Monday, January 10, 2011

Mole National Park and Tamale: the final chapter

Editor’s note: Until January 19, I’m on holiday to see LJ and my sister, Becky.  She’s living in Guam and LJ has customers in Australia and New Zealand.  Even though it took me a 5-hour bus ride and three flights over the course of > 24 hours it took me to get to New Zealand, it’s still the most logical place for us to meet.  Until I’m back in Ghana again, I’ll leave you with the final installment of our trip to Mole National Park in December.


We now return you to your story already in progress.  When we last left our intrepid heroes, the first day of the Mole National Park trip was over, with another safari walk scheduled for early Saturday morning—very early, since the alarm went off before sunrise. After getting dress and gearing up, we walked over to the visitor center to meet up with DK at 6 am, the time we arranged the day before.  Unfortunately, he was not there.  His absence should not have surprised us, as setting a time earlier than the usual start time for the safari walk should not be expected to work in Ghana.  The guy who seemed to be in charge of calling the guides eventually found DK.  Due to the even larger obruni flood than the previous day, four girls were added to our group of four (one less than the full five since Dorella decided to sleep in).

The morning walk started with the same spiel that DK gave the day before, which he could probably give in his sleep.  Our first wildlife sighting was a pair of warthogs fighting along the roadside.  DK had to warn one of the new girls not to get too close to the pair.  We headed off towards the housing for the park employees and their families to see the troop of baboons that hang around there.  Watching the baboons, I was struck by how human some of their behaviors were.

 As we headed off further into the bush, we caught sight of another troop exhibiting very human behaviors—a troop of tourists, that is.  Since the obrunis are such a rare sight in Ghana, we made sure to take pictures of them. The morning walk led us through some grassy areas that obviously were waterlogged during the rainy season, as evidenced by the deep elephant footprints captured in the drying mud.  As on the previous day, we saw another herd of kob and a bushbuck, the latter of which we were able to approach to within a few meters.  The highlight of the tour was the view of the watering hole from a shelter on the edge of the water.  The sheer numbers and variety of birds made me understand how Ghana could be on the serious birders circuit.  On our way back to the information center, we passed by the large dirt mounds where a couple red monkeys were playing.  We tramped our way up the trail to the escarpment on which the motel sits.  I thought the novel wildlife sightings were over, but my binoculars allowed me to catch sight of a huge eagle sitting in the top of one of the trees down on the plains.    

Three tries at seeing an elephant, but three strikes and we were out—out of Mole, that is.  After breakfast, we packed up the car and headed to Tamale.  On the drive to Tamale, we passed through numerous villages with the round huts of the northern style.   The broken A/C in the SUV meant that we spent the entire trip with the windows open.  The brutal heat of the dry north, with temperatures in the low to mid 30s (Celsius, that is) made me decide to stick my face against the open window for the trip.  This turns out to have been a bad idea for a host of reasons which will be divulged later.  Upon our arrival in Tamale at TICCS (Tamale Institute of Cross Cultural Studies), our lodging for the night, I was covered in red dust.  Removing my sunglasses, my face resembled that of a skier who wore goggles on a sunny day but no sunblock, except that all the red was dust, not sunburn.  We checked into our rooms at where I encountered a small problem with a non-working sink.  Luckily they had another room for me.

Driving around in Tamale, I realized that the Ghana guide was right about the proliferation of bicycles and motorbikes in Tamale, as well as the mosques all over the place in this transition to the Muslim north.  We headed to the cultural center in Tamale for souvenir shopping and a snack.  I picked up a number of batik-printed items handmade by the Colwod women (also referred to as COLWOOD), Collaboration with Women in Distress, an organization that helps abandoned women to learn how to support themselves.  (Thanks to Caroline for mentioning the organization.)  We retired to TICCS where we had dinner and drinks in the second-floor terrace bar.  The trip must have exhausted me because I went to bed around 9 that night.

The next morning, French toast with fresh fruit was the breakfast served in the main dining area where we were the only guests.  Since there was nothing else in particular that we wanted to see in Tamale, we packed up the car and headed home. 

The start of the long car-ride home was made much more entertaining by the addition of Kenny G does the 80s, which is what I called the Muzac versions of 80s hits that Owusu had on a CD.  Not all of you may know this, but I’m a major 80s music fan.  I threw down at this 80s trivia game that I invented, since I could identify most of these 80s hits by name and artist within the first few saxophone notes.

Passing over the Volta River, we saw the record flood levels that had devastated the villages along the banks as seen in this snapshot from the car window.  Our next water-based stop was the Kintampo Waterfall, located just north of Kintampo on the main road.  The first and second falls weren’t much to see, but the third one was rather impressive, as shown in this photo gallery.  We spent an enjoyable couple hours taking pictures and relaxing.  I spent much of that time chasing pictures of butterflies with my camera with much less success than at the Bobiri Butterfly Sanctuary.  Our last stop of the trip was at “the center of Ghana and the universe”, marked by a small square of concrete walls and a Ghanaian flag. 

 Our trip was over, but I would not soon forget it.  Remember that red dust that I inhaled during the drive from the park to Tamale?  It gave rise to a nasty sinus issue that took weeks to resolve, evolving from a cold-like situation to a likely sinus infection.  It took until the last week of December for me to feel like I was back to normal.  I’m hoping that this is not a prelude to the dry season here in Ghana, notorious to the locals for the proliferation of sinus problems. 

We may not have seen any elephants on our trip, but the visit to Mole National Park and Tamale were still an enjoyable getaway, with the desert north and the savanna park providing a nice change of scenery from the jungle surrounds of Kumasi. 

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