Monday, 25 June 2012


Akaa Falls
Boti Falls and Akaa Falls, near Koforidua, are less than two miles apart by road. But that hardly counts as mountaineering. Kevin, intrepid leader of the Ghana Mountaineers, suggested we hike from one to the other. How hard could it be?

Google Maps showed that both waterfalls lie on the Pawnpawn River, but not loads of detail about the bit in between, other than it was likely to be a mix of trees, hills and villages. And so early one Sunday, armed only with a GPS and machete, eight Ghana Mountaineers set off from Akaa Falls.

The falls, five minutes from the gate, were impressive following the heavy recent rains, but the riverbank that we hoped to follow was steep and covered in impenetrable bush. With no obvious way through, we headed back to find an alternative route.

Ten minutes later, we passed through a small village. At 8.00am, most people were setting off for church, but one man – who had clearly been at the palm wine already – offered to show us the way to the waterfall.

Despite us politely declining his services (anyone who sways that much so early in the day is not to be trusted as a guide), he took us along narrow paths through fields of cocoa yams and maize, until we reached a 30m cliff. To our right, a small waterfall trickled over the cliff into the valley below.

In the farms
‘Here is the waterfall’, he said triumphantly.
‘Yes, but we are going to Boti Falls’ replied Kevin, impatiently.
‘No, you need to drive there, you cannot walk’ he insisted, failing to grasp a key element of hiking.

It seems the villagers have caught on to the idea that tourists will pay to see waterfalls, as they do at Akaa and Boti, and are developing a path to their own feature; we were guinea pigs who happened to be passing through. But with no way over the cliff towards Boti, we turned back again, hoping it would be third time lucky.

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We soon managed to lose our drunken guide, who lost interest when he realised we weren’t going to pay for his services. But as we passed back through his village, three small boys started to follow, no doubt curious as to what these eight sweaty obronis were up to so early on a Sunday. They stayed with us as Kevin hacked a path uphill through the bush, clearly enjoying the day out and free food on offer.

Once at the top of the hill behind the village, Kevin’s GPS showed we were gradually getting closer to Boti Falls. From the top, a series of farmers’ paths made for easy going and we were soon above the valley in which Boti Falls lay.
In the river
And then the real adventures began. Going uphill through thick scrub is one thing; going downhill is another. A rocky drop of around 3m presented our first major hurdle of the day. Kevin found the quickest route, falling through the branches. But that trick only works once, and the rest of us, including the three boys – called Richard, Michael and Stephen, we now knew – made the precarious descent down the muddy rocks using whatever vegetation came to hand.

Once safely down, we continued towards Boti, the GPS pointing the way. The river valley was also too steep to descend in most places, but a man farming yams explained where we could reach the river, and that we could then follow it upstream to Boti Falls. ‘Only about 800m, but not easy’, he told us, smiling broadly.

As people removed boots and socks to get into the water, the expressions of the group’s three youngest members changed from smiles to worried frowns. It was clear that they didn’t know their way home and realised they were stuck with us. And what had started as a pleasant walk through the fields was now turning into a trudge through cold water. After a short discussion, they decided they didn’t have much choice and reluctantly followed us into the river.

Progress was slow as we headed upstream. Thick forest on the banks meant that we had to find our way through the water, over wet and slippery logs and rocks. Miriam ripped off a toenail, calling for some mid-river first aid; Felix’s boots both split open at the toe; and I silently tried to remember if bilharzia was a risk in slow-moving or fast-moving water. Meanwhile the water got deeper; Stephen, the smallest of the boys, looked increasingly alarmed as the water reached his chest.

Next came the storm. The sky darkened and the rain started – a full-blown tropical deluge that soaked us in seconds. Lightening flashed around the valley, and the river started swelling rapidly. The only way out was up another steep slope, which was a mudslide by the time 11 sodden bodies had scrabbled up it.

