Friday, September 25, 2009

Volta Eco-Adventure Day 1

Sept. 23, Ho, Ghana
Chance Hotel

Today was by FAR the best day of the voyage so far, even considering my sore butt from 9 hours (fortunately not in one stretch) in our cute little Korean(!) bus on bumpy, often un-paved roads. Ghana - lovely, honestly friendly people, lush vegetation, fascinating villages of mud huts that look perfectly comfortable, somehow.

We traveled about 5 hours in the morning on terrible roads through beautiful scenery to the trailhead for Afadjato Mountain, near the Togo border. We did have one stretch break when we had to all get out and push our bus out of a muddy pot hole! The hike was STRAIGHT up - no switchbacks and about 850 meters (more than 2400 feet) gain in an hour - KILLER! I came close to not making it, but persevered in the end - yippee! And coming down was actually OK for me - my knees didn't bother me, and I didn't fall (luckier than others). The view, as expected, was grand, with Ghana on one side and Togo on the other.

Once safely down, we drove another 2 hours to the Agumatsa Forest Reserve, where we hiked a blessedly flat jungle trail, crossing 9 bridges in 45 minutes to arrive at spectacular Wli Falls. The falls were unlike anything I've ever experienced - 60 meters high, steep cliffs on either side, somehow creating gale-force winds directly in front of the falls. You have to back up through the pool towards the falls, since the spray felt like driving sand on your skin and the face is too tender for that. I didn't get very close to the falls - punishing! But completely exhilirating. The cliffs on both sides of the falls were covered with fruit bats. Thousands. Some flying, most hanging, upside down, the way bats do, you know. The forest we hiked through is full of tall bamboo, rustling in the breeze, scattered coffee trees loaded with berries, bananas and their larger cousin, the plantain, philodendron, palm, and lots of trees completely unfamiliar to me. Giant millipedes and tiny fire ants in a thick stream would cross our path periodically, and brightly colored butterflies were everywhere. Two students from Honduras said it reminded them of home.

I should point out that, although we spent a LOT of time on the bus, that was also an important and enjoyable part of the day. Sam Ametewel, our guide, taught us basic phrases in the local Ewe dialect (all signage is in English, and many speak English, but not with each other). We learned:
woezo - welcome
efoah - How are you?
emefor - Fine
Akbe - Thank you
va mijo - let's go
en ko de - what's your name?
We also learned a wonderful folk song from the region, which is essentially about knocking on the door of the king's palace, asking permission to enter (I think!). It goes like this:
Afi naii fiapemela, do ago
Afi naii fiapemela, do ago
Ago name, Ago name
Fiapemetor Ago!!
Ago name, Ago name
Fiapemetor Ago!!
Sam also regaled us with folk legends about the warriors of a town near Tafi Atome, the story of the sheep and the goat on the bus, and how the original tribes of Ghana were tricked or cajoled into leaving their original homes high up on top of flat plateaus to descend into the lowlands. He also clearly explained the colonial history of the area (Ghana is surrounded by French-speaking neighbors), and the nature of the somewhat arbitrary boundaries between countries. Apparently, the Ghanaian educational system has begun pushing students to learn French as a kind of good-will gesture to its neighbors.
One other important thing to point out about the trip thus far: These people are, in general, strikingly beautiful and almost unbelievably friendly. Children not only wave enthusiastically as we pass, they jump, shout, laugh, sing. People everywhere bid us "welcome", ask our names, extend a hand, and teach us their wonderful handshake which ends in a mutual snap of the fingers. They're curious to know what we think of their country. Only rarely does someone ask for money, even though they obviously have little, and even when they do, it's done quietly and with some dignity. Impressive. On a final not - not a single MacDonalds (or any other international chain) in sight!
Sept. 24
The second day of our big Eco-Adventure didn't disappoint either! During the 1 hour morning drive, we rehearsed our song some more, after Sam suggested that we sing it as soon as we got off the bus in the village of Tafi Atome. Which we did, much to the apparent delight of the guides who met us there. Once we realized there was a school across the field, we asked if we could sing it for the school children - what an experience! The kids sang with us, clapping in time, then sang it a few more times by themselves, speeding it up a bit, ending with us joining back in. For me, that's about as good as it gets!
Energized by this whole experience, we were then guided through the mud-huts of the village, watching as a woman prepared a meal over an open wood fire, observing teenage boys weaving intricate designs to create the colorful patterns that identify Kente cloth, learning about daily washing routines. The ever-present pygmy goats were here as well, but not running loose as they were elsewhaere. Everything was very clean. Apparently, sweeping the entire village is the first routine of the day. Then our guide led us into the forest, an area that is now protected by law. Calling to the monkeys, the guide headed to a densely shaded area (those monkeys are no fools - it's HOT out in the sun!). At first I could only see the palm branches moving, but finally I was able to spot the monkeys. They are a rare form of the Mona species and are only found in the jungle area around this village. As I held up a banana, one of the monkeys sped down a branch and, hanging on with his tail, reached out with one hand to hold on to my finger, while quickly peeling the banana with the other hand. Easy to see why we're so entranced by monkeys! Apparently, these monkeys actually come into the homes of the villagers every morning and evening to eat with the families before heading back out to the jungle. All in all, an unforgettable experience!
Miscellaneous facts:
Names of children I met: Ezekial, Immanuel, John, Moses, Gideon (60% Christian in this area)
Crops of Volta: Papaya, yam, corn, rice, pineapple, banana, plantain, mango, casava (used to make fufu), palm (used to make palm wine).
Woods: Teak, ebony, mahogany
Pulmonaria trees here are planted in cemetaries and are called "forget-me-not" trees.
Roadside signs worth remembering:
Use a condom every time you have sex! (Ghana is hard-hit by AIDS)
God Bless furniture work shop
Home Base Bar
Treat your Bed Nets here (anti-malaria)
Time Tells Cafe
Fear Not Book Shop
Prince Nab & Dab
Do Not Urinate Here!
Shine your eye (on a taxi - means "be alert")


  1. Wow!, Wow!, Wow!...what an adventure-looking forward to post of photos on FB. Thanks for sharing your stories! See you in December.


  2. Bill said it! I am putting Ghana down as a must do trip! Thanks for covering it so fully, Alley! I'm going to read the bit about the monkeys to Braeden.