Monkeying around

– by Zoe

Last week, we went on an awesome day trip.

After possibly the bumpiest journey I’ve ever been on (and that was in a 4×4, so I can’t even imagine how the people in the taxi behind us felt), we arrived at Boabeng-Fiema monkey sanctuary. The monkeys go daily to the villages of Boabeng and Fiema between 7-9am and 3-5pm. Unfortunately, we arrived at about 11am, so we had to search for them in the nearby forest. We also saw the monkey cemetery, where all monkeys are given a proper burial by the villagers.

Afterwards, we went to Kintampo waterfalls, which may now be my favourite place in Ghana…

 

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Challenge week complete

By Molly

So, it seems that surviving in Ghana without the luxury of carbohydrate foods is actually possible. Who would have thought?

To say that it was easy would be a lie – not only because we spent the majority of the week with very little energy but because of the sheer inconvenience it caused to have a no carb diet in a country that is so dependent on the food group.

This was especially difficult at lunch times. Our fellow team mates would stroll around the corner to the rice man and tuck in to their fried rice and chicken while myself and Zoe would be roaming the streets looking for something we were actually allowed to eat. The majority of lunch times would consist of meat on a stick and some fruit (followed by a look of utter confusion by any Ghanaian that happened to walked by).

lunch time delights

lunch time delights

Leftover beans brought to work in a butter pot... Casual

On a more positive note – being unable to eat carbohydrates meant that we became a lot more adventurous with our meals at home. Our weekly market shop actually had some order to it and we even made a meal plan for the week.

home made chicken soup

Every cloud really does have a silver lining…

8 quotes to sum up my travels

By Zoe

Wli waterfalls, Volta Region, Ghana

Admiring Wli waterfalls

Last week, I took advantage of a week’s break between groups of volunteers to see some of the parts of Ghana that are that bit too far for a daytrip from Tamale… There were some amazing sights, but as always in Ghana, the trip was made by the people I met… and the things that they said…

1. “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers” said E, who was pretty much a stranger when we agreed to get in his car for a trip to Akosombo Dam and Wli waterfalls. While the kindness of this stranger could not be disputed, it was somewhat unsettling that he kept quoting Blanche Dubois, a character who is committed to a mental institution.

2. “I insist that you take my bed,” said L. After we arrived in Nkawkaw at the beginning of the 4 days of Easter celebrations with no hotel bookings, L, who sells phone credit at the bus station, took pity on us and invited us to stay in her own home… and, in fact, in her own bed, while she slept on the floor.

Paragliding Kwahu, Ghana

Paragliding at the Kwahu Easter Festival

3. “I can’t help it that she’s such a big girl” said the pilot of my paraglider at the Kwahu festival after we crash-landed into a patch of scrubland. Followed by “it’s only a scratch” as he rubbed dirt into the open wound I’d sustained when I hit the ground violently, with him on my back. The local children gathered around laughing and taking photographs of the bleeding foreigner on their mobile phones.

Lake Bosumtwi, Ghana

Lake Bosumtwi, a crater lake caused by a meteorite

4. “Oh, I just sold you to that man in the comedy sunglasses” said S, when I asked why everyone on our trotro from Lake Bosumtwi was laughing. “Oh right, for how much?” “Fifteen cows. You fetched a good price, because you’re white.”

5. “I’m ready… but not desperate” said F, in Cape Coast, when asked of his opinion on marriage, immediately drawing a contrast with the UK where a single man in his mid-twenties would be very unlikely to admit to wanting to marry… and also distinguishing himself from those who take more of the ‘desperate’ approach when chatting you up…

Elmina shipyard, Ghana

Elmina shipyard. I don’t work here.

