The first section of our independent journey took us to the mountainous region of Lake Volta, close to the border with Togo. Since the area has a bit of altitude, we were promised some cooler breezes, which would be oh so welcome after Accra.
First, we had to use the services of the Dragoman “fixer” (essentially a local guy who can arrange things that are difficult/get shit done) to go straight to the Burkina Fasso embassy to arrange for my visa, and have them understand that it would be ok for Isaac to pick the passport back up for us that Friday and bring it to the airport in time for us to fly to Mole.
I was amazed at just how quickly the process went. I paid my $100, filled in a form, and we were out of there in under 15 minutes. Mike was perturbed and assured me that other things would definitely prove to be more difficult, moving forward. Haha!
For this section of the journey we would be utilizing many different forms of public transport. To date we have used Tro-Tros (basically a minivan that leaves a starting point once it is full, and that means full in the African sense of the word; literally not a cubic square inch of air that doesn’t contain a person, animal or cargo; and is quite inexpensive and probably the most popular form of public transportation) Buses, Motorcycles (that put our large pieces of luggage on the handlebars between their arms as they drive) Motorcycle drawn “motorcart”, car taxis, bicycles, and our two feet. It has actually been a lot easier in certain sections than I was expecting and it was more difficult in others.
On this journey to the tiny village of Biapka, near Amedzofe, we took a Tro Tro, or minibus and it was quite cramped and stiflingly hot inside the vehicle. I was also cursing myself for bringing a small day pack and my travel purse which sat heavy on my lap. We were heading to Akosombo in the hopes of making it there by 3pm to take a tour of the dam there that creates Lake Volta. Unfortunately, it became clear that we weren’t gonna make it by then, and so we got off the Tro Tro at the next intersection and boarded a different one headed to Hohoe and the accommodation we were planning on staying at for 3 nights – Mountain Paradise lodge.
One of the main difficulties with public transport in this region of the world is needing to plan around bladder issues/maintenance. There are very few public toilets and most guys just get off the tro tro at a transfer stop and just pee against a wall. With hundreds of people around, such a location does not make it easy to pee as a woman. As such, we would typically limit our liquid intake during the day and try to rehydrate at night. It is all part of the experience that locals suffer through every day, so I’m not gonna complain about it.
By the times we reached the crossroads where we would try to get a taxi to Biakpa, it was getting close to sunset. Luckily there were two moto drivers there waiting (possibly notified of our arrival by our hotel manager, Tony) to pick us up.
It will be one of the highlights of my trip in West Africa, remembering that cool breeze flowing over my sweat-drenched body as I held on to the back of my motorcycle driver, as we winded up the mountain road through beautiful lush green scenery as the sun was setting.
The view on arrival was jaw-droppingly beautiful. Our hotel was situated on a cliff overlooking the valley below with a curtain vista of mountains surrounding the location. The hotel bar/restaurant was perched on the edge, and our room enjoyed a pretty verandah with potted plants and a few fearful kitties roaming around. It was peaceful, and more importantly, the temperature was refreshingly cool.
The staff at this accommodation were some of the most client-service focused we’d come across. The coffee was local and NOT Nescafe (win!) the food freshly prepared and delicious and there was plenty of information about the surrounding attractions and transportation options.
Our first day started off lazily with breakfast and obligatory post-breakfast nap. We then headed out on a long hike through the village of Biapka where we were told we could find a local to show us the “route” through the forest to the village of Amedzofe from where we could climb the second highest peak in Ghana, Mt. Gemi. Unfortunately, we came across a young lad who said he knew exactly where said path was, but after taking us to it for about 15 minutes and pointing in a direction saying we only needed to go straight, we found ourselves in need of a machete as the trail became impassable for vegetation.
The young lad had clearly led us astray and we weren’t exactly sure of his motivation. Was it to earn the few Cd’s we gave him? Was he embarrassed that he didn’t really know the way? Or was it the classic African “I don’t know the answer to this white person’s question so I’ll just tell them something because I want to be helpful and that is clearly better than telling them that I don’t know, even if it means they will get completely lost.”
This happens all the time.
It ended up being quite funny and definitely adds to the story overall, I think. We came across what looked like a deadly Green Mamba snake that had a beautiful blue head and green body sitting bolt upright on the trail. We gave it a wide berth and escaped what would inevitably be a much bigger diversion to our day had one of us been bitten.
