Sunday, 26 May 2013


Mount Afadjato. Not that huge.
Mount Afadjato is Ghana’s highest mountain, reaching 885m. But the usual nicknames given to a country’s highest point are not applied here; no one describes it as ‘the rooftop of Ghana’, for example. And as you arrive at the base at Liati Wote, it’s easy to see why: Ghana’s highest mountain is surrounded by taller ones.

On the way to the top
Even the nearest peak, just across the road in the village, looks bigger. As our group from the Ghana Mountaineers pulled on walking boots and paid our hiking fees, I asked Justice, our guide, if the nearby hill was actually in Togo, given how close we were to the border. “No, but it’s much harder to reach the top”, he replied. It seems Afadjato is not even the tallest in its village; its image was quickly becoming irredeemably tarnished.

A signpost
The answer lies in the complexities of measuring summits and descents in between high points, a familiar issue to anyone who has tried to distinguish between Munros, Corbetts and Grahams in the UK. On the route up, Justice explained that the higher peaks nearby form part of a ridge that switches between Ghana­ and Togo. So while there are higher points in Ghana, Afadjato is the highest freestanding peak.

Hot, sweaty and having just been sick
I think that’s right; Justice wasn’t entirely sure, and didn’t really seem to understand why it mattered. He had a point; a good walk is a good walk, and Afadjato is certainly that. A steep path leads up its western face, with a couple of rocky climbs that provide a nod towards its ‘mountain’ status. And the views at the summit are superb: the Agumatsa Hills, coated by a dark green forest, stretch for miles to the north and south.

Also visible from the top is Tagbo Falls and after descending the hill, we continued along the low-level path to this beautiful waterfall set in a lush forested amphitheatre. The walk up Afadjato had worked up a sweat and Stephen, Quaysie and I splashed under the water to cool off. Once refreshed, we could reflect on our earlier achievement – climbing the highest hill in Ghana that’s not partly in Togo or a bit tricky to get to. Now that’s some achievement.

Tagbo Falls

Sunday, 12 May 2013


The road to Krobo
The markers along the early drive to Krobo were all present and correct: stalls of bread sellers at Ashaiman; baboons lingering outside the Shai Hills; early morning joggers on the Akosombo road; the police reluctantly waving our car through their checkpoint, the diplomatic number plates meaning no ‘dash’ this time.

This was my seventh trip up Krobo and the route was equally familiar. I knew every rock along the way, despite the tall grass obscuring the path. But even well-trodden hills can throw up surprises.

Just beyond the short rock climb, Carolyn spotted a small grey snake crossing the path. This was the first snake I had seen on Krobo, and only the third in two years in Ghana – a welcome rare sighting. The bulge midway along its length suggested we were slightly less likely to see a mouse on route. After pausing while we took its picture, it slid off to digest its meal in peace.

A baby terrapin
An even bigger surprise was waiting at the top. In among the rocks at the summit is a small pool of water, which had been recently replenished by the rain. Something bobbing near the surface caught my eye; was that really a baby terrapin? I looked again and saw another further along, and another climbing the side of the pool. As we admired them, the mother, hidden in the grass, splashed into the water and disappeared into the depths of the murky pool.

It’s a mystery how they got there; there’s no other standing water for a long way, and the sides of Krobo are surely too steep for a terrapin to climb (and why would they bother?) Could a bird have dropped one while flying overhead? Could there be a cave system hidden within the hill, connecting them to rivers below? It is likely to remain a mystery for quite some time.

This wasn’t just a simple stroll up Krobo, however; our group continued to Stone Lodge through the scrubby plains of lowland Ghana. We took a bearing – none of this GPS nonsense, just binoculars and a compass – and set off due south.

Krobo in the background
Aside from the occasional thicket of trees, and ditches formed by cattle that were now filled with water, the route was fairly straightforward. But 14km is a long way in the heat of Ghana; as we reached Stone Lodge three hours later, I considered the fact that most of our fellow expats would – like the Krobo terrapins – have opted for a day swimming in the pool rather than a hike in the midday sun.

Monday, 6 May 2013

The big match

In the mixer
It’s West Africa’s Clásico, the regional clash of the titans. Accra Hearts of Oak, Ghana’s most successful team, against their fierce northern rivals, Kumasi Asante Kotoko. The country’s two most popular clubs meet in Ghana’s version of Chelsea versus Liverpool Man United. And … it’s a little bit rubbish.

Many of Ghana’s brightest stars are whisked off to European clubs at a young age, and those left behind seem to be running through the commentator’s cliché book: the players couldn’t trap a bag of cement, and chances go begging that the most lethargic grandmother would have buried. But both sides give 110% on the pitch and plenty of full-blooded tackles fly in.

Packed stadium
Matches at the Accra Sports Stadium are about more than the football though. The ground is nearly full, 38,000 fans wearing the bright red of Kotoko or the garish yellow-blue-red of Hearts (one of football’s more lurid kits – imagine Crystal Palace mixed with Partick Thistle, with a bit of LSD thrown in). It’s also the only place in Ghana where you see anyone wearing a scarf.

A Hearts fan
Vuvuzelas buzz across the stadium, far louder than they seem on TV and every bit as annoying. People sing and dance together, and after every key moment men stand up and start a fierce argument with someone nearby – anyone will do, even if they agree with you. It’s a furious burst of shouting and finger pointing, then smiles all round and back to the game.

And..... he missed
A rare moment of skill lights up the first half. Wilfred Kobina, the Hearts midfielder, runs towards the box. As fans in the upper tier take cover, he surprises everyone by drilling the ball into the bottom corner. The Hearts players run off to celebrate and the stadium erupts on all sides. Cue even more shouting and finger-jabbing.

At half time, the crowd join in with Hearts’ endearing chant: ‘Arise arise arise, be quiet and don't be silly, we are the famous Hearts of Oak, we Never Say Die’. Fans pour outside to buy grilled kebabs and popcorn and mingle with the opposition. It’s all remarkably civilised for the nation’s biggest rivalry; perhaps the memory of Ghana’s worst stadium disaster, in which 127 people died, is still too fresh in people’s memories for any aggression.

The Kotoko teddy
The second half starts at a noticeably slower pace, Ghana’s intolerable afternoon heat taking its toll. The fans find new ways to entertain themselves. A poor offside decision leads to a volley of water bottles thrown towards the offending linesman; one hits him squarely on the backside, which satisfies everyone. An ever-growing throng dances around the stand, carrying above them a giant teddy bear bedecked in Kotoko colours. They seem to have more energy than the players by this late stage.

Kotoko equalise through a scrappy header following a goalmouth scramble, and apart from a few late chances for Hearts, the game peters out to a 1-1 draw. The spoils are shared and both sets of fans head home happy with the result. But that doesn’t stop them arguing furiously outside the stadium, about offside decisions, missed chances, and which side has the best teddy bear.