The Great Northern Adventure

Alright, I am finally home. After more than 20 hours on a bus, a terrifyingly awesome run-in with Savannah elephants in the bush and a two hour wait under a mango tree, I have made it back to Accra. Would I do it all over again? In a heart beat.

We started out at 7 am on our big Chinese bus heading to Kumasi on Thursday. The drive lasted for about 5 hours with a couple necessary bathroom breaks in between. The concept of a public restroom is much different here than in the U.S. and thus I have a strategy of not drinking water despite the heat to avoid as many run-ins with public restrooms as possible. But, I could not ignore the urge to go at the gas station we stopped at on the drive. For the first time, I stood facing a four inch diameter hole in a concrete room otherwise known as a bathroom. After a few struggles to get situated, I managed to pee into that hole like a pro, with about an 86.3% accuracy. I have to admit, it was kinda fun.

So we continued on our way and encountered a rough and tumble group of bush hunters on the side of the road that swarmed our bus when Isaac (the driver) slowed his pace to allow us a photo shoot of the strange and exotic bush meats. The hunters demanded money for the photos we took of them with their machetes raised. As most of us felt quite uneasy over this situation, we encouraged Isaac to start moving the bus as fast as possible. “Please Isaac” we pleaded. However, Isaac was not one to let anthing pass without at least a few loud words in edgewise. Many Ghanaians speak so loudly when they debate with each other that it’s difficult to judge if the conversation will deteriorate into violence. However, after quickly sealing all our bus windows and staring wide-eyed at the bush hunters, we finally witnessed Isaac’s conversation moving from a frightening tone to humorous laughter and then we moved onward. Thank goodness. Afterwards, Isaac looked back at us and pointed out that we could have easily snapped as many photos as we wanted of the dead grass cutters and armadillos while he was distracting the hunters. Well shoot. I was too distracted by the machetes.

By the time we got to Kumasi, I was tired of curling into every possible comfortable position using an armrest and two bus seats. We checked into our hotel called the Royal Basin and quickly ordered rice from the hotel restaurant to sustain us through the rest of the days’ activities. We visited the palace of the Asante kings where an eccentric tour guide provided strange narratives about the history of the region and the kings. That night, I took full advantage of the pool at the hotel and ate fried plantains and more rice.

The next day was full of activites including a trip to the village home of Kente cloth, adinkra stamping and wood carving. After much negotiation and bargaining, I walked away with two stools (still considering the options of how the heck I am getting them home) and a kente blanket as well as adinkra stamped kente. The experiences were entertaining and informative. At Bonwire, the home of Kente, the overwhelming smell of human bodies lingered in the air inside the building filled with handwoven cloth where men wove faster than I could ever imagine. At the adinkra stamping village, the demonstration of the ink manufacturing was too much fun and then we were able to pick out stamps based on their meaning and stamp our own kente. At the wood carving village, I went crazy shopping and it was awesome.

The very next day, we had breakfast before dawn and set out for Mole. The road toward Mole was covered with handmade speed bumps and justifiably so as we saw multiple remains of horrifying accidents involving overfilled trucks and passenger cars both on the drive there and on the drive back. We stopped at a rest stop where they had flushing toilets (yes!) and cold drinks. I purchased my favorite thing here in Ghana: the tropical fruit juice box. Mmm mmm. Because the last 80 Km were so bad on the road, we had to switch buses at the junction when we arrived. Little to our knowledge, we switched into a tro-tro. Oh Lord. Our luggage probably could have filled the darn thing but somehow we managed to get all of us crammed into the van. Fatal, the owner of the van and the man in charge of getting us to Mole, assured us we would have a good trip. Less than an hour into the drive, we broke down. So, the driver got out, investigated the leaking trail of oil under the car, tightened a clamp, dumped more oil in and set out once more. Unfortunately for us, we ran out of oil and the van came to a complete stop. The driver and Fatal said, “Don’t worry. We’ll be right back.” And they took off, heading to the nearest town to get oil. Unfortunately for us, we were on the side of a dirt road, getting covered in red dust everytime a vehicle passed us and we were roasting under the sun.

