This approach of conserving wildlife rather than hunting it is slowly catching on in Ghana, and it is reaping rewards here. Since 1996 they have run walking tours around the small forest sanctuary and it’s now one of the most popular attractions in the region. And all the money raised goes back to the community and to protecting the forest, rather than to outside tour operators.
Ruth, one of our new friends in Accra, had organised a long weekend in the lush and hilly Volta Region during the school half term, and Tafi Atome was first on our packed agenda. Our guide led us down the track into the forest, explaining about how the monkeys live. There are four troupes in the forest, which all roam different territories. After about 15 minutes, we spotted tails hanging down from the branches above. Pausing on the track, we waited as more and more furry faces appeared in the branches.
The monkeys know what to expect from visitors. They are semi-wild; while the forest is not caged off, tour groups bring bananas each day, so their lack of fear was not natural behaviour. The trick is to hold the banana firmly so the monkey peels it from your hand. I tried, but the young male managed to grab it easily and scamper off. It’s a shameful day when a small monkey is stronger than you.
We saw one of the other troupes as we continued (although they had already had their banana breakfast, so ignored us) and a third at the information centre, where they were posing for a coach party who had just arrived. The fourth troupe is apparently quite shy, but Mona monkeys all look the same, so it was hard to feel too disappointed.
After Tafi Atome we drove to Kpandu, a busy port on the Lake Volta shore. First stop was lunch – Quaysie and Robert were keen for fresh Volta fish – and we then went to see the Kpandu potters, a small cooperative of women who make pots and clay figures using mud from the lake shore.
The potters’ showroom is down a heavily rutted lane and the clouds burst started as we drove down it. Rain in Ghana is never a subtle affair and the car was soon hydroplaning down the river that had replaced the mud road. Several ominous crunches suggested the car’s undercarriage was taking the brunt. After some frantic steering, we parked (docked?) by the showroom.
The female potters showed us their creations and we all bought souvenirs – I opted for a small clay tortoise. They also demonstrated how they make the pottery by hand. Like Tafi Atome, it’s not flashy, and there is no hard sell to buy souvenirs; just people happy to show visitors part of their local culture.
The final stop of the day was the most curious. Just south of Kpandu, at Agbenoxoe, is Our Lady of Lourdes Shrine, where huge marble statues representing the life of Christ have been erected on a hillside. I wandered around impressed by the scale of the statues but a little bemused, as the whole thing felt slightly out of place here in rural Ghana. It’s another winner, though; pilgrims travel from across the country to visit. Religious fervour knows no bounds in Ghana.
As we made our way back over the hills to Ho, the clanking from beneath the car that had started in Kpandu became an increasing concern. The volume cranking up with each pothole that we failed to avoid, and the rhythm built up to a regular beat, before exploding into the unmistakable sound of metal scraping on tarmac. Not a good sign in the middle of nowhere.
We pulled over and Quaysie, who was driving, stripped off his shirt, wrapped it around his hands and reattached the hanging exhaust with the only material we could find … grass from the roadside. I am no mechanic but even I knew that this was unlikely to hold red-hot metal in place for more than about two minutes. And so our journey continued in a regular pattern of clanking, stopping, and grass-based emergency repairs.
We made it to Kpeve, where Quaysie found a mechanic to fix it with something sturdier. A crowd of children came to watch, and the mechanic swiftly soldered our battered exhaust back into place. All for the price of 5 cedi (about £2) – beat that, AA. Keeping a very careful eye out for potholes, we returned back to Ho tired, hungry and, for me at least, still smarting from the fact I was outfought by a monkey.