Ghana # 13

Posted on January 11th, 2011 in General,MAPA expeditions by Administrator
BLOG 13
Travel journalist Mark Eveleigh is volunteering for MAPA in Ghana and this is his latest post.
BLOG 13
Since our dramas in the mudhole at Ankasa we have made a good few miles along the coast and mapped a few places that are rated (for good or bad) among Ghana’s prime tourist sights.
We went out in a canoe at dawn to map Amansuri Wetlands and the famous stilted village at Nzulezo. This little community of about 450 people turned out to be by far the least hospitable and friendly place we have visited on this trip. Probably we have been spoiled by now by the ever-present Ghanaian smiles of welcome that line every road, even in the dustiest, poorest backcountry villages. Things have obviously gone far astray with tourism management of Nzulezo. It is said to be the number one earner for the Forestry Commission and yet the community are obviously feeling very little benefit and many of them openly resent the constant intrusion of tourists (50 to 60 visitors a day is not unusual…someone said even 120!). Somewhere along the way it seems that a greater share of this revenue will have to go to the people who deserve it most if Nzulezo is even going to survive as a tourist sight. It could be a great cultural experience but at the moment it is just sad and we were happy to leave.
We moved on along the coast that same afternoon and then enjoyed a well-earned day off at the beach in Busua (only our second day without mapping – the other being in Kumasi). I had long wanted to get a chance to at least surf a few waves in Ghana and was delighted to track down a board and a three foot swell at Black Star Surf Shop.
On our way up here to Kakum National Park we stopped to ‘revisit’ Elmina Fort (I last visited about 35 years ago!). Elmina is said to be the biggest and oldest slave-trading fort in tropical Africa and an estimated fifteen million slaves passed through here during the years of what is justifiably described as an African Holocaust. It is a powerful and disturbing place to visit. We spent the night at One Africa Lodge – owned by a New Yorker of Ghanaian descent who returned home here to set up this very pleasant beachside lodge, and a museum of slavery that includes some exhibits which are nearly as powerful as some of the things at the fort.
The famous canopy walkway in Kakum National Park does not leave nearly so much of a lasting impression. It is fair to say that your experience here would probably vary with the time of day you do the hike. A group of birdwatchers I met here told me that they had gone at dawn (in a group of only 4) and had seen lots of birdlife and no less than four species of monkeys. We arrived from Elmina mid-morning (One Africa is famous for not doing fast food and a tardy breakfast had scuppered our plan to hit the road at 7). I did the walkway in a group of about 25 tourists and, of course, saw zero in the way of wildlife. The canopy itself is made up of seven separate swing bridges between treetop platforms and stretches 350 metres with a maximum height of 45 metres. For those with a bad head for heights it would be a complete nightmare. I have done other more adrenalin-fueled canopy tours (a zipwire, flying fox system in Costa Rica for example) and others that were far tamer (a sturdy steel walkway in the forests near Victoria’s Great Ocean Road). Kakum’s walkway is just enough of an adrenalin jolt so that I did my best to scamper from platform to platform without making unnecessary pauses along the way.
I breathed a sigh of relief to get off the end of the walkway…and another when I realized I was free to stroll back down to the visitor centre without a convoy of 25 tourists.
Travel journalist Mark Eveleigh is volunteering for MAPA in Ghana and this is his latest post.
BLOG 13
Since our dramas in the mudhole at Ankasa we have made a good few miles along the coast and mapped a few places that are rated (for good or bad) among Ghana’s prime tourist sights.
We went out in a canoe at dawn to map Amansuri Wetlands and the famous stilted village at Nzulezo. This little community of about 450 people turned out to be by far the least hospitable and friendly place we have visited on this trip. Probably we have been spoiled by now by the ever-present Ghanaian smiles of welcome that line every road, even in the dustiest, poorest backcountry villages. Things have obviously gone far astray with tourism management of Nzulezo. It is said to be the number one earner for the Forestry Commission and yet the community are obviously feeling very little benefit and many of them openly resent the constant intrusion of tourists (50 to 60 visitors a day is not unusual…someone said even 120!). Somewhere along the way it seems that a greater share of this revenue will have to go to the people who deserve it most if Nzulezo is even going to survive as a tourist sight. It could be a great cultural experience but at the moment it is just sad and we were happy to leave.
We moved on along the coast that same afternoon and then enjoyed a well-earned day off at the beach in Busua (only our second day without mapping – the other being in Kumasi). I had long wanted to get a chance to at least surf a few waves in Ghana and was delighted to track down a board and a three foot swell at Black Star Surf Shop.
On our way up here to Kakum National Park we stopped to ‘revisit’ Elmina Fort (I last visited about 35 years ago!). Elmina is said to be the biggest and oldest slave-trading fort in tropical Africa and an estimated fifteen million slaves passed through here during the years of what is justifiably described as an African Holocaust. It is a powerful and disturbing place to visit. We spent the night at One Africa Lodge – owned by a New Yorker of Ghanaian descent who returned home here to set up this very pleasant beachside lodge, and a museum of slavery that includes some exhibits which are nearly as powerful as some of the things at the fort.
The famous canopy walkway in Kakum National Park does not leave nearly so much of a lasting impression. It is fair to say that your experience here would probably vary with the time of day you do the hike. A group of birdwatchers I met here told me that they had gone at dawn (in a group of only 4) and had seen lots of birdlife and no less than four species of monkeys. We arrived from Elmina mid-morning (One Africa is famous for not doing fast food and a tardy breakfast had scuppered our plan to hit the road at 7). I did the walkway in a group of about 25 tourists and, of course, saw zero in the way of wildlife. The canopy itself is made up of seven separate swing bridges between treetop platforms and stretches 350 metres with a maximum height of 45 metres. For those with a bad head for heights it would be a complete nightmare. I have done other more adrenalin-fueled canopy tours (a zipwire, flying fox system in Costa Rica for example) and others that were far tamer (a sturdy steel walkway in the forests near Victoria’s Great Ocean Road). Kakum’s walkway is just enough of an adrenalin jolt so that I did my best to scamper from platform to platform without making unnecessary pauses along the way.
I breathed a sigh of relief to get off the end of the walkway…and another when I realized I was free to stroll back down to the visitor centre without a convoy of 25 tourists.

