Wednesday, 21 July 2010

West African Road Trip - Day 5

Got up at 6 am and assembled with other safari participants at 6:30 for a briefing. As the hotel is a different operation from the safari park, they cannot co-operate, so breakfast service starts at 6:30 the same as the safari. This meant that everyone set off hungry. It turned out to be a foot safari, meaning a two-hour walk through the forest in the immediate vicinity of the Lodge. Our guide was quite experienced as a guide, and knew a lot about the behaviour of the animals, but could only explain things in terms of how humans behave. So he reckoned that humans learned how to carry babies by copying baboons or "bamboons" as he called them), which were numerous around the ramshackle staff accommodation, especially the area where they dump their rubbish. This was not a particularly nice way to start a safari, wading through rubbish that had been ripped apart and picked over by hungry baboons, who find this scavenging easier than looking for proper food in the forest. Since we were told in our briefing that it was extremely important not to leave litter around the park, I asked him why there was so much litter around here. He said that they put their rubbish into a hole in the ground, with the intention of burning it, only to find that baboons rip into it before they get a chance to burn it. “What can we do?” has asked, plaintively. I decided that this was not the time to suggest that burning all that plastic was not a good way of dealing with it, and that strong metal bins with properly fitting and lockable lids might help. I just shrugged in meek agreement. It turned out that most of our guide’s explanations of animal behaviour were based on a highly chauvinistic view of human behaviour. The struggles between fighting males were because of females, and the way that they marked out their territory, for him, was also to do with females, such that this was the reason that humans built houses, to prevent rival males from stealing the females. It was a bit irritating listening to his trite and inappropriate explanations, but this was his job and he had been rehearsing these stories for 23 years, so there was no point in anyone discussing this with him now.

After the tour of the grounds, having seen some impressive elephants, and some rather unimpressive baboons and warthogs (hortwogs to our guide) we were back to the Lodge for a very late breakfast. I was feeling very sweaty and mucky from tramping around the forest, and had probably had too much sun, so I went to get a wash. This lodge had full plumbing, but most of the time the taps would produce a little trickle, or nothing at all. Instead, there were two large buckets of cold water, with lids (perhaps 25 gallons each), and a smaller bucket of about a gallon to help with using the water. I was able to have a shower hby pouring buckets of coled water over myself in the bath, and felt much better for it. I then joined the others for a cup of tea, an omelette and some toast. We left Mole about noon and set of back to Larabanga, to visit the oldest mosque in Ghana.

After bouncing down the 6km track from Mole to Larabange, we got out of our truck to be welcomed by a bunch of mosque people. The main man was the son of the Chief Immam, and a teacher of English and Arabic. We had to pay a couple of Cedis each as soon as we got out of the truck, and this was written up into a Visitor’s Book that I had to sign. We then had to be welcomed by the Chief Immam, who sat on his mat at the side of the track and shook our hands. I wanted to take a photo, but he needed first to put on more robes and make himself look presentable. That was a shame, because I though he looked just fine as he was. We were taken for our guided tour of the outside of the mosque (or moks, as our guide called it) and told a load of rubbish about people coming from Medina with the idea that they had to cross two rivers, but not three, before they chose a place to settle, and having crossed the Red Sea as the first river, the next river was White Volta, and that meant they could cross no more (they somehow missed some significant rivers like the Nile, but that didn’t seem to matter). So, this man who had to cross these rivers had brought a mystic stone with him, and the stone was heavy so he couldn’t carry it any more, so he threw a spear and where it landed was to be the place for building the settlement. Blimey, what a load of tosh. I asked him why the wooden poles were used on the construction of the walls of the mosque, sorry, I mean moks, and he said they only went in to the wall a distance of 3 cms, and they marked how much of the wall the special man had built each day. Apparently, it was miraculous because in the night, while he slept, the angels came and built a bit more for him, so that was why there were sticks all over the building. He said they were just decorative not structural. I think he was wrong, but I didn’t say anything. It seems that the sticks somehow enable taller walls to be built, but much later we discovered that they provide a permanent scaffolding for the frequent replastering of the outside surface that would be needed to keep the place standing. It was first built in 1421, so it certainly has lasted well. Sadly, the guide was convinced that his fables were definite truths, and was fantasticaly deluded, but happy.