Luck struck and a family that lived right by came to investigate the situation and then invited us to sit under their mango tree off the road. What heaven! They even brought out chairs and benches for us to sit on. Although not all of the many children spoke English, we spoke with them and learned that most of them were siblings and they all went to school. We drew in the sand with them and then I sat with one of the little boys whose brother said could speak English but couldn’t speak because of illness. So we sat in silence, taking in the surroundings and watching the few people pass on the road. Eventually, the boy wandered back into his house and came back out carrying his baby brother. Granted, he could barely carry him because he was so young but they were too cute so I invited both to sit on my lap and we sat together. I sang a bit and told them a story about American football and we waited. For over two hours, we waited under the mango tree for Fatal to return. “15 more minutes” he kept saying. Finally, Fatal and the driver returned and we were off and running again. It was sad to leave behind the family but they were in good spirits as we left.

The rest of the drive was uneventful but passed quickly given that we all sang every song we could think of at the top of our lungs. It was a memorable drive to say the least. And then we were in front of the sign to Mole. And as if we crossed an invisible line, animals started peeking out of the bush. Antelope, warthogs and monkeys were visible from the road. I could barely contain my squeaks. After checking into the lovely Mole hotel, I took a great leap into the pool and soaked away all the dust and some of the weariness from traveling. Judging from the opaque color of the pool, it seemed that everyone who came to Mole used it as a dust depository.

That night, we watched wildlife from atop the viewpoints of the hotel and enjoyed the feeling of finally making it to Mole. At 6 the next morning, we reconvened to eat breakfast and walk to our Safari. My shoes didn’t meet the standards of our guard, so I had to put on rubber boots without socks. My feet are still sore from being rubbed raw.

But, we set out to see the wildlife. And boy was there a lot. We walked toward a complex where people lived and baboons, green monkeys and warthogs were all around. Next to the garbage piles from the communities, we found tons of animals digging for leftovers. But then we cut into the bush and lost sight of people. Almost immediately, the guard put up his hand for us to stop and then we cut over onto another path. Just like that, we avoided running right into an elephant and instead came up on his flank to watch him eat. We were no less than 30 feet away from the huge creature and all of us tried to be as quiet as possible while we snapped away photos. Then, another elephant approached and we started backing up. Then both elephants started backing up and we were really backing up fast at this point. I attempted to keep the guard and his rifle between me and the elephants at all time but at this point I was terrified. And then the guard told us that elephants can run 70 mph and there’s really no way to avoid them. Well great. It gets better. At this point, the elephants decide to test their manliness and they start fighting, tusk to tusk. I was at the point of having a digestive emergency from the stress of imagining those elephants turning their aggression toward us. Finally, after a few more retreats into the bush, and a lot of sweating on my part, we took our leave of the Savannah elephants munching on the bush trees and headed to higher ground. We saw antelope and dung beetles, guinea fowl and monkeys. It felt great to watch non-violent animals from afar without imaging impending death. And then just like that, our time was up. For each person, the Safari cost $1.50 and I feel comfortable saying we got the full value. But then it was time to head back because we needed to travel during the day so we packed back into the tro tro with Fatal and made it back to the junction without incident.

We drove back to Kumasi where I used the pool again to feel alive after so much travel time. The next morning, we went to a village that produced glass beads in a clay oven. The children of the village were adorable and they held our hands as we trailed our guide. After spending every last cedi I had, we finally headed back to Accra. And now here I am, back at Public Agenda. It was surely a trip to remember.

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One thought on “The Great Northern Adventure

  1. Wowee! Glad the elephants were not interested. And I’m sure you’ll get better aim with practice. 😉 (key question: was there TP???)So glad you’re keeping a journal–this is fascinating reading for we whose main adventure this summer is a two-night stay at Gleneden!

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