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Published: August 4th 2009
Accra STC bus station.
Waiting for the very late bus...
Thursday 23rd July 2009
Me, Fionnuala, Emilie, Seewon and Chidinma set off on the estimated 14 hour journey (it would turn out to be much more than this) to Mole National Park in northern Ghana. We had bought STC coach tickets a few days before, and the bus was supposed to leave at 8am but it didn't even turn up until 9:30 so we were hanging around for about 2 hours. The bus cost the equivalent of about 10 pounds for what was about a 14 hour journey which is not bad at all, but i'm still undecided on whether i'd rather pay more like you do in England and have it leave almost on time, or pay a lot less and have to put up with extremely bad time-keeping. I think Germany must be the answer! lol. The plan was to get to Tamale around 8 or 9pm and go to a hotel and sleep for a bit before getting up at 3 to get the 4am bus to Larabanga where we would stay in a guest house before going to the Mole Motel the day after. But the STC bus didn't arrive in Tamale until 11:45pm, so by
Walking with some local children who were really excited to see us.
the time we had got to our lodging we had less than 3 hours sleep before we had to get up again. We then had to get the Metro Mass bus to Larabanga, which set off at 4am along the bumpiest road in the world. Amazingly we all managed to sleep a bit on the way, but that must have been because we were all so tired! But every now and then a particularly big bump would wake us up. We went past lots of mud hut villages, and goats sleeping in the road (why do they always do that here?!). Don't expect drivers to slow down for goats though, they just beep loudly enough so they all run out of the way! We got to Laranbanga around 9am and were met by someone from the Salia Brother's Guest House and he took us to it, it was a tiny guest house and after we arrived so did lots more tourists and I started to wonder how we would all fit in for the night. It then transpired that the man who had met us at the bus had picked up the wrong set of Obrunis and we were supposed
The famous ancient mud mosque.
to be staying in the other Salia brother's guest house which was a 15 minute walk up a red dirt road. As soon as we started walking we were pounced upon by some sweet local children who wanted to walk with us, so we did and I gave them some sweets I had in my bag. Some of them even ofered to carry our bags which was really sweet, though I didn't let them because they were only small! As we were walking up to the hill to the Savannah Lodge, loads and loads of excited children came stampeding down the hill (lots of them in German football shirts) on their way to the local school football tournament - it was quite a sight! They were all holding out their hands to high-five us as they legged it past.
The Savannah lodge guest house was very basic but also very pleasant. We picked our mud huts and dropped our stuff in them. I must say they were very nice mud huts! It was hard to believe it wasn't even 10am yet because we felt like we had been up all day, but we sat outside in the morning sun
Local children, one carrying bowls on her head.
and had breakfast which was fried egg sandwich (don't imagine a nice runny egg sandwich like you might get at home - 'fried egg' here always means an omlette - and the bread was more like brioche, but it was very tasty, maybe because we'd mainly eaten biscuits on the journey the day before) and a cup of liptons tea with no milk. After resting for a bit we decided to head to the Mole Motel at the national park to use the pool for the day as there's not much else to do in Larabanga (apart form the ancient mud mosque which we saw later) because its a very rural area. It was not a stress free day in the slightest! Not helped by the fact we were told by a man called Mohammed who helped organise our trip (and who was also a conman and extremely annoying) that we only had to pay the entrance fee on our first day using the motel facilities and would be able to get in the next day for free (when we would actually be staying at the motel), and that the entrance fee to the park would include use of all
Children running down the hill en route to a football match!
the hotel facilities even though we weren't staying there until the next night. This was not true, we had to pay 10cedis each day to get into the park even though we weren't doing a safari on the first day, plus we actually had to pay extra to use the hotel facilities, which a man at the entrance also lied to us about. And to make matters worse, we had to get motorbike taxis on the way as there aren't always normal taxis in very rural areas, and I was involved in a crash! The driver called Enuse had picked us up from Savannah Lodge and took us 2 at a time on his bike to the park entrance, about 5-10 minutes ride away, and went back to pick the others up and decided to take us one at a time to the hotel from the entrance gate, which was another 5 minutes. He took me first but after a couple of minutes the front tyre on the bike burst and he had to make a crash landing in the ditch at the side of the road (good job he did instead of breaking as we would have gone over
A stunnign butterfly I spotted on the floor.
the handlebars!). As soon as I heard the tyre burst I knew we were going down lol, and we skidded along the rocky ground before stopping in the ditch. I was ok though, just covered in a lot of dust, a lot of weird circular bruises down my left thigh and a sore right knee. The driver broke one of his flip-flops but was otherwise ok. Not surprising it happened considering he took 2 of us on it at a time, 3 including himself. Plus, it had a broken speedometer and only one wing mirror, no helmets. As they say, T.I.A. (This Is Africa!).