Everyone in the group was relieved to find the tarmac road to Boti Falls at the top. As the rain continued to thump down, we trudged on towards the welcome sight of our bus – full of dry clothes and food. The smiles had returned to the young boys’ faces by the time we dropped them back at Akaa Falls. They had some good stories for school the next day, but it will be a long time before they wander off with white people walking through their village.

Saturday, 16 June 2012


There are several ways to pass the time on a Saturday morning. You could head into town for breakfast, go for a potter, or sit back with a pot of coffee and the weekend papers. Or you could sweep up the shit from Colonel Gaddafi’s camel.

Valerie, a straggly but otherwise healthy camel, was rescued as Gaddafi’s palace was captured in Libya, and she was sent to Accra Zoo, hidden away in Achimota Forest in the north of the city. Martin, one of the keepers, was cutting grass for Valerie the camel when I arrived (I had heard about the zoo and volunteered to help out). So while she munched away, we swept out the enclosure. Camels dropping are surprisingly small and perfectly round, so it ended up as a game of poo marbles as I tried to sweep them into a neat pile and they kept rolling away.

The plan was for me to help build swings and ropes for the zoo’s primates, which were also rescued from captivity. But the equipment we needed was locked in the office, and no one had the key, so instead I helped out with the daily routine.

Valerie’s enclosure was soon clean, and the next task was to feed the warthogs. The mother watched me carefully as I approached, while her new brood squealed nervously and ran around in circles. But as soon as the grass was thrown into their enclosure, all concerns were forgotten and everyone tucked in.

Martin then took me further into the forest to cut a certain type of plant – name unknown – for the duikers. The forest is full of birdlife, and also supports a small population of wild duikers and spot-nosed monkeys. 

But how long they remain is doubtful; the forest is enclosed, and increasingly threatened, by several fast-growing housing developments, with West Legon University forming a barrier to the north and a new motorway to the south of the forest. Efforts to protect the forest as an urban wildlife reserve have to yet come to fruition, despite many years of discussion. Land in Accra is far more profitable when used for housing than forest.

Once the feeding was complete, I visited the other animals. Two emus guarded their eggs, while nearby the mongoose and snake slept. The lone crocodile hid in an overgrown pool, and the hyena hid when I approached, suggesting it had suffered from humans when in captivity. The birdcages were crowded with different species – all rescued and unable to fend for themselves. Many of the zoo’s offspring are introduced to the wild, though; there are plans to release the newly hatched ostrich chicks in the Shai Hills Nature Reserve.

Feeding complete, it was time for lunch. Martin cooked waakye (rice and beans) while the resident ducks wandered far too close to a Ghanaian cooking pot for their safety. We discussed the merits of freshly pounded fufu over packet fufu – Martin prefers fresh, I would prefer to eat the warthogs’ grass – and then I wandered back home through the forest, leaving Martin and the animals to their post-lunch naps.

Sunday, 10 June 2012


04.30. Meet the Ghana Mountaineers at Accra Mall. Security guard looks very confused at why we are all here, in shorts. Andrew and Christie fail to look suitably guilty for suggesting a Three Peaks Challenge and getting us all up at this unsociable hour.

05.36. At the base of Krobo. Sun just coming up. Feeling fit and ready to whizz up my favourite hill in Ghana.

06.13. A quick ascent to the summit, 345m. No time for fussing about or admiring the view – there’s a record to be beaten.

06.49. Back down, and into the cars to Iogaga.

07.20. At the base of Iogaga, with some crazy parking to cut off a few metres of walking. Does this incur a time penalty?

08.22. At the top, 436m. Had forgotten how steep Iogaga is, and how tall the grass gets. Bit longer at the summit, so time for breakfast. Mike sleeps off last night’s beers with the Accra Hash. Andrew also catches 40 winks, a bit rich given this was his idea.
09.31. Back at the cars. Two down, one to go.

