Saturday, July 29, 2017

Ghana 2017 - Day 7. Our trip to the western Region

I woke up in the dark and stumbled to the bathroom to take a cold shower (we are in the equatorial regions, so warm showers are considered a waste of energy), and by 4:30 am I was walking across campus to the International Student Hostel, where we were meeting at 5 am for our outing to the Western Region. I got there with 5 minutes to spare and only one of the guys was there ready to go. The other three boys got there within the next 10 minutes, but the girls took their sweet time and we only left at 5:30 am. The trip was to take 6 to 7 hours, which seemed too much given that Ghana is such a skinny country.

I was really looking forward to the drive, for I have been limited to the sheltered university campus or to a narrow strip down the middle of Accra. The goal was to follow the coast to the west until we reached the southwest corner of the country, where the estuary of the Aworoso River has formed the famous Amanzuri Wetlands, one of Ghana’s most beautiful nature preserves.

The road was good, and we did good time to the general area, but once we got into the estuary the roads became narrower and less straight. On the way there we saw, at the distance, the remains of forts built by the different European visitors, and luscious wetland forests. In between there were plantations of oranges (but oranges here are green, not orange), bananas, papayas, coconut palms, and oil palms. There were of course small towns here and there, which reminded me the small towns you see across the Pacific coastal plain of Mexico, even down to the prominent red color of the coastal soils (a signal of intense chemical weathering).

By the time we got to the beginning of the estuary we were sore and tired of bus travel, so we jumped at the opportunity of taking a boat trip into the estuary, with the goal of reaching the Black River (so called because the water looks dark because of the high content of organic matter) and the village of Nzulezo. The village is built on stilts along a margin of the river, and the 500 people who live there spend their lives suspended over the flood water of the river (I was strongly reminded of the villages on both banks of the Amazon, who share the same type of existence hovering over the water). In Nzulezo there is a main “street”, about 2 m wide, where thicker planks have been placed so people can come and go from one cluster of houses to the other. The clusters have maybe four houses each, and are reached by narrower “alleys” where the kids have a little room to play.

The vice-Chief welcomed us to the village, and in a few words narrated their history. Their legend tells that they were a group from Mali that had to leave their land because of conflict. Their totem, a small snail, guided them south until eventually, 600 years ago, they reached the shores of the Black River, where the snail finally stopped to indicate that this is where they had to settle.

At the end of the village is the school, where about 150 kids receive primary instruction. Some of our students had brought gifts of paper, pencils, and crayons for the school, and were warmly received by hordes of smiling kids. I took the time to wander down Main Street and say hello to the little kids that had not gone to school, buy a small bag of deep fried small fish, and admire some of the handcrafts people were working on.

Highly satisfied with our visit we made it back to the bus, and were shocked to find out that the day was gone, and that it was now time to go to our resort by the beach. Our fairy godmother, Auntie Abigail, had gone ahead to secure the rooms and order dinner, but when we tried to reach the place, down a few kilometers of a miserable muddy road, the bus driver finally declared himself incapable of driving the bus any further. So we turned around to try another route, but to no avail. Apparently a tree had fallen across the road and the hotel was now cut off from all communication. A few phone calls later our guide found another hotel, and by 9 pm we were finally there, tired and hungry. Fortunately the restaurant was still open, so after another hour we all sat to a very welcome meal. Auntie Abigail, in the meantime, had walked out of the first hotel, taken a trotro, and finally rejoined her little chickens late at night. All is well that ends well, and we have been promised a few hours in the morning to enjoy our glorious surroundings.

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