Volta Region: Lush Forests, Cute Monkeys, and Beautiful Waterfalls

It was Friday night, and the power was out, but I was waiting for a call from Yazan to find out when his bus would arrive in Accra.  Unfortunately, his phone has broken the night before so he’d be calling from the taxi drivers phone.  The driver got lost, but eventually he found the place.  It was nice to see my buddy from training after more than 2 months of working in different cities.  He threw his stuff in my extra room and we headed for Champs, a sports bar, which has karaoke on Friday nights.  It was 20 cedis to get in, but the money goes towards a voucher you can use for food and drinks, so it was fine.  We got fancy cocktails and American diner food while listening to off key notes, it was lots of fun!  We were both exhausted, so we left around 1 and passed out as soon as we got back to my place.

Saturday morning we decided to sleep in.  Originally we were going to try and find a phone repair shop, but we decided to leave earlier instead.  We hung out with our computers, looked at our itinerary, booked a few hotels, and then packed our bags.  We left my place around 1, and eventually found the trotro station where we would catch the ride to Volta.  It took more than an hour for the trotro to leave, but thankfully we had seats in the front, so we had room to sprawl and a good view.  We bought some snacks from the vendors at the window, and settled in for a journey that Google said would take about 2 hours.

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Of course the journey took a lot more than 2 hours!  The actual driving was okay, but I guess one of the bridges was under maintenance (for the last year or so), so we were stuck taking the ferry.  We were told that one of the ferries was also “spoiled” and we ended up waiting to get on for more than 2 hours.  The ferry only takes about 2 minutes, you can see the other side of the water, and after that our driver was in a big hurry.  It was dark and he was driving really fast, but thankfully we didn’t hit any of the goats that were sitting on the road (or any cars or people for that matter!).  It was 9:30pm by the time we arrived in Ho (the capital city of the Volta Region), and our driver informed us that all trotros to our hotel would be done for the night.  A taxi would have cost us a ridiculous amount so we decided to find a place in town.  Thankfully our driver was super nice and took us to a nearby guesthouse which had rooms available.  We watched some TV on our computers, grabbed a few drinks, and hit the hay.

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Sunday morning we slept until about 9, packed our bags, and had some egg and bread at the hotel.  We walked the short distance to the station and waited in the trotro again for it to fill up.  The trotro was headed to Hohoe, but we were going to get off in Logba, which was about half-way through the trip.  The journey on the map looked short, but of course it didn’t take into account all of the hills we would drive through.  When driving through hills you have to take a jagged path up one side and down the other, so the trip takes a lot longer than if you drove straight.  But by about 1pm we had made it to our stop.  The roads are narrow, so we took motorcycles to the sanctuary, where we got off at the reception building.

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At the monkey sanctuary we signed a guestbook, paid our fees (less because I’m a student, but more because I had a camera), and also paid for a guy to go buy bananas from the market.  Then our tour guide took us into the forest.  Eventually, we saw a few monkeys and he made some sounds with his mouth to attract more.  He taught us how to hold the banana firmly but push it up at a certain pace so that the monkeys couldn’t rip it out of your hand but would have to stay close to eat it.  It also encourages them to jump on you for fun pictures.  Yazan and I screwed it up many times before we finally figured out what he was talking about, but we definitely got to see a lot of cute monkeys!  I think Yazan was afraid of rabies, but I had a lot of fun.

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After all the bananas were gone, our guide took us to a group of benches where we sat for awhile to watch the monkeys while he told us stories.  He told us about the ancient myths, and how the people once believed that monkeys would tell them the word of God. In fact, he said the people of this region had followed to monkeys from their old home to here, which is where they finally settled. Eventually, he said, Christianity came so they killed the monkeys and started cutting down the forest.  Then in the 80’s, a Canadian came and taught them about tourism, which is how the sanctuary started.  The money from the visits has helped the community to build schools and get electricity.  He told us about the symbology of the different forest animals and some biology stuff about the monkeys too, it was pretty interesting!  The tour wasn’t very long, and he took us back to the information center where we paid him (which apparently was not included in the cost of the tour – strange), and bought some nice cloth we saw at a nearby shop.  We wanted lunch but there was nothing nearby so we decided to take the motorcycles to a nearby Kente Village instead.  Originally we wanted to climb a nearby mountain (the highest in Accra – but only about 800 m tall) but with the day passing quickly we didn’t think there would be enough time before nightfall.

In the village there is a large structure that is a recent addition, to protect the looms and their workers during the rainy season.  The large building has a row of looms on each side, with long strings of every colour stretched across between them.  The looms all look the same, but each belongs to a family.  The weavers use many different colours (which each have a meaning) and many different patterns (which also have meanings – mostly related to the history of their people and different types of environments in the area).  The kente is made in 2 and 4 foot narrow strips, which can take 2-7 hours to make depending on the complexity (which also determines the price).

