Saturday, January 22, 2011

Wli Waterfalls: a bit of Christmas magic

Ghana and the US have something in common at Christmastime: everyone and their brother (and their sister and their cousin and their cousin’s sister’s friend) are on the road on the 24th of December.  Our trip got started on Ghana time, meaning that for our 10 am start, we began the trek from Kumasi at 12:30.  Leaving Kumasi took the better part (really, the worse part) of an hour to move a few kilometers.  But once we were on the road it was mostly smooth sailing with the exception of a few slowdowns in the larger towns on the road.  Around 5:30 the road to Kpando split off from the Accra road.  The good news is that the traffic noticeably lessened.  The bad news is that the roads got noticeably worse.  We weren’t quite at the level of tarmac-deficient sections of road to Tamale, but there were some very pothole-ridden stretches.  The pitch-black of this mostly uninhabited region made for slow going, getting us in to Benee’s dad’s house in Kpando after 10 pm.

Much like any other day in the tropics, Christmas day dawned around 6 am.  We breakfasted on pan-toasted bread (thanks to Dorella) and scrambled eggs (kudos to Markus), accompanied by fresh oranges from the back garden, harvested by Kofi (the caretaker) and prepped by John (butler is probably the best way to describe his role at the houe).  Around 9:30 we started the 1.5-hour drive from Kpando to Liati Wote, the closest town to the waterfalls.

After paying our 6-cedis-per-person to see the waterfalls (discounted from GHC8 for being volunteers), we headed along the gently-sloping trail towards the falls.  In past times, one had to wade through the meandering stream a total of ten times, but now there are sturdy wooden bridges for all the crossings, making it much more tourist-friendly.  A leisurely 30-minute walk through the woods took us to the clearing at the base of lower Wli Waterfalls, the highest waterfall in West Africa.  (The walk to the upper falls was a much more grueling trek and, according to the Bradt guide, was not allowed during the rainy season, which they defined as 1 July to 31 December.)

Lower Wli Waterfall
Even at the start of the dry season, the volume of water passing over the 50-m drop of the second fall was impressive.  I laid my backpack down on a bench, grabbed my camera, lenses and tripod and wandered off to find a good vantage point for my waterfall pictures.  But I quickly got distracted by the butterflies that were swirling above some damp ground where the water puddles up from the falls.  Anyone who has been on a hike with me knows how much I love butterflies.  I stood in the middle of the butterflies, mesmerized by the colorful beating wings around me.  Utter joy and peace mixed with a tinge of sadness brought tears to my eyes as I realized that I was experiencing an almost-perfect Christmas moment, one that would have been perfect if I were sharing it with LJ.

After a few more minutes, I put the zoom lens on the camera and started snapping away to try to capture a bit of the butterfly magic for posterity.  Some of the butterflies were nothing like I’ve ever seen before, even in all the butterfly houses I’ve visited all over the world.  (More pictures of the waterfalls and butterflies can be found here.)  Eventually the butterflies seemed to tire of me, so I wandered closer to the water with my tripod to capture more pictures of the waterfall.  Markus and Benee both took a dip in the shallow but chilly water at the base of the falls, a feat all the more memorable since Benee had never ventured as close to the falls as he did that day. 

"Beautiful butterflies"
 When we showed up, there were only a few people, but as the day wore on the crowd grew much, much larger.  A group of Indians showed up, followed by about 15-20 locals.  On our way out, we watched as numerous other locals passed us carrying the makings of a great party—coolers full of food and drinks, a stereo, a generator, and a speaker the size of the guy carrying it.  Things were going to get really loud since they would have to crank the stereo to 11 to hear over the noise of the waterfalls and the generator.  Arriving back in the town of Wli Agoviefe, we headed to the German-run guesthouse, Waterfall Lodge, where Dorella was having a nice rest in the shade with a great view of the waterfall from the peaceful outdoor seating.  After some cold drinks, we strolled back to the parking lot of the visitor center, which was overrun with buses and cars and people as the party continued.

For dinner, Benee tried to find a particularly nice restaurant he remembered in Hohoe (pronounced “ha-way”, much to the detriment of this Christmas-themed post), but that didn’t quite work out.  Instead, we ended up in the tiny restaurant of the newly opened Cede’s Hotel in Kpando.  I was excited at the prospect of pizza for Christmas dinner, but unfortunately, even though pizza was on the menu, it was not available that night, a not uncommon occurrence in the restaurants we’ve frequented in Ghana.  I didn’t end up having “Chinese turkey” (reference to “A Christmas Story” for those you of you who missed it) but the chicken and rice I had might be the Ghanaian equivalent.  We spent the end of Christmas evening sitting on the veranda of the house in the cool evening air, talking with Kofi (Benee’s dad) and his wife Mary, an enjoyable end to a peaceful Christmas day.

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