Sam Heister is currently studying abroad in Accra, Ghana through USAC. In the below article, Sam recaps his first Ghanaian safari, a definite day to remember.
“They’re afraid. And when they’re afraid they’ll do one of two things: run away or attack.”
–Sadik, Safari Tour Guide
The only thing better than seeing elephants at the zoo is everything, which is why I readily agreed to take a 20-hour trek to go on safari in the northern part of Ghana. About three hours outside a city called Tamale is Mole National Park, Ghana’s underrated gem. After leaving two hours behind schedule, breaking down twice, catching a cab in Tamale at 4 am (also breaking down twice), we were greeted with warthogs and friendly smiles at Mole Motel. 25 USD would buy us one night in a room which exceeded our expectations (low as they were) and a night with the ants and the antelopes in the adjacent campground. We agreed that, in light of our travel woes, we deserved not one but two safari tours. The first was on foot.
We set out on the afternoon of our first day. Ignoring our tour guide Sadik’s insistent warnings about water, we trudged across wetland, over streams and through shin-deep mud. Life is abundant in Ghana, especially during rainy season. But this time it was to our disadvantage. Thriving on the constant water supply, the bush was so overgrown that any chance of spotting wildlife was cut in half. Add to that the abundance of watering holes for the animals (meaning they were less likely to group together in one spot), it looked as if our tour would be over before it began. Yet we remained optimistic. Quiet and alert, we were like bloodhounds sleuthing the terrain for signs of animal life. Standing in the middle of lowlands cut through with streams and surrounded by hills on all sides we walked, and waited, and walked some more. Finally, there was movement in the bushes ahead of us. Long, curved, horn-like antlers shown through the trees. Not quite a deer, it was… something. A bushbuck we later found out, but it could have been a squirrel and we would all have been giddy just the same. Alas, what we came for we did not find.
“You get in the car. I’ll go get my weapon.”
-Muhammad, Safari Tour Guide No. 2
The next morning we found ourselves climbing into a Land Rover with Muhammad and his gun. Antelope. Warthog. Bushbuck. Warthog. Antelope. We were beginning to lose hope when Celine Dion rang out from the drivers phone. He answered the call: they were near.
The Land Rover stopped at the side of the dirt road and we stepped out into the bush. We didn’t need to walk far to see them: three elephants going about their business as if there wasn’t a crowd of twenty wide-eyed white people watching them. Big shout out to African elephants for being so majestic. It’s the humans that I have trouble with.
“There’s one thing I don’t have time for and that’s your bull.”
-Jennifer K. (AKA the girl who divorced her husband, changed her name, and left for Africa.)
Our hostility as travelers comes from a combination of language barriers, long bus rides, dehydration, and lack of both sleep and Hot Pockets. We love each other, we do, and so we tolerate each other’s outbursts. It’s that or be left alone in Larabanga, a village just outside of Mole and the home of Ghana’s oldest mosque. Northern Ghana, by a large majority, is Muslim. The mosques around every corner, the calls to prayer over loud speakers above the streets- the Northern Region is a huge departure from the capital city, Accra. A month since my first day in Ghana and the sensations of the first week’s abrupt encounter with the sublimity of this new and beautiful place were as strong as ever.
In preparation for “Ghana 2016” I tried to lay aside my Western preconceptions about the country as a “slice of Africa” and instead sought to experience it as a pie of its own, if you will. Still, I find myself time and time again feeling as if I’m walking across the pages of a National Geographic- rural villages, wild elephants and antelopes, a centuries old mosque- this is the Africa I know. And yet this barely scratches the surface.
In closing, a tip of my hat to my Chinese foreign exchange student whose words are even truer now than they were when he spoke them before my departure two months ago.
“You shouldn’t worry. Africa is still on the planet of Earth.”
– Recent Chinese Proverb, Zhang (William) Jiangwei
*This article was republished from Sam’s blog, Hearts of Oak