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We also explored the small village, met with some of the people, and saw some “fixed looms”, which work in a similar way but the poles are dug into the ground for support.  The looms are located beside the family home in an open-air structure, which is basically a few wooden poles with a straw roof.  Their work is amazing and I was really impressed by the speed!  Each child learns the trade at the age of 7, and it takes them 3 years to master the techniques.  We then returned to the large building to buy some strips of the cloth and pay our tour fees.  We hopped back on the motorcycles, and headed back to the junction.  Since we hadn’t eaten lunch yet, we grabbed some food from the street vendors, and sat down in the sun to wait for a trotro.  We weren’t optimistic about it coming soon, but lucky enough we had waited just 10 minutes before a Metro Mass Transit bus pulled up.  The bus is much bigger than a trotro, and costs less money.  We hopped on and found seats in the back (though we has to move some luggage out of the way first – including some bags and a wheelchair).  The ride was super bumpy but we made it Hohoe (another big city) within about an hour.

From Hohoe we found a shared taxi headed in the right direction, and we felt lucky – boy were we wrong!  This was the shortest ride of our journey but it was my worst ride since arriving in Ghana!  At first it was just the two of us and a young school girl, sweet.  Eventually we picked up another guy – Okay that’s a full car.  Then he pulled over for another lady.  This lady proceeded to sit on top of me, elbow me, and yell Ewe (the local language) in my ear (definitely louder than was necessary for everyone in the car to hear!).  Everyone seemed annoyed at her but the driver was really chatty and that just made her yell more.  She was also yelling into the phone.  Yazan looked back at me… I could tell he felt bad, but neither of us knew what she was saying.  Eventually the car stopped again, for about 9 more school girls!  One lady who had a baby got in the back with us, while the other 8 of them squished into the trunk.  I was now between a guy and the yelling lady, with another girl from the trunk sitting on my shoulder.  Then the people on either side of me started fighting over a spatula!  It was a very strange ride and I was super relieved when everyone got out!  Later, we ran into the guy (who worked at the hotel where we ate) and he told us what had happened.  Apparently the yelling lady had found out her husband was cheating, and was headed home to assault the woman.  The man thought this was just too much, so he stole the spatula and accompanied to her house, but the lady had already left.  I do not look forward to ever having a ride like that again, that’s for sure!

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After all the stress of the drive we checked into our hotel, but found out they had no drinks.  So we walked to a nearby hotel and got drinks and food.  I felt social, so we decided to talk to a group sitting at a table nearby, and they were all really friendly!  Most of them were expats from all over the place, and they were part of a group called Adventure Junkies (which I’m totally going to join).  We hung out with them for the rest of the night and went back to our hotel when everyone dispersed.  Of course there was us banging on the door (because for some reason the door before our hotel door was locked), but we made it back to our bed and went to sleep.  However, the women in the morning did look at me in a stern way and give me a lecture about coming home late (even though it was only about 11), probably because I’m a girl – Yazan didn’t get in trouble.

We were told that the waterfall opens at 7 and we should start hiking then to avoid the hot mid-day sun, but that didn’t exactly happen. We got up at 8, attempted to shower (our bathroom left something to be desired) and asked at the hotel restaurant what was being served for breakfast. The answer we got was no.  We wandered the streets but everything appeared to be closed for the holiday so we ended up back at the Big Safari Lodge again.  The service was a bit slow that time since there were a lot of others wanting breakfast also. My pancakes were both burnt and soggy – bad combo – but there was bacon, so I couldn’t complain.  We paid or bill and walked back to the hotel, where the entrance to the waterfalls was.  We bought a few souvenirs, stocked up on drinking water, and paid our entrance fees (which was a bit more than expected but whatever).

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Our guide was an older man with no water (they laughed when we asked if he needed any and said he would drink out of the river – instead he found a used plastic bottle on the path at some point and filled that up to use).  He did have a machete though, which he used to get rid of some overgrown foliage, cut us hiking sticks from branches (which came in super handy), and he even cut us down the plant that is used for growing coffee beans (you can suck on the seeds, they taste like a sweet fruit candy).  He told us we would have to cross over 9 bridges to get to the falls (8 of which cross the river that is made by the waterfall).  After walking on flat ground for awhile (and crossing 8 of the 9 bridges), our guide told us to take a path up, this would lead to the top waterfall.  We had decided to take the middle option and do the 4 hour hike to the Upper Falls and back, instead of just doing the Lower Falls, or doing a big loop around the whole hill (due to time).