10.25. At Osoduko. Long drive not ideal for stiff legs, but boots back on and a nice easy track to start with.

11.20. Hmm, summit not getting any nearer. Path seems to keep twisting round.

11.22. Focus on catching up with Stephen, just a few metres ahead. Maybe I can speed past him, annoy him a bit.

11.23. Maybe not.

11.25. Murderous thoughts about Andrew and Christie, whose idea this nonsense was.

11.26. Murderous thoughts about Kevin, who dreamed up the Ghana Three Peaks after reading about the UK version. Shame he didn’t read about a teashop and set up one of those instead.

11.29. Cycle of excuses about why I am struggling so much: combined, the three hills equal a Munro; it’s hot; I have bad knees; I am getting old. Realise deep down the answer might lie in the collection of empty beer bottles at home.

11.30. The top. 424m. Who cares? Want to sleep.

12.34. Down again, via a diversion through the village having got lost. Mike back first. He always speeds up when it gets close to time for beers. Those few minutes have crucially cost us a record-breaking effort, slower than the January trip by one minute. Bah.

12.45. Stone Lodge. The hardest-earned – and best-tasting – Star of the year.

Total ascent: 1052m
Total time: 5 hrs 33 mins
Total distance: 17.15 kms
Nine participants, nine finishers.

Well done everyone (and goodbye Andrew and Christie!)

Saturday, 9 June 2012


Accra has its charms, but they are somewhat limited. After a few weeks stuck in the city, Hannah and I had tired of traffic jams, dust, and men pissing by the side of the road. It was time to escape for the day. The question was: where?

Bojo Beach is our usual fall back option, but the gathering clouds suggested it wasn’t a day for sunbathing. We picked up our Bradt guide, and headed to Deli France to mull the options over a cappuccino and croissant (good cafés are one of the city’s charms).

Hannah was in favour of a hotel pool but I persuaded her we should do something a little more cultural. So we decided to head to see the coffin workshop in Teshie, a small town wedged between Accra and Tema. Not an obvious day out, but these coffins, carved into curious and quirky shapes, have become something of an attraction. The guidebooks sell it as a chance to see one of Ghana’s artisan handicrafts being made. The guidebooks are wrong.

Our taxi driver promised that he knew where the workshop was. He didn’t. All we knew was that it was near Coco Beach, Teshie’s own stretch of plastic-bag-and condom-covered sand. It wasn’t. The Ramada Hotel was, however, so we decided to go for a swim first.

The Ramada Hotel’s pool was refreshingly quiet after the ones in Accra, where the poolside is overrun with men looking like James Bond villains and women showing off how good their surgeons are. And the heat in Ghana, even on a cloudy day, makes any pool a welcome refuge.

Two hours later, we headed out to try to find the coffin shop on the way back. The drivers gathered opposite hissed to get our attention. We picked the one nearest and asked him if he knew how to get to the coffin shop.

“Yes, I know it. 15 cedis.”
“No, it’s just 5 minutes away. 3 cedis.”
“No my friend, Labone coffee shop, 15 cedis.”
“Ah no, we said cof-FIN.”
“Yes, yes, 15 cedis.”
“No, cof-FIN – where you put dead people”.
“I know it, the one in Labone.”

We actually spotted the workshop as we drove and quickly asked the driver to stop. Inside were four coffins – a fish, two coke bottles, and one Guinness bottle – and a dusty, deserted workshop with a courtyard behind. I asked the man sat by the door if we could see where they make the coffins.

“They make them here. 10 cedis to look. Each.”
“But I can see them from here.”
“10 cedis to look around.”

I muttered a colloquial take on ‘forget this’, and we headed off, away from two laughing Ghanaians and Africa’s crappest tourist attraction. Teshie has few other sights except rubbish pits, sewers and straggly goats, so we jumped into the next taxi and sped back to Accra. Which at least has good coffee shops, albeit some that apparently store corpses. 

* I wasn't in the mood for taking photos, but you can see the coffins here: