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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Mole National Park..... or something like that.

I had another visitor come to stay with me in Ghana.  I gladly welcomed Flat Stanley to the University of Ghana – Legon when he arrived in the mail.  If you haven’t heard of Flat Stanley, you’re missing out.  He is the main character in a ‘self-titled’ children’s book that I read when I was in elementary school.  Stanley was a little boy when a bulletin board fell from the wall onto him.  He was very tragically flattened, however he remained alive.  Then everyone realized how cool it could be to be a flat person.  Stanley could slide underneath doors, do other acrobatics, and even be mailed to different places.  Each year, at my alma mater, (Lewiston-Altura Elementary School) where my mother conveniently works, at least one class does the Flat Stanley project.  Each kid will trace out their own Stanley on paper and color it to his or her desired liking, and they choose someone to mail him to.  The class teacher mailed her Stanley to me here in Africa!  My instructions were to “take Flat Stanley around Ghana snapping pictures of him where you go”.  Then I was to email a letter and pictures back so that she could teach the kids a little about me and Ghana.

Poor Stanley was in for a bit of a rough ride.  When he first arrived in customs, I’m surprised no one opened him up and charged me 5 extra cedis to get him out.  He was really hot and stuffy in that envelope.  He sat in the ISEP office for a few hours waiting for me to pick him up.  When I finally got to him, I greeted him with a hug and an excited smile.  However, he had to ride around in my backpack for most of the week.  He got a little crumpled up, I’ll admit…  One of my friends, after I excitedly told her about having Stanley (and making her take a few pictures of me with him) said, “I don’t know if I’ve seen you this excited about anything.”

He got bumped around on buses and trotros, and even got a taste of how African dirt feels rubbed on him.  A true Ghana experience.  Even though I failed at the picture taking aspect of this assignment, I seriously took Stanley pretty much everywhere I went.  Including Mole National Park………

We had been planning this excursion for about a week before we went on it.  We thought this enough time, since the last trip we took was about 2 hours in planning.  We got a driver (because public transport can be pretty unreliable and difficult to navigate, and we wanted to do our own thing) and had everything planned out.  We left Thursday morning at 6 am to get there by Thursday night so we could have all of Friday to go on a safari and hang out before leaving to come home Saturday.  We get in the car early Thursday and head out.  After riding around Accra for a while with the windows down, we decided to flip on the A/C.  Rexford, our driver, informed us that it was “finished”…in Ghanaian terminology…broken or done.  Great.  Not exactly an ideal situation for a 12 hour car ride anywhere, let alone in Africa.  But we let it slide (planning that we wouldn’t pay the full amount for car and driver because of it).  The whole no air conditioning thing wouldn’t have been a big deal if we wouldn’t have gotten extremely dirty because of it.  Windows down is one of my favorite ways to ride around in a car.  In Africa…emissions ruin the thrill of my favorite ride.  My hair has gotten pretty blonde from being in the sun here, but you would think that I had dyed it back to the brown I had for a brief period.  We had black, disgusting-ness all over us by the time we got out of the city.  It only got worse along the way.  By far the dirtiest I have ever been without voluntarily going down a homemade mud slip and slide.  The worst part was knowing that not only was this blackness all over us, but it was also inside our lungs.  We got to Mole at about 8:30 or 9 p.m.  It was dark when we pulled up to the entrance gate and they informed us that they had no rooms left to stay in because they had a convention this weekend.  After repeatedly calling a number that never connected earlier in the week and again that day, we had given up on trying to make reservations prior to arrival.  At this point, I just wanted to throw up my arms and proclaim, “I’m through planning.” (Mom’s coined phrase)  I didn’t get the chance because they found us one room left in a guesthouse.  The 4 of us slept 2 people each in 2 single beds.  After a really crappy shower, we crawled into our cozy arrangements.  Since it is so much hotter in the northern region, there was quite a bit of sweating going on and not very much sleeping.  We awoke to Rexford revving the engine of our Land Cruiser outside our guesthouse.  Good morning!  We went to the information center to start our walking safari.  We were hurried along in the beginning because someone had spotted an elephant and they wanted us to see it before it moved on.  We saw that elephant indeed.  One of those things that you see people stop moving up ahead and you wonder why…then you realize that they’re looking at something either really gruesome or really cool.  The elephant was the latter.