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The hike was fine at first and then I started feeling exhausted.  It was completely uphill, climbing on loose rocks and intertwined roots.  I wanted to give up but instead I took a little break and drank some water (I figured I must be dehyrdated based on how I was sweating).  I threw on my bandanna to keep the sweat out of my eyes (most people here keep a hankerchief on them all the time to wipe away the sweat anyways), and we kept climbing.  Eventually we made it to the half-way point and stared at the top of the lower falls.  We also saw beautiful views of the surrounding hills, and could even see all the way to the nearby town of Hohoe.  We climbed a bit more and then started descending down the other side.  Eventually we saw ants, no big deal, but our guide warned us they were soldier ants and we should keep away – no problem.  Until we saw a huge pile of them… I didn’t know what to do.  Eventually I just screamed and ran through them, for about 2 whole minutes of running downhill.  I’m surprised I didn’t slip on the wet leaves or loose dirt but I made it!  The guide told us to take of our shoes and socks and helped us pick off all the little ants.  I only got a few bites, but then we were on our way again.  We made it to the pool of the Upper Falls, which was a beautiful sight to see (but definitely too rough to swim in!).  After a couple photos we turned around and did the whole thing again, in reverse.  Yazan and I slipped a couple times, got a couple scrapes, but we made it to the bottom in good spirits – sweating but intact!

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Finally we were back on level ground! We walked across the final bridge and soon felt the spray of the lower falls. I pictured a serene pool of water with birds and fish and people swimming – I was totally wrong.  From about 10 minutes away you can hear the roar, and then you start to feel the mist, which eventually turns into a cold rain.  Everyone was huddled under a shelter (basically a roof over a concrete slab – it looked like a group had come for a picnic), but everything around was soaked.  I could barely even get a picture before my lens was covered in water.  Yazan and I had worn our bathing suits but nobody was in the water and we were a bit scared and insure what to do.  Even we both took off our outer later (which is hindsight was silly since they were coated in sweat already), and started towards the falls.  I went in up to my waist and splashed around a bit until the spray starting bugging my eyes, then I got out.  But Yazan had gone all the way in and was swimming around.  At one point I lost sight of him, but I tried not to panic and eventually he resurfaced.  When he was done we both headed back (which hurt the feet a lot since there’s rocks and branches and we hadn’t thought to bring sandals, since we wore runners for the hike!).  We put some clothes back on and headed back out the same path.

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When we finished our treck from the waterfall, we paid the guide (apparently he’s not paid from our entrance fee, which seems totally unfair and makes me upset). Our hotel ended up being right outside the reception office for the waterfall, so that’s where our trip ended. The whole way back, Yazan and I were debating our options. Should we take a taxi to the nearby city, find a trotro, and ride to Accra at night – is that too risky? Or should we spend an extra night but miss work in the morning? I said we should wait and see, which turned out to be a fantastic idea. As we approached our hotel, we saw a VVIP bus idling right out front! We thought there was no way it would work out, but they were a school group with a chartered bus, heading to Accra, leaving in an hour, and they had extra seats! Wow, we took it as a sign and agreed right away to go with them. An hour gave us the perfect amount of time to pack our bags, and go back to the hotel nearby for a drink while we waited for sandwiches and fries to take on the bus for dinner (a goat tried to eat Yazan’s but some men shooed it away!).

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By 6 pm we were on the road. Yazan and I drank a carton of sangria and watched the Great Mouse Detective before passing out. We got to the ferry but they refused us and told us to try the bridge. Arriving at the bridge, the gate was closed – oh no! Thankfully, they were able to call some people and somebody arrived to open the gate – we were back on track. We arrived in Accra, took a taxi to my house, and stayed up way too late (since we both had work stuff to do in the morning). We were both sweaty, dirty, and exhausted but I’m so glad we went! I would definitely recommend a trip to the Volta Region for anybody spending time in Ghana!

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About Amanda

Hi, I’m Amanda! Originally from Ottawa, Canada, I am currently living with my partner (Steve) in Sucre, Bolivia for the next year. I work in the unique space between industrial design and international development – but what does that even mean? I’m passionate about working WITH marginalized communities in a way that utilizes design to improve the lives of different types of people around the world. I have worked, studied, traveled, and researched on every continent (except Antarctica), and most recently I lived in Ghana, Bangladesh and Nepal. I love exploring new cultures and learning more about myself along the way.
This entry was posted in Ghana (2014) - Professional Fellow Placement (EWB), Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Volta Region: Lush Forests, Cute Monkeys, and Beautiful Waterfalls

  1. Pingback: Easy Peasy | 48 Degree Shift

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