Sunday, January 30, 2011

Mount Afadjato: Standing on top of the world (er, Ghana)

Two days after Christmas, I got the most exercise I’ve had since I arrived in this country.  Our plan for the day was a hike to the highest point in Ghana, the top of Mount Afadjato, a staggering 885 m above sea level (just over 2900 feet, for those of you who aren’t good with the metric system).  Thanks to the advice of Mr. Tagboto’s driver, Benee took a shortcut on a well-maintained dirt road, getting us to the start of the hike in less than an hour.  After checking in at the visitor center to pay our fee for the hike, our guide hopped into the back of our SUV for a three-minute drive to the start of the hike.  Our group rather quickly segmented into three pairs of hikers: Markus with the guide in front of him, Steffi and me in the middle, and Benee and Dorella bringing up the rear. 

The hike itself was a grueling trek up a steep slope, with the last hundred meters or so being a scramble up a particularly rocky section.  Our guide negotiated it rather easily in his cheap flip-flops, the same footwear worn by a few local kids who passed us on the way up.  Unbeknownst to Markus, he was being raced to the top by a few kids from a Kumasi church group—very “cheetah-like”, as they would sprint past him and then wait until they saw him to sprint again.  Turns out that Markus won the race even though he had no idea it was a competition. 

About halfway up, our guide came back down to check on us.  We sent him below to check on Benee and Dorella.  When he came back up, he said that they had decided to head back down the mountain, which seemed like a reasonable choice given the difficulty of the hike.  Steffi pulled away from me towards the top of the mountain as I stopped a few times to rest my weary legs and arms.  Finally I crested the summit of the mountain with photographic proof of my summit taken by the resident group photographer, Markus.  With how tiring it was, it still took less than an hour.

Standing on top of Mount Afadjato
 Not too much later, the rest of the Kumasi church group made it to the summit for the group photo shown here.  Steffi and I each ended up in quite a few pictures taken by “Charles”, the guy in the church group who owned a camera.  The group stayed for only five or ten minutes before heading back down.  The trek to the top was too exhausting for me to want to hurry back down, so the four of us (Steffi, Markus, the guide and I) hung around at the top for a while longer.

 And it’s a good thing we did, because eventually we saw the most unexpected sight: Benee and Dorella coming up the top of the rocky trail.  After pausing at a rest stop about halfway up, probably where our guide found them, they pressed on to make the summit.  I was both surprised and happy for them to have conquered the trail.  I was reminded of my long, exhausting Longs’ Peak hike many summers ago in Colorado, in which I was the one who stopped along the way but then summitted the mountain to the surprise and joy of my fellow hikers.  While on top of the Mount Afadjato, I was struck by how much it seemed like the perfect spot for a commercial, prompting me to get Markus to take a picture of me with the Voltic water that made the hike possible.  

Kumasi church group
Setting off down the mountain, I told everyone not to wait on me, as I knew that descending would be a much slower process for me, mostly due to the many years of wear and tear on my knees from ultimate.  Benee ended up hiking down with me, which was a very good thing.  Maybe a third of the way down, my tired legs allowed me to wander too close to the edge of the trail, where suddenly my heel caught some gravel.  I slipped off the edge of the trail and started sliding down the mountain.  While watching my slide, Benee’s first thought was of how far I would slide down the mountain before I stopped falling, followed in quick succession by wondering how he would help me get back onto the trail.  After only a few feet, my fall was arrested—by thorn-covered vines that grabbed onto my pants and bare arms.  I’m glad I had the forethought to put the bottom half of the convertible pants back on or I would have ended up with some really nasty scratches on my legs in addition to the few I got on my arms. 

My hands and heels scrabbled for anything that would allow me to push myself back up.  I managed to kick my way back up close enough to the trail that Benee wanted to help.  He reached down to grab my hand, but I told him, “Grab onto the strap on my backpack,” leaving my hands free to continue pushing my way back onto the trail.  With Benee pulling me up, I crawled back up onto the trail, much wearied from my efforts.  At that point, we both took a short but sorely needed break.

Our downward journey continued, broken by a couple more rest breaks to allow our shaking legs to recover enough to continue the descent.  After what seemed like an eternity—but in reality was probably less than an hour and a half—we reached the trailhead where Steffi, Markus and Dorella were waiting.  Using my arms to pull myself up the slope was the only way that I was able to summit, but I paid for it dearly when I woke up the next morning.  I felt like I had spent hours dead-lifting in the weight room.  My legs were no better off and felt like I had played an entire Frisbee tournament.  This experience was an all-too-painful reminder of how little exercise I’ve gotten since I got here, but was still well worth the effort for the views (pictures linked here).

Our Lady of Lourdes: 4th Station
After the hike, we dropped Dorella back at the house and drove to the Our Lady of Lourdes Shrine, located 8 km from Kpando in Agbenoxoe.  Upon an east-facing hillside, there are a series of fourteen sculptures related to the crucifixion of Christ (known to Catholics as the Stations of the Cross) and a massive statue of the Virgin Mary.  The resident priest was there with a group of mourners who were walking through the stations in honor of a lost loved one.  The silence of the shrine was a peaceful respite from the hustle and noise found throughout most of my time in Ghana.  The late afternoon light gave a beautiful glow to some of the sculptures, with one of the best examples being the fourth station (Jesus Meets his Sorrowful Mother) shown here.

After our time at the shrine, we found a little bar and had a couple drinks while waiting for sunset.  Benee drove us a little ways down the road to Torkor to take sunset pictures, which were less than impressive due to the hazy cloud cover.  After returning to the house for showers, we drove to Ho for dinner at a little place recommended in both the English and German guidebooks.

Given our busy day on Monday, we slept in on Tuesday and had a lovely breakfast around 9.  We packed up our things, took a few pictures in front of the house with Benee and Kofi and Mary and started on our journey back to Kumasi.  Around 12:30 we arrived at the Adome Bridge, “a massive suspension bridge that forms one of only two places where cars are able to cross the Lower Volta” (as described in the Bradt guide).  The bridge is rather impressive, especially when a large truck crosses the bridge, causing it to shake on its rails.  The views from the Volta Hotel the other day made us want to return to show Steffi and Markus.  We enjoyed a long, leisurely lunch on the large veranda with the view overlooking the dam.  After a long but uneventful drive, we arrived back home at the house in Kumasi, tired but relaxed from our non-traditional Christmas.

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