Culture smulture. Travelling isn’t about museums and tour guides; it’s about getting outside and breaking a little sweat.
This past weekend, I did just that. Joined by three fellow volunteers (one each from Spain, Denmark, and the U.K.), one Ghanaian girl who works at VEG, and of course, my mom, I climbed the second tallest mountain in Ghana, fed monkeys some bananas and had them jump on top of me, and hiked to the base of the tallest waterfall in West Africa. You know, the normal stuff.
On Saturday, we climbed Adaklu Mountain, which at 2,700 feet is the second tallest mountain in all of Ghana. The climb starts from a little village about a 20 minute “tro-tro” ride outside of the city of Ho.
Inside a tr0-tro.
Tro-tro’s are the public transportation for Ghana. They are 12 person vans (in theory, but often more people squeeze in) without a set departure schedule. They just leave for their destination whenever the van fills up (it’s key to get in a almost full one if you don’t want to be stuck at the station for 45 minutes). The station is a crazy mass of vans, each one seeming to try to leave the parking lot in at the same time, all going in a different direction. It’s traffic mayhem at its worst. As soon as a “yevu” (white person) walks into the station, they are immediately attacked with calls of “Where you go!? Where you want go!?” With a little slick bargaining (and the help of Wyram, our Ghanaian, Ewe speaking friend), we finally found a tro-tro for one Ghana cedi per person (about $0.66 for a 20 minute ride, a deal for sure).
The starting point is the village of Adaklu Helekpe (all of the surrounding villages are named after the mountain), which also happens to be one of the villages that we work with on our microfinance project. Edith Worwornyo, one of the borrowers I wrote about previously, used to be a mountain guide, so the first thing we did was find her. She graciously helped us negotiate a fair deal with some other tour guides, and then we were off!
In front of the mountain before the hike.
At first glance, our two local guides looked pretty mature, but we soon found out that they were 13 and 14, respectively. Even more impressive was their lack of gear. They both wore baggy shorts with their underwear hanging out (not just an American thing) and simple flip-flops. And they could still run up and down the mountain faster than you could imagine.
The mountain hike took about 2 and half hours to ascend at our very relaxed pace. We made sure to take pictures at every opportunity and try to fully enjoy ourselves despite the tough terrain. The climb involved several sections lined with ropes to help counteract the slippery mud and rocks that line the trail. There was also a cave halfway up, which provided a nice rest area for snacking and rehydrating.
The view at the top was astounding. It was easy to see for miles in every direction. We were even able to see across the border into Togo, towering mountains lining the divide between nations.
My mom and me at the top.
The descent was much easier, giving us ample time to find a tro-tro and head back to Ho and the VEG house, and all in time for dinner. After a few games of Uno, Egyptian Rat War, and Poker, it was time for bed. It was easy to sleep after the long day, but the next was even longer.
On Sunday, we all woke up to another day of lengthy travel. We had previously arranged for a driver and car to meet us at 8am and drive us around for the day. Everyone, minus a busy Wyram, piled into the mini-van, the most spacious car ride I had since arriving in Ghana (four people in the back of a taxi is a common practice).
George, our fearless and knowledgeable driver, and also a friend of Wyram’s mother, quickly got us on the road, and again we were off for more adventure.
The first stop was the Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary. With the popularization of Christianity in Ghana in the mid-1900s, animistic beliefs were thrown aside, allowing the killing of monkeys and destruction of monkey habitat to begin. At Tafi Atome, a rare species of monkey called the “Mona” monkeys was tettering on extinction. Luckily, a Peace Corp volunteer intervened in the late 1980’s. He established the sanctuary that we know today, a place where hunting and foresting is outlawed and the monkeys are free to live in peace.
After picking up some bananas on the road, we headed into the sanctuary. There we picked up a local guide who led us into the forest. It only took a few monkey calls from our guide for five monkeys to descend from the treetops, ready to meet us (well….. they were probably more interested in the bananas we were holding). With bananas held tight, we started to hold out our bananas to the monkeys. The monkeys have become very tame after countless tourist visits, so it is easy to feed them. They reach out from their perches in the trees, carefully peel the banana in your hand, and take a bite. Some even jumped onto our arms and fed from there.
See, I wasn’t kidding.
The monkeys were obviously hungry because we ran out of bananas within ten minutes. It was hard to leave the monkey sanctuary after the great fun we had, but the waterfalls were awaiting us. George hurried us along, and we were back in the van for the hour and half drive to the falls.
The Wli (pronounced “vlee”) Waterfalls contain the highest drop of water in West Africa. The pounding falls can be seen from miles away, but to truly experience their beauty, you have to get right up close and personal.
After a quick lunch within view of the falls, we headed down to the “Visitor’s Center” (a term I use extremely loosely). The first activity was meeting with the 26 year old local chief, who conveniently happens to double as the fee collector for all those looking to visit the falls. There are two different falls that are available to visit, the lower and upper falls. The upper one is much taller, but involves a quoted “3 to 4 hour hike.” The chief didn’t want us to go up to the upper falls because he said we arrived too late to get back before dark, but we were confident in our ability to beat the estimated time, and took off regardless.
With the help of our tour guide (mandatory for every foreigner), we hiked up to the upper falls at triple-speed. After 45 minutes, we were at the bottom of the upper falls, nice and sweaty; perfect conditions for a swim. And swim we did.
The immense amount of water from the falls creates a perpetual gust of wind that blows you backwards. Fighting the wind and the current, we waded into the pool, eventually finding a seat on a couple of rocks right under the shower of the water. The water fell so hard that it almost felt like mini hailstones, a welcome massage from mother nature. I’ll post an update with more pictures later. My camera isn’t waterproof, but my Danish friend David’s is, so I’ll be sure to steal some of his pictures.
The upper falls (left) and the lower falls (right).
With our sojourn into the falls complete, we hiked (more like ran) back down to the entrance. Elapsed time: 40 minutes back, 1 hour 25 minutes total hiking time (3 to 4 hours?? yeah right).
And with that, our weekend adventures were over. Only a three hour nighttime car ride with George, and we were back in Ho, ready for another work week.
Though the weekend tired me out more than a regular work day, it was great to see more of this beautiful nation. With less than two weeks before I leave Ghana for good, this past weekend reminded me of how lucky I am to be able to have an adventure like this. Ghana is truly one of a kind.