Northern Ghana pt 1 - Tamale and Bolgatanga
Nov 23, 2008
|Sunrise in Ghana is 5.30am so it felt very wrong to be getting up at 5am in the dark to catch our bus to Tamale, about 2/3rds of the way up the country. We were going there for a VSO call back meeting, where the volunteers who arrived in September meet up with the VSO staff and discuss how their placements and life in general are going. We caught the state-run STC bus which is relatively comfortable (air conditioned!) compared to other Ghanaian transport modes. Unfortunately all passengers are subjected to appallingly acted and blaringly loud Nigerian films all the way to their destination. Something not particularly well thought through because the roads are so bumpy that the DVD jumps every few seconds, ensuring that if you weren’t following before, you definitely won’t be by the end! Quite an experience and after 13 hours we were very grateful to have arrived. We met up with the other volunteers at the Radach Memorial Centre Guesthouse on the outskirts of the Tamale and it was good to catch up with how they are all getting on. After a long journey we were keen to have a shower. Neither of us had noticed that there was a live wire dangling in the shower cubicle. Luckily nothing too serious happened but we did move rooms pretty swiftly albeit after both having had a shower!
The next couple of days involved people sharing their Ghanaian experiences. Unfortunately VSO didn’t structure the sessions particularly well and the focus of the two days tended towards people’s negative experiences with very little discussion about the positives of life in Ghana. Even though it was quite a gloomy two days it was great to catch up with everyone again.
It is the beginning of the Harmattan, where the winds blow in the sands from the Sahara, so after stepping off the bus in Tamale we were covered in an orange layer of dust. The weather further North is certainly hotter but a lot less humid than in Accra so it was much easier, and less sweatier, to walk around. On Friday we caught a tro-tro 3 hours further North to Bolgatanga to stay with fellow volunteers Hilary and Tony. Their house is very smart and is in a great location. It is much quieter and darker than our home in Accra so sleeping was most enjoyable as there were no disturbances although there is even more Harmattan dust there!
On Saturday we ventured to further North to Paga to see the crocodile ponds. We were both fairly hesitant about going there as the locals treat the crocs as sacred animals. They let them roam free around the town and even swim with them in the ponds, despite the fact that there are 200 crocodiles in there! The background to this is that in the 1600’s , the chief of Paga was being chased and a crocodile helped him escape by allowing him to cross a river. The chief promised in return that he and his followers would never harm a crocodile again. It is said that no one has ever been harmed by a crocodile at Paga but still we were nervous as there’s always a first time!
We were very close to a couple of the crocodiles who had climbed out of the pond, there were no barriers or guns on standby(!), and as ‘entertainment’ the guides threw live chickens to them which was pretty gruesome. We let the rest of the group we were with go first and sit on the back of one of the crocodiles. (One man even put his 8 month old daughter on its back and left her there while she had her picture taken – her mother was not happy!) When we couldn’t put it off any longer, the guide grabbed Richard’s arm and led him to the back of the croc. We both touched it in the end but didn’t spend too long just in case it got fed up with being a tourist attraction. It was quite heart palpitating especially as our only defence was a wooden stick carried by one of the guides! We were only a few hundred metres from the Burkina Faso border so we wandered up and looked through the gates into the neighbouring country. We might have gone up to the capital Ouagadougou but VSO are still trying to extend our visa and have got our passports. It was a shame because Burkina is Francophile and apparently they have French bread and cheese there. Two items which are sadly lacking in Ghana!
After Paga, we met up with Naomi, another volunteer from Accra, and travelled along a bumpy, dusty road to Sirigu, renowned for its excellent pottery, painting and basketwork produced by the village’s women. The Sirigu Women’s Organisation for Pottery and Art (SWOPA) is a community-based tourism project which is trying to prevent the traditional crafts from dying out. The paintings around the site were spectacular and we were taken on a tour of a couple of the local homes which was very interesting , it was lovely to see all the homes dotted beneath the baobab trees. We found out later that one of the houses we’d visited has a pet python and they let it slither about freely! If Richard had seen it he certainly would have run a mile! (or a kilometre as it’s metric here) We bought a couple of beautifully crafted pots from their shop which we hope will get back to the UK without breaking! That evening was Tony’s birthday party and his Ghanaian girlfriend, Sofia, made a fantastic spread of Ghanaian food. All the volunteers based in the North of Ghana came along and it was great to catch up with all the news.
Every 3 days is market day in Bolgatanga and it coincided with our next day. In the morning Hilary took us on a tour of the stalls. There seems to be a much greater variety of foods there than in Accra and the colours and smells were amazing. We even passed a witchcraft stall selling monkey skulls and warthog tusks but we weren’t so tempted to buy those as souvenirs. We took Tony, Hilary and Sofia out to dinner to thank them for letting us stay and Richard tried an ostrich burger, not necessarily something he’ll be having again…
On our last day in Bolgatanga we headed over to Gowrie where Warren, another VSO volunteer, is working as a teacher. We saw where he lived and watched one of his science lessons. The children don’t have to pay fees to go to the school (unlike Richard’s school) and it is a lovely campus, with lots of goats, chickens, pigs and donkeys wandering around. After the lesson we went to the Gowrie dam which is about 1km long and felt very peaceful. Gowrie is quite a secluded village and it is hard to find transport in and out but once you’re there it would be a lovely place to live.
We’ve really enjoyed our time in the North and we’re looking forward to heading back South a little to go to Mole Safari Park where Elephants are rumoured to roam.