Tuesday, 9 October 2012

A slice of heaven in Ghana

A few weeks ago I found myself in one of the beautiful places I’d ever seen in Ghana, the kind of beauty that one can only describe as breath-taking. I mean, I’d heard, mostly from some of my white friends, that places like this existed in Ghana but I always dismissed it as the usual white-people hyperbole that you hear when they come into contact with a little nature. A few trees and some butterflies and all you hear is things like ‘…it was a life-changing experience’ or ‘…after all these years of soul searching, I finally found myself…blah blah blah’. For my white readers, I don’t mean to cause offence, however you guys seem far more in touch with your inner ‘nature person’ than any black person I’ve ever met. Anyway, I digress…
View of hillside from Mountain Paradise

Kulugulu Waterfall Trail: The beginning
As I was saying, I found myself in this slice of paradise that was comfortably nestled away in a village called Biakpa in the Volta region of Ghana. Biakpa lies in the shadow of Mount Gemi (the second highest mountain in Ghana) and is surrounded by awesome natural beauty as far as the eye can see. We stayed in this rustic yet semi modern resort aptly named Biakpa Mountain Paradise. Its proprietor, Tony Fiakpui, is the most pleasant, endearing and kind hearted man I’ve met in a long time in Ghana. He is responsible for carving out this piece of heaven on earth called Mountain Paradise and although you don’t know him, this man has done his part in preserving the beauty that Ghana has to offer its citizens and visitors. Tony, thank you!
'Woe Zɔ' - Welcome

Mountain Paradise guest rooms (view of Mt. Gemi)
Mountain Paradise: Reception and rooms
Relaxing Biakpa style
I could continue to gush over this place but let me get on with it. One is presented with so many things to do once you get here. There’s a 3 hour hike from Biakpa up the mountain to Amedzofe and then on to the summit of Mount Gemi. There’s a 2 hour hike from the resort, through a thick forest trial, down a ravine to behold the beautiful (and safe to swim in) Kulugulu Waterfall. Not for you? You can hire mountain bikes for the day and just explore Biakpa and the surrounding villages. Culture galore! Still too much activity for your sedentary and ultra-modern city office lifestyle? Why not just grab a book and enjoy the serene, ethereal environment that is offered to you the moment to arrive here. Trust me, anything you choose to do, you will not be disappointed.

View from mountain trail (a 3rd of the ascent)
I chose to climb Mount Gemi on day 1 and do the waterfall trail on day 2. They were both exhilarating experiences of which I will encourage everyone who reads this to try. To get to Mount Gemi, you have to start from the village of Biakpa and ascend to Amedzofe. This is possibly the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done in my life. Terrifying because the trail, or what remains of it, is steep, slippery in places, overgrown in others, non-existent in some places and generally in bad shape. I was surprised by this because most things outdoorsy and exciting are associated with tourists and white people. Tourists and white people are associated with money. Ghanaians have an affinity for both white people and money. Naturally, one could see the money making opportunity in keeping this trail in good nick and completely accessible to said tourists and white people. But no! You’d be hard pressed to find a trail guide. You’d spend 15 minutes wandering through Biakpa trying to find the beginning of the trail. There are no signs of its existence and no information regarding what you are to expect once you begin the ascent. But ignore all that for a minute. Once you find your way, the journey is stunning. You’re steeped in dense jungle for 2 and half hours, desperately trying to stay sure-footed, hydrated and focussed. You will constantly battle with the feeling of fear on one hand and be taken aback with the sheer beauty of the environment in which you find yourself immersed. You will cross a river, battle ants and other creepy crawlies, lose your way, climb over and under dead and decaying tree trunks, stop to catch your breath, give up half way and encourage yourself to complete the journey. At the end of it all, you will have inspired yourself!
Ascent to Amedzofe: The easy part
Reaching Amedzofe is a bit of a disappointment. At the end of this amazing nature quest your first reconnection with civilization is the stench of decaying rubbish. Most of the town dispose of their waste where the mountain trail connects with the town. The result is the all-too-familiar odour of modern waste disposal, the ‘bɔɔla’ as it is known in Twi or the rubbish dump. Once you understand that you've been on earth all this while, you quickly overcome the disappointment with its inhabitants and move on to the ‘Tourist Information Centre’. I swore that I wouldn’t say anything about this place for fear of using too many expletives in its description. Point made!

Sunrise over Mt. Gemi
Typical morning mist (accompanied by cold)

From the Totally Idiotic Centre…ahem…I meant the Tourist Information Centre, it’s just another 45 minute hike to the summit of Mount Gemi. This trail, while abandoned is in good shape and easy to navigate. There is such an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment and ‘I can f*cking do anything’ once you reach the summit and place your hands on the metal crucifix, erected by the Germans a long while back. The vista is glorious! You can see for what must be hundreds of miles. The great Volta Lake lies in the not so far distance. Villages such as Kpando, Vokpo, Ho and Anfoe are dotted along the horizon like pearls on a string. Other fascinating settlements can be seen in the nooks and crannies of the valleys that are commonplace in this part of the world.

Apart from the natives, we were the only black people that were exploring this beautiful slice of Ghana. Everyone else we met and stayed with at the Mountain Paradise resort was white. British, Italian, American, Eastern European and even Australian; all white! Not a single Ghanaian or black person from the diaspora. I think that we owe it to ourselves as black people and natives of this beautiful country to explore it as much as we possibly can. Let’s each schedule a weekend or two, where we set aside our need to go to the same old places; Republic, Frankies, Mövenpick, Papaye, Noble House etc. and eat the same old things; fried rice with chicken, banku and tilapia, omo tuo and ‘zoo soup’ etc. Let’s purpose in ourselves to know as much about this country as we possibly can and educate ourselves about the beauties and pleasures that exist a little beyond our doorsteps. Let’s get to know this beautiful country!

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