Sunday, 30 September 2012

Monkey Business

I had visited a Monkey Sanctuary in the Volta Region a couple of times so I assumed this one at Boabeng Fiema would be similar. Actually, it had so much more to offer. Here there are 2 breeds of monkeys, Mona and Colobus, although the latter are very shy and not often seen clearly as they inhabit the higher branches of trees.

Our guide was delightful, very informative and enthusiastic about his home village. The walk to it took us through another beautiful forest with some fantastic tree formations and yet more gorgeous butterflies. It wasn’t until we arrived in the village that the monkeys became obvious.

Evidently, they are the most accurate timekeepers in Ghana! They know exactly when the women are cooking and arrive in the village morning and evening to claim any food that is inadvertently left uncovered. The villagers were again very welcoming to us and the monkey, surprisingly. They know when tourists are “buttering their bread” though.

There are many stories about the history of monkeys in this settlement. One of these was told to us by our guide whilst we were standing in the monkey graveyard. A former chief was able to use his powers to turn his warriors into monkeys to confuse their enemies when fighting in the forest. Unfortunately, he was killed before he could change them back into human form. Since that day, generations of monkeys have been born and they are all assumed to be descendants of those warriors, therefore worthy of protection and a funeral with a dedicated grave when they die. Other stories involve Fetish Priests who have an understanding with the monkeys and who are buried in the same graveyard.

This was a lovely way to spend an afternoon. We hadn’t spotted Colobus monkeys until we returned to the entrance to the sanctuary and there was a small group waiting for us in the trees. We missed nothing. We were taken to a carver’s workshop…..of course, and his work was skilful. Needless to say I needed an African mask…….of course!

Friday, 28 September 2012

A Quiet Retreat

Last year, Jeny and I visited this remote and beautiful forest that teems with gorgeous butterflies amid huge and impressive trees. We vowed on a future trip to stay a night here. Electricity is supplied by generator and is limited to 3 hours each evening. Bedtime is 9pm, ready or not! When it is turned off, with a warning, the darkness is total. Needless to say, on a clear night the stars are incredible and so many that they almost appear to join together. The Guest House has a distinct Germanic feel to it, simplistic with plenty of floor tiles and opaque glass. Our hosts were very welcoming and our evening meal was delicious. In fact the breakfast was the best I have had in Ghana.

The silence and calm of Bobiri Forest, except for the inevitable singing of insects, encourages you to take in all the wonders of your environment. In the morning we were taken for a walk through the trees to discover species very unfamiliar to the three of us. This is virgin forest and when trees die they are left to rot and for the wildlife around to inhabit as they wish. There are a number of routes and we travelled a different one to our previous visit.

We were shown various trees with medicinal properties. One which cured madness! This required you to gather clear sap by cutting the bark in the early morning or late evening, when there were no shadows or the sap would run as blood. The sap should drip onto a raw egg underneath the tree. This concoction should be taken with a strong slug of Apoteche (very strong spirit) twice a day. There were cures for everything naturally produced in this small area of virgin forest. We didn’t feel the need to test any but our guide was in no doubt that they all worked!

The profusion of butterflies was even more impressive than last time due to the season and although they were just as difficult to photograph, the memories and snapshots with a naked eye were good enough for me. 

We loved this place and each felt we could come back for some weeks of solitude to    read, write, walk, watch and listen. Quite a retreat!

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Cape Coast Festival

The road to Cape Coast and Elmina is now becoming very familiar but I always enjoy a few days at Kosa on the beach. It is so relaxing and they always have mashed potato on the menu. I rarely see potatoes so this is a real treat. The big disappointment this time was that I hadn’t anticipated am off-season for lobster! We did find crabs for sale along the road, though. They looked exciting but we decided to give them a miss.

Our time here was short as there was a large area of Ghana to be covered in 2 weeks. How fortunate were we when it was discovered that the annual festival in Cape Coast was the day we had planned to visit the castle and city. In typical African style, the start time was about 4 hours out.

We had time to take in the slave castle, for me the fourth visit, and have lunch before threading our way through crowds to find a place in their Jubilee Park in order to watch the festivities. Along the road we came across a group of expert roller bladders and excited revellers, some dressed in bright costumes with masks, familiar we realised from the front cover of the Ghana guide that has become my “bible” to Ghana here.

The news reached us that the new President was due to attend this event. No doubt that was a contributing factor to the more than a little late start. His arrival was preceded by the grand entrance of Chiefs and representatives of local Asafo Societies. Their elaborate umbrellas shielding them from the sun and announcing their superiority never fail to impress me.

