Sunday, December 19, 2010

Mole National Park Part 2: Safaris and cellphones

Morning came way too early the next day.  We gathered up our camera gear and headed out the door towards the Information Center to meet up for our Safari Walk.  Our wildlife sightings began before we left the motel complex when we saw the warthogs that hang out near the rooms and go through the trash.

The obrunis came out in droves that morning.  There were definitely more of us than expected, as the guy running the show had to keep calling up more of the safari guides.  A couple girls were added to our group of five and we were off on our bush walk.

As we were heading over to start our walk, Nela asked our guide his name, to which he responded with a deadpan, “Guide”.  He looked at her and said, “And you are Tourist”.  Markus chimed in with, “And I am Visitor.”  DK then led us to a particular spot in the dirt road and started his spiel in which we were allowed to learn his name.  Turns out that DK does the same spiel at the same spot in the road every morning—as we learned when we got a re-run of it on our walk the next morning.

Our walk began with more warthogs and a herd of kob, one of the more common antelope species found in the park.  DK led us down from the cliff on which the motel is perched and past the salt lick where elephants can occasionally be found.  We continued our journey across the savanna, running across a bushbuck and a troop of baboons.  During our rambles, our paths led past a fresh “present” from an elephant’s meal (more specifically, the remains of it, if you catch my drift) that was fresh enough that the elephant must have been through there in the past couple hours.  Thus began our elephant hunt in earnest.
Adult male kob in the early morning light

DK was able to find the broken brambles and branches that showed an elephant had passed that way.  He even pointed out elephant footprints in the dust on the trails and road, dust that was so fine and easily disturbed that the footprints had to have been made that day.  The elephant trail led us to the area of the aardvark burrows.  Unfortunately, aardvarks are a nocturnal species, so we did not see them out and about.  But we did see a trail of soldier ants flooding across the dirt track like a stream.  We also learned about the antlions, a neat little bug that builds the entrance to its lair out of loose sand to trap ants, and even saw one in action (poor little ant never had a chance).

At this point, DK made a phone call to one of the other guides to try to find the elephants.  Watching him use a mobile phone in the middle of Ghana’s wildlife sanctuary provided a perfect melding of the images of old Africa (safari) and new Africa (cellphones).  Unfortunately, all our tramping around and the many phone calls between the guides did not yield any elephant sightings.  We finished our four-hour tramp through the forests and savanna by climbing back up to the 250-m high escarpment on which the motel sits.  Our last wildlife sighting of the walk was the baboon sitting in a tree overlooking the cliff.  Our four-hour safari walk may not have resulted in elephant sightings, but it was still unbelievably beautiful and pleasant to tramp through the park on foot, seemingly a million miles from the chaos and noise of Kumasi.

After the walk, we went back to the Information Centre to pay our 3-cedis per hour per person for our walk.  All that hard work made us very hungry so we were thrilled to have our hearty breakfast of eggs and toast and tea up at the motel, with the view overlooking the motel pool on the cliff and the watering holes down below.

During our meal, the two girls who had been in our group were at a neighboring table eating breakfast when a monkey ran up to their table, grabbed a piece of toast off one of their plates and ran off.  It happened so quickly that no one had any time to react.  The people at the patio tables down by the pool were also terrorized by the monkey—and I mean terrorized, for when they tried to shoo him off by shoving a chair at him like a lion tamer would, the monkey got angry and bared his teeth at the couple.  I was rather happy that we had finished our food before this monkey showed up. 

After a short rest, we met up with DK and the six of us piled into the Patrol with Owusu for a car safari.  One of the major advantages to the car safari over the walking safari is the ability to journey much further into the park.  Only in a few spots did we encounter the vast scorched plains that would be found everywhere within a couple months as the dry season returns.  At one point, Markus had Owusu stop the car for a photo op, which gave us the chance to stretch our legs and walk across the burnt lands.  The tall, thick grasses tended to obscure all animals except those that decided to cross the road in front of us or fly over us, such as the commonly seen bushbuck and less-often-seen western hartebeest.  Another rare sighting was some sort of duiker of a species that DK was not used to seeing in the park.  During our two-hour drive, we had some spectacular views and fascinating sights but they did not include elephants.  Even though DK had pointed out that the elephants were not trained and would not come on command, he still seemed to feel a bit bad that we had not seen any.  
Twilight view from the motel restaurant
 After the two safaris that day, it was nice to take a break in our airy room overlooking the forest.  During this rest period, we were fortunate enough that Dorella saw other guests ordering their dinner and asked about it.  Since the Mole Motel restaurant is so busy, one has to order dinner in the middle of the afternoon for it to be prepared later that evening.  I imagine if we had walked up that night without reserving our dinner, we would have ended up with rice and chicken again—assuming that they could find the time to prepare it.  Late in the afternoon, I wandered back over to the restaurant and pool area to watch the sun set over the watering holes.  During the dry season, the watering holes are the refuge of last resort for many of the animals, including the elephants, but at this time of year, the watering holes are mostly a place to see a wide variety of birds.  Watching the sun set, I got some pointers from Markus on how to take some pretty neat pictures, including this one that I took well after twilight. (Many thanks to Lane for the loan of the tripod that made pictures like this possible.)

We scheduled another walk with DK for 6 the next morning.  Would we finally see an elephant—or ten—at Mole National Park, the best place in Ghana to see them?  Stay tuned for the next installment of this ongoing saga.

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