I really enjoy elephants; they’re huge and kind of cute…what’s not to love?  This bush elephant was breathtaking.  It was moseying around eating leaves and spitting them out onto himself.  Doesn’t sound very glamorous, but truth be told it was amazing to see.  We got within 20 yards of this creature.  We were told over and over and over again, by our safari guide, facts about elephants.  Edem turned out to be a pretty cool guy, but it took us a while to warm up to his annoying facts.  He kept asking if we knew the scientific names of all the animals.  Of course we don’t… and we won’t remember them if you tell us 15 more times.  In our tour group of about 20, we walked for 2 hours.  We saw antelope, water buck (a huge antelope), baboons and other varieties of monkeys, warthogs, birds, and cob (smaller antelope).  The highlight was the elephant.  We were hoping to see more throughout the day, but no such luck.  Our one and only made a good first impression.

Fun fact for you about elephants:  Their tusks (said like ‘tuxes’ by our guide) have two separate uses.  The right one is used as a weapon, and the left one is used to eat food.

We proceeded to walk to a few watering holes and through the bush.  It was a really cool area to see, even if we didn’t see any more big game.  We went back to eat breakfast and relax until we went on a driving safari later in the afternoon.  We swam in the pool for a bit, and took naps on the pool deck.  We headed back to the information center to get in our vehicle.  Just the four of us, Rexford, and our guide, Edem, were in our Land Cruiser.  We headed out while being asked if we remembered the scientific names of all the animals he’d told us that morning…no Edem.  You’re smart, we get it.  So we started making jokes out of it.  He was killing flies in the front seat, so we asked him what the scientific names were of the flies he was killing.  He laughed!  Then said that he doesn’t study insects. 

We saw many antelope and monkeys along our way.  It was a pretty cool day, but I wish we had seen more large game.

After our safari, we told our guide to come and eat with us at the canteen later on that night.  We met up with him there and sat around in the Mole community.  A little kitchen surrounded by tables and chairs in the dark.  A group of guys were crowded around one small TV watching a football game, and others were playing checkers on a table.  Kids were around and their moms were holding them or feeding them.  We got to ‘babysit’ for a brief time while our cook was making our food.  It turns out that we were holding onto Edem’s brother’s baby, Arabiatu.  She was the highlight of the night…so much so that we wanted to take her back with us.  We sat around and ate with our driver, our guide, and our guide’s friend.  They were speaking in Twi amongst themselves, like they often do, when our driver asked me if I wanted to know what they were talking about.  I just laughed and said, “Sure.”  He told me that our guide’s friend thinks that I am “very beautiful and he wants you to stay here.”  Sorry buddy, it’s too hot up here.

We headed to bed setting alarms for 4:30 so we could be on the road by 5 a.m.  Good thing Rexford woke us up at 4.  We went back to sleep until our alarms went off, and still left 10 minutes early.  We took a nice shortcut over some boulders back to the main road and stopped at Kintempor waterfalls.  These were pretty cool.  We ate breakfast near the falls, and then headed out determined not to stop again until we either needed gas or reached Accra. 

After reaching Accra, we met with a lady to renegotiate pricing…after intensively arguing for a good half hour to no avail, we quite angrily gave up, paid, and headed back to Legon towards a MUCH needed shower. 

Maybe in a week we’ll be able to laugh about it.  Until then…it may take approximately three more showers to get all the exhaust/dirt off of me.  All that matters is that Stanley and I are back safe.

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