Getting back into town we thought it safer to stick to the road, and soon we were picked up by a motorbike who had been told to look for “two white people walking to Amedzofe”. TIA.
The driver was very sweet, but his bike was less than powerful and struggled to carry the three of us up the steep road to Amedzofe without stalling every few hundred meters. Eventually, we made it to the village which was very charming.
After registering for the hike to Mt. Gemi, and purchasing some popcorn on the side of the road, we made the climb to the summit where sat a large metal cross, clearly signifying something that wasn’t explained.
While beautiful, the surrounding scenery was obscured by thick harmattan air quality, but we were enjoying finally getting some cardio after weeks and weeks of mostly sitting on a truck.
Heading back to town, we stopped at a family’s home to purchase some home produced honey and then to the local village bar where we bought two large ice-cold beers to celebrate the afternoon’s exertions.
We became a point of focus and people greeted us as they walked by, and we sat happily watching the village afternoon pass by complete with wandering chickens, goats, shoeless children and curious local folk.
A man called Frank, wearing a Givenchy Paris t-shirt with the American flag on it, stopped to make conversation and we were soon engaged in an interesting discussion about homosexuality. Apparently, he was curious about how gay people integrate into society in America, and how we felt about them in general.
Being a strong Christian, he shared the belief system of many Ghanaians in that he felt homosexuality a “sin” and a “choice” that men made that shouldn’t be permitted by society. He seemed somewhat open, however, after I pointed out to him that being gay was as much a choice as his being black or our being white.
That seemed to get him thinking, which made me happy.
Since we were connecting, Frank offered to take us to a waterfall once we had finished our beer. We were delighted and accepted his generous offer.
The hike was steep going down to the falls, and one had to hold onto a bunch of ropes that had been constructed alongside the trail. We were having a lot of fun, playing Michael Jackson songs upon learning that he was Frank’s favorite US artist.
The waterfall was pretty, but it was mostly the magic of connecting with a local, combined with the chance to explore the outdoors again that was putting a big smile on my face, making me know for sure that I had made the right decision to travel with Mike.
Upon our return to Mountain Paradise, we learned that one of the staff members had successfully been able to procure some much-yearned for weed for Mike and I to enjoy. Neither Mike nor I had much in the way of experience of rolling a joint, and unfortunately, the pot had arrived packaged in lovely little brown paper parcels, but no rolling paper.
What ensued was hilarious as King, the member of staff wickedly helping us commit this crime, took pages from his math homework book and rolled us a home-created joint. We took photos as the written fractions burnt away as we happily smoked and laughed at the scenario. Who knew you could roll a joint with exercise notebook paper?
It felt so good to be stoned again. And dinner was extra delicious;-)
The next day we left on motorcycle early to visit the Monkey sanctuary in Tafi Atome, a 20 minute ride away. Though totally wild, these Mona monkeys are habituated to the villagers and will come and eat bananas directly from your hands, climbing all over you in the process.
I was glad I had chosen to wear long sleeves!
It was a unique, up and close wildlife experience, even if a little disconcerting when multiple individuals jumped up on you at the same time to grab banana.
Our driver took us to the local market afterwards where we happily drank some fresh coconut water and bought a pineapple for “dessert” later. After taking lots of pictures, we were ready to head back to the lodge for a siesta.
Later on we took another hike to a local waterfall. Since we had to walk on the road to the trailhead, we laughed as Felix, our motorcycle driver with the weaker bike from the day before, spotted us and pulled over to drive us to said trailhead for free. We were becoming known by the locals.
The waterfall was well worth the steep hike and as was becoming normal in this region, we were the only people there as we jumped in for a refreshing swim. With some wise planning, I had brought a large beer with me which we sank into the runoff to cool while we swam.
Cold beer. Waterfall. Beautiful hike. Solitude. Amazing.
I absolutely loved my time in this region. I would highly recommend it to anyone else coming to Ghana. It has such a slower pace of life than Accra or other cities. That evening, we enjoyed another well-deserved joint and giggled through dinner. As exhaustion and a pot-induced haze sank in, we settled in the lodge garden for some of the pineapple that we’d set out to enjoy as dessert.
Inexplicably, we lost the pineapple and couldn’t stop laughing as we shone our headlamps on the ground by our feet wondering where it could possibly have rolled off to?
Lost pineapple. Newly-found joy.