TRIP REPORT, GHANA, 1-22 MAY 2017
Monday 1 May
The plane was full for the 6½ hour flight to Accra, a 747 jumbo, and left on time at 1.55pm arriving at 7.45pm (UK + 1 hour) with the temperature at 23°. The bag carousel took ages to deliver my case before I emerged into a bewildering crowd outside Arrivals where several helpful locals offered to take my bag, arrange a taxi, find me a hotel etc until at last I spotted Andrew (his Anglicised name) known from a previous trip and was introduced to his sidekick, Jackson. I was the first to arrive, then a long wait before Nigel emerged followed by Regine, Mark and finally Adrian and Jim. Frantic hand waving was needed to catch their eye! Andrew led us to a money exchange booth where £100 became 540 cedi. Our driver, Ansare, was waiting in the car park to ferry us to the Erata Hotel some 10 minutes away to the north of the city. Mark went to his room after a long series of flights from the US via Amsterdam but Regine, Adrian, Jim and I were joined in an essential Club beer by Pam who'd flown in from Chennai yesterday.
Tuesday 2 May
For some reason my alarm failed (probably not the alarm's fault) so I had to dash out of bed at 5.20am for breakfast 10 minutes later. We'd leave at 6.30 on a hazy morning weaving about in 3 lanes of traffic heading ENE past Shai Hills and its roadside baboons, familiar from 2008 when I was last there, continuing across the vast Volta river at Senchi soon to make our first stop on a quiet road, more of a leg stretch than anything else but it was still good to get the camera out and to 'get my eye in'. Further on we stopped in Ho to use a Barclays ATM - a road sign showing Ho in one direction and Hohoe in another caused much mirth and renderings of the 7 dwarfs. A very good buffet lunch was laid on for us in Ho, much needed.
On again to the Mountain Paradise Hotel, perched at c2,000' on the road across the range towards Dzolokuita. I took the only non-en suite room, a bijou cramped room with the bed touching 3 walls and a 3' wide space from the door, but I was fine with that. We walked down a steep path to the stream where butterflies were scarce and it was very dry underfoot, the rains not having yet arrived. Back at the lodge we sat under a huge mango tree to consume our beers risking a hit from the occasional mango bomb and then I padded across to the shower/toilet block and stood under a cold trickle before dinner at 7. The food was excellent, starting with a great spicy groundnut soup followed by roast chicken, rice, plantain and red-red washed down with a shared beer with Regine. Slept under the fan.
Wednesday 3 May
Took a quick rinse from my water bottle as no water came from the tap and was ready for breakfast at 7am. Today we'd visit Wli Falls to the north in the Lipke hills via Hohoe. The hills bordering Togo are still well-wooded and the track to the Falls was flat and sandy, easy walking, and covered in swarms of Libythea labdaca, the African Beak. The Falls could be heard before they became visible, an impressive long drop into a large pool, surrounded by large roosting bats and fringed by a beach. Butterflies were good, and as we'd arrived relatively early there were few other people around but that began to change around noon.
Andrew and Jackson brought our lunch to us, a main meal of chicken, rice, plantain, and red-red. We slowly returned to the village by 4.30pm, no sun now, and distant thunder didn't go unnoticed. Ansare got us back within an hour taking the un-tarmac new road, not yet officially opened, accidentally hitting and killing a dog as he sped along. We'd only just reached the hotel when the heavens opened with crashing rain and a tornado-like wind - don't think I've experienced anything as severe in my whole life - accompanied by almost continuous thunder. The rains had definitely arrived now! Then the lights went out and the fridge blew up! I checked to see whether my room was still dry, and it was. Dinner was eaten by actinic light and I have no idea how the food could have been cooked. Still with no power, and the Gods still angry, I head-torched my way to bed c9.45.
Thursday 4 May
Rain fell through most of the night and we awoke to no electricity but Mark's battery charger had blown and we were all otherwise fortunate not to have anything else plugged into the mains at the time the lightning struck. I was up at 6.30 and wandered down to the road to get a misty valley landscape view. The rain hadn't deterred insects in general as they were out in force and the water run-off had been incredible with not a puddle in sight. A mass battery charging event took place courtesy of a genny before breakfast of porridge and fresh fruit, and at 8am we departed to visit the hillside across the valley. But it soon became clear that we weren't going there - instead we were returning to Wli Falls as the road to the 'other side' was in a bad state after the storm.