Ghana # 11

Posted on January 11th, 2011 in MAPA expeditions by Administrator

Travel journalist Mark Eveleigh is volunteering for MAPA in Ghana and this is his latest post…

MAPA Blog 11

We drove into Ankasa National Park congratulating ourselves on a job well done in the north. We felt that we had covered everything we could – and even gone way beyond the normal limits by re-opening a disused road in Bia.

Ankasa (relatively established on the tourist trail and far more accessible) would present little in the way of challenges. Or so we thought.

There was once a drivable trail from the park HQ near Elubo border town but that road is completely closed these days. Fearing another few days chain-sawing in the bush we nevertheless tried to convince the head ranger to give us a guide so we could see if it was possible to clear the trail. We were denied permission to enter the park from that gate, however, so were forced to enter from the main Ankasa Gate to the south.

There would be little we could do in Ankasa but we headed into the park to see if there were any outstanding trails. The drive in was muddy and slippery but the Landcruiser had no problems at all and only once demanded 4 wheel drive.

Bamboo Cathedral Camp is aptly named for a truly monumental stand of bamboo nearby and the camp itself is simple but comfortable. We decided to do a last leisurely game-drive up the only track that remains open (actually it seems to be an electricity maintenance track – despite the fact that there is no electricity in the camp) and set off at 4pm. By 4:10 we were measuring a huge fallen tree across the road and it was only by driving under the high end and then creeping the tyres way up the bank until the car was on the opposite camber that our roof-rack was able to pass under, with just a couple of inches to spare.

Within the next few hours we would have ample cause to wish that that tree had been a foot lower.

The trail continued with no animals in sight but tracks of elephant, duiker, bushbuck and bongo visible in the frequent muddy sections. The vehicle as usual had no trouble even with the worst of these sections.

As is usual in Ghana, it’s not possible here to drive in the park without an armed guard but our young ranger was apparently unaware that a certain rough bridge was the usual limit of the track – the furthest a 4×4 normally goes before it enters a zone of particularly treacherous swampy clay!

Within a few metres we were completely stuck in what appeared to be the least challenging mudhole we had crossed in the whole drive. I was surprised when the 4×4 and diff-lock had no effect at all (the tyres are basically hybrid road tyres and were supplying no traction at all). But it would be a simple matter to gather some of the abundant dead wood and lay it under the tyres. Still the tyres span against the wood and the vehicle was unable to gain even an inch. Ok. Worst case scenario we jack the corners up one at a time, dig out, lay wood right under the tyres and then get it out. Still not even an inch!

No problem – we would just have to dig more, clear a good track and put in more wood. Nothing!

To cut a very long story short, we continued in this ridiculously optimistic frame of mind, up to our armpits in sticky grey clay, until nightfall. Finally we admitted we would have to camp there. Isaac, our young ranger, decided he would prefer to walk back to camp, even in the dark. He would put out word in the morning to get us the tractor (and a chainsaw to remove that tree) from HQ near Elubo. It would take Isaac almost five hours to walk back to camp in the dark.

Meanwhile we pitched our tents, lit a bushfire and had a hearty meal of bacon, fried onion and beans, followed by fried banana (flambéd with the dodgy rum we had bought in Elubo). A couple of cups of rum and mango juice provided just the morale boost we needed.

It was an uncomfortable night, still sweaty and muddy from our digging, and in the early hours I woke suddenly to the trumpeting alarm call of an elephant, that had probably just caught the unfamiliar scent of fried bacon. Or of us.

We woke again with the same optimistic feeling that we must surely have the Landcruiser out long before the tractor arrived and at 6am we were already digging hard to try to get the belly of the vehicle clear of the mud. We even cleared the treads of the tyres with a spoon handle to try to get that necessary traction to gain just the inch of movement that would be all that was needed to get us out.

By 9am it is long since clear that we will never be able to dig out of this frustratingly unspectacular looking sump-hole and we set off for the long walk back to Bamboo Cathedral Camp.

We hadn’t expected to see a tractor that day and were very impressed when, just as we arrived back at the camp we heard the grating of gears and a big Massey Ferguson came around the corner. No chainsaw was available however and the biggest challenge now was for the rangers who had to hack through the tree with just their ‘cutlasses.’

Within an hour and a half the Landcruiser was back in camp and I was gratefully sipping a cold Star beer after a long (and even colder) shower.

Let it be a lesson – you can never truly anticipate what Africa is capable of throwing at you the moment you let your guard down!

Ghana # 10

Posted on January 3rd, 2011 in MAPA expeditions by Administrator

Travel journalist Mark Eveleigh is volunteering for MAPA in Ghana and this is his latest post…..

MAPA Blog 10
Yesterday afternoon we arrived back at Bia National Park HQ after a successful mission to reopen the track to Bongo Camp. It took us 2 days (working with 6 rangers and a chainsaw) to cover just 10 miles of very dense jungle-driving to Bongo.
There were in fact six other points where elephants had pulled trees down over the road but the first blockage was by far the worst. This was almost certainly storm damage and several big trees had fallen together over a section of fifteen metres of road. First we had to clear with ‘cutlasses’ (as machetes are known here), and then cut the trunks with the chainsaw so that we had small enough sections that could be manhandled to one side of the track. Soon we had come to the point where we had no more room to stack the huge logs and it was necessary to haul them back to clear ground with a tow rope and the Landcruiser. By the end of the first afternoon, after 4 hours working at the jam, we still had what looked like the worst section to clear. Worse, the chainsaw was now completely blunt and the rangers were not sure if there would be cash back at HQ to buy a new chain for the next day’s work.
We took the rangers back to the park gate (Camp 15) and spent the night ourselves camped at the research centre right at the beginning of the now dreaded Bongo Track, wondering if we would be able to get to work again the next morning. By 7am we were already up at Camp 15 where a cellphone call came in to say that some of the guys, specifically Vincent the chainsaw operator (a chainsaw whizz-kid in fact), were stuck on the main road without transport and we had to go and pick them up.
By 8:30 we were all back at the ‘treeline’…with a new chain tearing into the last huge logs. It took us 3 more hours to get through. In the end we actually had to build a timber bridge (or rather a series of log stepping stones) leading up to a point where the vehicle could be guided, extremely cautiously, along a sort of double tightrope of two big logs. Then we managed to lay deadwood to make steps leading down to the open trail again.
The work was doubly painstaking because we knew that having got into Bongo Camp we would also have to get back and our ‘bridge’ was even more of a technically difficult drive in the opposite direction.
After this clearing there were six more fallen trees separating us from Bongo Camp and with fuel for the chainsaw running low it was tough and go whether we would get through. Signs of elephant passage were everywhere and the rangers claimed that chimpanzees are often seen too. Once a cobra raced out from under our feet, causing panic in all directions and sadly we hit a pangolin on the drive through thick brush. It was a young animal that seemed to have been sick and dying already (it was covered with red ants though still alive). This is only the second pangolin I have ever seen and I wonder if I am perhaps ‘bad ju-ju’ for these fascinating animals (the last time I saw one my guide, in Borneo, had hacked it to death with his parang before I could shout to stop him. The meat was good though and we needed it after several weeks in the jungle).
It was late afternoon when we made it, tired, scratched and aching, to Bongo Camp. We celebrated with cold fruit juice and a team photo. The rangers had all worked well and with the good cheer, laughter and sense of humour that we have come to expect from Ghanaians.
It had been a great experience and we were proud to be able to report back to Ophelia, the head ranger at Bia, that thanks to MAPA Bongo Camp is once again ready for service!

MAPA Blog 10

Yesterday afternoon we arrived back at Bia National Park HQ after a successful mission to reopen the track to Bongo Camp. It took us 2 days (working with 6 rangers and a chainsaw) to cover just 10 miles of very dense jungle-driving to Bongo.

There were in fact six other points where elephants had pulled trees down over the road but the first blockage was by far the worst. This was almost certainly storm damage and several big trees had fallen together over a section of fifteen metres of road. First we had to clear with ‘cutlasses’ (as machetes are known here), and then cut the trunks with the chainsaw so that we had small enough sections that could be manhandled to one side of the track. Soon we had come to the point where we had no more room to stack the huge logs and it was necessary to haul them back to clear ground with a tow rope and the Landcruiser. By the end of the first afternoon, after 4 hours working at the jam, we still had what looked like the worst section to clear. Worse, the chainsaw was now completely blunt and the rangers were not sure if there would be cash back at HQ to buy a new chain for the next day’s work.

We took the rangers back to the park gate (Camp 15) and spent the night ourselves camped at the research centre right at the beginning of the now dreaded Bongo Track, wondering if we would be able to get to work again the next morning. By 7am we were already up at Camp 15 where a cellphone call came in to say that some of the guys, specifically Vincent the chainsaw operator (a chainsaw whizz-kid in fact), were stuck on the main road without transport and we had to go and pick them up.

By 8:30 we were all back at the ‘treeline’…with a new chain tearing into the last huge logs. It took us 3 more hours to get through. In the end we actually had to build a timber bridge (or rather a series of log stepping stones) leading up to a point where the vehicle could be guided, extremely cautiously, along a sort of double tightrope of two big logs. Then we managed to lay deadwood to make steps leading down to the open trail again.

The work was doubly painstaking because we knew that having got into Bongo Camp we would also have to get back and our ‘bridge’ was even more of a technically difficult drive in the opposite direction.

After this clearing there were six more fallen trees separating us from Bongo Camp and with fuel for the chainsaw running low it was tough and go whether we would get through. Signs of elephant passage were everywhere and the rangers claimed that chimpanzees are often seen too. Once a cobra raced out from under our feet, causing panic in all directions and sadly we hit a pangolin on the drive through thick brush. It was a young animal that seemed to have been sick and dying already (it was covered with red ants though still alive). This is only the second pangolin I have ever seen and I wonder if I am perhaps ‘bad ju-ju’ for these fascinating animals (the last time I saw one my guide, in Borneo, had hacked it to death with his parang before I could shout to stop him. The meat was good though and we needed it after several weeks in the jungle).

It was late afternoon when we made it, tired, scratched and aching, to Bongo Camp. We celebrated with cold fruit juice and a team photo. The rangers had all worked well and with the good cheer, laughter and sense of humour that we have come to expect from Ghanaians.

It had been a great experience and we were proud to be able to report back to Ophelia, the head ranger at Bia, that thanks to MAPA Bongo Camp is once again ready for service!

Ghana # 9

Posted on January 3rd, 2011 in MAPA expeditions by Administrator

Travel journalist Mark Eveleigh is volunteering for MAPA in Ghana and this is his latest post…..

