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!

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