Anyway, we all made it to the motel in one piece and after much arguing and complaining with the staff (who, on the whole, have no customer service skills, T.I.A) we managed to get them to allow us to use the facilities without paying extra, and they eventually waived our entrance fee for the next day, after much complaining. But we had been lied to by a member of their staff! We spent the afternoon chilling out by the pool and swimming, then we had to call Enuse to take us back to the Savannah
Our mud huts at Savannah Lodge
Lodge in Larabanga on his bike. I was understandably nervous and kept telling him to slow down! I had enjoyed it on the way before the crash, but couldn't take my mind off his speed and all the bumps on the way back and was very glad to get back to the guest house and off the bike! We took a stroll into Larabanga to see the famous ancient mud mosque (there is debate over how old it is but basically it is sometime in the 1400s). We couldn't go in because none of us were muslims so we took some sneaky photos before they tried to charge us! We got surrounded by what seemed like all the children in the village - which was a lot! They walked with us back to the centre and two little girls in just their pants wouldn't let go of my hands. They seemed to be very excited by all these Obrunis. We bought some spaghetti and tomato puree and walked back to the guest house as it was getting dark, then sat around the camp fire with lots of other Obrunis who had since turned up and Emilie and Fionnuala cooked our
We got up early again the next day to go back to the National Park to go on the safari and to check into our room at the Mole Motel. We decided to go on the 7:30am safari and to go in a jeep because Mohammed had told us you would see more animals with both of these options (which was also a lie!). You see just as many animals on the walking tour which is about a seventh of the price of the jeep tour. We got out of the jeep after a few minutes driving because the armed guide had spotted some elephants. We walked through the trees to a clearing where we watched the elephants walk towards us and stop to breakfast on the trees. It was really amazing to see them so close in their natural habitat. The guide said there were more than 4000 elephants living in the national park. To be honest the rest of the safari tour was a bit of a disappointment (not helped by the fact I had been expecting a savannah safari with lions, tigers and giraffes and didn't realise Mole National Park was a rainforest lol). The
Some local children who walked with us to our guest house.
tour lasted just over 2 hours, and for about 50 minutes of that time we were driving through forest and saw absolutley no animals. The rest of the time we mainly saw antelopes (which get really boring after a while!), water bucks, baboons, two partridges and some birds. We got back to the hotel at about 11am and sat by the pool and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon. We could see some elephants bathing in the watering hole which you could see from the poolside. Later in the afternoon it began to rain, and I felt really sorry for all the people who had just arrived because the elephants don't come out whilst its raining, or the day after it has been raining. I would have been extremely disappointed to have gone all that way and not seen the elephants, because they were the best bit!
Early on sunday morning we got the direct 4am bus from the hotel to Tamale, with the aim of making the 9am bus from Tamale direct to Accra. The bus to Tamale only takes 4 hours, the only problem was, as always, the bus did not leave on time and it
Heading to Mole National Park
...and the bike which crashed!
also stopped at many other places on the way to drop people off and pick people up, so by the time we arrived in Tamale it was about 9:30am but me and Fionnuala rushed to the STC station in the hope that the Accra bus would also not have left on time. There were also lots of other people on the bus who were hoping to get on the one we needed, so we got there as quickly as we could but all the tickets had already been sold! This is the annoying downside of not being able to book or even reserve tickets over the phone in Ghana, let alone order them online. Our only other option was to wait for a bus coming from Bolgatanga in the north which passes through Tamale on its way to Accra and hope that some people got off in Tamale. The ticket woman was not very helpful and inisisted that nobody would be alighting in Tamale and that there were no spare seats. However, a security man told us that he had pre-bought 2 tickets for some people he knew but they were unlikely to turn up and we could have them
Mole National Park
A naughty baboon who stole someone's mango and ate it in front of us.
if they didn't turn up. As it happened, they did not turn up so we bought the tickets off him and as there were 5 of us and only 2 tickets we decided to give one to Emilie (as she needed to be back in Accra by 8am to get a weave) and one to Chid. Me, Fionnuala and Seewon were going to get some tickets for a night bus back to Accra (which would have meant hanging around at the station all day with next to no money) but I thought it was worth waiting to see if anyone did get off the bus because I didn't trust the moody ticket woman. In the end there was one seat free, and we bribed the bus driver to allow us to sit on the floor of the bus (which isn't really the done thing on STC coaches, but definitely a benefit over National Express) because we were so desperate to get on the bus. It worked and we all made it onto the same bus! When the bus stopped in Kumasi half way, lots of people got off so we all had a seat.
On the bus journey
Lots of warthogs strolled around the hotel grounds.
from Accra to Tamale on the way I had noticed what looked like a large-scale road widening project, half finished. There were lots of building at the side of the road with big red crosses painted on them, ranging from wooden shacks and mud huts to brick buildings. I assumed they were to be knocked down to make way for the new road and remember thinking that I hope whoever is knocking them down to make the road would rebuild the buildings further back because they are people's livlihood and they are poor enough as it is. On the return bus journey I ended up sitting next to a Ghanaian man named Jasper who currently lives in Canada studying for a PHd in Development Studies, and who came from a poor rural background. He was explaining his thoughts about poverty and his animosity towards organisations like the IMF and the World Bank, so I asked him about the road and the buildings with crosses on them. I read in a local newspaper the other week that the World Bank has just given its biggest ever loan to Ghana - over $500 million - and the paper stated that the loan
Eating some tree and looking rather happy!
had no conditions attached. However, Jasper explained that these loans always have strings attached - and shocking ones at that. Apparently the authorities can't even use the loan to give much need infrastructire improvements such as a national water and sewage system, or electricity for everyone (because it does not generate profit) - but road widening was ok because it is thought to generate more business, the profits of which I presume the World Bank and IMF hope will pay them back. I had a very interesting chat with Jasper on the way back to Accra. He had a passion to change things and educate people in Ghana but was not sure how to go about it. I agreed with his thoughts that America should be classed as a third world country!
Anyway, that was one stressful and interesting weekend, and I have to go now because my time is running out in the internet cafe!
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