There were colourful groups of all ages singing and dancing.

The President finally arrived in a cavalcade of SUVs driving unnecessarily fast into the arena. The man waving to everyone was not the President, I was assured by children around me. He was the nervous looking guy in the brown suit, pictured here in the middle.  

We stayed long enough to see a stilt walker and some characters in carnival costumes before we decided we would leave the residents of Cape Coast to their celebrations and head back to the beach.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Trading Beads

Our first day of exploration was to Koforidua where each Thursday a bead market is held. When we arrived in the main square there was no sign of anyone selling anything and I began to prepare myself for a major disappointment. Francis made enquiries and we soon found ourselves at the new venue beside the Jubilee Park.  The market wasn’t as extensive as I imagined notwithstanding the fact that there were more beads than we could look at in a week. It was also far more organised than I had hoped for and set up in individual little shops. Excitement mounted!

I wanted to buy beads here and I’m sure that was obvious to every stallholder. “Woman with money to spend” could have been tattooed on my forehead. Actually, there was a lot of encouragement to look but little pestering to buy, which was refreshing. Having seen beads made at Cedi Beads and bought some in a range of places, I had some idea about what I was looking for.

We were nearly back to the beginning of a circular route when we met a guy with a wonderful selection of old beads. He worked far too hard at telling us about his experiences selling beads in London Markets, even showing us his receipt book in Sterling with a recent sale in Camden. He needn’t have bothered. I was hooked anyway and knew I would not be leaving empty handed. He may have had a stall full of valuable beads but was only able to offer me this small broken piece of mirror with which I could admire them! The beads I am wearing here are now in my house and, evidently, are ancient trading beads. The trader said I could look them up in his numerous books to prove their authenticity. If they are fakes, I don’t care as I love them anyway. They have a gorgeous smooth and heavy feel to them and have clearly been worn many times before. Many thanks to Jeny for intervening and buying me an early Birthday gift.  How lucky am I?

It was important to leave then, before I could get completely carried away. We staggered to the car with heavy bags and I couldn’t wait to explore my purchases at leisure and make designs for threading them.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

A Birthday to Remember

Welcome back to my Blog. I have returned from travels with Jeny and Kate and have new tales and photos. I don’t think there can be too much left in Ghana for me to see as a tourist and I wonder if I could set myself up as a guide now. Before I start those stories I must write about yesterday.

Yesterday was my 58th Birthday. After so many I recall some being very exciting, some expensive and extravagant and a tiny minority forgettable. Yesterday was my first day back at the office in Nadowli.  My friend Louisa arrived with a live chicken and a bag of palm nuts hanging from her moto handles. The chicken was my Birthday gift from her mother! Not a gift to keep, you understand, but to eat later with fufu and palmnut soup! I was assured I didn’t have to kill it myself but I should watch and learn. Anyway, the chicken was placed unceremoniously in my bicycle basket for me to take home and keep in the veranda until after school closed. She was a beautiful specimen. On arrival at the house I discovered an egg in the basket too! To begin with, the condemned chicken behaved as you would expect, rather depressed and full of doom. I was advised to give her water and a handful of rice. After half an hour she perked up and demolished her last meal ……and seconds too!

Well, it poured with rain all day yesterday, which apparently is good luck here. Obviously, I am very fortunate as the same thing happened last year. As soon as it paused Eric from Stores knocked on the gate to announce his arrival as executioner. I did watch and it was quite quickly performed with a sharp knife across the throat.

Later, when Louisa had pounded the palm nuts but before she pounded the fufu, I took a fascinated look inside the bird. I have never seen the workings of a laying chicken before. I could see the production line of eggs in varying stages of development. It was rather like a very small factory production line. Evidently, if we had let her live we would have had an egg a day for a couple of weeks at least. I suppose that would have been an option although she would have had to live in the veranda all the time or I would have lost her!

Anyway, the meal was delicious. I have never had a celebratory Birthday feast like it, nor one that was prepared from the most basic raw ingredients in my kitchen. Within 2 hours, (remember there is no such thing as fast food in Ghana), a chicken, a yam and a bag full of palm nuts were transformed into a dinner to relish at the end of a Birthday to remember.

I also received many Birthday wishes brought to me through a range of technology and the post, which made me feel very close to family and friends despite being quite a few thousand miles away from almost all of you. Many many thanks for all of those.