MAPA Blog 09
All this time we had thought we were heading for Ria Tawny Game Production Reserve but once again it seems that what is shown on the map bears little resemblance to what you find on the ground – guess this is a primary reasons why this job so badly needs to be done. Miss Ophelia, the head ranger here, affirms that this has always been Bia National Park.
It had been a long day’s drive out west from Kumasi. Made longer by the fact that we stopped to map Owabi Sanctuary on the way. There was not much to see there apart from a very pretty campsite next to Owabi Dam. The water-level was high after several heavy thunderstorms over the last few evenings and whitewater was crashing over the dam wall, giving the local cast-fisherman some golden opportunities.
We had hoped to make it all the way to Krokosua National Park from Kumasi but it looked doubtful, given the bad roads we have had to drive even in relatively developed parts of the country. However, it turned out that the road was tarmac-ed most of the way and right up to the last section it was carefully graded. Apparently the road is maintained by The Cocoa Board and it does seem that the majority of Krokosua NP (at least most of what we were able to see) has long ago been logged and then converted to cacao and banana plantations.
We made good timing and on the same day we left Kumasi were even able to map all up the eastern border of Krokosua. Light began to fade however and we could see stormclouds gathering. Also the area was relatively populated and it didn’t seem like a good night for bush camping so we stopped in Ayumadiem village with the hope of getting permission to sleep in the schoolhouse (decommissioned for the holidays). The important thing of course was to maintain a low-profile and not stir up too much excitement among the hundreds of local kids so that we would get at least a modicum of peace and privacy to do our cooking and homework etc.
We failed completely in this and by the time we pulled up in front of the village chairman’s shack to ask permission we looked more like a travelling circus with scores of kids chasing us.
Mr George was more than a little befuddled with palm wine when he came out of his hut. Luckily his sister made an appearance too – introducing herself as the ‘Queen Mother’ of the village. The Queen Mother was as shrewd and switched-on a lady as you would ever meet, just as King George (as we came to know him) was perpetually dazed and confused. The Queen Mother agreed to accept our payment for a night’s accommodation in the schoolhouse and detailed one of her ‘vassals’ as a night-watchman to stand guard over the Landcruiser. I strung my hammock between the breezeblock walls and had one of the best night’s sleep I have had here.
The last morning of 2010 saw us driving out of Krokosua (scrumping a cacao pod on the way to breakfast on the refreshingly tangy fruit inside – can never understand why it isn’t eaten more often as a fruit).
New Years Evening was spent dining on barbecued chicken, Spanish ‘surrendered green peppers’ and Mexican-style ‘pregnant onions’ (stuffed with a hot chilly). We watched the bush telly and finished the last of our bottle of port. A fine end to a good year.
With the help of a ranger called Frederick we had spent the afternoon trying to get in towards the centre of Bia to map the route to a place called Bongo Camp. The trail, through dense jungle, was all but non-existent although it had once been a good track. Finally it ground to a complete halt at a fallen tree. For the time being (and apparently for about the last 2 months) what are said to be very impressive park facilities at Bongo Camp are completely out of reach.
Over our glasses of port we came up with a plan. We would try to raise a team of rangers with a couple of chainsaws to get the road open again and see if we can once again make Bongo Camp accessible. Ophelia tried to make some phonecalls to get permission to detail some rangers to come with us. But it is now dawn on a new year and already we can see that things just don’t tend to happen that smoothly here. We are ready to roll if a team of rangers is detailed to come along but it seems unlikely that Bongo Camp looks destined to be off-limits for some time to come.
WAWA – West Africa Wins Again.

MAPA Blog 09

All this time we had thought we were heading for Ria Tawny Game Production Reserve but once again it seems that what is shown on the map bears little resemblance to what you find on the ground – guess this is a primary reasons why this job so badly needs to be done. Miss Ophelia, the head ranger here, affirms that this has always been Bia National Park.

It had been a long day’s drive out west from Kumasi. Made longer by the fact that we stopped to map Owabi Sanctuary on the way. There was not much to see there apart from a very pretty campsite next to Owabi Dam. The water-level was high after several heavy thunderstorms over the last few evenings and whitewater was crashing over the dam wall, giving the local cast-fisherman some golden opportunities.

We had hoped to make it all the way to Krokosua National Park from Kumasi but it looked doubtful, given the bad roads we have had to drive even in relatively developed parts of the country. However, it turned out that the road was tarmac-ed most of the way and right up to the last section it was carefully graded. Apparently the road is maintained by The Cocoa Board and it does seem that the majority of Krokosua NP (at least most of what we were able to see) has long ago been logged and then converted to cacao and banana plantations.

We made good timing and on the same day we left Kumasi were even able to map all up the eastern border of Krokosua. Light began to fade however and we could see stormclouds gathering. Also the area was relatively populated and it didn’t seem like a good night for bush camping so we stopped in Ayumadiem village with the hope of getting permission to sleep in the schoolhouse (decommissioned for the holidays). The important thing of course was to maintain a low-profile and not stir up too much excitement among the hundreds of local kids so that we would get at least a modicum of peace and privacy to do our cooking and homework etc.

We failed completely in this and by the time we pulled up in front of the village chairman’s shack to ask permission we looked more like a travelling circus with scores of kids chasing us.

Mr George was more than a little befuddled with palm wine when he came out of his hut. Luckily his sister made an appearance too – introducing herself as the ‘Queen Mother’ of the village. The Queen Mother was as shrewd and switched-on a lady as you would ever meet, just as King George (as we came to know him) was perpetually dazed and confused. The Queen Mother agreed to accept our payment for a night’s accommodation in the schoolhouse and detailed one of her ‘vassals’ as a night-watchman to stand guard over the Landcruiser. I strung my hammock between the breezeblock walls and had one of the best night’s sleep I have had here.

The last morning of 2010 saw us driving out of Krokosua (scrumping a cacao pod on the way to breakfast on the refreshingly tangy fruit inside – can never understand why it isn’t eaten more often as a fruit).