The Beaks had largely passed through on their migration and the beach was quiet. Lunch today was bananas, mango, fruit juice and digestive biscuits. Around 2.30 the sun disappeared and thunder could be heard far off. A couple of hours later we were back at the lodge for a cold shower ahead of a usual evening routine. Electricity had returned but the small strip light in my room had blown in last night's power surge and was quickly replaced.
Friday 5 May
At 4.30am the hurricane suddenly returned, a battering wind and hammering rain, the power going off again immediately, but it only lasted about 45 minutes easing into light rain. The shower block was dark and gloomy, but a necessary place to visit. Breakfast at 6am was porridge with condensed milk and just half an hour later our transit journey began to the Nelsban Palace Hotel at Old Tafo for a couple of nights. Five hours later we arrived at Aburi Botanical Gardens, my third visit there, but with no sun the butterfly activity was limited. The grounds contained several evangelical circular groups sitting on chairs being exhorted by a preacher, loud shouty voices being the communication norm. Lunch had been pre-ordered - chicken leg and fried rice - and in the car park just before departing at 2.45 we bumped into Philip who was leading an Ashanti birding group, an excellent guy who I’d met five years previously. Our hotel was reached at 4.30 where I had a nice en-suite room with a large double bed. The hot shower and shave felt luxurious but the absence of a towel had me resorting to one of my t-shirts instead!
Saturday 6 May
Woken at 3.30am by a choir practise! Wonderful, strong, velvety close harmony, repetitive religious music lasting a couple of hours!! Got up for 7.30 breakfast ahead of the short drive to Bunso Arboretum, also fondly remembered from past visits, where we dismounted an hour later. The wonderful welcoming long avenue of tall, white trunked trees was like a military guard of honour (the same planting as at Aburi). We spent all day here in sunny conditions and whilst there were plenty of good butterflies none were new to me. Lunch was a fruity snack taken in one of the picnic roundhouses.
Back at the hotel a wedding was in full swing and we were encouraged to take photos of the happy group, all very friendly and hospitable. 'Akwaaba' they said, 'welcome to our wedding' as we returned.
Sunday 7 May
Dawn cockerels brought me to the surface early and I was up by 6. Packed before breakfast at 7 and departed for Bunso again at 8. Initially there was no sun as Jackson baited the track with mango mush. Had to dash for cover in the bus at 10.45 when an unexpected and sudden downpour interrupted proceedings but it only lasted 25 minutes: however, it subdued butterfly activity. Lunched at noon, exactly as for yesterday, and set off at 2.30 for the drive to legendary Bobiri. Along the way we saw bush meat being sold openly along the roadside - including a Mona monkey, small deer, bush rats, and other unidentifiable mammals - so much for the flaunting of an illegal practise.
Wonderful Bobiri came into view at 5.30 and I selected a large en-suite room, welcomed by John and his family. Dinner on the verandah, rich with past memories, and a Club beer, made for a perfect end to the day. We learned that John's wife had been taken to hospital so I was surprised to find her resting in the conference room watching the TV. I asked her how she was feeling and tried to lighten the mood by adding 'hope you're not contagious!' 'No' she said, 'I'm pregnant'. Oops! but no offence taken, and a good-humoured exchange followed. Climbed into bed at 9.30, the generator still humming in the background.
Monday 8 May
Slept well and was up at 5.30 as voices outside and clanking pans indicated the day had begun. I washed 3 t-shirts and 2 undies in the shower under the tap and hung them on the line to dry. After breakfast at 7am it was a case of walking up and down the track to my heart's content, and it was, absolutely! Lunch around 12.20 consisted of pieces of fruit and then it was back out again without delay. By 4pm I was exhausted, activity was quietening, and so called it a day. Under a cold shower washed today's sweaty t-shirt and pants and hung those out to dry as well. Began to sort my day's photos, 618 in total! At 6.30 in the dusk the generator kicked into life and at 7 we were back on the verandah for the usual dinner fayre. Andrew and Jack had rigged up a moth sheet on the lawn but it attracted little.
