Saturday, April 30, 2011

Waterfalls, nails, and monkeys (April 29)

Ho (the villagish city where we’re staying) is the capital of the Volta region—the incredibly green and luscious area around the Volta river and lake near Ghana’s eastern border with Togo. In the mountains that form the border between the two countries is Wli, West Africa’s highest waterfall.

There’s a little village at the trailhead, full of freely roaming goats, chickens, and even a huge ostrich. I picked up some leaves and attempted to be brave and feed it, but it started snapping, so I totally panicked and dropped them all on the ground. Silly me. :) Some kid came up to rescue the scared American, although the ostrich started biting him too. He didn’t mind being mildly attacked by a gigantic bird, though, oddly enough.


The 45-minute hike up to the lower falls was incredibly beautiful, full of green trees, river crossings, and dozens of butterflies.

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The falls themselves are stunning. If you look carefully, near the top of the falls there are thousands of little brown spots. Those are bats. Lots and lots of bats. They flew around and screeched a lot, but they didn’t ever fly down to the base.

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The pool at the base of the falls is only waist high, so it’s relatively easy to wade out and stand in the torrents of falling water. That’s me in the bottom middle of the final picture.


After frolicking in the water for an hour or so, we all started getting changed and ready to hike back to the bus at the village. I was one of the first to change back to dry clothes, so to pass the time I wandered around the clearing outside the falls. A couple of people in our group were throwing rotten mangoes at trees (like scout camp all over again) when they decided it would be more fun to hit the mangoes with some sort of bat. I noticed a big bamboo stick a few feet away from where I was wandering, so I ran over to get it so I could watch the exploding mango carnage (apparently I still belong in scout camp too).

As I bent down to pick it up there was a flash of incredibly sharp pain in my foot. As I lifted my foot off the ground, my flipflop stayed—someone had mysteriously nailed it to the ground. I only realized that I had stepped on a nail once I saw blood dripping out of the bottom of my foot.

I hobbled over to a tree stump and called for a first aid kit. With the help of an former dental hygienist and an ethics professor and his wife, we squeezed all the potential infection out of my foot, stopped the bleeding, and disinfected the puncture like there was no tomorrow. After putting on a bandaid and wrapping by foot with medical tape to ensure that it wouldn’t fall off, I was as good as new.

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The hike back was less enjoyable than the hike up, but only because the tape was wrapped too tightly around my foot (and because there was also a sizable hole in my foot). For the rest of the day my foot throbbed and ached, but fortunately never felt infected or incredibly painful. No tetanus for me. Phew.

Once we got back to the trailhead and loaded up the bus we headed out to a local village near Hohoe where they weave traditional Kente cloth. Again, I was wary of it being a tourist trap village, but it actually turned out to be a real live and incredibly poor village. They refused to sell us any cloth, saying that everything they make gets sent to the markets of Accra. Still, it was neat to see how they weave the cloth. Little kids use three different shuttles and two foot pedals to create the patterns in the cloth with string that is stretched out 10–20 feet in front of them. The kids move the shuttles around so fast that it almost looks blurry.

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After watching them work for a while, I went and explored the village. The poverty is absolutely astounding. The huts are made from mud brick with palm fronds for the roof. Goats and chickens run around the village (some territorial roosters got mad at me as I was wandering and started to chase me down. Fun times. :) )

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After the village, we drove over to the Tafi Atome monkey sanctuary, where 300 monkeys live in a protected jungle in a different (extremely poor) village. Near sundown the monkeys come to the edges of the jungle to eat bananas that tourists (like us) feed to them. If you hold a banana up to a tree, a monkey will generally either drop down by its tail or climb down a branch, peel it in your hand, and run away leaving you with an empty peel. There are pictures of me doing this out there, but I don’t know who took them. At the end of the trip we’re all dumping our pictures to one central location, so I’ll find some then. Until then, here’s my friend Sam feeding one.

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And here’s me!


For some reason, the monkeys that came to me were overly aggressive or something and instead of gently climbing down the branch, two or three would jump towards me, racing for the banana. I dropped three bananas (out of pure jumpiness) before I finally got one to take it the “right” way.

We spent a good hour with the monkeys before starting the long drive back to the hotel. What an incredible day!


  1. Wow! I loved those pictures of the village! I want to go. :)

    And I'm glad you don't have tetanus.

  2. When we went to that kente village they had about ten samples for sale in a little "gift shop". The villagers didn't trust each other enough to fully stock the gift shop -- they figure if they sell directly to a buyer they don't have to worry about the other villagers stealing their wares or money. Kinda sad.

    I've been trying to map the location of that village so people can find it on Google Maps. Maybe you can help me...

  3. I notice you are holding your valuables on your body :) Awesome pictures! Keep an eye on the foot though....Jason shot himself with a nail gun once. The first day it was just sore, the second he had red climbing up his thumb...oops :)

  4. That is so cool! This is one area I'm dying to go to-- I haven't been East of Accra. It looks so gorgeous. Sorry about your foot, but I'm glad it doesn't look like it's infected.