New Years Evening was spent dining on barbecued chicken, Spanish ‘surrendered green peppers’ and Mexican-style ‘pregnant onions’ (stuffed with a hot chilly). We watched the bush telly and finished the last of our bottle of port. A fine end to a good year.

With the help of a ranger called Frederick we had spent the afternoon trying to get in towards the centre of Bia to map the route to a place called Bongo Camp. The trail, through dense jungle, was all but non-existent although it had once been a good track. Finally it ground to a complete halt at a fallen tree. For the time being (and apparently for about the last 2 months) what are said to be very impressive park facilities at Bongo Camp are completely out of reach.

Over our glasses of port we came up with a plan. We would try to raise a team of rangers with a couple of chainsaws to get the road open again and see if we can once again make Bongo Camp accessible. Ophelia tried to make some phonecalls to get permission to detail some rangers to come with us. But it is now dawn on a new year and already we can see that things just don’t tend to happen that smoothly here. We are ready to roll if a team of rangers is detailed to come along but it seems unlikely that Bongo Camp looks destined to be off-limits for some time to come.

WAWA – West Africa Wins Again.

Ghana # 8

Posted on January 1st, 2011 in MAPA expeditions by Administrator

Travel journalist Mark Eveleigh is volunteering for MAPA in Ghana and this is his latest post…..

MAPA Blog 08
We had hoped that there would be time to celebrate our ‘homecoming’ to Kumasi with a day spent exploring the city and revisiting old haunts. The last time we were here was more years ago than I care to count (I was just 5 when we left so the maths hurts!).
The drive down from Tamale took five hours with just a quick stop for a coke at a shady truckers’ beer ‘spot’ (ie bar) along the way. We spoke to the trucker who was making the long journey north to Niger with an articulated loaded with salt. Then he would make the return journey carrying onions. We wished him a safe journey and really felt the words: there are constantly smashed trucks along the highway in northern Ghana (and twice now I have even seen dead bodies laid out on the roadside).
Kumasi these days is supposedly famed for traffic that is said to be worse even than Accra but – perhaps because it is still Christmas holidays and many people are away – the city already seems to us immensely more relaxed than the capital.
We revisited some old haunts: the golf club and the now abandoned outdoor cinema at the Kumasi Club and we spent a good part of the morning touring the Armed Forces Museum. This was once known simply as the fort and was the scene of a famous siege during the Ashanti Wars when 29 Europeans were trapped here. The guide in the museum was refreshingly enthusiastic as well as knowledgeable and the museum is a real eye-opener to Ghanaian history. It seems a shame that this great little museum is so often overlooked in favour of the more famous Cultural Centre (far less impressive – and with bored guides).
A highlight for me though was Kumasi’s sprawling market. It is said to be the biggest in West Africa and it certainly is an immense muddle of muddy alleys filled with corrugated iron stall after stall. The people are as friendly as ever and it seems safe enough (as long as you take the normal precautions associated with such huge, bustling collections of people). I would have liked to spend another day exploring and photographing Kumasi market.
However, it is time to move on.
We are heading west now to map Owabi Sanctuary and then way out to the Cote d’Ivoire border to map two remote national parks there. Few people seem to know anything about these parks and we are very curious to see what we will find there. Watch this space!

MAPA Blog 08

We had hoped that there would be time to celebrate our ‘homecoming’ to Kumasi with a day spent exploring the city and revisiting old haunts. The last time we were here was more years ago than I care to count (I was just 5 when we left so the maths hurts!).

The drive down from Tamale took five hours with just a quick stop for a coke at a shady truckers’ beer ‘spot’ (ie bar) along the way. We spoke to the trucker who was making the long journey north to Niger with an articulated loaded with salt. Then he would make the return journey carrying onions. We wished him a safe journey and really felt the words: there are constantly smashed trucks along the highway in northern Ghana (and twice now I have even seen dead bodies laid out on the roadside).

Kumasi these days is supposedly famed for traffic that is said to be worse even than Accra but – perhaps because it is still Christmas holidays and many people are away – the city already seems to us immensely more relaxed than the capital.

We revisited some old haunts: the golf club and the now abandoned outdoor cinema at the Kumasi Club and we spent a good part of the morning touring the Armed Forces Museum. This was once known simply as the fort and was the scene of a famous siege during the Ashanti Wars when 29 Europeans were trapped here. The guide in the museum was refreshingly enthusiastic as well as knowledgeable and the museum is a real eye-opener to Ghanaian history. It seems a shame that this great little museum is so often overlooked in favour of the more famous Cultural Centre (far less impressive – and with bored guides).

A highlight for me though was Kumasi’s sprawling market. It is said to be the biggest in West Africa and it certainly is an immense muddle of muddy alleys filled with corrugated iron stall after stall. The people are as friendly as ever and it seems safe enough (as long as you take the normal precautions associated with such huge, bustling collections of people). I would have liked to spend another day exploring and photographing Kumasi market.

However, it is time to move on.

We are heading west now to map Owabi Sanctuary and then way out to the Cote d’Ivoire border to map two remote national parks there. Few people seem to know anything about these parks and we are very curious to see what we will find there. Watch this space!

Ghana # 7

Posted on January 1st, 2011 in General,MAPA expeditions by Administrator

Travel journalist March Eveleigh is volunteering for MAPA in Ghana and this is his latest post…..

