Countries Visited

Svalbard Spain United States of America Antarctica South Georgia Falkland Islands Bolivia Peru Ecuador Colombia Venezuela Guyana Suriname French Guiana Brazil Paraguay Uruguay Argentina Chile Greenland Canada United States of America United States of America Israel Jordan Cyprus Qatar United Arab Emirates Oman Yemen Saudia Arabia Iraq Afghanistan Turkmenistan Iran Syria Singapore China Mongolia Papua New Guinea Brunei Indonesia Malaysia Malaysia Tiawan Philippines Vietnam Cambodia Laos Thailand Myanmar Bangladesh Sri Lanka India Bhutan Nepal Pakistan Afghanistan Turkmenistan Tajikistan Kyrgyzstan Uzbekistan Japan North Korea South Korea Russia Kazakhstan Russia Montenegro Portugal Azerbaijan Armenia Georgia Ukraine Moldova Belarus Romania Bulgaria Macedonia Serbia Bosonia & Herzegovina Turkey Greece Albania Croatia Hungary Slovakia Slovenia Malta Spain Portugal Spain France Italy Italy Austria Switzerland Belgium France Ireland United Kingdom Norway Sweden Finland Estonia Latvia Lithuania Russia Poland Czech Republic Germany Denmark The Netherlands Iceland El Salvador Guatemala Panama Costa Rica Nicaragua Honduras Belize Mexico Trinidad & Tobago Puerto Rico Dominican Republic Haiti Jamaica The Bahamas Cuba Vanuatu Australia Solomon Islands Fiji New Caledonia New Zealand Eritrea Ethiopia Djibouti Somalia Kenya Uganda Tanzania Rwanda Burundi Madagascar Namibia Botswana South Africa Lesotho Swaziland Zimbabwe Mozambique Malawi Zambia Angola Democratic Repbulic of Congo Republic of Congo Gabon Equatorial Guinea Central African Republic Cameroon Nigeria Togo Ghana Burkina Fasso Cote d'Ivoire Liberia Sierra Leone Guinea Guinea Bissau The Gambia Senegal Mali Mauritania Niger Western Sahara Sudan Chad Egypt Libya Tunisia Morocco Algeria
Map Legend: 28%, 75 of 263 Territories

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Down the dirt road: Northern Ghana

Pop quiz: What country has towns called Mole and Tamale, and big vats of rice and beans for sale on every corner? No, it's not's Ghana! (Which is nothing like Mexico otherwise, as far as I can tell.)

Ghana was something like a promised land for me and Andy. We tried to resist building it up in our minds too much before we got there, but since our book and everyone we talked to who had been there couldn't shut up about the air-conditioned buses and glittery Accra Mall and English-speaking population, we had sort of high expectations. Too high.

I will admit that we were warned that northern Ghana was like a different country from southern Ghana, and that certainly is true. We entered in the north, and it definitely had just as many malnourished children, awful dirt roads, and uncomfortable packed bush taxis as any other country we've been to in West Africa. But it also had its good bits. Here are some snapshots from our time in the north and central parts of the country.

We entered Ghana from Burkina Faso at Hamile, a remote border crossing in the northwest of the country. We crossed there because it was the nearest point to the even more remote Wechiau Hippo Sanctuary, which we were excited to visit. The hippos turned out to be cool, but after a full day of travel to get there (and then another long day to get away), we only got to spend about 30 minutes observing them in the protected part of the Black Volta river where they live. Also, our "ecotourism guide" was a 17-year old girl from the village who didn't really know anything about hippos. So, overall, we decided it wasn't really worth all the effort of getting there, but here are a few shots of our new hippo friends.

Stealth hippos.
Ferocious hippo roar. Or yawn. You decide.
Our next destination was Mole National Park, which is definitely the wildlife-watching highlight of Ghana. We had an excellent guide on our three-hour walking safari, and saw all sorts of cool creatures. (Too bad it's down an abysmal dirt road and the motel in the park is usuriously priced...still worth the visit, though.)

The park has three types of antelope. We forget the name of this one, but it's the most common.
While we were watching some warthogs from afar, a troupe of mongeese dashed across the path! We named the one in this picture Rikitikitavi (sp?), of course. Special note: I think I took this picture.
Warthog faceoff! Our guide told us that these ones are brothers, and sometimes brother warthogs will live together once the king warthog forces them out (all males except the dominant male get forced out, but most of these then live solitarily).
Brief break from the animals to show you the bathroom signs in the park. I would like to learn how to pee like this woman.
This is an African pintail butterfly. If you knew how long Andy has been trying to get a picture of one of these, you'd feel very happy for him right now.
I took this picture, too! It is a termite on a termite mound. The mounds are huge and everywhere in West Africa. They look like castles.
Monkey rides bigger monkey! The red butt identifies these specimens as baboons, which my cousin Merrie reminds me are monkeys, not apes. Pretty big monkeys, though. They are all over Mole and aren't scared of humans at all.
I call this one the baboon madonna and child.

