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Published: September 21st 2006
: Began the trip with a visit to Kumasi, the capital and heart of the Ashanti people and the site of the largest market in West Africa. I did my buying elsewhere, however, and with my growing grasp of the Twi language, bargained for cloth in the touristy village of Bonwire. I couldn't discern whether they asked me to repeat "wobegye sen?" (roughly translated as "how much do you want for this") out of sheer astonishment that an obruni was speaking Twi or because I spoke with a heavy accent. Nonetheless, I purchased a couple of fine pieces of Kente at a very fair price. September 15
: Journeyed further inland to see Kintampo falls (roughly in the middle of the country), which was not as large as the others I had seen in the Volta region but was equally pretty. After a refreshing two hours under the gushing waters of Kintampo, I returned to the road headed north. Somewhere along the way, the jungle receded and a dry savannah took over the landscape. I had left the tropics and entered the Sahel.
Arrived in Tamale late that afternoon. At first glance, Ghana's largest northern city has no real
remarkable qualities, but after spending a day there, I quickly discovered that it was worlds away from the towns of the south. The markets still bustled, the cars still honked, the people still shuffled here and there on the dusty streets. But there were noticable differences: the first being the abundance of Muslim men dressed in long, flowing garb. Instead of the ubiqitous churches dotting the cityscape, minerets of more than a dozen mosques punctured the skyline. September 16
: I woke in the morning to the call to prayer resounding from some nearby mosque, and lumbered downstairs to rent a bicycle for a scenic ride around town. Stopped into a "bar" along the ride, which was nothing more than a few planks of wood nailed together and a kolidescope of bottles and flasks behind the "bartender." On tap was a local specialty, millet beer, which had a mild, bitter taste which I pegged as a mixture of cider and bile. Before gulping down the beverage from the half shell of a calabash, we were instructed to pour a little on the ground so that our ancestors would be satisfied and would grant us good health. Here's to you, forefathers.
After Tamale, it was off to Larabanga. As we drove along the rough dirt "road," the conical thatched roofs of mud and stick huts poked up from behind the tall grass, a reminder of the many small villages just out of view. Larabanga is the site of a Sahelian-style mud-and-stick mosque dating back to 1421 by some accounts, making it the oldest mosque in Ghana. After recieving permission to enter the village from the chief (who was, purportedly, 95 years of age), we were able to walk around the extraordinary structure, while our guide noted some of the interesting qualities of the building and shoed off the pack of children pleading for a few cedis. As we exited the village, the chief sat copying an old koran on to fresh parchment with incredibly beautiful calligraphy, paying little mind to the latest wave of tourists to flow into and ebb out of the sleepy town. September 17
: Waking early in Mole National Park, we joined our park guide to spot elephants, velvet monkeys, warthogs, waterbuck, baboons, and numerous other inhabitants of Ghana's premiere wildlife park. There are no roads in the park, so most of the time we were
wading through waist-high grasses or sloshing across shin-deep streams (luckily I had rented golashes from the safari compound before departing). I was able to walk within 20 feet of a few elephants spotted by our guide before one large animal turned and hurried in our direction, signaling us to back off.
After the hike, we boarded the van and again set off down the dirt road for the long drive to Kumasi. After hitting a deep pothole, the exhausted vehicle rumbled to a halt. The front axel had snapped. We would have to hitch back to Tamale. The polite gentlemen that I travelled with back to the junction were listening to a qualifying soccer match between Ghana and Guinea for the upcoming African Cup. The passengers seemed totally absorbed in the game, commenting in Gonja (a northern language) at each action of the game. As usual, I could only understand half of what was being said: the commentators switched between English and the Akan languages in a schizophrenic sort of way.
Arriving at the junction, we decided to stay in Tamale for the night (Kumasi was out of the question as night travel is terribly dangerous here and
Andrew is filming in the lower left side of the shot.
we were still seven hours from the Ashanti region) and jumped into the back of a large dump truck bound for the northern city. The ride was terribly entertaining as we passed villages, livestock, and women with anything from sewing machines to tin bowls balanced ever so gracefully on their heads - all at about 70 miles an hour and with a dozen or so locals next to us. While we traveled, men from tractors and along the road waved, and what began as a friendly response quickly turned into a game as we sought to find how many Ghanaians would wave to us as we rumbled by in the back of the behemoth truck. Virtually every person we passed gave up a wave and a friendly smile.
Headed back to Accra the next day. Classes await.
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