MAPA Blog 07
We left Mole National Park on Boxing Day morning and the plan was for both cars to rendezvous that night at Bui NP, having checked out different inroads to the park on the way to the one and only camp that park has to offer.
However, we had one last thing to check out before abandoning Mole forever. Mognori eco-village is a community project on the park boundary but as they also run canoe trips into the park it seemed reasonable that we ought to check it out. This, however, led us to a new dilemma: contrary to what was shown on any of our maps it seemed that there was a boundary road running the length of the south eastern edge of the park. It would be about 60km of very hard slow bush driving but this would be just the sort of data we ought to be concentrating on. So, after a quick re-provisioning trip to Damongo (where we finally managed to find tonic that would do justice to our dwindling gin supplies) we hit the trail north along the side of the park. It did indeed seem to be very clearly a boundary road: to the east there were occasional cassava and banana plantations but to the west nothing but bush (mostly burnt or burning).
There were a chain of villages along the way where the locals came rushing out of their mud-walled, thatch-roofed rondavels to wave at us. By the time we reached the last of these, by the name of Jinfrono, it seemed clear that our road had now moved entirely into community territory so we turned east to make a beeline for the main highway and our best way out.
This was not to be however. It seemed that a bridge had been washed out farther along that road and now there was nothing for us to do but to turn south again and follow another – equally rough – dirt-track all the way back from to the point we had set out from that morning. Moreover within an hour or so it would be nightfall and to drive on after that would be foolhardy.
So within a short while of leaving Jinfrono – and with just half hour of light left – we turned into a copse of trees and pitched camp for the night. We didn’t want to attract too much attention to ourselves here with the light from a campfire so settled for corned beef omelet (on the gas cooker) along with our G&Ts.
It turned out to be a very pleasant camp and at first light we were already full of coffee and rusks and ready to hit the road.
There came one last incident of uncertainty when I thought it was another case of AWA (Africa Wins Again). Far down the trail there was a flooded section of road that looked to be thoroughly impassable for us. A sort of dam/ford had been built of loose boulders and, while motorbikes were able to go pretty easily over the rocks, I was far from convinced about trusting the weight of our Landcruiser to them. I walked the deeper water upriver from the dam but it was so jumbled with boulders that I was doubtful we could keep our revs high enough to cross either. A sand bottom would have been so easy but to rockcrawl in that depth of water seemed insanely reckless.
We were on the verge of turning back and retracing our steps again over the last two days when another Ghanaian on a motorbike came through and convinced us that the dam was more than strong enough and we should follow him. I tried not to think of the 10 feet of churning coffee-coloured water that swirled just below our left wheels.
But we made it across and by tonight we will be back in Kumasi, the place that had been my first home.

MAPA Blog 07

We left Mole National Park on Boxing Day morning and the plan was for both cars to rendezvous that night at Bui NP, having checked out different inroads to the park on the way to the one and only camp that park has to offer.

However, we had one last thing to check out before abandoning Mole forever. Mognori eco-village is a community project on the park boundary but as they also run canoe trips into the park it seemed reasonable that we ought to check it out. This, however, led us to a new dilemma: contrary to what was shown on any of our maps it seemed that there was a boundary road running the length of the south eastern edge of the park. It would be about 60km of very hard slow bush driving but this would be just the sort of data we ought to be concentrating on. So, after a quick re-provisioning trip to Damongo (where we finally managed to find tonic that would do justice to our dwindling gin supplies) we hit the trail north along the side of the park. It did indeed seem to be very clearly a boundary road: to the east there were occasional cassava and banana plantations but to the west nothing but bush (mostly burnt or burning).

There were a chain of villages along the way where the locals came rushing out of their mud-walled, thatch-roofed rondavels to wave at us. By the time we reached the last of these, by the name of Jinfrono, it seemed clear that our road had now moved entirely into community territory so we turned east to make a beeline for the main highway and our best way out.

This was not to be however. It seemed that a bridge had been washed out farther along that road and now there was nothing for us to do but to turn south again and follow another – equally rough – dirt-track all the way back from to the point we had set out from that morning. Moreover within an hour or so it would be nightfall and to drive on after that would be foolhardy.

So within a short while of leaving Jinfrono – and with just half hour of light left – we turned into a copse of trees and pitched camp for the night. We didn’t want to attract too much attention to ourselves here with the light from a campfire so settled for corned beef omelet (on the gas cooker) along with our G&Ts.

It turned out to be a very pleasant camp and at first light we were already full of coffee and rusks and ready to hit the road.

There came one last incident of uncertainty when I thought it was another case of AWA (Africa Wins Again). Far down the trail there was a flooded section of road that looked to be thoroughly impassable for us. A sort of dam/ford had been built of loose boulders and, while motorbikes were able to go pretty easily over the rocks, I was far from convinced about trusting the weight of our Landcruiser to them. I walked the deeper water upriver from the dam but it was so jumbled with boulders that I was doubtful we could keep our revs high enough to cross either. A sand bottom would have been so easy but to rockcrawl in that depth of water seemed insanely reckless.

We were on the verge of turning back and retracing our steps again over the last two days when another Ghanaian on a motorbike came through and convinced us that the dam was more than strong enough and we should follow him. I tried not to think of the 10 feet of churning coffee-coloured water that swirled just below our left wheels.

But we made it across and by tonight we will be back in Kumasi, the place that had been my first home.

Ghana # 6

Posted on December 27th, 2010 in General,MAPA expeditions by Administrator

Travel journalist March Eveleigh is volunteering for MAPA in Ghana and this is his latest post…..

