I know just last month I posted about how I’m over “roughing it” and plan to vacation to higher standards in the future…but that plan got side railed when three Returned Peace Corps Volunteers came to visit us last week.
Before arriving, they talked to current Peace Corps Volunteers living in Ghana to get recommendations on things to do outside of Accra. My Teaching Assistant has lived in Ghana her whole life and when I told her some of the towns and activities recommended, her response was a raised brow and, “Why would anyone want to go there?”
One trip she could get behind was a visit to her home region: Volta.
Volta makes the tourist list in Ghana for the Wli Falls (highest waterfall in West Africa), Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary (not a real sanctuary), Tafi Abuife Kente Village (cloth making), and hiking (Mounts Afadja, Aduadu, and Adaklu come to mind).
We were just up for the weekend (we had plenty to show our guests in Accra, not to mention Cape Coast), so we made our plan simple. Leave Accra early Friday morning to make it to our hotel near the falls by noon. Make the hike to the lower base of the falls that afternoon. Saturday, our friends would hike to the upper falls (while we relaxed and read!), followed by a drive to the Tafi Abuife Kente Village, then back home to Accra.
Friday morning we left nearly on time and were on the road about an hour before Chandler asked our driver to stop so he could use a restroom. Our driver was visibly concerned. He didn’t know of an acceptable place to stop. Chandler assured him any gas station would do, and that’s why he got to pee outdoors – something we haven’t done since we were Peace Corps Volunteers ourselves:
I was tempted to hop out and see what a “female urinal” is…but I figured if you’ve seen one hole in the ground, you’ve seen them all.
An hour later when my bladder had filled, our driver breathed a sigh of relief. We were nearing The Royal Senchi Resort which, in his mind, was a much more appropriate bathroom stop:
I have to be honest. As we walked around the grounds, I was no longer sure the Wli Falls held any appeal for me…I was wondering how we could convince our guests that they’d rather stay put for the night : )
However, despite my best attempt, we pushed on. At about this point, the gravel disappeared and the remainder of our drive was pretty bumpy. I was feeling pretty car sick by now and told the driver I needed to stop. He was still appalled from the morning stop with Chandler and so he asked if it would be all right to drive to the Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary for the stop. It wasn’t on our list, but I figured a bathroom was a bathroom.
Man, am I glad the monkey “sanctuary” wasn’t on our list. Driving through the town it became pretty obvious it was just a tourist trap. You pay money for a local “guide” who takes you through the village to find the monkeys (that are already hanging about and easy to spot). You are then “encouraged” to buy bananas and feed them to some already overfed monkeys. The bathroom break was enough for us and before long we had made it to our destination:
We stayed at Waterfall Lodge, within walking distance of the start of our hike. Despite my love of cities, even I had to admit the view was breathtaking. It had been recommended to us by fellow teachers at our school, and although it was rustic, it was definitely clean and well-maintained.
But I did sort of miss The Royal Senchi : ) After a quick lunch (luckily the cook showed up just as we sat down to order), we were off on our hike to the falls. Hike is a term I use loosely, because this was more like a meandering stroll, which I was pleasantly surprised by. None-the-less, our 20 cedi/person entrance fee entitled us to a guide: Mr. Wise.
We had been told the hike would take about 45 minutes, but our guide really booked it. I was nearly at a jog for the majority of the trip…we made it to the base of the falls in an impressive 25 minutes.
I had read reviews of the falls from other travellers and some had bemoaned a lack of cafe or tourism office. I was grateful the falls had been left mostly undisturbed. Some benches had been brought in and part of the water was roped off where the current was too strong, but otherwise, the falls were beautiful in their natural habitat.
We had no reason to fear mosquitoes in this area: the cliff around the falls is home to thousands of bats. They kept their distance from us, but created incredible designs in the sky around us.
We spent an hour or two at the falls. Our guests were very excited to run in and experience the waterfall first hand. Chandler and I were more than happy to sit back, relax, and merely feel the mist on our faces.
By the end of the day, we had all worked up an incredible appetite and I was pleased to see my favorite Ghanaian meal on the menu: kontobre (also known as kontomire). And in a twist, it was served with boiled potatoes and a fried egg. Delicious. Normally I have to mix it with rice, because it is traditionally served with fufu (not my thing).
The next morning we all woke up for an early morning breakfast. Our guests had decided to go on the second hike – four hours to the base of the upper falls. Chandler and I decided that since we could see the falls from where we sat, we’d rather kick back and read and enjoy some time off.
Almost exactly four hours later, they returned with a pretty hilarious story. Apparently Wise had gotten quite drunk the night before (not too surprising, given the amount of alcohol on his breath when he took us to the falls the day before – shortly after noon). And partway through the hike had to beg them to let him turn back. They decided to continue the hike, sans guide. Wise was concerned, but said there was only one more important turn left to make it to the falls.
He told them they would come across a bamboo tree and that when they saw it, they should turn their course downward. He said it would feel counterintuitive, but, whatever happened, they must not climb upward.
Well, they climbed upward. And at one point they were pretty much scaling the cliff on their hands and knees. They eventually conceded they had gone the wrong direction, turned around, and shortly thereafter, they found the bamboo “bush” they had missed on the way up.
They said while the waterfall looked pretty similar to what we had all seen at the base, the views on the hike itself were spectacular.
Beautiful as that photo is, I have no regrets about how I chose to spend that morning. Rachel looked like she had been mauled by a bear and the guys looked like they had sweat their body weight twice over. I, on the other hand, had read all of J.D. Salinger’s short story Franny and was well on my way into Zooey.
Note: These photos were taken by a number of people, myself, Rachel Micklas, and Nathan Birhanu.