I am in Africa!! And what do you think that means?!?! There are elephants and rhinos and monkeys and giraffes and hippos EVERYWHERE!!! And it would be SILLY not to go find them and enjoy a safari, RIGHT?! Well, that was what we set out to do last weekend!! But it wasn’t so easy….
Since the schools are currently on a break for three weeks, I returned to Kumasi (the BIG CITY) to take care of some business (eat something besides fried rice and beans and take a shower with running water) and to buy some things for the house in Atebubu. I needed to buy quite a few big things and transport other study supplies back to Atebubu so we planned to take 2 trips during the break to get everything up there. In order to make the most of these trips to Atebubu, we decided to check out the Digya National Park near Atebubu. Pascal was able to get a day off of work to join us and we invited our Ghanaian co-worker, Shadrack as well.
We packed the truck on Friday morning…..fridge….white board…..gas cooking range…..gas tank…..plates/bowls/utensils….pots/pans…..laundry baskets…..door mats…..fans…..mosquito nets…..It was a FULL truck! And it was only logical to use duct tape to secure the tarps (we had a rope too….).
We set off North….
Right about where you see that green spot in the middle of our route, the radiator heat gauge on the car shot UP to HOT…..so we pulled over…..
(The following except was written by Pascal because he is determined to improve his English while he is in Ghana…..he agreed to practice by writing this portion of our story.)
We stopped at the side of the road and looked in the front of the car. Shadrack and Pascal opened the watertank and boiling water came gushing out, they filled new cold water in the tank, so that the temperature was low. We drove to the next mechanic (the mechanics in Ghana do not have a formal education and learned everything by themselves). The mechanic looked in the front of the car, he did nothing, and told us that the heat sensor is broken and turned it off (problem solved, right?!). Pascal and I knew that this was not the problem. We called our boss in Kumasi. She told us we can drive again. After 20 minutes we stopped, because we saw smoke from the front of the car. We wanted to call our boss, but we had a big problem: 3 mobile phones and …Pascal’s phone had no satellite…..Shadrack’s phone had no battery…. and the credit on my phone was very low and less battery.
We called our boss again and waited for new directions. Now Pascal starts to think…. ( facts): we are in Africa, we are in a small poor village and the car is broken. Maybe we have to stay the whole night. We bought water and phone credit in the village to survive the night.
Than our boss called us back. Issac (her husband) wants to come with another car and the factory mechanic. We have to wait…we played UNO in our waiting time. Three hour later, Issac came with the new, smaller, car from the factory (Rav4) and 3 mechanics. We packed ALL the stuff from the truck in the Rav. We sat on the mosquito nets and other things. We left for Atebubu while the mechanics tried to fix the truck.. We got a call at 10 pm from Issac that they were back in Kumasi now. (End of Pascal’s story)
We arrived in Atebubu around 9:15pm. We went out to the one “restaurant” in town for groundnut (peanut) soup and rice balls….and beer! Then BEDTIME! We had a big day ahead of us on Saturday!
In order to get to the park early enough to see animals, they suggested we leave Atebubu around 3:00am…AM….so we woke up at 2:45 AM and hit the road! We arranged to meet someone from the park in the town of Kwame Danso, about an hour drive from Atebubu, to help us navigate the road to the park entrance. They use the term “road” in Ghana pretty loosely….most of the roads surrounding Atebubu are dirt with large pot holes year-round and giant puddles after it rains. This made for a very exciting morning getting to the park. We also learned that the favorite sleeping spot for EVERY goat in Atebubu is right in the middle of the street….and they aren’t too keen on being woken up by car lights at 3:00am. So the drive was a combination of dodging sleeping goats, giant pot holes, and huge puddles….. Shadrack navigated like a pro and we made it to Kwame Danso right on time!
We thought that since it was 4am, it would be easy to spot the person meeting us but there were a surprising number of people milling around! We made it to the end of the town without seeing our guy so we called him and he stood in the middle of the road for us. When we picked him up, he introduced himself and then….well….didn’t say much else. He gave Shadrack some directions for the road and we started driving…..
So I am wondering….is this our guide? Is this guy just getting us to the park? Is this a silent safari?? So we drive about 20 minutes and he tells Shadrack to stop….we needed to pick up “the man who takes us across the river in the canoe”…..uhhhh OK…..?! The guy hops out and goes up to a house…..big surprise, the man is not there and they have to go look for him at 4:30am…..somehow they found him and now there are 5 of us awkwardly bumping down the road to “THE RIVER”. I am wondering….how big is this river?? is it a rushing river?! will I need the river survival skills I’ve learned from Matt Davis?! Does everyone know how to swim?!
We drive a few more minutes and then come to a small hut. We park the car and I step out and see the “river”. Its about 20 feet across and the canoe is on the opposite side, so the man walked across in the water to fetch the canoe and bring it back. Okay, not a scary river at all….no survival skills needed….
We exit the boat on the other side and start walking into the forest. Is this the start of the safari?? Should I be looking for animals?? Why is our guide still wearing jeans and flip-flops?! Shouldn’t he have a gun or something incase a lion tries to attack us?!