MAPA Blog 06
26-Dec 2010
Our Christmas was short on snowfall and reindeers but we had a thick coating of laterite and good sightings of kob, roan antelope, bush buck, water buck… And instead of turkey plenty of guinea fowl curry.
Mole National Park is Ghana’s flagship park, and is by far the best wildlife habitat we’ve seen so far.
The elephant grass is a hindrance to wildlife spotting at the moment however. It is at the stage where it needs to be burnt off to provide a ‘green bite’ for the game. The powers-that-be at Mole consider it far too dangerous for visitors to be able to drive the park alone and nobody goes anywhere without an armed guard. (It seems a bit melodramatic but for some tourists it probably feels more of an adventure). We were joined by a veteran ranger by the name of DK Basig. DK was raised in a village in the north of the park but his family and their neighbours were ‘sacked away’ when the park was being cleared in 1964. I helped DK set a couple of bushfires along the track of our evening game drive – a pyromaniac’s dream!
Predators are extremely elusive. Lions are seen only every few months and few rangers have ever seen a leopard here. Apart from some big crocodiles that inhabit the waterhole in front of the Mole Motel, the most common predators are certainly hyenas and during the night I woke in my hammock to listen to their riotous yip-yipping and yak-yaking.
On Christmas morning we followed fresh spoor of some of the park’s estimated 600 elephants and, although we were surrounded by the broken branches and barked trees in what had clearly been the nighttime feeding spot for quite a big herd, they remained elusive. Mole is quite densely forested and one wonders what its natural state really is: there were once perhaps be far more elephants here, and therefore greater expanses of open savannah.
There is only a fairly small network of roads in Mole that are open to the public. Nothing in the north. We’re confident that we flattened as much of Mole as could be done but I was hoping for a wild trip to the far north and maybe a bush camp up there. No go!
From here we move on to Bui National Park. Since 1971 there have been plans to build a dam and flood the Bui area and the project should have been completed late this year but even today nobody is really sure whether there is a dam there or not. We will soon find out.
MAPA Blog 06
26-Dec 2010
Our Christmas was short on snowfall and reindeers but we had a thick coating of laterite and good sightings of kob, roan antelope, bush buck, water buck… And instead of turkey plenty of guinea fowl curry.
Mole National Park is Ghana’s flagship park, and is by far the best wildlife habitat we’ve seen so far.
The elephant grass is a hindrance to wildlife spotting at the moment however. It is at the stage where it needs to be burnt off to provide a ‘green bite’ for the game. The powers-that-be at Mole consider it far too dangerous for visitors to be able to drive the park alone and nobody goes anywhere without an armed guard. (It seems a bit melodramatic but for some tourists it probably feels more of an adventure). We were joined by a veteran ranger by the name of DK Basig. DK was raised in a village in the north of the park but his family and their neighbours were ‘sacked away’ when the park was being cleared in 1964. I helped DK set a couple of bushfires along the track of our evening game drive – a pyromaniac’s dream!
Predators are extremely elusive. Lions are seen only every few months and few rangers have ever seen a leopard here. Apart from some big crocodiles that inhabit the waterhole in front of the Mole Motel, the most common predators are certainly hyenas and during the night I woke in my hammock to listen to their riotous yip-yipping and yak-yaking.
On Christmas morning we followed fresh spoor of some of the park’s estimated 600 elephants and, although we were surrounded by the broken branches and barked trees in what had clearly been the nighttime feeding spot for quite a big herd, they remained elusive. Mole is quite densely forested and one wonders what its natural state really is: there were once perhaps be far more elephants here, and therefore greater expanses of open savannah.
There is only a fairly small network of roads in Mole that are open to the public. Nothing in the north. We’re confident that we flattened as much of Mole as could be done but I was hoping for a wild trip to the far north and maybe a bush camp up there. No go!
From here we move on to Bui National Park. Since 1971 there have been plans to build a dam and flood the Bui area and the project should have been completed late this year but even today nobody is really sure whether there is a dam there or not. We will soon find out.

Ghana # 5

Posted on December 26th, 2010 in MAPA expeditions by Administrator
Travel journalist is volunteering for MAPA in Ghana and this is his latest post…..

Travel journalist March Eveleigh is volunteering for MAPA in Ghana and this is his latest post…..

MAPA Blog 05

22-Dec 2010

We spent a long dusty day mapping Gbele National Park. The other team was running short on fuel so we agreed to make the run into the centre of the park to try to find a road through to the north. We made three aborted runs up tracks that finally disappeared into cattle trails or footpaths.

Nobody was really sure what we would find in Gbele and, although we succeeded in mapping pretty much everything that could be mapped, by the end of the day it seemed safe to say that Gbele is pretty much a park in name only. There are said to be protected Roan antelope here and perhaps from time to time lion (nomads from Burkina Faso) but there are several large villages in the park and cattle roam most parts. Farmland and burnt scrub seemed to be pretty much all that Gbele had to offer.

It was almost dark by the time we made it to Wechiau Hippo Sanctuary and pitched camp by the side of the Black Volta. The mist shrouded forest on the far side was Burkina Faso. It seemed that the river had a fantastic effect of cooling the normally balmy Ghanaian evening and we passed an interminable night of cold that was about as intense as any I have experienced in Africa.

We rose with the sun and met up with our guide Joshua to take a canoe down the Volta to waypoint a hippo hide and to check out some of the sanctuary’s resident pod of 60 hippos.

After that it was another long drive back east to the famous Mole National Park, where we plan to stay through Christmas.

Ghana #3

Posted on December 26th, 2010 in MAPA expeditions by Administrator
Travel journalist is volunteering for MAPA in Ghana and this is his latest post…..

Travel journalist March Eveleigh is volunteering for MAPA in Ghana and this is his latest post…..

MAPA Blog 03

19-Dec 2010

The main access route to Digya National Park (according to the head ranger it is the only access) is far from heavily touristed. This year Ghana’s second biggest national park received just three visits, including ours.

These days there are no driveable roads within the park at all. There are a couple of rough dirt-tracks that could take you to within about 10 miles of the park boundary but from there you have to walk.

By far the easiest access point to Digya is along a rough laterite road south of Kwame Danso. This road finally comes to a grinding halt at the banks of a big lagoon, part of the Volta system. Here we had to load necessary provisions for a night in the bush into a canoe for the half-hour paddle that would take us into the park.