But the highlight of our visit to Mole was undeniably the elephants we were lucky enough to come across. Andy didn't get to ride one, but we got quite close to them in a big open field space at the end of our walk. They had just had a swim, it seems, but didn't manage to wash up their upper third or so.
Here's one we saw at the nearby watering hole shortly after. We learned that an elephant can't just put its mouth in the water and drink, it has to suck it up into its trunk and then squirt into its mouth. Ever since learning that, I have also refused to drink water unless it's been up my nose first.

After Mole, we continued down the worst road in Ghana to Tamale, the largest and most Muslim city in the north, where we spent one night. I don't think we have any pictures from there--there's not too much to see--but we did make a bunch of new friends at our hostel, including Tim the Canadian volunteer and Lily the British med student doing an internship at a local hospital. We also met up with Corey, a Peace Corps volunteer we had met in Mali who invited us to get in touch when we reached Tamale. Ghana is absolutely crawling with volunteers and we probably made more friends traveling there than any other country.

Anyway, we all went out for a great meal and then some drinks at a bar that was also having an amazingly energetic African dance performance. You should have seen the muscles on these shirtless male dancers...oh, and the women were good, too.

From Tamale, we continued south to Kumasi, Ghana's second-largest city. Not the most exciting place in the world, but it's known for having the biggest market in West Africa, which dominates the city center and spills out into all the surrounding streets. It's a crazy place, but we managed to buy some good fresh groundnut paste (a.k.a. peanut butter) there. Here's a view of just some of the covered stalls from above.

Andy loved the shoe vendors, mostly because they appeared to often be selling single shoes, not pairs. I surmised that they must have the second shoe hidden somewhere, like as an anti-theft precaution, but Andy disagrees. Your thoughts? Anyway, here is a typical pavement shoe display.
We took a break from the market to visit the museum in the quiet grounds of the city's cultural center. It had a lot of interesting artefacts of the Ashanti, the major ethnic group in southern Ghana. In the heyday of the "Gold Coast," they used brass weights to measure out gold dust, but each different weight was molded into a beautifully intricate little figurine of an animal or person or other symbol. Each symbol was a different weight.

But the most fun thing about this museum is probably how many receipts they gave us. Here and at Mole National Park, receipts only come in the denomination of 1 cedi (about 75 cents) and they insist on giving you one receipt for every cedi you spent on admission. Here I am displaying our stash of receipts from Mole--20 of them, since admission was 10 cedi each. Funerals are a really big deal in Ghana, and people will advertise them by posting flyers around town. They always have a picture, the name and age of the deceased, and a long list of "principal mourners" and the many services and celebrations that are planned on behalf of the person who died. And everyone is invited.
We have read that funerals often cost more than weddings and put a huge financial burden on poor families. We also heard that if you are wealthy, you may hire a "professional wailer" to wail for the duration of the funeral so that you can be free to go enjoy the food and the music.

Wailing is apparently a very important part of the funeral--we learned this firsthand when we were in the tro-tro (crowded, falling-apart minibus) out to the hippo sanctuary and as we pulled into a village, one of the women on the bus suddenly burst out wailing and scared the heck out of us. The car stopped, and we frantically asked the driver what was wrong, thinking we must have hit someone, probably this woman's child. He told us not to worry, that she was going to a funeral and they'd just reached the village, so she had to start wailing. It was like we had crossed a certain geographical border, so the mourning sounds got switched on.

Kumasi had a lot of good signs, but my favorite was this billboard. If you've ever seen women (often with babies on their backs) pounding yams for hours to make them into gooey fufu paste, then you might understand the appeal a stress-free, instant fufu mix...
So, that's all for the parts of Ghana most vacationers don't go to. We'll check back in soon with pictures from the capital (Accra) and the fantastic beachfront eco-lodge where we (and about a zillion Peace Corps volunteers) chilled out for a few days.


  1. I think peeing like that woman in the sign would require hip flexibility, glute strength, and kneejoint-lubrication that I will likely never achieve in this lifetime. Impressive!


  2. Also...I would need to pee in front of a wind machine in order to have my hair flying out behind me like that. (And that could get messy.)

  3. It is truly amazing that that woman is peeing against the wind machine.

    Did you get pics/video of the dancing?? My African dance teacher is from Ghana. If she were there with you, she would be teaching you to free your hips!