I’ve managed to mostly shy away from the tourist trail. Ok, that sounds arrogant. It’s been mostly an accident. My couchsurf host just happens to live in the outskirts of Accra, far from the city’s central district where expats and wealthy Ghanaians frequent hotels and trendy restaurants. I also just happened to spend a week in a not particularly remote village without any major attractions: unique in its un-uniqueness. Before this last weekend, I hadn’t spoken with a single non-African since I arrived. I don’t believe this somehow validates my experience, but it’s certainly been something I’ve appreciated. It’s also been a matter of luck, not savvy.
That’s why my trip to Mole National Park was such a strange change of pace. I spent more money in three days than I had in three weeks. I gawked at Europeans lounging by the pool about as much as I did elephants. The Ghanaians working at the hotel were tourist-wary, and practically every conversation I had with them was monetary. I would have regretted not visiting Ghana’s most popular national park, but I’m glad that I didn’t stay there for very long.
That said, before I come off sounding like a total complainy asshole, at least I got to see this:
Standing in the footprints of giants:
I also saw antelope! I got to sleep in the forest in a tree house! My guide carried a machete and a rifle! I ate with warthogs!
The park is quite large. Tourists can only access a very small portion of it and need a ranger guide to venture beyond the hotel. The hotel is the only lodging available for miles. In two days, I went on three forest walks and one jeep tour. Jurassic Park jokes abounded. I saw countless antelope, some interesting trees, and chased some elephants through the forest. They were shy (like the toddler, they’re allegedly not big fans of white folk), so I only got a picture of one’s backside, the rest obscured by trees. Still, that chase was easily the most exciting part of the trip. For a second, I felt like an adventurer. Then I remembered that I was an hour’s walk from a pool and restaurant.
There’s a town about 6 km away from the park entrance. I rode on the back of a moto to get there. My driver, Ahmed, let me steer for the last mile or so. It was pretty awesome. The town, Larabanga, contains the oldest mosque in Ghana as well as the requisite cutest children in the world. Here are both:
The town, a part of the much poorer northern region of Ghana, makes a good portion of its income from tourism, cooperative production of shea butter, and donations from visitors to Mole. The mosque is its most popular attraction. The Saudi man responsible for the mosque’s creation in the mid-15th century is buried about 10 feet from the imam’s entrance. Legend has it that after his burial, a giant baobab tree sprouted from his grave. Every year, on his birthday, locals gather leaves from the tree and make stew. It’s a quaint tradition.
In Tamale, the nearest major city to Mole, preparing to take a grueling 13 hour bus ride back to Accra, I stumbled into a chop bar. Here’s an audio clip I recorded:
You can tell; it’s loud, crowded, a stereo clips as it blasts high life. A few kids are dancing while workers laze around leisurely. It’s at once foreign and comfortably familiar. Imagine: it’s the tropics. The place smells like smoked, slightly rotting fish, chile, and oil. It’s hot, muggy, the air is dense with smoke from frying plantains. This might not sound like comfort, but believe me, it is. It’s good to be back.
And then finally, for some reason, for those with diminished expectations:
Ok, one more thing. I’d like to provide more photos on this blog, but as it turns out, I spend about 80% of my time waiting for photos to upload. The neighborhood internet cafe just doesn’t cut it. If you’d like to see some more Ghana photos, you can check out this public facebook photo album