We grumpily decided we’d need to get an early start that Friday (19th of January) in order to make it back to Accra with plenty of time to collect my passport from Isaac and get to the airport in time for our 3pm flight with Africa World Airlines- an airline name that defies our US president – to Tamale, a northern city that serves as the gateway to Mole National Park – Ghana’s biggest and most famous national park (which, incidentally, was not included in any of the Dragoman itineraries)
We managed to flag an empty tro tro on the side of the road that was heading to Ho. I know, this joke never gets old. Incidentally, I had forgotten to mention that when I had arrived in Amedzofe a few days prior, on foot, a taxi had pulled up alongside me, rolled down the window and asked “Ho?”.
Once we were in Ho, it was an easy transfer to another tro tro heading to Accra – and we were offered the front seat, so it was decidedly comfier. After grabbing some ice creams (which are basically plastic tubes of ice cream that you suck through the corner of the bag after you’ve ripped the corner off with your teeth) it was a relatively easy journey that even dropped us off at a bus stop for the airport.
Thankfully, Issac met us at the stop and walked with us to the airport. I haven’t walked to many airports before, so this was interesting.
After checking in, Mike and I caved in to eating some comfort food in the form of pizza and beer and before we knew it, it was time to board.
The flight only lasted 50 minutes but was incredibly comfortable and well serviced. We were given a drink of juice and a meat pie (which we thankfully ate later in the taxi heading to the park) and we were able to see the outlines of dusty villages from the dry and barren savannah lands that define the north of the country.
On arrival, we met a Cameroonian who played basketball in Austin, which is incidentally where Mike last lived before venturing out on his travels. His name was Alex, and he has started a non-proft called Leading through Reading and was there doing some work. Apparently, his parents adopted him from Cameroon when he was already 14 years old and didn’t speak a word of English. At 6ft 8”, he was a gentle giant and I’ll always remember his warm smile and demeanor.
We were bundled off into a taxi with a very miserable driver (not many of them in Ghana) who complained about my trying to negotiate a rate with him to drive us all the way to Mole saying the usual “Petrol is expensive. That is too cheap, Madam, and you understand this is the standard price…blah blah blah” bullshit that every driver spits out the moment you question his quoted fare. In any case, he was only taking us to the station where we were going to catch public transport to as close to the park as we could get.
As we headed to a tro tro, I stopped to ask another taxi driver what he would charge to drive us all the way privately (it was at least a two hour drive and would be longer/dark by public transport). I managed to negotiate a rate that was less than half what Mr Misery wanted and given the fact that he would also take us straight to the Mole Motel where we had a reservation, and the fact that we’d been traveling all day, we jumped at the chance.
This driver was the total opposite of the first. His name was Abdullah and he had the most infectious, raucous laugh that came from nowhere – he laughed at almost every thing we said, even when it was just to comment on the speed bumps.
Oh, speed bumps. In Ghana. Are the worst.
Though the fact that we timed cute noises as our driver ran his ramshackle beat up car that hadn’t seen a new cabin filter in over two decades over the bumps at breakneck speed made him crack up even more heartily.
He made the two hour journey in about 90 minutes. I had a headache from the fumes that seemed to be coming directly into the car and keeping the windows open wasn’t stopping us from inhaling it. But we were super grateful to arrive at our hotel with enough time to grab a quick bite to eat (which ended up being a rather stale and dry piece of chicken that the waiter claimed was Guinea Fowl and looked at me with a death stare for daring to question the validity of his claim) before retiring to our massive three-bedded room with corresponding three blue buckets of water in the bathroom.
Our beds had topsheets and we enjoyed a good laugh taking some pictures of me ecstatic from having a topsheet.
The next morning we woke early to catch a 7am game drive. Safaris here are some of the cheapest in Africa, costs being about $11 per person for a two hour excursion (with five persons sharing the vehicle.) . We were lucky in that we were able to share our vehicle with a group of three young ladies from the Netherlands who were volunteering in Tamale as this kept our overall cost down.
Immediately upon trying to leave Mole park headquarters, we spotted an elephant roaming around the ranger residences and getting extremely close to the tourists who had opted for a walking safari. Although it was lovely to see an elephant so soon, we didn’t want to photograph an elephant that had a crowd of people in the foreground and houses in the background. It just didn’t feel right. That, and the fact that we had paid for a vehicle, which was thus far only following the walking tour.
After heading out of the area, we passed Mole village where many of the park workers live. We saw a lot of baboons and warthogs hanging around and they seemed totally habituated to humans.
The rest of the drive did not disappoint, thought it was bitterly cold in the morning air and I cursed at myself for not grabbing my windbreaker. The safari vehicles were kitted out with rows of benches for sitting on the roof, allowing for a great viewing platform from which to spot animals. We managed to see more elephants, a beautifully vibrant-colored bird called an Abyssinian Roller, lots of antelope, waterbuck, a mongoose and we ended the drive at a watering hole complete with crocodiles. We were allowed to descend from the vehicle and take photos and as we did, another herd of elephants arrived to drink at the water and afforded us some lovely photographic opportunities.
By the time we returned, we were ravenous for breakfast and happily joined our new Dutch friends who were young enough to be our children and still shone brightly with the naivety and innocence of barely having reached adulthood.
The day grew quite hot and I was excited that the hotel had a pool. We were planning on getting changed into our bathers and taking a dip when someone called over that a group of elephants were now getting in to the watering hole and were bathing themselves.
In all, there were nine elephants that we were able to watch and observe for a good few hours as they frolicked about and swam in the lake below. I was even able to do this with a cold Smirnoff in my hands by the pool in my bikini.
I was liking Mole thus far.
After a much needed afternoon nap, I awoke to Mike returning from a very hot meander around the village where he had spotted warthogs trying to eat a carcass. I decided to shower and found myself sharing it with a little gecko who afterwards very much needed Mike’s help in getting out of the tub for fear he might get sucked down the drain.
We had a little happy smoke before heading over to the restaurant for dinner. I was very giggly. All was good.
We took a night safari that evening and though it was a little more pricey at $20 each – it had a great atmosphere to it with the night sky overhead, being all wrapped up in multiple layers, and using flashlights altogether to try and spot the animals.
As well as the same animals we’d seen during the day, we were lucky enough to also spot some Janet cats, bush babies, and a giant owl from the drive.
Getting back we were beat and as we had to face another long travel day in the morning heading back to Tamale and onward to the border with Burkina Fasso, we went straight to bed.