6. “See, you cannot work here!” said the shipyard owner in Elmina. We had asked him if we could have jobs, and he had told us that girls couldn’t do the work. In an attempt to show off our strength, we tried to pick up a small wooden boat… and failed. Guess it’s back to volunteering then…

7. “You have to pay me, that’s how trotros work!” said the rogue trotro driver who had picked us up after our journey to Nzulezu. “Yes, if you take us where we want to go… but not if you tell us that you are taking us to our destination and in fact take us half an hour in the opposite direction.” 13 ½ hours after we had set off, we arrived back at our hostel.

Strangling Fig, Kakum National Park, Ghana

The strangling fig  demonstrates the importance of an equal partnership in relationships. Apparently.

8. “If you are having issues in the bedroom, see me after the tour,” said the brilliant guide of our ‘nature walk’ in Kakum National Park to the rather embarrassed middle-aged father on our group. She had managed to turn information about every tree or plant that we looked at into some form of relationship advice – the strangler fig was a reminder of the importance of giving and receiving equally in a relationship, while the mahogany tree apparently provides a natural remedy for erectile dysfunction.

Thank you so much to T, E, P, L, S, H, I, F, B and everyone else we met on our travels. It was an amazing week and wouldn’t have been the same without you…

Into the woods

by Ben

Throughout our time in Ghana we had heard people talking about and recommending we visit Mole National Park and so last week the whole of the ICS Ghana team got together to see just what all the fuss was about. Cramming into our little bus, kindly lent to us (driver included) by our host charity, we set off on a 200km journey down ‘Death Road’ to see Ghana’s premier tourist attraction: elephants.

The Mole Motel and its swimming pool and restaurant are pretty nice, all the rooms have air-conditioning and there’s western food on the menu. The restaurant and swimming pool overlook a watering hole used regularly by the elephants and you often see baboons and warthogs poking their noses around. You can sit and enjoy your breakfast,watch the elephants bathing in the water and have a cheeky dip in the pool yourself before nipping back to your air-conditioned room and heading out on your safari. Sounds great doesn’t it? Not to us. Being the first ICS team in Ghana has empowered us with feeling of being intrepid explorers – we’re path finders, we’re trend setters, we’re reckless and we’re out of control . Letting our guinea pig instincts take over, we turned our nose up at the luxury on offer and we opted to stay in Mole’s treehouse. Air-conditioning is for the weak. Real adventurers sleep under the stars.

Mole treehouse Mole National Park treehouse

Real adventurers sleep under the stars…

To be honest we had no idea what we were signing up for. We’d found out about the treehouse through word of mouth. There’s no website for Mole and our attempts to find out about the treehouse online resulted in some nondescript blogs and a picture of a staircase. When phoning Mole, the whole arrangement for booking it seemed so casual that we weren’t even entirely confident that we wouldn’t turn up and find another group claiming they’d also booked it. Like Robert Scott and Sir Ranulph Fiennes before us, we pushed on in the face of doubt and uncertainty.

Mole treehouse maximum 10 people

10, 12… what’s the difference?

What we found out in the jungle was a treehouse befitting my childish aspirations, although it explicitly said it held only 10 people. According to the person on the phone, though, they’ve had up to 19 in it before, so we persevered; surely our band of 12 (including the guide who stayed overnight with us) would not be the straw that breaks the camel’s back? Being the organised group that we are, we had brought foam to sleep on, so we didn’t need to take up the offer of ground mats – and we threw caution to the wind and opted against putting up mosquito nets, which we’d brought with us but were also available to hire.

Mole treehouse sleeping platform

Plenty of room for everyone!

The guide told us that if we were quiet would be able to hear baboons, hyenas and all manner of creatures in the night; All I could hear was one of our team leaders snoring and incessant laughter, which no doubt scared away anything in ear shot. The treehouse itself has a raised central ‘table’ which can double up as a sleeping platform, and benches around the outside that you can sit or sleep on whilst watching the animals go about their business. The whole experience is certainly one none of us will forget. At points it was about as uncomfortable as you can imagine, even if some of our group were adamant the wooden bench they slept on was the African equivalent of memory foam. However, that didn’t take anything away from the experience – in fact it’s hard to suggest it didn’t heighten it. The shared experience of sleeping under the stars and waking up in the jungle is one none of us is likely to repeat again and while some of our friends stayed in the hotel and enjoyed it, they won’t be writing a blog post about it any time soon!