We walk a little ways and the man tells us we are meeting two more men inside to join us for the safari….Okay, maybe this guys knows the info and the other guys protect us from the animals?? After walking a little further, we came across a small village with buildings and a small dormitory building. Men were milling around outside brushing their teeth and going about their business. We were instructed to sit on a bench and please wait. Our guy disappeared into a room and then slowly, one-by-one each of the men come out wearing forest ranger outfits and carrying BIG guns!
Alright! Now we’re talking! So the guy we picked up IS our guide and now he looks LEGIT. And we have 3 MORE guys with guns to keep us company. At 6:15AM and still without much explanation, we set off into the forest following the men with giant guns. I asked the guide why he needed such a big gun and he explained it was incase we came across an aggressive or injured animal….oh wow, okay, game on! The guide asked how long we wanted to walk…..I said, “well, how long do we have to walk to see animals?!” He didn’t give me much of an answer so I said, no more than 8 hours. So we started walking……
Immediately, the grass was tall and our feet and pants were getting very wet! With climbing temperatures and high humidity, it was shaping up to be a long, hot, sticky, chaffy day…
We walked and walked and the guides talked amongst themselves….to the best of our best knowledge they were trying to decide where the animals were. They pointed out a spot where the “forest pig” was recently sleeping and showed us some elaborate termite kingdoms.
We walked for another hour and then rested for a little bit. With the heat, humidity, and soaking clothes, we were getting a little concerned about having said we could walk up to 8 hours!! Thankfully, the guide shared his plan that we would walk another 2 hours (4 hours total) and then be back at the camp around 10:15am. So we set off again….there is no trail, we are just following these guys any which way through the bush, only pausing to discuss the animal tracks and which way to turn. We did see several sets of antelope prints….and some fresh poop (which made the guide VERY excited!) but unfortunately, no actual antelope.
And sorry to spoil the surprise…but we actually didn’t see any live animals at all….all day…..oh, we saw a squirrel in a tree. None the less, the forest was beautiful and I enjoyed the serenity of being out in nature, taking in the sights and sounds. Luckily we had set our expectations pretty low based on the (lack of) information about the park online. We also learned that we were the 9th visitors THIS YEAR….and there were three of us! Two women on the last trip saw two antelope…..and the guide claimed that later in the year, the elephants come up closer to where we were……hmmmmmmmm. But for a whopping $40 for 3 people, for 4 hours…..including tips for the guides and the canoe man……you really can’t complain at all!
(^ antelope tracks – Pascal was convinced that the guide in front had an antelope foot print on the end of a stick and stamped it in the ground ahead of us as we walked….while another one had little poop balls to scatter)
We finished the walk around 10:30am and thought it would be a great idea to go to the lake to swim. When we asked the guide how far it is, he said “not far, just straight down the main road”. Great! So we crossed back across the “river” and to our car, give our guide and the boat man a ride back to town and headed out down the main road to the Volta Lake. We had heard many things about the Volta Lake and how beautiful it is, so we were exciting to see it! After a “short” 2 HOURS of driving, we found the lake…..
With goats grazing (pooping) next to the water, dirty diapers, and a lot of trash, none of us felt too inclined to jump in! We took in the sights for a few minutes and agreed we had seen enough…..and start our 3 hour drive back to Atebubu…… (we THINK the lake might be prettier in other places. This happened to be a “water taxi” stop, so I think it attracts a lot of people and trash)
Once we got back to Atebubu, we tried to convince the hotel in town to let us buy showers and a few hours of sitting in a room with A/C…..but they wanted us to pay HALF the cost of staying a WHOLE night! Granted that’s only $7, we declined out of principal and enjoyed bucket baths back at the house. We were all sufficiently exhausted after our early morning and jungle journey so we had an early dinner of tilapia, yam chips, and beer then hit the sack!
We drove back to Kumasi in the morning. When we got back to the apartment, we learned that the housecleaner had the week off (#firstworldproblemsinthirdworldcountries) so we needed to do our own laundry from the weekend. As you can imagine, our “safari” clothes were nasty – dirt, sweat, jungle nasty – and I did not want to return to Atebubu with a bag full of nasty clothes! So we got a quick lesson in using the washing machine and set out to clean our clothes. The washing machine is a neat table-top/portable deal that hooks up to the kitchen water system. It has a basin for washing and a side compartment to spin the water out. We put in our first load of clothes and the water was instantly BLACK – it was SO dirty! We let it cycle through once and decided we should wash it again because the water was so dirty. So we spin out the water and load the clothes back in to the wash side……refill the water and its BROWN this time! Okay…..one more cycle! We spin and start to refill for a third round and notice the water is still BROWN! So we decide to hand rinse the clothes in the bathroom then do a final wash! The forth time was as good as it was going to get….still dirty but good enough and they didn’t smell!
Well that’s it for now! Stay tuned for our trip to Accra and more insight into life in Africa!