Tuesday 9 May
After breakfast I requested permission to photograph Torben Larsen's old butterfly cabinet held in the usually locked office and this was readily granted. It felt a bit like a pilgrimage ‘must do’. Today was mostly overcast but produced some new Charaxes and Euphaedra species, both African icons, interrupted by two huge logging trucks entering the forest empty and returning later in the day carrying vast corpses. During the day I walked the Three Sisters trail, one for each of my daughters, Liz, Charlie and Alice, heartening to see some big trees still surviving. By 3.30pm with butterfly activity at an end I returned to my room, trampled my trousers and t-shirt in the cold shower and put them out to dry. A pack of coloured pens was handed to our hostess, John's pregnant wife whose name I never did catch, and she beamed a 'God bless you' in response.
Wednesday 10 May
Awoke at 5.30 and lazed until 6. After breakfast I walked the Three Sisters calling this circuit 'Liz' but apart from disturbing a new Cymothoe everything was quiet, the day starting slowly as usual. Just before lunch I walked the trail again, this time referring to it as 'Charlie', and took in the massive grandeur of one of the trees with a bark like an African elephant’s. After lunch I headed down the main track in search of the turd and its attendant charaxes that I'd heard about during lunch and duly got my shot of the green Charaxes eupale. Today was a very humid, heavy day and I fully expected to get caught in a downpour on two occasions. My final Three Sisters was, of course, named 'Ali' and I photographed the three big trees standing together after which I guess the trail was named. Got back to my room at 3.30, whacked. Having sorted my photos, Jim ushered me into the garden for the group photo which would include John's family for completeness.
Thursday 11 May
This was our last half day at Bobiri so I was up at 6 and found the marbled skipper Greta cylinda that had eluded me so far, a good 'tick' before breakfast. A trip back to yesterday’s turd revealed a cluster of Pseudacraea lucretia and a Charaxes brutus taking something from the track a short way further on. On my return I was checked out by a Palla, another species I was hoping to see and in fact a second one dropped in too. My final Three Sisters circuit was uneventful being very quiet and at 11.15 I returned to my room for a shower and change of clothes before lunch.
At 12.45 we said our goodbyes to John and his family, and to Bobiri, and began the torrid journey north through Kumasi for Techiman. Leaden skies lay over the vast sprawl that is Kumasi and it took a full two hours to get clear of the urbanisation and the countless trucks chucking out black filth. I began to notice mosques for the first time, and there were many of them. After 4 hours on a fast, dangerous road with many vehicles being repaired at the roadside our next hotel was reached on the southern edge of Techiman. It was modern and comfortable with wifi enabling me to check my emails and there was one from Alice telling me that I'd soon be having a new grandson, and I immediately texted her back. A good buffet dinner was enjoyed in an otherwise deserted restaurant and I lay down to sleep just gone 9.30.
Friday 12 May
On a coolish overcast morning we set off at 7.45 for the one hour drive south to Oporo, a forest remnant accessed down a gated track through a sterile teak plantation, very degraded and monotonous. And when the sun came out the track was baking hot affording little shade, dry and gritty underfoot but the forest part was much better habitat.
Saturday 13 May
Breakfast was at 6.30 today before the drive to Boabeng Fiema Monkey Sanctuary. Our destination was reached after an hour in subdued weather and clearly a major rain storm had passed through recently. On alighting from the bus I asked a stranger if there was a school in the village and friendly lad named Charles took me across to the schoolroom so that I could donate a couple of packs of rainbow felt pens and biros. Jackson followed, a bit concerned that I was disappearing with a stranger. But I was offered a chair to sit in, a bit like a dignitary, and after a chat to a teacher offloaded my merchandise and headed back to the bus to start my 'uffofronto' (= butterfly) search.
I started by finding my way back down to the stream where the women do the washing (not there when I arrived) and got good photographs of a Nepheronia thalassina, the 'Cambridge Blue'. A distant chainsaw buzz provided background noise, an ever-present sound every day so far. A fruity lunch next to the craft shop led to me buying a face mask for grandson Henry, carved in wood by Joseph, whose family had run the small business for three generations.
Over dinner we heard passionately about the state of Ghana, about the Muslims bringing their huge unwelcome cattle herds down from Mali, about the growing presence of Islam in Ghana, and about the Chinese colonisation of the country, and continent.
