaks in a day. As a moving attraction, I prefer to find a place without being surrounded by many people. In most cases, this comes down to finding a small gravel path next to the main road, where I sit on the reddish soil to eat, drink, rest and watch ants walk away with the crumbs I leave.
When I come back to my tent, I see about a handfull of students sitting around it, studying in the light that is provided from the roofed parking lot. One of the teacher’s just let me shower at his house and bought a delicious noodle dish for me. Africa just keeps amazing me every single day.
While the clouds were still dancing with the mountain ridges in the early morning, I was cycling already. Life in Ghana starts at 5 am and by 6 am everyone is doing their daily job. I’m slowly getting used to this rhythm, as I’ve been exploring the country for almost two weeks.
Today I had a short, but tough ride, to one of Ghana’s highlights: the Wli waterfall. After arriving in the cozy village of Wli Afegame I walked through the jungle to reach the stunning 80 m heigh waterfall, the largest in West Africa. The abandoned huts, broken bridges and fallen trees showed the power of this natural beauty. A huge wind and a proper rainfall was caused by the downfall of the ongoing water.
For almost a week I cycled towards this spot. Finally reaching it was the cherry on the pie. Another nice moment was the delicious food that was served at the local restaurant. A meal called Red Red – tiny sized beans in freshly prepared tomato sauce with plantain – became victim to my hunger.
My last full day in Ghana was marked by a 300 m climb with a steepness between 10% and 20%. It resulted in me pushing the bike for about 45 minutes up the landmass.
In the evening I went to watch my favourite football team Ajax playing against Chelsea. For 1 Cedi (0,15 euro) I entered the room full with locals to watch the game. Even though most football is done in Europe, people here seem to be way more enthusiastic about it than in Europe itself. When Chelsea made the only goal of the match, the locals celebrated like they won the world cup.
In the morning I crossed the border from Ghana to Togo. Happy as I was, I could use my drone again, and so I did. Someone must have seen me and told it to the police at a checkpoint. When I arrived there they searched my bags untill they found the drone. After three hours of waiting and many phone calls they confiscated it to send it to their chief 360 km North from here, where they told me I can collect it.
I could describe my feeling with many swearwords and red colored emoticons, but I had to accept the situation and move on. When I reached another outstanding waterfall, these emotions made room for joy.
A new country always means finding out about the hospitality of the locals and the quality of the streetfood. The first person I asked for a place to sleep offered me to sleep in his father’s house, which wasn’t inhabited while there was a bed and a shower. The first floor of the house was still under construction and it might take a few years to be finished, as everything goes in a slower pace here in Africa.