Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my!

Okay, so the title of this post is a bit misleading, as it has nothing to do with lions, tigers OR bears. In one of my first posts upon arrival (possibly the very first), I had mentioned we were looking into going to the northern part of the country. It didn’t work out when we were originally planning to go, but this past weekend we had great success!

Our one last big adventure started at 8:00 am at one of the Koforidua trotro stations, where we were heading to the Accra airport. No, we weren’t headed home. We were actually headed to a little place called Mole (pronounced mo-lay) National Park. This is about a 2-2 ½ hour drive outside of Tamale, the destination of said flight. The drive itself was pretty spectacular, as it featured different landscapes, mud huts, and a horizon as flat as good ‘ol Saskatchewan. What wasn’t so spectacular, however, was the fact that the aisle seats featured a delightful metal bar that seemed to cling to my leg fat, like a small child clings to an adult’s legs at the most inconvenient time when they want something… But, given the weekend I experienced, it was well worth it!
The entrance to Mole National Park
When we arrived in Mole, nearly 12 hours had passed since out departure from Koforidua. We were all quite hungry and tired, so we checked in and grabbed one of the few options for dinner that night (it was basically a choice of 3 varieties of spaghetti or mac and cheese). As I’m pretty sure I didn’t taste it due to the rate I scarfed it down, I cannot give an accurate comparison to the spaghetti I had in Cape Coast. It was food in my belly, and that’s really all I cared about! This was quickly followed by a much needed night’s sleep.

Okay, now picture it…it’s 5:45 am. The group is slowly beginning to wake up to get ready to head to our first safari. So, how do you quickly wake up 5 girls struggling to get out of bed? Well, it’s easy – you get a hungry baboon hammering on your door trying to get it. And this, my friends, was the moment I realized I was living in a National Park filled with creatures most of us have only read about in books or seen on television.

Once the baboon departed, we discreetly exited our room, and were greeted by a few warthogs. Most people seem to think these delightful little guys are somehow ugly, I happened to think they were quite cute…perhaps a by-product of not having them attack me. Anyway, we made our way to the meeting point where we waited…and waited…and watched more warthogs (including a baby!).

Shortly before 7 am, we were greeted and the groups were divided. We were assigned to a guide by the name of Robert, who told us he’d do his best to find us an elephant, but unfortunately for me, lions are not easily located in the park anymore. Regardless, we climbed up onto the top of the jeep and headed out into the park. We saw a variety of deer-like animals, monkeys (including more baboons), various birds, and a range of incredible vegetation. And then we stumbled upon it – a big heaping pile of freshly produced elephant dung (don’t worry Mandy, I got pictures for you!)! Yes, this means we were on the path to finding elephants, and boy did we ever! We came upon a popular watering hole where three male elephants were bathing (oddly enough next to some crocodiles that are apparently terrified of elephants!). They. Were. Incredible. We snapped more pictures than necessary and then stood and just watched these gigantic mammals just doin’ their thing. Safari #1 – success!

Young waterbuck
A group of kobs - this was the animal we saw most frequently!

An ant hill…that looks strikingly like an elephant!
It didn’t take long for this girl to get bored, so I went on a little adventure by myself to see the “museum” (which basically consisted of various bones, hunting tools, and a 20 year old elephant fetus), the gift shop, and then I inquired about other activities we/I could do during my stay. Had it been a better time of year, I would have spent the following morning bird watching for 8 hours. Luckily, it didn’t work out.

Two of us decided to spend the afternoon undergoing a walking safari. Thinking I wouldn’t require the use of sneakers, I didn’t bring them with me. So all I had with me were a crappy pair of flip flops and some athletic sandals. The latter are apparently an issue, because of the reptiles found in the park. I was informed that I should put on a pair of socks, which I reluctantly did. But, within 5 minutes of the safari a snake appeared, so I was glad to have my “snake-repellent socks” on! 

This safari wasn’t as great as the one we did earlier, but I was more interested in the walk at that point. We did, however, see a herd of antelope on the run. They were pretty amazing to see, particularly as there were over 100 of them! It kind of reminded me of the scene from the Lion King when the wildebeest charge down the canyon, except these were antelope, and I wasn’t in a cartoon. (video to come at a later time!)

When we returned, we went for dinner, which consisted of Guinea Fowl, and then once again crawled into bed.

Morning number two wasn’t as eventful at the start. Jenna and I got up at the same time as the day before and made our way to the same meeting point, where Robert once again agreed to take us out on safari #3. This one was once again a walking tour, so I was sure to have my safety socks on! However, they didn’t protect me. Within 5 minutes of entering the woods, I tripped on a rock and fell. Classic Emily. This led to Robert quoting something about Jesus to me, and then we continued on.

Again, we saw various deer-like animals, warthogs, birds, and then it happened again…the infamous pile of freshly fallen elephant dung that I have come to know and love appeared. And… we… booked it! Within minutes we were surrounding a forest-like area where we could see the outlines of two male elephants! We joined several other groups and essentially chased them out of the woods and into the open. They were magnificent! We all stood in awe as we watched them feed on the trees and make their way to the same watering hole we had been able to successfully view them the day before. And this is when it got even more exciting… there were three other male elephants already in the water bathing. Don’t worry folks, I have enough photos and shaky video to last me a lifetime, and I can’t wait to share them all with you! Jenna and I returned to the hotel happy as could be and ate our complimentary breakfast (an additional contributing factor of our happiness…free breakfast!)!

Robert, our guide!

Later in the morning, three of us nabbed one of the cultural guides, and made our way to a local farm and village. I tried my hand at tilling the land, and I’ve gotta say, I could get used to that!
This is the farmhouse…a little bit different from what we'd see in Canada! 

I gots me some peanuts...
After speaking with our guide for a while, he asked what we were studying and what our interests were. When I mentioned I was passionate about water, he offered to take us to his village to show us the water supply they use. Friends, I have seen some things since I arrived 11 weeks ago that have broken my heart and truly made me appreciate growing up where I did but this… this made me feel sick. Like pit of my stomach sick. Not only were there crocodiles swimming in the water, but he told me that many other animals come to the same spot to defecate. And, at the risk of sounding like I’m trying to be humorous or make light of the situation, it was no wonder the water was the colour it was. It seriously looked like chocolate milk. But, it was water, and I watched as children gathered it to consume and wash their clothes with. The next time you turn on your tap, take a second (preferably with the tap off) and just consider that for a minute. Think about how easily we have access to CLEAN water, any time of the day, any day of the week.

When we arrived back at the hotel, we took an hour to collect ourselves before the whole group went out on what we thought would be another exciting safari, but was really just a pleasant 15 minute canoe ride down part of the Mole River. Not the most riveting experience of my life, but it was lovely just to have a peaceful, but shaky trip down the river, while taking in the sights.

And this, my friends, concludes the tale of how I did 4 safaris in 48 hours for under $40 Canadian. Ghana has been good to me, and this was one freakin’ fantastic last big adventure before we return home!

-the Orange Canadian

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