Sunday 14 May
A full transit was in prospect for today, south through Kumasi and on to New Edubiase, so we breakfasted early at 6.30 and were on our way by 7.05 on an overcast morning. On the edge of Kumasi Ansare stopped for diesel and a leg stretching opportunity for us, and a temporary respite from inhaling fumes, and Adrian kindly treated all of us to an ice cream. Locals were sporting their Sunday best and some of the women were spectacularly colourful and smart. Kumasi was behind us by 10am and on reaching New Edubiase we took the left turn up the hill for a short way and pulled in to a forest entrance at 11.45.
The track into the forest immediately looked good and accompanied by a chainsaw hum we were soon sweating in the heavy humidity and saw some great new species. With thunder rumbling I returned to the bus at 4pm and waited for the others to appear, namely Adrian, Pam and Jim. They were just in time as the rain started, quickly turning the atmosphere fog-like. But after 25 minutes the roads were dry! Our hotel was back to the north and took until 5.30 to materialise, the gated, razor-wired Kutins Lodge on the southern edge of the Moinsi Hills. Here we had wifi and a nice room covered in moth balls and with the not uncommon missing items - light bulb, towel - and with no hanging space. My shower had a wall mounted heater (with incredibly exposed wiring!) and it was good to have some hot water.
We had dinner semi-alfresco at a long narrow table with tight space coinciding with the rain returning, and how it rained - very atmospheric and a challenge for the waitress who had to dash to and fro through it!
Monday 15 May
Woken at 3.50am by a distant call to prayer. Traffic on the road was noisy, though infrequent. After breakfast at 7 we returned to yesterday's track and had a fantastic day, Euphaedra euphoria! The African guys carried the fruity lunch deep into the forest and I sweated mightily. Thunder started mid-afternoon and we were back at the Lodge by 5pm where I spent the next hour and a half sorting 650 photos and after dinner continued for another 30 minutes. During dinner the rain came down again, so heavily that we could hardly hear one another speak!
Tuesday 16 May
Today we had a new driver, Prince, as Ansare had to take the other bus for a new aircon unit. According to Jim the rain stopped at 10pm last night and by the time we left for yesterday's location the road was dry. Our site was in the Kwabina Sam Forest Reserve some 7 minutes east out of New Edubiase. Butterflies were well behaved due to it being largely overcast and mid-morning we met the Reserve Forester who'd ventured out at the instigation of Andrew to see and learn something about what we were doing. He seemed not to notice the pervasive chainsaw activity, some of which wasn't too far away. When Mark and I were making our way back to the bus we heard a thrashing in the thick undergrowth and at first thought it could be some kind of large deer, pig or similar. In due course, a local man emerged, I'd say in his 50's, very wiry, machete in hand and flip-flops on his feet, wearing a ragged t-shirt and carrying a small rucksack on his back. As is my wont on these occasions I hailed him with a hearty 'good afternoon' and he replied in kind. 'Have you been hunting?' I asked. He said he had and then in a flash of inspiration pulled out a large bush rat and asked 'do you want to buy it?' We declined politely. And off he went.
Wednesday 17 May
Another long transit day west to Ankasa, almost on the Côte d'Ivoire border, lay ahead for us today. Ansare had returned, the bus cool again. We set off at 7.15 finding the roads to be in very good condition generally, spoilt now and then by a stretch of potholes. Vehicles involved in crashes remain at the road side, gradually being incorporated into the vegetation, and horrific head-ons were commonplace. Multiple police checks all waved us through without incident. In many of the towns we passed through we saw the 'Singer sewing machine' groups working away in their roadside shacks, reminiscent of scenes from India and Vietnam. Shack construction appears to be evolving from wattle and daub to breeze blocks and much production of these was evident.
After 3 hours we arrived at Cape Coast, the Atlantic Ocean coming into view at 10.30 to cries all round of 'I can see the sea!' Still kids at heart. The weather had been overcast for much of the journey so far, good for transit. At 2.30 we encountered heavy rain and very poor visibility but it only lasted for 10 minutes. Beyond Axim the road was quiet and clear. The final 6km to Ankasa was on a red dirt road, mostly a good surface, and just gone 5pm our chalet-style accommodation on the edge of the park came into view. I shared a semi bungalow with Adrian, and very happy I was with it too. The bus took us down to the camp inside the Park where Francis and Mary put on an excellent dinner for us. Adrian ran through ids until 8.45 and we picked our way across tree roots in the dark back to the bus. Ignoring the mosquito net over the bed, I pretty much went spark out.