The head ranger had told us that there are no longer any communities in the park and that such people as once lived here have all been resettled outside. A group of children was waiting on the far bank to help carry our bags up to what turned out to be quite a sprawling village of mud and breezeblock huts. The rangers live here side by side with the villagers.

The only ‘accommodation’ here for tourists was a couple of mildewy rooms, with the squeaks of bats in the roof giving no doubt as to the origin of the musky smell of guano. Or there was a dusty patch in the middle of the village where we were allowed to pitch our tent. As only the third foreigners to arrive here this year we were of course received almost as a travelling circus by the dozens of local kids.

However, with the help of a couple of guys with machetes, we were able to scout out and clear a great little camping spot near the village. Hopefully this little clearing will be remembered as the perfect spot to take future arrivals.

Who knows when those visitors will next come though.

There are plans for Digya to take its place among Ghana’s wildlife Meccas but for the time being – with no feasible access and no way to get around the park – those days would seem to be a long way off.

Ghana successes…

Posted on December 26th, 2010 in MAPA expeditions by Administrator

After a very difficult few months of late and heavy rains in West Africa, MAPA volunteers are finally getting the chance to show what they are made of.

This is what internationally renowned journalist, Mark Eveleigh has been sending into over the last couple of weeks.   Mark is travelling with his father Mike, who lived for many years in Ghana.  They’ve been keen to spend a bit of time revisiting old memories of the Gold Coast (OK, Mike isn’t that old but it sounded good) and this seemed like a good opportunity.

MAPA Blog 01
17-Dec 2010
It had been more years than I cared to count since I was last in Ghana. I was five years old when we moved away from my dad’s work here in search of ‘greener pastures’ in Nigeria. As we drove out of Accra on our first leg towards the north I had the feeling that the Ghanaian capital might not quite have lived up to all its promises either!
We had been told that the road north to Kumasi and even onwards, almost up to the Burkina Faso border were perfectly tarmac-ed highways these days and that it would take us just four hours to reach Kumasi. I had been slightly disappointed by these promises: you don’t come to Africa and then set off in an expedition prepared Landcruiser to drive smooth highways. It seemed that London’s M25 during a brisk winter would offer more challenges.
Ghana did not let us down however. Within an hour of leaving Accra the last of the tarmac finally crumbled away and we drove for the next couple of hours in second and third gear in a dense cloud of bulldust. This was more like it!
We stopped briefly to eat some of the delicious yogurt that seems to be available everywhere here and to buy a couple of last minute supplies (a length of tube to resurrect the thus-far useless water tank, a machete and a stack of firewood). The tarmac reappeared eventually but in the end the drive up the ‘highway’ almost to Kumasi took seven hours of fairly fast driving.
We turned off onto another section of laterite, feeling now that we were making headway into what was beginning to feel like bush-country as kites wheeled above us and a mongoose flitted across the track.
Our first stop, Bobiri Butterfly Sanctuary, turned out to be a very small park where only a single walking tour could be organized. The headquarters were well maintained and staffed by typically friendly Ghanaians and we left there feeling that it would have been a wonderful spot to camp for the night. However, there was still time enough to drive on for a couple more hours to make it to Boupom Wildlife Sanctuary. Complications in finding the entrance to Boupom were exacerbated by the fact that the park seems to be entirely erroneously named on all the maps we have. In fact the head ranger James Porodomi has been working here for ten years and had never heard the name Boupom. In fact this is Bomfobiri Wildlife Reserve.
We are now camped next to a ranger station inside the reserve and within a hour – after all the data is uploaded – we intend to have a couple of hefty pork chops sizzling on the fire and a bacardi and coke frosting our camping mugs.

MAPA Blog 01

17-Dec 2010

It had been more years than I cared to count since I was last in Ghana. I was five years old when we moved away from my dad’s work here in search of ‘greener pastures’ in Nigeria. As we drove out of Accra on our first leg towards the north I had the feeling that the Ghanaian capital might not quite have lived up to all its promises either!

We had been told that the road north to Kumasi and even onwards, almost up to the Burkina Faso border were perfectly tarmac-ed highways these days and that it would take us just four hours to reach Kumasi. I had been slightly disappointed by these promises: you don’t come to Africa and then set off in an expedition prepared Landcruiser to drive smooth highways. It seemed that London’s M25 during a brisk winter would offer more challenges.

Ghana did not let us down however. Within an hour of leaving Accra the last of the tarmac finally crumbled away and we drove for the next couple of hours in second and third gear in a dense cloud of bulldust. This was more like it!

We stopped briefly to eat some of the delicious yogurt that seems to be available everywhere here and to buy a couple of last minute supplies (a length of tube to resurrect the thus-far useless water tank, a machete and a stack of firewood). The tarmac reappeared eventually but in the end the drive up the ‘highway’ almost to Kumasi took seven hours of fairly fast driving.

We turned off onto another section of laterite, feeling now that we were making headway into what was beginning to feel like bush-country as kites wheeled above us and a mongoose flitted across the track.

Our first stop, Bobiri Butterfly Sanctuary, turned out to be a very small park where only a single walking tour could be organized. The headquarters were well maintained and staffed by typically friendly Ghanaians and we left there feeling that it would have been a wonderful spot to camp for the night. However, there was still time enough to drive on for a couple more hours to make it to Boupom Wildlife Sanctuary. Complications in finding the entrance to Boupom were exacerbated by the fact that the park seems to be entirely erroneously named on all the maps we have. In fact the head ranger James Porodomi has been working here for ten years and had never heard the name Boupom. In fact this is Bomfobiri Wildlife Reserve.

We are now camped next to a ranger station inside the reserve and within a hour – after all the data is uploaded – we intend to have a couple of hefty pork chops sizzling on the fire and a bacardi and coke frosting our camping mugs.

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