Mole National Park, Ghana, November 24 - 25, 2007

Trip Start Sep 19, 2007
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Trip End Jan 05, 2008


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Flag of Ghana  ,
Sunday, November 25, 2007

Ghana is one Africa's more stable, democratic, and progressive countries, having for many years experienced a two-party political system, market reforms, strong economic growth rates, and a reputation as a relatively safe and non-corrupt country.  Ghana's somewhat better economic conditions were not necessarily apparent in the poorer northern part of the country but became more so as we got to the more heavily populated south.  However, by any standards other than Africa's, Ghana is still a very poor country and a major recipient of foreign aid.
The area that is now the nation of Ghana was historically known as the Gold Coast.  Ghana was a great historical empire from the 3rd through 11th centuries A.D. but was actually located in an entirely different geographical area centered on the present day nations of Mali and Mauritania.  The name Ghana was chosen for the new country at independence 50 years ago because of its historical symbolism rather than its location.
We experienced great confusion at the border regarding the Ghanaian currency, a new version of which was being introduced that replaced one new Ghanaian cedi for 10,000 old ones, a new Cedi being close in value to one US dollar at current exchange rates.  We were all quite wary of the money changers at the border, concerned that they might be cheating us beyond just not giving us an optimal exchange rate.  They weren't; we later found what they were saying about the currency changes and validity for transactions were accurate. 
It was nice being back in an English-speaking, American-oriented former British colony after being in French-oriented territory for so long.  It made my life so much easier to be able to wander around asking for "ice" when I needed it for the truck bar (even if it wasn't available) rather than some version of "glace" or "glasson" which no one understood when I said it. 
We pulled off the road at dusk in search of a campsite just beyond the border near a town named Navrongo.  We were immediately visited by people from a nearby village, including several young ones who hung around the campsite and mingled with us much of the evening.  Our driver, Dave "The Hat", had visited Ghana four years earlier as a passenger on a Dragoman trip and had been telling us for weeks about the amazing friendliness and warmth of Ghana's people which made it his favorite country in West Africa
We had a pleasant camp dinner that night and stayed up late around the mosquito-repelling campfire drinking beers until around 11:00 or so when the friendly local teen who called himself Laurent Kabila and claimed to represent his grandfather (the village chief) began demanding that we must pay 450,000 cedis (about $48 USD) for the right to camp on their land.  Dave refused and chastised them for their inhospitality, telling them that we go everywhere and camp and no one ever demands money from us.  "You should be ashamed of yourselves for being so unwelcoming." 
I sat back and watched the theatrics on both sides that followed, Dave threatening to leave and report their bad behavior to the police and the government while the local boys threatened to return and burn down our tents, at threat not to be taken lightly when you are somewhere completely at the mercy of your local hosts.  After much heeing and hawing, Dave negotiated an agreement where we could camp for 70,000 cedis (about $7 USD), and Laurent Kabila seemed happy.  Dave wasn't, though, as we all made sarcastic jokes about his earlier praise of the warmth and friendliness of the Ghanaian people who were going to burn our tents down. 
Laurent Kabila and other villagers returned in the morning to see us all off, apparently not realizing in any way that they had scared or offended us the night before.  It actually seems completely fair to me to pay villagers for camping on their land.  After all, they end up cleaning up the toilet paper silly campers bury insufficiently deep.  But like almost every transaction in Africa, camping is one that involves bargaining and negotiation, a process that threats frequently but unfortunately become a part of.
I staked out a claim to the "honorary co-driver's seat" that morning, the seat in the truck's cab now unclaimed by a driver since Ben left in Mali.  It was such a nice change from the back of the truck, almost like the difference between first class and economy in an airplane.  We made a short stop in Tamale, northern Ghana's largest city, to exchange money, visit ATMs, and drop off three people (Charlotte, Nina, and Stacey) who decided to continue ahead on their own on public transportation.  It was then another long drive, much of it on an unpaved side road, to Mole National Park, our destination for the night. 
Mole National Park in northern Ghana is allegedly one of the best in West Africa in terms of size, protected status, and variety of wildlife, so it was an important stop on our itinerary.  As we pulled into the park's hotel/campsite grounds, we were greeted by a band of very curious baboons, about which Dave had warned us, "They're a bunch of barbarian marauders.  Don't let them get on the truck or they'll rip apart the seat," sighting a previous truck's experience with Mole's baboons.  "Or even drive away with it," he added.  The baboons later seemed quite fascinated by our tents but have apparently not yet mastered the fine art of opening zippers. 
We were in Mole for two nights, the first of which was a very busy Saturday with all the air conditioned rooms already taken by a large group of Dutch tourists.  I decided to tent it and take my chances with the baboons rather than "upgrade" for a small additional fee to an un-air conditioned shared room with three other tripmates.  By the second night, though, most of the weekenders had gone, and I decided to splurge for about $22 on an air-conditioned private room for myself.  The temporary comfort and seclusion was part of a sanity preservation strategy to help cope with the continuous irritations of truck life.  While everyone else sweltered, I made my room so cool for a few hours it was almost cold.  "It's mine, it's all mine!" I screamed insanely as snuggled under my bed's covers in the refreshing cold. 
While Mole is a premier wildlife park in West Africa, it does not compare in wildlife numbers or variety with those of East Africa I saw in Kenya and Tanzania in 2001.  As usual in African parks, no independent exploration is permitted because of the danger animals can pose, but I tried what is common in some parks but was for me a novel experience - a ranger-guided walking safari.  Our guide for the early morning walk was a friendly armed ranger who called himself D.K.  We walked for a couple hours, descended a low escarpment from the hotel area, and stalked a watering hole for a while.  Our wildlife viewing amounted to a few elephants at the watering hole, baboon troops, warthogs, kob and waterbuck antelopes, and the eyes and snout of a submerged crocodile.  I was most fascinated by the two-foot-long giant millipede I saw in a hole, not quite as impressive as the train-size one I saw in one of my Lariam dreams a couple nights earlier, but interesting nonetheless.  To be honest, Mole National Park was a far cry from Masai Mara or Ngorongoro Crater, but I enjoyed the walking safari experience and didn't come to West Africa expecting to see lots of wildlife; those animals I did see were a bonus, and if I had seen none at all I would have had no reason to feel disappointed.
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