Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Mole Park

June 6, 2009
This morning we drove to visit Mole (pronounced MOW-lay) National Park, a wildlife preserve. It was a beautiful morning for a drive—overcast and not too hot. The cars here do not have air conditioning, so you really appreciate days that are overcast. We drove over the White Volta on our way. It is the first river I have seen here, and it was pretty. I would never go in the water for fear of getting Guinea Worm, but it was nice to look at. The scenery along the way and once we got to Mole was very nice, much more lush than near Tamale although it isn’t very far away. It also seemed to be a bit more humid, but that could have been my imagination.
Once we hit the turnoff for the 86 kilometer road to Mole National Park, the drive became very unpleasant. The road is never good, but it was especially bad because it rained the night before. The water washed away the soil so the entire road was covered in bumps not unlike a rumble strip next to the freeway. There were some parts of the road that were smoother than others, so we would try very hard to drive in those parts of the road. The road itself was raised a couple of feet and there was about a car-width of flat dirt space on either side. These flat parts down off the road were usually the best places to drive, when they weren’t full of puddles. The drive reminded me of being in an inner tube behind a boat on VERY choppy water. You bounce all the time, sometimes you go over the wake, or back inside, and you hold on for dear life and hope you don’t tip over.
I’m pretty sure the road should have a warning sign not to take infants on it, because the shaking would probably damage their brains.
It took us three to four hours to get through the road. We stopped a few times to play Frisbee and walk around to have a break from the shaking.
We also stopped right before we got to the park at a small town called Larabanga. Our tour book talked about the oldest mosque in Ghana, and we thought it would be fun to see it. We happened upon it by chance—we took a wrong turn, and as we were turning around we noticed we were right next to the mosque. It has pretty interesting architecture, although it is not the only building of its kind in Ghana. However, I did not really enjoy our stop in Larabanga. The tour book warned that the people of Larabanga all accost you and ask you for money, and it was exactly right. Everybody asked our names, and then would start little conversations with you where they would tell you a story about how their life was hard and ask you to donate money to their cause. I just felt very defensive the whole time I was there, and the mosque wasn’t really cool enough to justify the uncomfortableness of being swarmed by well-practiced beggars. So if you ever come to Mole, don’t bother stopping in Larabanga.
The Mole Park Motel, or whatever it was called, was actually very nice. It had a pool, where we spent the majority of our time, and I felt very relaxed. There is only one (public) pool in Tamale and it is always very crowded, so I will probably never go swimming there. The motel is on the edge of a cliff and overlooks two watering holes. It was fun to look over the beautiful scenery and see all the animals. There are warthogs ALL over the place at Mole. We got very close to many of them. I learned two things about them—first, they kneel down on their front knees when they are eating, which was really fun to watch, and second, when they run they look EXACTLY like Puumbaa in the Lion King. I guess the Disney animators did their homework about how warthogs run. It seems like there might be a scene where Puumbaa kneels down as well. Warthogs and antelopes were the only animals we saw today.

June 7, 2009
This morning we woke up VERY early—5:15 was when our alarm went off. Neither one of us slept well, because the air conditioner would turn itself off periodically and every time it did we both thought the power had gone off (which it hadn’t) and woke up. Even so, we got out of bed and went down to the observation deck to watch the animals. We wanted to arrange to go on a walking safari at 6:00, but they wouldn’t let us go before 7. About 6:30 was when we saw the most animals from the observation deck, mostly different kinds of antelope running all over the place. It was really fun to watch.
Our walking safari turned out to be a very nice hike through the park. We were paired with a group of four students volunteering with an NGO that helps people to get cataract surgery in Tamale. The first animals we saw (apart from the warthogs) were baboons. They like to hang out near the staff quarters, and our guide told us that if the staff don’t lock their doors the baboons will get in and eat their food. There were a couple of baby baboons that were fun to watch. We also saw one baboon carrying a different kind of monkey as if it had been a baby, which I found very interesting.
The landscape was beautiful and it was really fun to hike around and look for animals. The big animal which everyone wanted to see of course was the elephants. Eventually, we found about five elephants sitting in a watering hole and having a bath. They would spray themselves with water every few seconds or so. I would say we were about 20 feet away from them, so we were very close. I wished we could have seen some baby elephants too, but our guide told us that they stay in the interior of the park with their mothers and only the males venture out to the edges of the park (at least in the rainy season, when water is plentiful).
There are lions in the park, but they are most active at night and it is rare to see them. Night is when they hunt for food. After hearing this, I better understood the song “the Lion Sleeps Tonight.” You hope the lion is sleeping at night and so it isn’t going to come and eat you, or your animals.
After we saw the elephants, we headed back up the hill to the motel. We swam in the pool until lunch, and then we packed up to head home. While we were swimming, a baboon with a baby came right over the short wall and was looking at us, which was fun to see.
We both got our first sunburns of the trip while we were swimming, despite our sunscreen.
Because it didn’t rain at all while we were in the park, the divots in the road had evened out a little and the drive back was not as bad as the drive in. It was still VERY bumpy and still not an experience I am anxious to have again, but it was better.
We ate dinner at our friend Babs’ house. He is the owner of the hotel where we are staying. They made us Guinea Fowl, yam pottage, a blackeyed pea stew, a rice dish, plain rice with a vegetable stew, and fried yams and fried plantains. Although I think yams/sweet potatoes in the US are disgusting, I like them here. They are not sweet, and they are white. However, every single one of the dishes they served (except obviously the guinea fowl, fried yams, and fried plantains) had fish as one of the ingredients, which I determined because I could see little shiny fish scales in the food. It all tasted good, but being a person who does not like fish very much and thinks fish scales are pretty horrible to look at, it was hard for me to eat the food. I was also afraid of finding fish bones. However, I appreciated their hospitality and it was fun to try new dishes.

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