He explained to me that the Peace Corps had visited and told them about how to go about organizing small guided tours around the outside of the mosque, how to turn the profits from this activity into investment in a sustainable village. This sounded really good, but then as we walked around the mosque, at least half of the talk was about how they need a new classroom for the school, how they need more resources for the library and so on, each of which they would be grateful for some financial support. Meanwhile, a couple of the younger ones got into a conversation with Roine about the world cup, and were soon pointing out that they had a football team in the village, but that the football was burst and how they needed a new one, which would be a good thing for Roine to pay for. The pressure was increased as a little toddler appeared next to me holding my finger affectionately. Soon, we all realised that the Americans had taught these people the hard-sell, not just how to make tourism work for the greater good. We returned to the car, declining their further offers of ways in which we should hand over bucket loads of cash, and got some nice photos of the Immam. He was more decorative than structural, too.

On the drive to Sunyani, we saw a petrol tanker looking well kept and unusually lacking in dents, but the odd thing was that there were two goats on top. They were tied to the roof, standing up. Our driver, Solomon, thought that the tanker driver had probably picked them up at the market. We checked into our hotel, the Eusbett, which was poorly built and over-decorated, but most things worked and the service was excellent. By this stage of the journey I really needed to wash some clothes. Apparently, it is considered socially unacceptable to ask someone to wash your smalls, although shirts would be OK, but we were no in the kind of hotel that would do it overnight. Sammie had bought some small sachets of Omo, and this bathroom had a large empty plastic bucket, so I was able to put everything in to soak for an hour or so while I had dinner, then come back and wash and rinse it. To get it dry, there were enough coat hangers, and the room was a corner room so it had two windows and I was able to unhitch various parts of the draped curtains, the fancy pelmet with beads hanging off and the net curtains, all of which were far too heavy and made the room feel stifling and stuffy. With a through flow of air, I could hang everything overnight, and leave the room fan blowing while I was out of the room to help.

After sorting out the laundry, we jumped in a local taxi for a short ride down the road. We walked around for a bit observing the night life of Sunyani, with people hanging around the streets, the street-hawkers still selling all their wares and people cruising around in their cars or just hanging around. Not for the first time, I picked up the mood of a music festival, the kind of good-natured anarchy where people of all kinds gather just to enjoy themselves, and the various barbecues and other food offerings that characterize such events. Anyway, after wandering around and managing to avoid tripping over the many obstacles and holes underfoot, and avoiding falling into the open drains that stink, even though they are not supposed to carry sewage, we settled in at the Silver House, a fairly raucous local bar, where we had a few beers and watched everyone cavorting and showing off and drinking. The music was loud, and the people were good natured, often spilling out on to the street or sitting on the bonnets of their cars. We were sat outside at the front, and the smell of the drain was a bit too strong, and was not conducive to enjoying the beer. The music was loud, because right across the road was another bar with loud music outside, and they were in competition with each other. Eventually, we jumped in another beaten up old taxi and returned to the hotel.

I went to sleep among the drying laundry with open windows, having lost my fear of mosquito bites, because there seem to be so few mosquitoes around. Although I had no mosquito bites, I was interrupted by a rude awakening at about 4:20 am. It sounded like a cistern in the roof was overfilling and not cutting off the supply once it had got too full. The overflow was falling three stories on to concrete, at a fair old rate of flow, and making one hell of a noise. I tried to sleep through it, but it did not stop until about 5:30, when all the neighbourhood cockerels started their morning chorus, but I was able to sleep through that. I woke a couple of hours later, and the nearby school sounded delightful as the children seemed to be singing their lessons with great gusto and good voices. What a wonderful way to start the day.

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