A Northern Odyssey

We’ve been living in Ghana for about six months now, but had not explored beyond the south coast (between Accra and Cape Coast).  So we added some leave to the Easter break, and headed north for ten days.

Kumasi

Our trip had an inauspicious start, when the taxi taking us to the bus station in Accra got a flat tyre.  The bus journey to Kumasi (Ghana’s second city, in the Ashanti region in the middle of the country) takes six hours, partly because the road is so bad in places.   And the taxi driver in Kumasi could not find our hotel – but eventually we got there, and stayed three nights.

Kumasi’s main tourist attraction is probably the vast market: the largest in West Africa, though rather too crowded and noisy for our taste.  We made a couple of trips outside the city.  The first was to Lake Bosomtwe (created by a meteor) where we walked and hired a pedalo.  The other was to see one of the traditional shrines of the Ashanti people, and then go to a village where there is a community-based tourism project: a guide shows you how cocoa is grown and kente cloth is woven, and the fee for the tour benefits the local people.

Lake Bosomtwe (an ancient meteor crater)

Besease shrine, an example of an Ashanti ritual building

Ian has a go at weaving kente cloth

...and showing off the finished product

Further north…….

On Monday 9th April we were picked up by Ahmed, who was to be our driver/guide for the next five days.  He took us north to Tamale – an even longer journey than Accra-Kumasi, but surprisingly the road was in better condition.  The scenery changed on the way: in the Kumasi area it was very green, with tall grass, bushes and trees, almost jungle-like, but further north it became savannah, grassland (mainly red/brown) with occasional trees.  On the way we stopped to visit the Kintampo Falls.  We were totally flabbergasted by the number of (local) people there: evidently it’s the place to have a picnic and a splash on a public holiday!

Kintampo Falls on Bank Holiday Monday

Tamale is the largest city in northern Ghana, which is predominantly Muslim, in contrast with the strongly Christian south.   You therefore see plenty of mosques, large and small, in Tamale, and also plenty of bicycles and motorbikes.  The city is frenetic, and not easy to walk around.

Mosque and motorbikes in Tamale

The next day we went even further north, to Tongo (where there are interesting rock formations, unlike anything else we’ve seen in Ghana) and then Paga, where we saw one of the sacred crocodile pools, and also visited the Pikworo Slave Camp (disused, of course) and Paga Pia’s Palace, an example of the traditional buildings used by extended families in that area. Paga is very close to the border with Burkina Faso, so you cannot get further north in Ghana!

Tongo Rocks

One of the inmates at Paga crocodile ponds

Demonstrating drumming and dancing at Pikworo slave camp

Food granaries at Paga Pia's Palace

……. and west

From Paga we travelled west to Wa, the capital of Ghana’s Upper West Region.  Near Wa is the Wechiau Hippo Sanctuary, where we had a canoe trip on the Black Volta River, which forms the boundary with Burkina Faso.  The trip was successful in that we saw a number of hippos in the river, although we were somewhat concerned by the state of the canoe, which leaked like the proverbial sieve and had to be continually bailed as we went along!

It's a hard life being a hippo on the Black Volta

The next day we headed east again (by a more southerly route) to Mole National Park.  The park entrance is close to the village of Larabanga, where we saw a fascinating ‘mud and stick’ mosque, claimed to be the oldest in Ghana.

Larabanga Mosque

We stayed two nights at the Mole Motel in the park itself, during which time we went on a driving safari and a foot safari; we saw elephant, antelopes, warthogs and baboons.  We also did a canoe trip from the nearby village of Mognori.

A thoughtful baboon

Antelope in the trees

Why did the elephant cross the road?

Warthog on the move

We spent the intervals between trips sitting round the swimming pool, having the occasional dip and also wandering just a few yards to the viewing platform, which overlooks a couple of watering holes.  On our first day we glimpsed elephants and antelopes there.  During our first night at Mole, there was a violent tropical storm.  We awoke in the morning to find two puddles in our room, where the roof had leaked.  Unfortunately Sandie’s camera bag was standing in one of the puddles, so it and the contents were saturated.  Luckily the cameras continued to work, and we managed to dry out all the Ghanaian banknotes in her wallet!

The viewing platform at Mole Motel

Drying out our cash (liquid assets?)

Kumasi again

On Saturday 14th April we had to get up at 3am, in order to reach Tamale in time for the 7am bus to Kumasi.  We stayed overnight there, this time in a city centre hotel with a good restaurant attached, which made a suitable place to celebrate Sandie’s birthday.

The main purpose of our second stay in Kumasi, however, was to witness the Akwasidae festival which takes place every sixth Sunday at the Manhyia palace.  The Asentahene (king) of the Ashanti people arrives in a procession and receives gifts and homage from his subjects and the lesser chiefs.  It is a colourful spectacle, with drums, horns, and many people in traditional dress.

Ashanti leaders in traditional dress

Hornblowers announce the arrival of the king

The ceremony took place later than expected, so when we left we went straight to the bus station for the six-hour journey back to Accra.  We had thoroughly enjoyed our tour of the north, and been privileged to see more of the country that is our current home.

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