Thursday 18 May
Light rain began at 4am coinciding with a call from a cockerel and a very distant Imam. It came to a short thunderous crescendo at 5.30 and lasted until 6.45. Untroubled by mosquitos I hadn't bothered to use my net last night - but half a dozen little blood spots on my sheet indicated that I had been troubled, they just hadn't buzzed in my ear! Three mozzies resting on the wall soon rested there no more.
Isaac drove the 4x4 I was travelling in along the 9km 'no through road' track, muddy in places, to the 'old camp' in lovely dense habitat. The morning was slow but we were clearly in a great place. I spent a good while walking with Ken, one of the Wardens, explaining the symbiotic relationships between ants and the Liptenids which blew his mind, marvelling in awe of ‘the powers of God and creation’. Rain held off but by 3pm the day was over, so we made our way back by 4.30. The 5.15 pick-up to take us back to camp failed to materialise until 6pm but a kind woman made us tea as we waited. Ken took a couple of coloured pens from me for the school.
Dinner and Adrian's id session took the usual form, but back at our bungalows Mark gave a fascinating night sky tutorial, the billions of stars reminding me of Shima in Peru, 2014, and even though I failed to retain most of what Mark enthusiastically described I now know what the Southern Cross looks like. Erected my mozzi net and was under it by 10pm.
Friday 19 May
Picked up in the 4x4s at 6.15 for an early breakfast. Applied Jungle Formula deet to my arms in anticipation. Liptenids were the prime targets of this early morning foray and, unusually for me, I seemed to be the only one spotting them, earning the nickname 'Pentila Pete' from Jim. Andrew was ecstatic to have photographed a Euphaedra francina on his phone and was buzzing like a kid at Christmas. I wanted to see one now! We all did!! And what a fantastic location this was especially for this genus – check-out the photos and you’ll see what I mean!
Made a dash for the old camp as rain began to fall suddenly at lunch time which continued for about an hour. It had the effect of calming everything down so by 3.45 we were back in our rooms just as the rain began again in earnest. As Ansare had to leave in the morning to take the bus in for a service it fell to me to thank him for keeping us safe and to hand over a handsome tip from the group. A new bus had arrived to take us to Accra on Sunday.
Saturday 20 May
Up as for yesterday despite a frog cacophony lasting right through the night: amazing how they'd all suddenly stop, and start together, as if watching a conductor.
I had two targets for the day, Euphaedra francina and Euphaedra zampa. On our way into the forest we passed four wardens dressed in khaki and carrying rifles, an anti-poaching squad to protect the elephants making their way from the grasslands to the north in time for the fruit season in Ankasa. Jim's eagle eye spotted footprints alongside a large puddle so they were already amongst us. Both my targets were achieved before lunch and another storm, heavy winds and crashing rain, so we left early to avoid flooding and storm damage. Just as well since the track had become deep in mud in a couple of places and a huge limb had come off a tree blocking our way until Andrew and another macheted their way through it.
Sunday 21 May
Homeward bound, a day-long transit to Accra in prospect. No frogs last night, but heavy rain on the roof instead. Mark presented our whip-round to Francis, Mary and the other member of catering whose name I never did get. We got this one right too because just as we were about to leave at 6.45 Mary came dashing to the bus, got on board and gave each of us a great big hug. As I departed I said to Ken 'symbiosis' and he replied along the lines of 'mutual interdependency, life depending on it'. At Beposo, nearly 3 hours later, we stopped to buy some dried plantain strips and an hour or so later we pulled into a service area at Cape Coast for a coffee. Our good progress came to a halt on the 3 lane George W Bush Highway forming the northerly ring road around Accra and within sight of planes coming in to land. Once past the crossroads bottleneck good progress was made to a craft centre, many colourful shacks selling a wide variety of souvenirs and fabrics. I bought a couple of zip bags for grand-daughters, and a leather wallet for my eldest grandson. Then on to the Erata Hotel where I immediately checked-in online and got the reception guy to print off my boarding pass by emailing it to him. Got the aisle seat I wanted. A final Ghanain meal awaited us in the restaurant and at 5.30pm we set off for the nearby airport. Security was very thorough, but smooth and courteous and by 6.20pm I was airside, Mark trying unsuccessfully to get me into the KLM lounge.
This had been a fantastic expedition creating many lasting memories of lovely people and some superb uffofrontos. Will have to return one day….