Mole National Park treehouse

Fresh-faced after a night in the treehouse

Despite it all we’d thoroughly recommend it. You can’t put a price on the experience or the laughter that we shared; there are too many private jokes to even list from that night and its antics. In the morning we set off from the treehouse on a walking safari where we stared death in the face as an elephant confronted us and then attacked our guide – but that’s another story for another time…

PS. The treehouse costs 30 cedi per person per night, and sleeping mats or mosquito nets can be hired for 3 cedi each. It took us a while to track down the telephone number for the Mole treehouse… send us a message if you would like it!

Always room for one more…

…seems to be the most popular policy when it comes to loading vehicles here in Northern Ghana…

Always room for one more, transport Ghana

 

What happens if you give a Ghanaian child your camera

by Zoe

As team leader, one of the key skills that I need to use on a day to day basis is delegation. And frankly, I think I’m a pro.

Last week, for example, we were in a village in rural Northern Ghana doing our fieldwork. So I delegated the interviewing to the other team members. Then I delegated photography to a small Ghanaian child who had never used a camera before, and started a slapsies tournament.

Here’s what happens if you give a small Ghanaian child  your camera:

Half time, free time

by Ben

The second half of a journey always seems to go faster than the first, doesn’t it? When you meet that milestone, you find the steady incline you were on turns quickly and dramatically into a slippery slope to the end, leaving you wondering where time went. Sometimes the halfway point on a long journey is a moment to celebrate. You can sit back and relax, safe in the knowledge that the milestone is behind you and you’re edging ever closer to your destination. In our case we are incredibly aware of the limited time we have left on our project and in the country, so we are now busy planning how best to maximise our remaining 6 weeks.

IMG_4926On the project front, we’ve nearly completed one set of field trips to the Savelugu district which is just north of Tamale. We’ve visited three communities and spoken to some amazing individuals who have been kind enough to give us their time and share their experiences. The open and friendly nature of these communities is in stark contrast to the introverted nature of city life that I am used to in the UK. It’s been fantastic to listen and learn from what they have to say, and what is most humbling is the gregarious nature of the people. They’re happy to give you their time and share what they have with you in the hope that it will allow our charity to come back and benefit not just them, but their community as a whole. 

Ben does his best Bear Grylls impression

Ben does his best Bear Grylls impression

As far as our personal adventures go, we are quite fortunate to be in a more central part of Ghana than some of the other volunteer groups, which gives us easier access to the country. Last weekend, we decided to travel some 200km south to the Brong Ahafo region to find the Kintampo waterfalls. Kintampo has 3 waterfalls and the largest is one of the highest in Ghana; a towering 25 metres. The area itself, although a tourist site, is secluded and hidden by deep forest and vegetation. Inspired by the Bear Grylls boxset I brought with me, we proceeded to climb over and around the smaller waterfalls like the intrepid explorers that we clearly were in another life. That was until Rhogan lost a flip-flop in the water; it disappeared down into the rocks and crevices and never resurfaced.After a quiet vigil we moved onto the main waterfall where you can go swimming in the pool at the bottom. You could really feel the power of the water as you sat underneath it, it was a fantastic experience and one we would definitely recommend – just be sure to arrive early because once the crowds turn up, the experience is very, very different.

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Next weekend all the volunteers will be meeting again in Tamale before we head to Mole National Park, one of the main tourist sites in Ghana. There we hope to see elephants, baboons, monkeys and all manner of creatures all the while sleeping under the stars (and mosquito nets) in a tree house that overlooks a watering hole frequented by elephants. Needless to say we’re very excited and hope to have many more experiences in our remaining 6 weeks with so much of Ghana yet to be seen.