Saturday, July 6, 2013

THIS IS NOT A TEST. this is an adventure.

I was absently brushing my teeth when I realized that the hotel sink was crawling with ants. I quickly pulled my toothbrush out of my mouth and spit out my toothpaste…along with several living and dead ants.

I don’t come to Africa for the luxury, in case you were wondering.

Getting out of Kumasi was just stupidly complicated. Several expensive taxis and wrong sets of directions later, we were on a bus to Techiman. From there we caught another bus to Wenchi and then a tro-tro to Bui. True to form, they stuffed the tro to about 300% capacity, so I ended up sitting facing backwards on top of the engine cover with my knees jutting into Karina’s. Talk about being literally in the hot seat. Despite the discomfort, there’s something about tro-tro rides I find irresistible. They’re probably the most dangerous thing in Ghana, second to motorbike taxis (love those too), but hey…you know…whatever…I love sticking my head out the window and watching the miles and miles of beautiful African wilderness slide by, waving to people when we pass through the intermittent villages.

The tro-tro dropped us off at the Bui National Park headquarters, one of the few places in Ghana where you can hope to see hippos.
Incidentally also the middle of B.F. nowhere.
The Bui headquarters is a small group of trailer-like wooden houses- one of which is the tourist guest house- in a stand of trees. There was not so much as a fan to break the oppressive heat, only a hole in the ground serving as a toilet, and not a single place to buy food of any kind. I begged through the village for pure water sachets and Karina and I dined on a half package of cookies (“biscuits”) I luckily had in my bag. The cherry on top: due to the construction of a dam, the hippos have migrated into unreachable territory. We tried to sit outside under a pavilion where we could hope to catch a breeze while we played cards, but the light attracted so many flying ants that I was unintentionally killing them every time I shuffled. We slept on the one bed with a semi-intact frame, but both woke up periodically from the sensation that something was crawling on us.
Needless to say, we left for Mole National Park first thing in the morning.

A 45-minute motorbike ride through the bush took us to a main road. It was an occasionally nerve-wracking ride, especially with my pack on my back, but I loved every minute. The morning air felt amazing after our stale night in the mildewed guest house. And the bush is breathtakingly beautiful. It’s a tangle of gnarled tree trunks, vivid green foliage and bright red dirt against a brilliant blue sky. Low mountains rose on our left, which I’m kind of wondering might have been the border to Cote d’Ivoire.
At the main road we caught a tro-tro to Sawla, and from there a second one to Larabanga, and from there another motorbike into the park.
At the park gates, we had the stomach-churning realization that we were virtually out of cash. The Mole Motel accepts credit cards, but at an exchange rate of 1.5 instead of the actual 2.02. So Karina set off on a 40 km round-trip journey to the nearest ATM in Domongo. I don’t even know what would have happened if we hadn’t had enough money to even do that, or if the ATM had been farther. I think it was hands down one of the scariest moments I’ve had in Ghana…until the next day, anyway.

The next morning we went on a driving safari with a Peace Corps worker and two Dutch volunteers. They’ve installed actual seat on the roofs of the Jeeps since the last time I was there…which I’m half-convinced made it less safe rather than more…
The safari groups the day before had been completely out of luck, but we came across seven elephants at a waterhole - six adult males and one baby male. The guides let us approach them on foot to within about 50 feet. It was MUCH closer than we were allowed to get when we saw three elephants on my safari two years ago. The adults formed an obvious wall between us and the baby, but otherwise just kept going about their business of eating and splashing themselves with mud. Eventually the leader started ambling towards us with the rest of the herd trailing behind him. We immediately started backing up, but the way he was angled he was quickly pinning us between the herd and the crocodile-inhabited waterhole at our backs. Let me tell you, elephants suddenly seem a LOT bigger when they’re trapping you in a rapidly shrinking space. The guides assured us that it was unintentional; if they were going to attack they would give a warning call. Still, it was a tense couple of minutes. They passed less than 30 feet away and went on to graze farther from the water, unsettling a small group of antelope that started calling to one another in response. I didn’t know antelopes could make noise, but you could see them heaving their rib cages and emitting this weird, shrieking whistle back and forth.

We left the next morning on the 4 a.m. bus, and made our way back to Evans’ house in Accra. Thankfully my luggage showed up during the week we were traveling, and by tomorrow night my two suitcases and I will be in Aflao with Worfa and Victoria!

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