Weichau hippo sanctuary feels a long way from anywhere. We rattled along the bumpy, potholed road from Mole National Park for four hours before reaching the sanctuary’s visitor centre. Jo, our guide, showed us inside while KK, our driver, surveyed his mud-splattered car with the look of a man who regretted spending an hour washing it that morning. After paying the entrance fee, I asked Jo where the hippos were. ‘We have to drive; it’s another 22km along a dirt road’. KK didn’t look like he wanted to see hippos anymore; I was beginning to wonder myself.
We headed towards the Black Volta River, past the small communities who together created the sanctuary. I should have admired this remarkable community-based ecotourism project; instead I wondered when it was lunchtime and if it was too late to head for a hotel in Wa.
|A young hippo|
We pulled into the undergrowth on the Burkinabe side of the river and watched them. There’s something enthrallingly special about being 20 metres from wild hippos – about as close as I’d want to be. As each head appeared slowly, it was hard to shake the feeling they were keeping an eye on us, checking that we were keeping our distance.
The hippos have been protected since 1999, when the local communities created the sanctuary to generate a bit more tourism revenue in this quiet corner of Ghana. The scheme has been a success: visitor numbers have increased steadily and so, more importantly, have hippo numbers.
Hidden in the shade, with the two young hippos now jumping on each other, it would have been easy to stay for longer. But tummies were rumbling; I illegally entered Burkina Faso for a quick piss, and we headed back to Weichau, leaving the hippos to enjoy their serene sanctuary.
Ghana does tropical storms like few other countries, and the one during our night camping near the river was a classic. The lightning was so bright that the cockerels started crowing at 3.00am, thinking it was morning. We had to move our tent in the middle of the night to avoid a drenching.
Next morning, our charcoal burner was too wet too cook breakfast on, so we headed into Weichau village to eat. Jo took us to Yussif’s Tea Spot, whose motto is ‘Call in for all kinds of beverages’. As long as it’s Lipton Yellow Label tea. Still, at least Yussif acknowledged how lacking in flavour this shameful British brand is and put two bags into my plastic mug.