I’ve arrived in tropical West Africa where I’ll spend most of the next four months traveling north to Senegal and then south to Togo, Gabon and Sao Tome. Apart from a couple of inland national parks I’ll be traveling the coastal route north to Dakar.
This vibrant part of Africa is best described as, ‘where rainforest meets the ocean’, for literally thousands of kilometers but for many people this part of the world is all about military coups, dictators, over zealous warlords, rampant malaria, aids, blood diamonds, ebola outbreaks and civil wars. For me it’ll be all about beaches, culture and national parks. We’ll that’s the plan at this stage anyway.
Two years ago when I was in Cameroon, we couldn’t travel north through the Gulf of Guinea due to hundreds of kilometres of impassible wet season roads, so we headed inland through Northern Benin, Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Mali. Since that time, I’ve been itching to get back to the West African coast in the dry season.
Africa has many different ecological zones from the East African savanna to the Congo Basin, the Sahal, Sudan, Sahara and the Horn of Africa all of which I’ve now explored. The Upper Guinea Forests between the Dohomey Gap and Guinea Bissau form the last mainland ecozone of Africa for me to visit and I’m looking forward to some diffent birds and animals found no where else in Africa.
Because I was planning to cross land borders between countries I needed to obtain five visas prior to landing in Accra, Ghana. I managed to get two at home and then spent a fortnight in London organising the final three visas and doing some travel around England, Wales and Scotland in between embassy visits.
With five visas in my passport I flew south and made myself at home in Accra. My first four days were then spent getting my sixth visa, this time for Cote d’Ivoire.
Finally I waved goodbye to Accra and headed to Cape Coast and Elmina. The coastline is dotted with castles or slave forts, where thousands of slaves were shipped off to Europe and the Americas by English, Dutch and Portuguese slave traders for a couple of centuries.
The biggest fort is Elmina which is situated on a river mouth which today is cramed with wooded fishing boats.
Next stop along the coast was Brenu Beach, which is a quiet palm tree lined beach with a small cafe and beach bar.
I spent the afternoon on a deck chair looking out across the Atlantic under grey clouds and enjoying a cold beer in the humidity.
After a walk along the beach the next morning I jumped in a taxi with my two birding buddies, Tony (UK) and Thijs (Holland) and travelled inland to Kakum NP, which is famous for its rainforest canopy walk.
Over the next three days we spent about six hours on the canopy walk, ensuring we were off by the time the first school group arrived about 9.30am. The suspended walk is very unstable at the best of times and for the local school kids it’s the closest thing to an amusement park ride they have in Ghana.
Sadly the rainforest near Kakum is being cut down for timber and Oil Palm plantations. Mile after mile has been cleared and there is a constant stream of logging trucks coming out of the forest. We stopped at a river and along the river bank found a small palm oil processing plant using equipment which looked like it was from the first few years of the industrial revolution.
From Kakum NP our driver Michael hired a friend’s car and we set off in search of, one of Africa’s most incredible and iconic birds…….. Picathartes.
In 1955 David Attenborough first came to Africa with his new New TV series called Zoo Quest. He came in search of a creature that no one had seen before.
Believed to have remained hidden and unchanged in the remote rainforests of Western and Central Africa for 44 million years, Picathartes is one of the World’s most spectacular and amazing birds.
We arrived in the small village of Bonkro and hired two local guides. Seems you can’t just hire one guide, they come in pairs. A twenty minute walk through the forest bought us to an area of large rocky overhangs and several nests. We waited for an hour and then over the next hour we had five Picathartes hoping and flying around us. It was an incredible wildlife experience.
From Kakum we drove north along quiet highways, past the occasional truck crash which are ubiquitous across all of Africa, into tropical savanna and days where the temperature was now over forty degrees.
Fuller Falls was the next stop where there’s a small waterfall and a campground. I wandered down to the falls and stood under the waterfall for half an hour. It was a welcome relief from the heat.
Mole NP is Ghana’s largest and most popular national park. Situated in northern Ghana its primarily savanna and well known for its large population of elephants.
We did a walking safari and a night drive through the park. Compared to the savanna parks of East Africa, Mole NP was fairly ordinary. We spent the remaining hours of the day hanging out at the lodge pool and bar, which sat on the cliff above the main watering hole for the park’s Elephants.
I was glad to leave to head back to the coast but its going to take a week of exploring the remote North Eastern corner of the Ivory Coast before I get anyway near the Atlantic again.
After leaving Mole NP I briefly stopped in Larabanga and had a look at the white mosque but didn’t do a tour, rather just walked around to stretch my legs.
Driving towards the border, we ran out of daylight and took a turn down towards the Bui Reservoir where we gave the local village elder a couple of dollars and some food and they were happy for us to camp near the water near the village.
I sat and watched the sun set over the lake and nearby mountains while the local fisherman returned from a day’s fishing in their pirogues.
Four years ago the area was several square kilometers of cattle pasture, then they built the dam and many of the villages have turned their hands to fishing.
We’re planning to cross the Cote d’Iviore border at Sampa and head towards Camoe National Park. There’s virtually no information about the park and we have no idea what the roads and bridges are like. We’re winging it, exploring the area and should get to a village called Kong in about a week.
Bye for now.